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Title: Cynthia - With an Introduction by Maurice Hewlett
Author: Merrick, Leonard, 1864-1939
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cynthia - With an Introduction by Maurice Hewlett" ***

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CYNTHIA

By

LEONARD MERRICK


WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

MAURICE HEWLETT


NEW YORK

E.P. DUTTON AND COMPANY

1919



INTRODUCTION


My first acquaintance with Mr. Merrick's engaging and stimulating
muse was made in the pages of _Violet Moses_, an early work, which
appeared, I remember, in three volumes. Reading it again in the light
of my appreciation of what its author has done since, I think of it
now as I felt of it then. It has great promise, and though its texture
is slight its fibres are of steel. It shows the light hand, which has
grown no heavier, though it has grown surer, the little effervescence
of cynicism, with never a hiccough in it, the underlying, deeply-funded
sympathy with real things, great things and fine things, and the
seriousness of aim which, tantalisingly, stops short just where you
want it to go on, and provokes the reader to get every book of Mr.
Merrick's as it appears, just to see him let himself go--which he never
does. He is one of the most discreet dissectors of the human heart we
have.

In _Violet Moses_ Mr. Merrick avoided the great issue after coming
up against it more than once. So did he in The Quaint Companions, a
maturer but less ambitious study. I don't know why he avoided it in
_Violet's_ case, unless it was because he found it too big a matter for
his light battery. In the _Companions'_ case I do know. It was because
he came upon another problem which interested him more, a problem with
a sentimental attraction far more potent than any he could have got out
of miscegenation. The result was the growth, out of a rather ugly root,
of a charming and tender idyll of two poets, an idyll, nevertheless,
with a psychological _crux_ involved in its delicate tracery. All this
seems a long way from _Cynthia_, which is my immediate business, but
is not so in truth. In _Cynthia_ (which, I believe, followed _Violet_)
you have a problem of psychology laid out before you, and again Mr.
Merrick does not, I think, fairly tackle it. But he fails to tackle
it, not because it is too big for his guns, as _Violet's_ was, and not
because he finds another which he likes better, as he did when he was
upon _The Companions_, but because, I am going to suggest, he found it
too small. He took up his positions, opened his attack, and the enemy
in his trenches dissolved in mist.

The problem with which _Cynthia_ opens is the familiar one of the
novelist, considered as such, and as lover, husband, father and
citizen. Now it's an odd thing, but not so odd as it seems at first
blush, that while you may conceive a poet in these relations and
succeed in interesting your readers, you will fail with a novelist.
I cannot now remember a single interesting novel about a novelist.
There is _Pendennis_ of course; but who believes that Pen was a great
novelist, or cares what kind of a novelist he was? Who cares about
_Walter Lorraine_? Would anybody give twopence to read it? The reason
is that in the poet the manifestations of literary genius are direct
and explicit--some are susceptible of quotation, some may be cut out
with the scissors--while in the novelist they are oblique and implied.
Humphrey Kent in _Cynthia_ is in no sense an explicit genius; we are
not, in fact, told that he was a genius at all. His technique seems to
have been that of Mr. George Moore, then rather fashionable. The book
puts it no higher than this, that the hero, with an obvious bent for
writing, marries in a hurry and then finds out that he cannot be an
honest man and support his wife and child by the same stroke. It is not
whether he can be a good novelist and a good lover too, but whether he
can be a good novelist and pay his bills. That's not very exciting,
though George Gissing in _New Grub Street_ drew out of it a squalid
and miserable tale which, once begun, had to be finished. Luckily,
in _Cynthia_, Mr. Merrick finds a secondary theme, and handles it so
delicately and so tenderly that the book has an abiding charm because
of it. That theme is the growth of Cynthia's soul.

I myself am one of Cynthia's victims, and I am sure that Mr. Merrick
is another. He sketches her with admirable reticence in the beginning,
where she is shown to us as very little more than a pretty girl. His
strokes are few and sure. But she grows from chapter to chapter, and at
the end, after the tragic crisis, she sweeps onward to the sentimental
crisis which crowns the tale of her married life with a dignity and
grave beauty which justify a belief in Hestia, even now, when modern
testimony and practice alike are against such a belief. She justifies
Mr. Merrick's conclusion too. It is seldom enough that we are able to
believe in the happy solution of such troubles as he has traced out
in _Cynthia_. Cynics against inclination, we feel that the dog will
return to his vomit after the easy reconciliation and facile tears upon
Hestia's generous bosom. Not so here. Cynthia has got her Humphrey
for what he is worth, and will hold him. She is one of Mr. Merrick's
loveliest women; and he has made many lovely women.

MAURICE HEWLETT.



CHAPTER I


Two friends were sitting together outside the Café des Tribunaux at
Dieppe. One of them was falling in love; the other, an untidy and
morose little man, was wasting advice. It was the hour of coffee and
liqueurs, on an August evening.

"You are," said the adviser irritably, "at the very beginning of a
career. You have been surprisingly fortunate; there's scarcely a
novelist in England who wouldn't be satisfied with such reviews as
yours, and it's your first book. Think: twelve months ago you were a
clerk in the city, and managed to place about three short stories a
year at a guinea each. Then your aunt what-was-her-name left you the
thousand pounds, and you chucked your berth and sat down to a novel.
'Nothing happens but the unforeseen'--the result justified you. You
sold your novel; you got a hundred quid for it; and _The Saturday_, and
_The Spectator_, and every paper whose opinion is worth a rush, hails
you as a coming light. For you to consider marrying now would be flying
in the face of a special providence."

"Why?" said Humphrey Kent.

"'Why'! Are you serious? Because your income is an unknown quantity.
Because you've had a literary success, not a popular one. Because, if
you keep single, you've a comfortable life in front of you. Because
you'd be a damned fool."

"The climax is comprehensive, if it isn't convincing. But the
discussion is a trifle 'previous,' eh? I can't marry you, my pretty
maid, et cetera."

"You are with her all day," said Turquand--"I conclude she likes you.
And the mother countenances it."

"There's really nothing to countenance; and, remember, they haven't
any idea of my position: they meet me at a fashionable hotel, they had
read the book, and they saw _The Times_ review. What do they know of
literary earnings? the father is on the Stock Exchange, I believe. I am
an impostor!"

"You should have gone to the little show I recommended on the quay,
then. _I_ find it good enough."

Kent laughed and stretched himself.

"I am rewarding industry," he said. "For once I wallow. I came into the
money, and I put it in a bank, and by my pen, which is mightier than
the sword, I've replaced all I drew to live during the year. Ain't I
entitled to a brief month's splash? Besides, I've never said I want to
marry--I don't know what you're hacking at."

"You haven't 'said' it, but the danger is about as plain as pica
to the average intelligence, all the same. My son, how old are
you--twenty-seven, isn't it? Pack your bag, ask for your bill, and go
back with me by the morning boat; and, if you're resolved to make an
ass of yourself over a woman, go and live in gilded infamy and buy
sealskin jackets and jewellery while your legacy lasts. I'll forgive
you that."

"The prescription wouldn't be called orthodox?"

"You'd find it cheaper than matrimony in the long-run, I promise you.
Now and again, when some man plays ducks and drakes with a fortune for
a cocotte there are shrieks enough to wake his ancestors; but marriage
ruins a precious sight more men every year than the demi-monde and the
turf and the tables put together, and nobody shrieks at all--except
the irrepressible children. Did it never occur to you that the price
paid for the virtuous woman is the most exorbitant price known in an
expensive world?"

"No," said Kent shortly, "it never did."

"And they call you 'an acute observer'! Marriage is Man's greatest
extravagance."

"The apothegm excepted. It sounds like a dissipated copybook."

"It's a fact, upon my soul. I tell you, a sensible girl would shudder
at the thought of entrusting her future to a man improvident enough to
propose to her; a fellow capable of marrying a woman is the sport of a
reckless and undisciplined nature that she should beware of."

"The end is curaçoa-and-brandy," said Kent, "and in your best vein.
What else? You'll contradict yourself with brilliance in a moment if
you go on."

The journalist dissembled a grin, and Kent, gazing down the sunny
little street, inhaled his cigarette pleasurably. To suppose that
Miss Walford would ever be his wife looked to him so chimerical that
his companion's warnings did not disturb him, yet he was sufficiently
attracted by her to find it exciting that a third person could think
it likely. He was the son of a man who had once been very wealthy,
and who, having attempted to repair injudicious investments by rasher
speculation, had died owning little more than enough to defray the
cost of his funeral. At the age of nineteen Humphrey had realised
that, with no stock-in-trade beyond an education and a bundle of
rejected manuscripts, it was incumbent on him to fight the world
unassisted, and, suppressing his literary ambitions as likely to tell
against him, he had betaken himself to some connections who throve
in commerce and had been socially agreeable. To be annihilated by a
sense of your own deficiencies, seek an appointment at the hands of
relations. The boy registered the aphorism, and withdrew. When "life"
means merely a struggle to sustain existence, it is not calculated to
foster optimism, and the optimistic point of view is desirable for
the production of popular English fiction. His prospect of achieving
many editions would have been greater if his father had been satisfied
with five per cent. He shifted as best he could, and garnered various
experiences which he would have been sorry to think would be cited
by his biographer, if he ever had one. "Poverty is no disgrace," but
there are few disgraces that cause such keen humiliations. Eventually
he found regular employment in the office of a stranger, and, making
Turquand's acquaintance in the lodging-house at which he obtained
a bedroom, contemplated him with respect and envy. Turquand was
sub-editing _The Outpost_, a hybrid weekly for which he wrote a little
of what he thought and much that he disapproved, in consideration of
a modest salary. The difference in their years was not too great to
preclude confidences. An intimacy grew between the pair over their
evening pipes in the arid enclosure to which the landlady's key gave
them access; and it was transplanted to joint quarters embellished
with their several possessions, chiefly portmanteaus and photographs,
equally battered. The elder man, perceiving that there was distinction
in the unsuccessful stories displayed to him, imparted a good deal
of desultory advice, of which the most effectual part was not the
assurance that the literary temperament was an affliction, and
authorship a synonym for despair. The younger listened, sighed, and
burned. Aching to be famous, and fettered to a clerk's stool, he tugged
at his chains. He had begun to doubt his force to burst them, when
he was apprised, to his unspeakable amazement, that a maternal aunt,
whom he had not seen since he was a school-boy, had bequeathed him a
thousand pounds.

Dieppe had dined, and the Grande Rue was astir. He watched the
passers-by with interest. In the elation of his success he was equal
to tackling another novel on the morrow, and he saw material in
everything: in the chattering party of American girls running across
the road to eat more ices at the pastrycook's; in the coquettish
dealer in rosaries and Lives of the Saints, who had put up her shutters
for the night and was bound for the Opera; in the little boy-soldiers
from the barracks, swaggering everywhere in uniforms several sizes too
big for them. Sentences from the reviews that he was still receiving
bubbled through his consciousness deliciously, and he wished, swelling
with gratitude, that the men who wrote them were beside him, that he
might be introduced, and grip their hands, and try to express the
inexpressible in words.

"I should like to live here, Turk," he remarked: "the atmosphere is
right. It's suggestive, stimulating. When I see a peasant leaning out
of a window in France, I want to write verses about her; when I see the
same thing at home, I only notice she's dirty."

"Ah!" said Turquand, "that's another reason why you had better go back
with me to-morrow. The tendency to write verses leads to the casual
ward. Let us go and watch the Insolent Opulence losing its francs."

The Casino was beginning to refill, and the path and lawn were gay
with the flutter of toilettes when they reached the gates. Two of the
figures approaching the rooms were familiar to the novelist, and he
discovered their presence with a distinct shock, though his gaze had
been scanning the crowd in search of them.

"There are the Walfords," he said.

The other grunted--he also had recognised a girl in mauve; and Kent
watched her silently as long as she remained in view. He knew that
he had nerves when he saw Miss Walford. The sight of her aroused a
feeling of restlessness in him latterly which demanded her society for
its relief; and he had not denied to himself that when a stranger,
sitting behind him yesterday in the salon de lecture, had withdrawn a
handkerchief redolent of the corylopsis which Miss Walford affected, it
had provided him with a sensation profoundly absurd.

If he had nerves, however, there was no occasion to parade the fact,
and he repressed impatience laudably. It was half an hour before the
ladies were met. Objecting to be foolish, he felt, nevertheless,
that Cynthia Walford was an excuse for folly as she turned to him on
the terrace with her faint smile of greeting; felt, with unreasoning
gratification, that Turquand must acknowledge it.

She was a fair, slight girl, with dreamy blue eyes bewitchingly
lashed, and lips so delicately modelled that the faint smile always
appeared a great tribute upon them. She was no less beautiful for
her manifest knowledge that she was a beauty, and though she could
not have been more than twenty-two, she had the air of carrying her
loveliness as indifferently as her frocks--which tempted a literary man
to destruction. She accepted admiration like an entremets at a table
d'hôte--something included in the menu and arriving as a matter of
course; but her acceptance was so graceful that it was delightful to
bend to her and offer it.

Kent asked if they were going in to the concert, and Mrs. Walford said
they were not. It was far too warm to sit indoors to listen to that
kind of music! She found Dieppe insufferably hot, and ridiculously
over-rated. Now, Trouville was really lively; didn't he think so?

He said he did not know Trouville.

"Don't you? Oh, it is ever so much better; very jolly--really most
jolly. We were there last year, and enjoyed it immensely. We--we
had such a time!" She giggled loudly. "How long are you gentlemen
remaining?"

"Mr. Turquand is 'deserting' to-morrow," he said. "I? Oh, I shall have
to leave in about a week, I'm afraid."

"You said that a week ago," murmured Miss Walford.

"I like the place," he confessed; "I find it very pleasant, myself."

Mrs. Walford threw up her hands with a scream of expostulation. Her
face was elderly, despite her attentions to it, but in her manner she
was often a great deal more youthful than her daughter; indeed, while
the girl had already acquired something of the serenity of a woman, the
woman was superficially reverting to the artlessness of a girl.

"What is there to like? Dieppe is the Casino, and the Casino is Dieppe!"

"But the Casino is very agreeable," he said, his glance wandering from
her.

"And the charges are perfectly monstrous. Though, of course, you
extravagant young men don't mind that!"

"A friend might call me young," said Turquand gloomily; "my worst enemy
couldn't call me extravagant."

"Oh, I mind some of the charges," returned Kent. "I hate being 'done.'"

She was pleased to hear him say so. Her chief requirement of a young
man was that he should be well provided for, but if he had the good
feeling to exercise a nice economy till he became engaged, it was an
additional recommendation. Her giggle was as violent as before, though.

"Oh, I daresay!" she exclaimed facetiously; "I'm always being taken
in; I don't believe those stories any longer. Do you remember Willy
Holmes, Cynthia, and the tales he used to tell me? I used to think that
young man was so steady, I was always quoting him! And it turned out he
was a regular scapegrace and everybody knew it all the time, and had
been laughing at me. I've given up believing in any one, Mr. Kent--in
anyone, do you hear?" She shook the splendours of her hat at him, and
gasped and gurgled archly. "I've no doubt you're every bit as bad as
the rest!"

He answered with some inanity. Miss Walford asked him a question,
and he took a seat beside her in replying. Turquand sat down too.
Twilight was falling, and a refreshing breeze began to make itself
felt. A fashionable sea purled on the sand below with elegant decorum.
In the building the concert commenced, and snatches of orchestration
reached them through the chatter of American and English and French
from the occupants of the chairs behind. Presently Mrs. Walford wanted
to go and play petits chevaux. The sub-editor, involuntarily attached
to the party, accompanied her, and Kent and the girl followed. The
crowd round the tables was fairly large, but Turquand prevailed on
the dame to see that there was space for four persons in a group. She
complimented him on his dexterity, but immediately afterwards became
"fatigued," and begged him to take her to the "settee in the corner."
The party was now divided into couples.



CHAPTER II


He had appreciated the manoeuvres sufficiently to feel no surprise
when she found the room "stifling" ten minutes later and said that she
must return to the terrace. She had shown such small desire for his
companionship hitherto, however, that he was momentarily uncertain
which tête-à-tête was the one that she was anxious to prolong.

"Pouf!" she exclaimed, as they emerged into the air. "It was
unbearable. Where are the others? Didn't they come out too?"

"They have no idea we've gone," said Turquand dryly.

She was greatly astonished; she had to turn before she could credit it.

"I thought they were behind us," she repeated several times. "I'm sure
they saw us move. Oh, well, they'll find it out in a minute, I expect!
Never mind!"

They strolled up and down.

"Sorry you're going, Mr. Turquand? Your friend will miss you very
much."

"I don't think so," he answered. "He knew I was only running over for a
few days."

"He tells me it is the first holiday he has taken for years," she said.
"His profession seems to engross him. I suppose it is an engrossing
one. But he oughtn't to exhaust his strength. I needn't ask you if
you've read his novel. What do you think of it?"

"I think it extremely clever work," said Turquand.

"And it's been a great success, too, eh? 'One of the books of the
year,' _The Times_ called it."

"It has certainly given him a literary position."

"How splendid!" she said. "Yes, that's what _I_ thought it: 'extremely
clever,' brilliant--most brilliant! His parents must be very proud of
him?"

"They're dead," said Turquand.

Mrs. Walford was surprised again. She had "somehow taken it for granted
that they were living," and as she understood that he had no brothers
or sisters, it must be very lonely for him?

"He sees a good deal of _me_" said her escort, "and I'm quite a festive
sort of person when you know me."

Her giggle announced that she found this entertaining, but the approval
did not loosen his tongue. She fanned herself strenuously, and decided
that, besides being untidy, he was dense.

"Of course, in one way," she pursued, "his condition is an advantage
to him. Literary people have to work so hard if they depend on their
writing, don't they?"

"I do," he assented, "I'm sorry to say."

His constant obtrusion of himself into the matter annoyed her very
much. She had neither inquired nor cared if he worked hard, and she
felt disposed to say so. Turquand, who realised now why honours had
been thrust upon him this evening, regretted that loyalty to Kent
prevented his doing him what he felt would be the greatest service
that could be rendered and removing the temptation of the mauve girl
permanently from his path.

"With talent and private means our author is fortunate?"

"I often tell him so," he said.

"If it doesn't tempt him to rest on his oars," she added delightedly.
"Wealth _has_ its dangers. Young men _will_ be young men!"

"'Wealth' is a big word," said he. "Kent certainly can't be called
'wealthy.'"

"But he doesn't depend on his pen?" she cried with painful
carelessness.

"He has some private means, I believe; in fact, I know it."

"I am so glad--so glad for him. Now I have no misgivings about his
future at all.... Have _you_?"

"I'm not sure that I follow you."

She played with her fan airily.

"He is certain to succeed, I mean; he needn't fear anything, as he has
a competence. Oh, I know what these professions are," she went on,
laughing. "My son is in the artistic world, we are quite behind the
scenes. I know how hard-up some of the biggest professionals are when
they have nothing but their profession to depend on. A profession is so
precarious--shocking--even when one has aptitude for it."

"Kent has more than 'aptitude,'" he said. "He has power. Perhaps he'll
always work too much for himself and the reviewers to attract the
widest public. Perhaps he's a trifle inclined to over-do the analytical
element in his stuff; but that's the worst that can be said. And,
then, it's a question of taste. For myself, I'm a believer, in the
introspective school, and I think his method's It."

"Schools" and "methods" were meaningless to the lady in such a
connection. Novels were novels, and they were either "good" or they
were "rubbish," if she understood anything about them--and she had
read them all her life. She looked perplexed, and reiterated the phrase
that she had already used.

"Oh, extremely clever, brilliant--most brilliant, really! I quite agree
with you."

"Your son writes, did you say, Mrs. Walford?"

"Oh no, not writes--no! No, my son sings. He sings. He is studying for
the operatic stage." Her tone couldn't have been more impressive if she
had said he was de Reszke. "His voice is quite magnificent."

"Really!" he replied with interest. "That's a great gift--a voice."

"He is 'coming out' soon," she said. "He--er--could get an engagement
at any moment, but--he is so conscientious. He feels he must do himself
justice when he makes his debut. Justice. In professional circles he is
thought an immense amount of--immense!"

"Has he sung at any concerts?"

"In private," she explained--"socially. He visits among musicians a
great deal. And of course it makes it very lively for us. He is quite
--er--in the swim!"

"You're to be congratulated on your family," said Turquand. "With such
a son, and a daughter like Miss Walford----"

"Yes, she is very much admired," she admitted--"very much! But a
strange girl, Mr. Turquand. You wouldn't believe how strange!"

He did not press her to put him to the test, but she supplied the
particulars as if glad of the opportunity. He remarked that, in
narrating matters of which she was proud, she adopted a breathless,
staccato delivery, which provoked the suspicion that she was inventing
the facts as she went on.

"She is _most_ peculiar," she insisted. "The matches she has refused!
Appalling!"

"No?" he said.

"A Viscount!" she gasped. "She refused a Viscount in Monte Carlo last
year. A splendid fellow! 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! 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
goose? Be grateful that you aren't a mother, Mr. Turquand."

"Some day," he opined, without returning thanks, "the young lady will
be induced."

"Oh, and before long, if it comes to that!" She nodded confidentially.
"To tell you the truth, I expect somebody here next week. A young man
rolling in riches, and with expectations that--oh, tremendous! He
raves about her. She has refused him--er--seven times--seven times. He
wanted to commit suicide after her last rejection. But she _respects_
him immensely. A noble fellow he is--oh, a most noble fellow! And when
he asks her again, I rather fancy that pity'll make her accept him,
after all."

"She must have felt it a grave responsibility," observed 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 understand--sorry. And, between
ourselves, I'm sure I really don't know what to think would be for the
best--I don't indeed! But I wouldn't mind wagering a pair of gloves,
that, if she doesn't meet Mr. Right soon, she'll end by giving in and
Mr. Somebody-else will have stolen the prize before he comes--hee, hee,
hee!"

Turquand groaned in his soul. In his mental vision his friend already
flopped helplessly in the web, and he derived small encouragement from
the reflection that she was mistaken in the succulence of her fly.

"You're 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! assez!" 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 making radiant demands on the
bridegroom's gold. Kent had lost sixteen francs, and Miss Walford had
lost 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 investigation could be made only in a saunter.

"I wonder where they have got to," she murmured.

Her companion was too contented to be curious.

"We're sure to come upon them in a minute," he said. "Do you abuse
Dieppe, too, Miss Walford?"

"Not at all--no. It is mamma who is bored."

"I should like to show you Arques," he said. "I'm 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 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 old. If you're very imaginative,
you can hear men clanking about in armour. You _would_ hear the men in
armour, 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 excepting 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 cliffs. 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!" she shivered. "And you went to look at them?"

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

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

"Oh, rather!" he agreed. "Some of the inner rooms are so black that you
literally can't see your hand before you. It would be a beautiful place
for a murder! 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 they
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!" laughed Miss Walford daintily.

"Do you like that kind of story?"

"I like plots about real life best," she said. "Don't you?"

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

"Wherever have you been, Cynthia? We thought you were lost," he heard
Mrs. Walford say discordantly, and the next moment they were all
together.

"It's where have _you_ been, mamma, isn't it?"

"Well, I like that! We didn't stop a minute; I made certain you saw us
get up. We've been hunting for you everywhere. Mr. Turquand and I have
been out here ever so long, haven't we, Mr. Turquand? Looking at the
moon, too, if you want to know, and--hee, hee, hee!--talking sentiment."

Turquand, 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" she persisted
uproariously. "Mr. Kent, are you shocked? Oh, I've shocked Mr. Kent!
He'll always remember it--I can see it in his face."

"I shall always remember _you_, Mrs. Walford," he said, trying to make
the fatuity sound graceful.

"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, hee!--you two
young people are too respectable for _us_. We don't ask any questions,
but--but I daresay Mr. Turquand and I aren't the only _ones_--hee, hee,
hee!--who have been 'looking at the moon.'"

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

She agreed that it was, and a waiter brought them ices, and Mrs.
Walford was giddy over a liqueur. They remained at the table until
she said that 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 to the café where they had had their
conversation after dinner.

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

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



CHAPTER III


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

Soon after the chocolate and rolls, he went with the ladies to the
Casino, and spent the morning beside them under the awning. Mrs.
Walford did not bathe: while people could have comfortable baths in the
vicinity of their toilet-tables, she considered that recourse to tents
and the sea was making an unnecessary confidence--and she disliked to
see Cynthia swim, "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 copy of a novel while Mr. Kent and
her daughter talked. Considering the speed with which she read it,
indeed, it was constantly astonishing to him that she could contrive
to do a book so much damage. In the evening they strolled out again,
and but for the afternoon he would have had small cause for 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 thought that the visit to Arques would be "very jolly,"
and the excursion was made about a week later. Kent found the girl's
concurrence 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 realised the influence of the scene, though her choice of
adjectives was not happy--the explorations "made her tired" before
long. Since the others were so indefatigable, they "might explore while
she rested!"

It was, as Kent had said, intensely still. The practical 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 endless 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 rose, a line of light glinted like water. 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! Among the
crumbling walls the girl's frock fluttered charmingly; his eyes left
the landscape and sought her face.

"It's divine!" she said.

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

"I knew you'd like it," he said unsteadily.

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

Kent stood beside her in a pause in which he believed that he
struggled. He felt that she was unattainable; but there was an
intoxication in the moment that he was not strong enough to resist. He
touched her hand, and, his hear! pounding, met her gaze as she turned.

"Cynthia!" he said in his throat. The colour left her cheeks, and her
head drooped. "Are you angry with me?" She was eminently graceful in
the attitude. "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! 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 had clasped
a goddess, and he would not have been aware of it if all the pins of
Birmingham had been concealed about her toilette to protest.

Presently she said:

"We must go back to mamma!"

He had forgotten that she had one, and the recollection was a descent.

"What will she say?" he asked. "I'm not a millionaire, dearest; I am
afraid she won't be pleased."

"I'll 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 between orphans, whose surviving relatives were
abroad and afraid of a voyage. "Do you think they will give you to me?"

"After I've spoken to them," she said deliciously. "Yes--oh, they will
be nice, I am sure, Mr. Kent!... There, then! 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 go back to mamma!"

"Did you know I was fond of you?" asked Kent.

"I--wandered."

"Why?"

"Why did I wonder?"

"Yes."

"I don't know."

"No; tell me! Was it because--you liked me?"

"You're vain enough already."

"Haven't I an excuse for vanity?"

"_Am_ I an excuse?"

Language failed him.

"Tell me why you wondered," he begged.

"Because----You're wickedly persistent!"

"I am everything that is awful. Cynthia?"

"Yes?"

"Because you liked me?"

"Perhaps; the weeniest scrap in the world. Oh, you _are_ horrid! What
things you make me say! 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've only written one book."

"Did you make it up? He didn't talk as you talk to _me_?

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

"But he said the very sweetest things!"

"That's why."

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

"Who is _he_?"

"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."

"Oh, you're an angel!" he exclaimed. "Cynthia, we shall always remember
Arques?"

She breathed assent. "Was this Joan of Arc's Arques?"

"No--Noah's."

"_Whose?_" she said.

He was penitent; he made haste to add:

"Not hers; it is spelt differently, besides."

"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!"

Mrs. Walford didn't evince any signs of perturbation, however, when
they rejoined her, nor did she ask for particulars of what they had
seen. She seemed to think it likely that they might not feel talkative.
She said that 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 château. Around 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
historical novels herself. Had Mr. Kent and Cynthia any idea of the
quantity of pippins grown in the immediate neighbourhood every summer?
The gardien had told her that as well. No; it had nothing to do with
the château, but it was simply extraordinary, and the bulk of the fruit
was converted into cider, and the peasantry got it for nothing. Cider
for nothing must be so very nice for them when they couldn't afford the
wine, and she had no doubt that it was much more wholesome too, though,
personally, she had tasted cider only once, and then it had made her
ill.

They drove down the dusty hill listening to her. The girl spoke
scarcely at all, and the onus of appearing entertained devolved upon
Kent. When the fiacre deposited them at the hotel at last, he drew
a sigh in which relief and apprehension mingled. Cynthia followed
her mother upstairs, and he caught a glance from her, and smiled his
gratitude; but he questioned inwardly what would be the upshot of
the announcement that 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. 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 that Mrs. Walford
over-estimated his eligibility; perhaps he was no worse off than she
thought? 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 encouraged him. What _was_
"encouragement"?

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 anathematised an epergne which to-night seemed more than
usually obstructive. Cynthia was in white. He did not remember having
seen her in the gown before, and the glimpse of her queenliness shook
him. No mother would accord to him so peerless a treasure--he had been
mad!

It was interminable, this procession of courses, relieved 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 that he descried
was as pale as the corsage. How could she manage it? He himself was
bedewed with perspiration.

He could wait no longer. He went on to the veranda and lit a cigar. He
saw Mrs. Walford come out, and, throwing the cigar away, 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. Walford?"

"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'm devoted to her, and _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 astonished when Cynthia spoke to me. I hadn't
an idea of it. I--er--I don't know whether I'm particularly obtuse in
these affairs--hee, hee, hee!--but I hadn't a suspicion!"

"But you don't refuse?" he begged. "You don't disapprove?"

She waved her hands 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; she has 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.
With a thousand pounds behind us, I reckon that my profession would
certainly enable us to live comfortably till I could support a wife
by my pen alone." Her jaw dropped. He felt it before he turned, and
shivered. "I'm afraid you don't think it very excellent?" he murmured.

She was breathing agitatedly.

"It ... I must say--er--I fear her father would never sanction----Oh
no; I am sure! It's out of the question."

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

"A wife!" she said, "a wife! My dear Mr. Kent, 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 you in?"

"I sold my novel for a hundred pounds," he answered. "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 been sentimental only when her parents approved--she
hadn't "married for money," but her heart had been providentially
warmed towards the one young gentleman of her acquaintance who was
"comfortably off." She thought, however, of Cynthia, who had displayed
considerable feeling in the bedroom an hour ago.

"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--_very_ vexed. I shall write to her
father to-night. I must ask you to consider the whole matter entirely
indefinite until he comes. Immense responsibility ... immense! I can't
say any more, Mr. Kent."

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



CHAPTER IV


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

"Well, what's this damn nonsense, Louisa, eh? There's nothing in this,
you know--this won't do."

"Cynthia is very cut up; you had better tell her so! I'm sure I wish we
had waited and gone to Brighton instead.... A lot of bother!"

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

"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!"

"I'll talk to her," he declared. "Where is she now? Let's 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 complimentary
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, can he? I suppose he's
a bull of himself, eh? Thinks he ought to be snapped at?"

"Nothing of the sort; you always jump to such extraordinary
conclusions," she said. "He is a perfect gentleman and proposed for her
beautifully. After all, there aren't many young men who've got so much
as a thousand pounds in ready money."

"But he isn't making anything, you tell me," objected Mr. Walford;
"they'll eat up a thousand pounds before they know where they are....
He wouldn't expect anything with her, I suppose?"

She shook her head violently.

"No _earthly_ occasion. Oh _dear_ no!"

"Let me go and see Cynthia," he said again. "It's a funny thing a girl
like that hasn't ever had a good offer--upon my soul it is!"

"You ask home such twopenny-halfpenny men," retorted his wife. "She is
in her room; I'll let her know you're here."

Cynthia _was_ "cut up." She liked Humphrey Kent very much--and
everything is relative: she felt herself to be a Juliet. She considered
it very unkind of mamma to oppose their marriage, and said as much to
her father, with tears on her lashes and pathetic little sobs. Sam
Walford was sorry for her; his affection for his children was his best
attribute. He said "Damn it!" several times more. And then he patted
her on the cheek, and told her not to cry, and went out on the Plage to
commune with tobacco.

After his cigar, he sought a coiffeur--there is a very excellent one in
Dieppe; and he was shaved, an operation that freshened him extremely;
and he had his thin hair anointed with various liquids of agreeable
fragrance and most attractive hues, and submitted his moustache to the
curling-irons. The French barber will play with one for hours, and when
Mr. Walford had acquired a carnation for his buttonhole, and sipped a
vermouth over the pages of _Gil Blas_ it was time to think of returning
to the hotel. A pretty woman, who had looked so demure in approaching
that the impropriety was a sensation, lifted her eyes to him and
smiled as she passed. He momentarily hesitated, but remembered that it
was near the dinner-hour, and that he was a father with a daughter's
love-affair upon his hands. But he re-entered the hotel in a good
humour.

Cynthia went to bed radiantly happy that night, and kissed a bundle of
lilies that had cost fifty francs, for the Capulets had relented.

The two men had had a long conversation on the terrace over their
coffee, and the senior, who was favourably impressed, had ended by
being jovial and calling Kent "my boy," and smacking him on the
shoulder.

Mrs. Walford was not displeased by the decision, since it could never
be said that she had advocated it. "My daughter's fiancé, Mr. Kent,
the novelist, you know," sounded very well, and she foresaw herself
expatiating on his importance, and determined what his income should be
in her confidences to intimate friends. Really, if the house were nice,
he might be making anything she liked--who could dispute her assertions?

The Capulets had relented, and the sun shone--especially in Paris,
where Kent went in haste to get the engagement-ring; the thirsty trees
were shuddering in the glare, and the asphalt steamed. But to wait had
been impossible, though the stay at Dieppe was drawing to a close and
they would all be back in London soon. It seemed to him that it would
be as the signing of the agreement when Cynthia put her finger through
his ring; and he was resolved that it should be a better one than any
of those that her mother wore with such complacence. Poor devil of an
author though he was, her acquaintances shouldn't see that Cynthia was
marrying badly by the very emblem of his devotion!

In the rue de la Paix he spent an hour scrutinising windows before
he permitted himself to enter a shop. He chose finally a pearl and
diamonds--one big white pearl, and a diamond flashing on either side of
it. It was in a pale blue velvet case, lined with white satin. He was
satisfied with his purchase, and so was the salesman.

Cynthia's flush of delight as he disclosed it repaid him
superabundantly, and when the girl proudly displayed it to them, he was
gratified to observe her parents' surprise. The cries of admiration
into which Mrs. Walford broke were fervent, and instantaneously she
decided to say that he was making three thousand a year.

His days were now delicious to Kent. A magic haze enwrapped their
stereotyped incidents, so that the terrace of the Casino, the veranda
of the hotel, Nature, and the polyglot lounging crowd itself, were all
beatified. They were as familiar things viewed in a charming dream--
"the pleasant fields traversed so oft," which were still more pleasant
as they appeared to the sleeping soldier. A tenderness overflowing from
his own emotions was imparted to the scenes, and he found it almost
impossible to realise sometimes that the goddess beside him, who had
been so unapproachable a month ago, was actually to belong to him. It
dazzled him; it seemed incredible.

He had once sat down in the salon de lecture with the intention of
informing Turquand of his joy; but the knowledge that the news entailed
a defence, if he didn't wish to write formally, had resulted in his
writing nothing. Delicacy demanded that he should excuse his action
by word of mouth if excuses were required at all. To do such a thing
in permanent pen-strokes looked to him profanation of an angel and an
insult to the bounty of God.

Mr. Walford was not able to remain at Dieppe till the day fixed for the
others' return; nor, he said genially, was there any occasion for him
to put himself out now that he had a prospective son-in-law to take his
place. Humphrey was well content. He understood that the elder lady was
a bad sailor and clung obstinately to the saloon, and he anticipated
several golden hours to which the paternal presence would have proved
alloy.

He was not disappointed. Sustained by Heidsieck and the stewardess,
Mrs. Walford stayed below, as usual, and he tasted the responsibility
of having the girl in his charge. He let the flavour dissolve on his
palate slowly. It was as if they were already on the honeymoon, he
thought, as they paced the deck together, or he made her comfortable
in a chair and brought her strawberries; he watched her eat them with
amused interest, vaguely conscious that he found it wonderful to see
her mouth unclose and a delicate forefinger and thumb grow pinky.

"You are sure you have the address right?" she asked. "Humphrey, fancy
if you lost it and could never find us again after we said good-bye
to-day! Wouldn't it be awful?"

"Awful!"

"Such a thing might happen," she declared. "You try and try your
hardest to remember where we told you we lived, but you can't. It is
terrible! You go mad----"

"Or to a post-office," he said.

She laughed gaily.

"How could you write to me when you'd forgotten the address? You
_foolish_ fellow! There, _I_ was brighter than _you_ that time."

He felt it would be prolix to explain that he was thinking of a
directory, and not of stamps.

"Come, after that, I must really hear if you've learnt your lesson!
What is it? Quick!"

"You live in a house called The Hawthorns," he said--"one of the
houses. You would have called it The Cedars, only that was the name of
the house next door. I take the train to Streatham Hill--I must be very
particular to say 'Hill,' or catastrophes will happen. To begin with, I
shall lose an hour of your society----"

"And dinner--dinner will certainly be over!"

"Dinner will certainly be over. When I come out, I turn to the right,
pass the estate agent's, take the first to the left, and recollect that
I'm looking for a bow-window and a white balcony, and a fence that
makes it impossible to see them. Do I know it?"

"Not 'impossible.' But--yes, I'll trust you."

He parted from the women at Victoria, and, getting into a hansom, gave
himself up to reflection. The rooms that he shared with Turquand were
in the convenient, if unfashionable, neighbourhood of Soho, and an
all-pervading odour of jam reminded him presently that he was nearing
his destination. He wasn't sure of finding Turquand in at this hour.
He opened the door with his latchkey, and, dragging his portmanteaus
into the passage, ran upstairs. The journalist, in his shirt-sleeves,
was reading an evening paper, with his slippered feet crossed on the
window-sill.

"Hallo!" he said; "you've got back?"

"Yes," said Humphrey. "How the jam smells!"

"It's raspberry to-day. I've come to the conclusion that the
raspberry's the most penetrating. How are you?"

"Dry, and hungry too. Is there anything to drink in the place?"

"There's a very fine brand of water on the landing, and there's the
remainder of a roll, extra sec, in the cupboard, I believe; I finished
the whisky last night. We can go and have some dinner at the Suisse.
Madame is désolée; she's asked after you most tenderly."

"Good old madame! And her moustache?"

"More luxuriant."

There was a pause, in which Humphrey considered how best to impart his
tidings. The other shifted his feet, and contemplated the smoke-dried
wall--the only view attainable from the window. Kent stared at him. It
was displayed to him clearly for the first time that his marriage would
mean severance from Turquand and the Restaurant Suisse and all that had
been his life hitherto, and that Turquand might feel it more sorely
than he expressed. He was sorry for Turquand. He lounged over to the
mantelpiece and dipped his hand in the familiar tobacco-jar, and filled
a pipe before he spoke.

"Well," he said, with an elaborate effort to sound careless, "I suppose
you'll hardly be astonished, old chap--I'm engaged."



CHAPTER V


Turquand did not answer immediately.

"No," he said at last; "I'm not astonished. Nothing could astonish me,
excepting good news. When is the event to take place?"

"That's not settled. Soon.... We shall always be pals, Turk?"

"I'll come and see you sometimes--oh yes. Father consented?"

"Things are quite smooth all round."

"H'mph!"

He looked hard at the wall and pulled his beard.

"You said it would happen, didn't you? I didn't see a glimmer of a
possibility myself."

"Love's blind, you know."

"You said, too, it--er--it wouldn't be altogether a wise step. You'll
change your mind about that one day, Turk."

"Hope so," said Turquand. "Can't to-night."

"You still believe I'm making a mistake?"

"What need is there to discuss it now?"

"Why shouldn't we?"

"Why _should_ we? Why argue with a man whether the ice will bear after
he has made a hole in it?"

"We shan't be extravagant, and I shall work like blazes. I've a plot
simmering already."

"Happy ending this time?"

"I don't quite see it, to be consistent--no."

"You must manage it. They like happy endings, consistent or not."

"Damn it, I mean to be true! I won't sell my birthright for a third
edition! I shall work like blazes, and we shall live quite quietly
somewhere in a little house----"

"That's impossible," said Turquand. "You may live in a little house, or
you may live quietly, but you can't do both things at the same time."

"In the suburbs--in Streatham, probably. Her people live in Streatham,
and of course she would like to be near them."

"And you will have a general servant, eh, with large and fiery
hands--like Cornelia downstairs? Only she'll look worse than Cornelia,
because your wife will dress her up in muslins and streamers, and try
to disguise the _generality_. If you work in the front of your pretty
little house, your nervous system 'll be shattered by the shrieks of
your neighbours' children swinging on the gates--forty-pound-a-year
houses in the suburbs are infested with children; nothing seems
to exterminate them, and the inevitable gates groan like souls in
hell--and if you choose the back, you'll be assisted by the arrival
of the joint, and the vegetables, and the slap of the milk-cans, and
Cornelia the Second's altercations with the errand-boys. A general
servant with a tin pail alone is warranted to make herself heard for
eleven hundred and sixty yards."

"Life hasn't made an optimist of you," observed Kent, less cheerfully,
"that you clack about 'happy endings'!"

"The optimist is like the poet--he's born, he _isn't_ made. Speaking of
life, I suppose you'll assure yours when you marry?"

"Yes," said Kent meditatively; "yes, that's a good idea. I shall....
But your suggestions are none of them too exhilarating," he added;
"let's go to dinner!"

The sub-editor put on his jacket and sought his boots.

"I'm ready," he announced. "By the way, I never thought to inquire:
Mrs. Walford hasn't a large family, has she?"

"A son as well, that's all. Why?"

"I congratulate you," said Turquand; it was the first time the word
had passed his lips. "It's a truism to say that a man should never
marry; anybody; but if he must blunder with someone, let him choose an
only child! Marrying into a large family's more expensive still. His
wife has for ever got a sister having a wedding, or a christening, or
a birthday and wanting a present; or a brother asking for a loan, or
dying and plunging her into costly crape. Yes, I congratulate you."

Humphrey expressed no thanks, and he determined to avoid the subject of
his engagement as much as possible in their conversations hence-forward.

He was due at The Hawthorns the following afternoon at five o'clock,
and his impatience to see the girl again was intensified by the
knowledge that he was about to see her in her home. The day was
tedious. In the morning it was showery, and he was chagrined to think
that he was doomed to enter the drawing-room in muddy shoes; but after
lunch the sky cleared, and when he reached Victoria the pavements were
dry. The train started late, and travelled slowly; but he heard a
porter bawling "Stretta Mill!" on the welcome platform at last, and,
making the station's acquaintance with affectionate eyes, he hastened
up the steps, and in the direction of the house.

He was prepossessed by its exterior, and his anticipations were
confirmed on entering the hall.

Mrs. Walford was in the garden, he was told, and the parlourmaid led
him there. It was an extremely charming garden. It was well designed,
and it had a cedar and a tennis-court, which was pleasant to look at,
though tennis was not an accomplishment that his life had furnished
opportunities for acquiring; and it contained a tea-table under the
cedar's boughs, and Cynthia in a basket-chair and a ravishing frock.

He was welcomed with effusion, and he presented his chocolates.
Mr. Walford, already returned from town, was quite parental in his
greeting. Tea was very nice and English in the cedar's shade and
Cynthia's presence. It was very nice, too, to be made so much of in the
circumstances. Really they were very delightful people!

The son was in Germany, he learnt.

"Or we could have given you a treat, my boy, if you are fond of music!"
exclaimed the stock-jobber. "You will hear a voice when he comes back.
That's luck for a fellow, to be born with an organ like Cæsar's!
He'll be making five hundred a week in twelve months. I tell you it's
wonderful!"

"'Five hundred a week'?" echoed Mrs. Walford.

"He'll be making more than five hundred a week, I hope, before long!
They get two or three hundred a night--_not_ voices as fine as
Cæsar's--and won't go on the stage till they have had their money,
either. You talk such nonsense, Sam ... absurd!"

"I said 'in twelve months,'" murmured her husband deprecatingly.
"I said in 'twelve months,' my dear." He turned to Kent, and added
confidentially, "There isn't a bass in existence to compare with him.
You'll say so when you hear. Ah, let me introduce you to another member
of the family--my wife's sister."

Kent saw that they had been joined by a spare little woman with a thin,
pursed mouth and a nose slightly pink. She was evidently a maiden lady,
and his hostess's senior. Her tones were tart, and when she said that
she was pleased to meet him, he permitted himself no illusion that she
spoke the truth.

Miss Wix, as a matter of fact, was not particularly pleased to meet
anybody. She lived with the Walfords because she had no means of her
own and it was essential for her to live somewhere; but she accepted
her dependence with mental indignation, and fate had soured her. Under
a chilly demeanour she often burned secretly with the consciousness
that she was not wanted, and the knowledge found expression at long
intervals in an emotional outbreak, in which she quarrelled with
Louisa violently, and proclaimed an immediate intention of "taking a
situation." What kind of situation she thought she was competent to
fill nobody inquired; neither did the "threat" ever impose on anyone,
nor did she take more than a preliminary step towards fulfilling it.
She nursed the "Wanted" columns of the _Telegraph_ ostentatiously for
a day or two, and waited for the olive-branch. The household were
aware that she must be persuaded to forgive them, and she was duly
persuaded--relapsing into the acidulated person, in whom hysteria
looked impossible. A year or so later the outbreak would be repeated,
and she would then threaten to "take a situation" quite as vehemently
as before.

"Tea, Aunt Emily?"

"Yes, please, if it hasn't got cold."

Humphrey took it to her. She stirred the cup briskly, and eyed him with
critical disfavour.

"I've read your book, Mr. Kent."

"Oh," he responded, as she did not say any more. "Have you, Miss Wix?"

"Very good, I'm sure," she brought out, after a further silence. He
would not have imagined the simple words capable of conveying so
clearly that she thought it very small beer indeed. "I suppose you're
in the middle of another?"

"No," he replied, "not yet."

"Really?"

She obviously considered that he ought to be.

"You should call her 'aunt,'" exclaimed Sam Walford. "You'll have to
call her 'Aunt Emily.' We don't go in for formality, my boy. Rough
diamonds!"

"Perhaps Mr. Kent thinks it would be rather premature," suggested Miss
Wix.

He talked to Cynthia.

Fruit and fowls might be admired if he liked, and she and papa took
him on a tour of inspection. There were moments when he was alone with
Cynthia, while her father discovered that there weren't any eggs.

"He is very good-looking," said Mrs. Walford; "don't you think so?"

"I can't say he struck me as being remarkable for beauty," said the
spinster.

"I didn't say he was 'remarkable for beauty,' but he
has--er--distinction--decided distinction. I'm surprised you don't see
it. And he has very fine eyes."

"His eyes won't give 'em any carriage-and-pair," replied Miss Wix. "_I_
used to have fine eyes, my dear, but I've stared at hard times so
long."

"I don't know where the 'hard times' come in, I'm sure!" exclaimed Mrs.
Walford sharply. "And he wanted to give her a carriage directly they
marry, but Sam's forbidden it."

The maiden sniffed.

"He is most modest for his position! I tell you, he was chased in
Dieppe; the women ran after him. A baroness in the hotel positively
threw her daughter at his head.... He wouldn't look at anybody but
Cynthia.... The Baroness was _miserable_ the day the engagement was
known."

"Cynthia ought to be very proud," returned her sister dryly.

"Oh, of course the girl is making a wonderful match--no doubt about it!
He sold his novel for an extraordinary sum--quite extraordinary!--and
the publishers have implored him to let them have another at his own
terms; I saw the telegrams.... Astonishing position for such a young
man!"

"She's in luck!"

"She's a very taking girl. Her smile is so sweet, and her teeth are
quite perfect."

"She was in luck to meet such a catch--some I people didn't have the
opportunity.... I once had a beautiful set of teeth," added Miss Wix
morosely; "but you can't pick rich husbands off gooseberry-bushes."

On the white balcony, after dinner, Kent begged Cynthia to fix the
wedding-day. After she had named one in May, it was agreed that,
subject to her parents' approval, they should be married two months
hence. He made his way to the station about eleven o'clock, with a
flower in his coat and rapture in his soul.

The first weeks of the period were interminable.

He went to The Hawthorns daily, and Mrs. Walford was so good as to look
about for a house for them in the neighbourhood. He was in love, but
not a fool; he was determined not to cripple himself at the outset by
a heavy rental. In conference with the fiancée he intimated that it
would be preposterous for them to think of paying a higher rent than
fifty pounds. Cynthia was a little disappointed, for mamma had just
seen a villa at sixty-five that was a "picturesque duck." He strangled
an impulse to say, "We'll take it," and repeated that as soon as their
circumstances brightened they could remove. She did not argue the
point, though the _rara avis_ evidently allured her, and Kent felt her
acquiescence to be very gracious, and wondered if he sounded mean.

The outlay on furniture did not worry him much. As Mrs. Walford pointed
out, the things would "always be there" and "once they were bought,
they were bought!" In her company they proceeded to Tottenham Court
Road every morning for a week, and this one sped more quickly to
him than any yet. It was a foretaste of life with Cynthia to choose
armchairs, and etchings, and ornaments, and the rest, for their home
together. They had found a house at fifty pounds per annum; it was
about ten minutes' walk from The Hawthorns, a semi-detached villa in
red brick, with nice wide windows, and electric bells, and rose-trees
on either side of the tessellated path. They wanted to be able to
drive up to it when they returned from the honeymoon and find it ready
for them. Mrs. Walford was to buy the kitchen utensils, and engage a
servant while they were away. All they had to do now was to buy the
articles of interest, and settle the wall-papers, and have little
intermediate luncheons, and go back to the shop, and sip tea while
rolls of carpet were displayed. It was great fun.

In the shops, though, the things seldom seemed to look so nice as they
had done in the catalogues, and it was generally necessary to pay
more than had been foreseen. But, again, "once they were bought, they
were bought!" The thought was sustaining. If Kent felt blank when he
contemplated the total of what they had spent, and remembered that the
kitchen clamoured still, he reflected that to kiss Cynthia in such a
jolly little menage would certainly be charming, and the girl averred
ecstatically that the dessert service "looked better than mamma's!"
He estimated that they could live in comfort on two hundred and fifty
a year--for the first year, at all events; and by then he would have
finished a novel, which, in view of the Press notices that he had had,
he believed would bring them in as much as that. Even if it did not,
there would be a substantial portion of his capital remaining; and with
the third book----No, he had no cause for dismay, he told himself.

They had decided upon Mentone for the wedding trip--a fortnight. It was
long enough, and they both felt that they would rather go to Mentone
for a fortnight than to Bournemouth or Ventnor for a month. It would
amount to much the same thing financially, and be much more pleasant.

"The morning after we come back, darling," said Kent, "I shall go
straight to my desk after breakfast, and you know you'll see scarcely
more of me till evening than if I were a business man and had to go to
the City."

"Y-e-s," concurred Cynthia meekly. "Of course--I understand."



CHAPTER VI


Mr. and Mrs. Waxford's present was to be a grand piano--or possibly a
semi-grand, since the drawing-room was not extensive--and with a son
being educated for the musical profession, it was natural that they
shouldn't select it till he returned; they wished for the advantage of
his judgment.

He was travelling. He was on the Continent with Pincocca, the master
under whom he studied. On hearing of his sister's engagement, he had
at once despatched affectionate letters, and now he was expected home
in two or three days to make Mr. Kent's acquaintance, and tender his
felicitations in person.

The better Kent learnt to know the Walfords, the more clearly he
perceived how inordinately proud they were of their son. Cæsar's
arrival, and Cæsar's approaching debut were topics discussed with
a frequency he found tedious. Even Cynthia was so much excited by
the prospect of reunion that a tête-à-tête with her lost a little
of its fascination. He occasionally feared that if his prospective
brother-in-law did not arrive without delay, he would have been bored
into a cordial dislike for him by the time they met. He foresaw
himself telling him so, at a distant date, and their joking over the
matter together. Miss Wix alone appeared untainted by the prevailing
enthusiasm, and the first ray of friendliness for the spinster of which
he had been conscious was due to a glance of comprehension from her
eyes one afternoon when Cæsar had been discussed energetically for
upwards of half an hour. It struck him that there was even a gleam of
ironical humour in her gaze.

"Enthralling, isn't it?" she seemed to say. "What do you think of 'em?"

He said to Cynthia later:

"They do talk about your brother and his voice an awful lot, dearest,
don't they?"

She looked somewhat startled.

"Well, I suppose we do," she answered slowly, "now you point it out.
But I didn't know. You see, ever since his voice was discovered,
Cæsar's been brought up for the profession. When you've heard it,
you'll understand."

"Is it really so wonderful?" he asked respectfully.

"Oh, I'm sure you'll say so. Signor Pincocca told mamma it would be
a _crime_ if she didn't let him study seriously for the career. And
Cæsar has been under him years since then. Pincocca says when he 'comes
out' people 'll rave about him. If he had had just a 'fine voice,' he
would have gone on the Stock Exchange, you know, with papa; but--but
there could be no question about it with a gift like that."

Kent acknowledged that it was natural they should be profoundly
interested by the young fellow's promise. Privately he wished that a
literary man could also leap into fame and fortune with his debut.

The next afternoon when he reached The Hawthorns he heard that Cæsar
had already come--indeed, he had divined as much by Mrs. Walford's
jubilant air. At the moment the gentleman was not in the room; Cynthia
ran to fetch him. Humphrey awaited his entrance with considerable
curiosity, and the mother kept looking impatiently towards the door.

"I don't know what's keeping him," she said in her most staccato tones.
"He went to fetch my book. Oh, he'll be here in a minute--or shall we
go and look for him? Perhaps he's in the garden, and Cynthia can't find
him. What do you say?"

"Just as you please," said Kent.

But as he spoke the girl returned, to announce that her brother
was following her, and the next moment there was an atmosphere of
brillantine and tuberoses, and Humphrey found his finger-tips being
gently pressed in a large, moist palm.

"I am charmed," said Cæsar Walford with a lingering smile. "Charmed."

Kent saw a fat young man of six or seven and twenty, with an enormous
chest development, and a waist that suggested that he wore stays
and was already wrestling with his figure. His hair, which had been
grown long, was arranged on his forehead in a negligent curl, and his
shirt-collar, low in the neck, surmounted a flowing bow.

"I'm very pleased to meet you," said the author with disgust.

"I am charmed!" repeated Cæsar tenderly. "It's quite a delight. And
it's you who are going to take Cynthia away from us, eh?" He glanced
from one to the other, and shook a playful forefinger. "You bad man!...
O wicked puss!"

Mrs. Walford viewed these ponderous antics beamingly.

"There's grace!" her expression cried. "There's dramatic gesture for
you!"

Again Humphrey's gaze sought the sour spinster's, and--yes, her own was
eloquent.

He sipped his tea abstractedly. So this was the gifted being of whom
he had heard so much--this dreadful creature who bulged out of his
frock coat, and minced, and posed, and was alternately frisky and
pompous. What a connection to have! Was it possible that his voice was
so magnificent as they all declared, or would that be a disappointment
too? In any case, his self-complacence made a stranger ill.

It was about two hours after dinner that the young man was begged to
oblige the company, and Humphrey, who was now truly eager to hear him,
feared for a long while that the persuasions would not succeed, for the
coming bass objected in turn to Wagner, and Verdi, and all the songs
in his repertoire. He shrugged his shoulders pityingly at this one,
had forgotten another, and was "not equal" this evening to a third.
At last, however, Cynthia rose, and insisted that he should give them
"Infelice." _Ernani_ was "intolerable," but, since they would not let
him alone He crossed languidly to her side.

A hush of suspense settled upon the long drawing-room. Sam Walford
fixed Kent with a stare, as if he meant to watch the admiration begin
to bubble in him. Louisa, the hilarious and untruthful, appeared to
be experiencing some divine emotion even before the first note, Miss
Wix closed her eyes, with her mouth to one side. Then the young man
languished at the gasalier, and roared.

It was a prodigious roar. No one could dispute that he possessed a
voice of phenomenal power, if it were once conceded to be a voice, in
the musical sense, at all. It seemed as if he must burst his corsets,
and shift the furniture--that the ceiling itself must split with the
noise that he hurled up. Perspiration broke out on him, and rolled down
his face, as he writhed at the gas-globes. His large body was contorted
with exertion. But he never faltered. Bellow upon bellow he produced,
to the welcome end--till Cynthia struck the final chord and he bowed.

"A performance?" asked Walford, swollen with pride.

Kent said indeed it was.

The compliments were effusive. It was discussed whether he was, or was
not, "in voice" to-night. He explained that to "lose himself" when he
sang he needed Pincocca at the piano. He sank into his chair again, and
mopped his wet curl.

"The amateur accompaniment is very painful," he said winningly.

Kent took leave of the family earlier than was his custom, asserting
that he had work to do.

The momentous date was now close at hand, and Turquand, who had not
refused to be best man, had made a present that was lavish, all things
considered. In the days that intervened, Humphrey and he found it
impracticable to taboo the subject of the wedding; it was arranged
that on the eve of the ceremony they should have a "bachelor dinner"
by themselves, and subsequently smoke a few cigars together in a
music-hall. Neither wanted anybody else, nor, in point of fact, did
Humphrey know many men to invite. For time to attend the wedding the
journalist had applied to his Editor on the grounds of "a bereavement,"
and as he watched Kent collect possessions, and pore over a Continental
Bradshaw, and fondle the sacred ring, he was more than ever convinced
that he had used the right term.

It was a wet evening--the eve of the wedding-day. A yellow mist hung
over Soho, and a light rain had fallen doggedly since noon, turning the
grease of the pavements to slush. On the moist air the smell of the jam
clung persistently, and along the narrow streets fewer children played
tip-cat than was usual in the district.

Kent's impedimenta were packed and labelled, and a brown-paper parcel
among the litter contained the best man's new suit. The coat would
be creased by the morrow, and he knew it; but he had a repugnance to
undoing the parcel sooner than was compulsory, and once, when Kent was
not looking, he had kicked it.

The two men put up their collars, and made their way across the square.

"Are you sure we'll go to the Suisse?" asked Kent. "It isn't festive,
Turk."

"Yes, let's go to the Suisse," said Turquand grumpily. "It's close."

Both knew that its proximity was not the reason that it had been
chosen, but the pretence was desirable.

"We'll have champagne, of course," said Humphrey, as they passed
in, and took their seats at their customary little table, with its
half-yard of crusty bread and damp napkins. "We'll have champagne,
and--and be lively. For Heaven's sake don't look as if you were at
a funeral, Turk! This is to be an enjoyable evening. Where's the
wine-list?"

"Champagne? What for?" said Turquand. "Auguste will think you're
getting at him."

Auguste was prevailed upon to believe that the demand was made in
sober earnest. That being the case, he could run out for champagne no
less easily than for "bittare"! Madame, at the semi-circular counter,
waved her fat hand in their direction gaily. Monsieur had inherited a
fortune, it was evident!

"Well," said Turquand, when the cork had popped, "here's luck! Wish you
lots of happiness, old chap, I'm sure."

"Same to you," murmured Kent. "God knows I do!... It's awful muck, this
stuff, isn't it? What's he brought?"

"It's what you ordered. Your mouth's out of taste. Eat some more
kidneys."

Humphrey shook his head.

"I suppose you'll come here to-morrow evening--the same as usual, eh?"

"May as well, I suppose. One's got to feed somewhere. _You'll_ be all
rice and rapture then. I'll think of you."

"Do! I don't know how it is, but--but just now, somehow, between
ourselves But perhaps I oughtn't to say that.... I say, don't think
I was going to--to----I wouldn't have you think I meant I wasn't
fond of her, old boy, for the world! You don't think _that_, do you?
She--oh, Heaven!--she's a perfect angel, Turk!... Fill up your glass,
for goodness' sake, man, and do look jolly! Turk, next time we dine
together it'll be at Streatham, and there'll be a little hostess to
make you welcome; and--and: there'll always be a bottle of Irish, old
man, and we'll keep a pipe in the rack with the biggest bowl we can
find, and call it yours. By God, we will!"

"Yes," said Turquand huskily.... "Going to have any more of this stew?"

"I've had enough. Help yourself!"

"No, I'm not ravenous either--smoked too much, perhaps. I say, madame
doesn't know yet; better tell her."

She was induced to join them presently, and to drink a glass of
champagne, enchanted by the invitation. Monsieur Kent was always _si
gentil_. But champagne! Was it that he celebrated already another
romance? _Comment?_ he was going to be married--_nevare?_ But
yes--to-morrow? Ah, mon Dieu! She rocked herself to and fro, and
screamed the intelligence down the dinner-lift to her husband in the
kitchen. Alors, they must drink a chartreuse with her--she insisted.
Yes, and she would have one of monsieur Kent's cigarettes. To the
health of the happy pair!

Outside, the rain was still falling as they left the Restaurant Suisse
and tramped to a music-hall. Here their entrance was unfortunately
timed. Some good turns appeared earlier in the programme, some good
turns figured lower down; but during the half-hour that they remained
the monotony of the material that the average music-hall "comedian"
regards as humorous struck Kent more forcibly than ever. Wives eloped
with the lodgers, or husbands beat their wives and got drunk with "the
boys." There seemed nothing else--nothing but conjugal infelicity; it
was rang-tang-tang on the one vulgar, discordant note.

"I've had enough of this," he said; "let's go. What time is it?"

"Time for a quiet pipe at home, and then to turn in early. Let's cab
it!"

They were glad to take off their wet boots and to find themselves
back in their own shabby chairs. But Cornelia had let the fire out,
and the dismantled room was chilly. Turquand produced the whisky and
the glasses, and, blowing a cloud, they drew up to the cold hearth,
remarking that the weather had "turned muggy" and that a fire would
have been out of place on such a night.

"It looks bare without my things, doesn't it?" observed Kent. "One
wouldn't have believed they made so much difference."

"Yes," assented Turquand.

"You'll have to get some books for that shelf over there, you
know--it's awful empty."

Turquand shivered, and said that he should.

"You aren't cold?"

"Cold? Not a bit--no. You were saying---?"

"I don't know, I wasn't saying anything particular. I'll write you from
Mentone, old fellow--not at once, but you shall have a line."

"Thanks," answered Turquand; "be glad to hear from you."

"Not that there'll be anything to say."

"No, of course not. Still, you may just as well twaddle, if you will."

There was a pause, while the pair smoked slowly, each busy with his
thoughts, and considering if anything of what he felt could be said
without its sounding sentimental. Both were remembering that they would
never be sitting at home together in the room again, and though it had
many faults, it assumed to the one who was leaving it a "tender grace"
now. He had written his novel at that table; his first review had come
to him here. Associations crept out and trailed across the floor; he
felt that this room must always contain an integral portion of his
life. And Turquand would miss him.

"Be dull for you to-morrow evening, rather, I'm afraid, won't it?" he
said in a burst.

"Oh, I was alone while you were at Dieppe, you know. I shall jog along
all right.... You've bought a desk for yourself, haven't you?"

"Yes. Swagger, eh?"

"You won't 'know where yer are'.... What's that--do you feel a draught?"

"No--I--well, perhaps there is a draught now you mention it. Yes, I
shall work in style when we come back. Strange feeling, going to be
married, Turk!"

"Is it?" said Turquand. "Haven't had the experience. Hope Mrs. Kent
will like me--they never do in fiction. You ... you might tell her I'm
not a bad sort of a damned fool, will you? And--er--I want to say,
don't have the funks about asking me to your house once in a way, old
chap, when I shan't be a nuisance; take my oath I'll never shock your
wife, Humphrey ... too fond of you.... Be as careful as--as you can, I
give you my word."

His teeth closed round his pipe tightly. Neither man looked at the
other; Humphrey put out his hand without speaking, and Turquand gripped
it. There was a silence again. Both stared at the dead ashes. The clock
of St. Giles-in-the-Fields tolled twelve, and neither commented on it,
though each reflected that it was now the marriage morning.

"Strikes me we were nearly making bally asses of ourselves," said
Turquand at last, in a shaky voice. "Finish your whisky, and let's to
bed!"



CHAPTER VII


As the wheels began to revolve, he looked at the girl with
thanksgiving. Perhaps the top feeling in the tangle of his
consciousness was relief that the worry and publicity of the day were
over. They were married. For good or for ill--for always--whether
things went well or went badly with him, she was his wife now! He
realised the fact much more clearly here in the train than he had done
at the altar; indeed, at the altar he had realised little but the
awkwardness of his attitude, and that Cynthia was very nervous. And he
was glad; but, knowing that he was glad, he wondered vaguely why he did
not feel more exhilarated.

They were alone in the compartment, and he took her hand and spoke
to her. She answered by an obvious effort, and both sat gazing from
the window over the flying fields. She thought of her home, and that
"everything was very strange," and that she would have liked to cry
"properly," without having Humphrey's eyes upon her. Kent wondered
whether she would like to cry while he affected to be unaware of
it behind a paper, or whether she would imagine he wanted to read
and consider him unfeeling. He thought that a wedding-day was a very
exhausting experience for a girl, and that her evident desire to avoid
conversation was fortunate, since, to save his soul, he could not
think of anything to say that wasn't stupid. He thought, also, though
his palate did not crave tobacco, that a cigar would have helped him
tremendously, and that it was really extraordinary to reflect that he
and "Cynthia Walford" were man and wife.

Next, he questioned inwardly what _she_ was thinking, and attempted,
in a mental metamorphosis, to put himself in her place. It made him
feel horribly sorry for her. He pitied her hotly, though he could
not say so; and by a sudden impulse he squeezed her gloved fingers
again, with remorseful sympathy. At the moment that he was moved to
the demonstration, however, she was really wishing that the dressmaker
had cut the corsage of her blue theatre frock square, instead of
in a "V." She was sure it would have looked much better. He was
agreeably conscious that his mind had "something feminine in it" and
congratulated himself on his insight into hers. Some men would have
failed to comprehend! Cynthia was distressfully conscious that the
tears with which she was fighting had made her nose red, and she longed
for an opportunity to use her powder-puff. The engine screamed. Both
spoke perfunctorily. The train sped on.

       *       *       *       *       *

As he sat by her side before the sea, he looked, not at the girl but
within him. He thought of the book that had formed in his head, and
perhaps his paramount feeling was impatience, and the desire to find
the first chapter already materialising into words. They were married.
The unconscious pretences of the betrothal period were over in both. To
him, as well as to her, the magic, the subtile enchantment, was past.
She was still Cynthia--more than ever Cynthia, he understood; but there
had been a fascination when "Cynthia" was a goddess to him, which an
acquaintance with strings and buttons had destroyed. The _corylopsis_
stood in a squat little bottle with a silver lid among brushes and
hair-pins on a toilet-table, and his senses swam no more when he
detected its faintness on her frock.

Companionship, and not worship, was required now, and neither found the
other quite so companionable as had been expected. This the girl in her
heart excused less readily than the man.

Primarily, indeed, the latter refused to acknowledge it. It was
preposterous to suppose that if they did not possess much in common,
he would riot have perceived the disparity during the engagement!
Then he reminded himself that his life might have tendered him a
shade intolerant; he must remember that the subject of literary work,
all-engrossing to his own mind, made on hers unaccustomed demands. To
try to phrase a sensation, the attempt to seize a fleeting impression
so delicately that it would survive the process and not expire on the
pen's point, were instinctive habits with himself; to her they appeared
motiveless and wearisome games.

He had endeavoured, in the novels that they read together during the
honeymoon, to cultivate her appreciation of what was fine; for she had
told him some of her favourite authors and he had shuddered. She had
obtained a book for herself one day, and offered it to him. He had
thanked her, but said that he was sure by the title that he wouldn't
care for it. She answered that it was very silly and unliterary--she
had acquired that word--to judge a book by what it was called. She
was surprised at him! If _she_ had done such a thing, he would have
ridiculed her. And, apart from that, she did not see that "Winsome
Winnie" _was_ a bad title. What was the matter with it?

Kent said he could not explain. She declared with a little triumphant
laugh that that just showed how wrong he was.

He made his endeavour very tenderly. To be looked upon as the
schoolmaster abroad was a constant dread with him when he discovered
that, to effect a similarity of taste between them, either she must
advance, or he must regress. Sometimes--very occasionally--he handed
her a passage with an air of taking it for granted that the pleasure
would be mutual, but her assent was always so constrained that he was
forced to realise that the cleverness of expression was lost upon her,
that to her the word-painting had painted nothing at all.

He wondered if his wife's dulness of vision fairly represented the
eyes with which the novel-reading public read, and if it was folly to
spend an hour revising a paragraph in which the majority would, after
all, see no more artistry than if it had been allowed to remain as it
was written first. He knew that it was folly, in a man like himself,
with whom literature was a profession, and not a luxury, though he was
aware at the same time that he would never be able to help it--that to
the end there would be nights when he went up to bed having written
no more than a hundred words all day, and yet went up with elation,
because, rightly or wrongly, he felt the hundred words to have been
admirably said. He knew that there would be evenings in the future, as
there had been in the past, when, after reading a page of a master's
prose with delight, he would go and tear up five sheets of his own
manuscript with disgust. And he knew already--though he shrank from
admitting this--that when it happened he would never be able to confess
it to Cynthia, as he had done to Turquand, because Cynthia would find
it absurd.

The fortnight was near its conclusion, and both looked forward with
eagerness to the return to England. He would plunge into his work;
she would be near The Hawthorns, and have friends to come to see her.
Neither of the pair regretted the step that they had taken; each loved
the other; but a honeymoon was a trying institution, viewed as a whole.

Presently, where they sat, she turned and put some questions to him
about his projected book. Her intentions were praiseworthy; she was
a good girl, and having married an author, she understood that it
was incumbent on her to take an interest in his work, though she had
fancied once or twice that perhaps it would have been nicer if,
like a stock-jobber, he had preferred not to discuss his business at
home. Papa had never cared to do so, she knew. Discussing an author's
business was not so simple as she had assumed. There seemed to be such
a mass of tedious detail that really didn't matter.

"When do you think it will be finished, Humphrey?" she said.

"In nine months, I hope, if I stick to it."

"So long as nine months?" she exclaimed with surprise. "Why, I've
read--let me see--two, three new ones of Mrs. St. Julian's this year!
Will it _really_ take so long as nine months?"

"Quite, sweetheart; perhaps longer. I don't write quickly, I'm sorry to
say. Still, it won't be bad business if Cousins pay the two hundred and
fifty that I expect. I think they ought to, after the way the last has
been received."

"Some people get much more, don't they?"

"Just a trifle!" he said. "Yes; but I'm not a popular writer, you see.
Wait a bit, though; we'll astonish your mother with our grandeurs yet.
You shall have a victoria, _and_ two men on the box, with powdered
hair, and drive out on a wet day and splash mud at your enemies."

"I don't think I have any enemies," she laughed.

"You _will_ have when you have the victoria and pair. Some poor beggar
of an author who's hoping to get two hundred and fifty pounds for nine
months' toil will look at you from a bus and cuss you."

"Suppose you can't get two hundred and fifty?" she inquired. "You can't
be sure."

"Oh, well, if it were only a couple of hundred, we shouldn't have to go
to the workhouse, you know. If it comes to that, a hundred, the same as
I got for the other, would see us through, though of course I wouldn't
accept such a price. Don't begin to worry your little head about
ways and means on your honeymoon, darling; there's time enough for
arithmetic. And it's going to be good work. I've been practical, too.
I can end it happily, and retain a conscience. It's almost a different
plot from what it was when I began to think, and it's better. It ends
well, and it's better--the thing's a Koh-i-noor!"

"Tell me all about it," she suggested.

He complied enthusiastically. She was being very sympathetic, and he
felt with perfect momentary content how jolly it was to have a lovely
wife and talk over these things with her. Just what he had pictured!

"But wouldn't it be more exciting if you kept that a mystery till the
third volume?" she said, at the end of five minutes.

It was as if she had thrown a bucket of ice-water on his animation.

"I don't want it to be a mystery," he said. "That isn't the aim at all.
What I mean to do is to analyse the woman's sensations when she learns
it. I want to show how she feels and suffers; yes, and the temptation
that she wrestles with, and loathes herself for being too weak to put
aside. Don't you see--don't you see?"

She was chiefly sensible that his pleasure had vanished and that the
note of interest in his voice had died. She, however, repeated her
suggestion; to be a literary critic, she must be prepared to maintain
her views!

"I think all that would be much duller than if you had the surprise,"
she declared.

He did not argue--he did not attempt to demonstrate that her suggestion
amounted to proposing that he should write quite another story than the
one he was talking about; he felt hopelessly that argument would be
waste of time.

"Perhaps you are right," he said; "but one does what one can."

"But you should say, 'What one _will_,' dear; it can be done whichever
way you like."

"There's only one way possible to _me_, I assure you; for once 'the
wrong way' is the more difficult."

"That which you _think_ is the wrong way," said Cynthia, with gentle
firmness.

He looked at her a moment incredulously.

"Good Lord!" he said; "let me know something about my own business!
I don't want to pose on the strength of a solitary novel--I'm not
arrogant--but let me know _something_--at all events, more than you!
Heavens above! a novelist devotes his life to trying to learn the
technique of an art which it wants three lifetimes to acquire, and Mr.
Jones, who is a solicitor, and Mr. Smith the shoe manufacturer, and
little Miss Pink of Putney, who don't know the first laws of fiction
--who aren't even aware there are any laws to know--are all prepared to
tell him how his books should be written."

"I am not Miss Pink of Putney," she said. "And if I were, we all know
whether we like a book or whether we don't."

"'Like'!" he echoed. "To 'like' and to 'criticise'----Men are _paid_
to criticise books when they can do it; it's thought to be worth
payment. Editors, who don't exactly bubble over with generosity, sign
cheques for reviews. _I_ don't pretend to teach Mr. Smith how to make
his shoes; I've sense enough to understand that he knows the way better
than I. Nor do these people think that they can teach a painter how
to compose his pictures, or that they can give a musician lessons in
counterpoint. Why on earth should they imagine they're competent to
instruct a novelist? It is absurd!"

"Your comparisons are far-fetched," she said. "A painter and a
musician, we all know, have to study; they---"

"They're entitled to the consideration due to a certain amount of money
sunk--eh? That's really it. There are thousands upon thousands of
families in the upper middle classes of England to whom fiction will
never be an art, because the novelist hasn't been to an academy and
paid fees. As a matter of fact, it is only in artistic and professional
circles that a novelist in England is regarded with any other feeling
than good-humoured contempt, unless he's publicly known to be making
a large income. The commercial majority smile at him. They've a
shibboleth--I'm sure it's familiar to you: 'You can't improve your
mind by reading novels.' They're persuaded it's true. They have heard
it ever since they were children, in these families where no artist,
no professional man of any kind, has ever let in a little light.
'You can't improve your mind by reading novels' is one of the stock
phrases of middle-class English Philistia. Ask them if they improve
their minds by looking at pictures in the National Gallery, or even
at the Academy, and they know it is essential that they should answer,
'Certainly.' Ask them how they do it, and they are 'done.' Of course,
they don't really improve their minds either way, because, before the
contemplation of art in any form can be anything more than a vague
amusement, a very much higher standard of education than they have
reached is necessary; only they have learnt to pretend about pictures.
It's an odd thing--or, perhaps, a natural one--that an author of the
sort of book that they are impressed by, a scientist, a brain-worker of
any description, literary or not, talks and thinks of a novelist with
respect, while these people themselves find him beneath them."

There was a silence, in which both stared again at the sea. His
irritation subsiding, it occurred to him that he might have expressed
his opinions less freely, considering that Philistia was his wife's
birthplace. He was beginning to excuse himself, when she interrupted
him.

"Don't let us discuss it any more, Humphrey," she said, in a grieved
voice, "please! I am sorry I said so much."

"_I_ was wrong," said Kent; "I have vexed you."

"No; I am not vexed," she replied, in a tone that intimated she was
only hurt.

"Cynthia, don't be angry!... Make it up!"

She turned instantly, with a touch of her hand, and a quick, pleased
smile; and he set himself to efface the effect of his ill-humour, with
entirely successful results. As they strolled back to the hotel side
by side, he felt her to be a long way from him--there was even a sense
of physical remoteness. Mentally, she did not seem so near as in the
days of their earliest acquaintance. He caught himself wishing that he
could debate a certain point in construction with Turquand, and from
that it was the merest step to perceiving that Mentone would be jollier
if Turquand were with him instead. He was appalled to think that such
a fancy should have crossed his brain, and strove guiltily to believe
that it had not; but once again he felt spiritless and blank, and it
was a labour to maintain the necessary disguise. He observed forlornly
that Cynthia always appeared happiest in their association when the
ineptitude of it was weighing most heavily upon himself.



CHAPTER VIII


Mrs. Kent placed few obstacles in the way of her husband's industry,
and installed in Leamington Road, Streatham, he began his novel, and
deleted, and destroyed, and re-wrote, until at the expiration of three
weeks he had accomplished Chapter I. Primarily he did not experience
so many domestic discomforts to impede him as Turquand had predicted.
Mrs. Walford had obtained a very respectable and nice-looking servant,
whose only drawback was a father in a lunatic asylum and the frequently
expressed fear that if she were given too much to do she might go out
of her mind on the premises. Ann was so "superior," and a "general" had
really proved so difficult to get, that the thought of an hereditary
taint had not been allowed to disqualify her. Cynthia confessed to
finding it a little awkward when a duty was neglected, but apart from
this Ann was an acquisition.

The author's working hours were supposed to be from ten o'clock till
seven, with an interval for luncheon, but the irregular habits of
bachelorhood made it hard for him to accustom himself to them, and
it was often agreed that he should take his leisure in the afternoon,
and reseat himself at his desk in the alluring hours of lamplight,
when the neighbours' children were at rest and scales ceased from
troubling. To these neighbours he found that he was an object of
considerable curiosity. He had not lived in a suburb hitherto, and
he discovered that for a man to remain at home all day offered much
food for conjecture there. Subsequently, in some inexplicable manner,
his vocation was ascertained, and then, when Cynthia and he went out,
people whispered behind their window-curtains and stared.

Of his wife's family he saw a good deal, both at The Hawthorns and at
No. 64, Leamington Road, and his liking for his brother-in-law did not
increase. There was an air of condescension in Mr. Cæsar Walford's
self-sufficiency that he found highly exasperating. The bass's debut
had been fixed, during their absence, for the coming season, and he
repeated the newest compliments paid to him by his master with the
languid assurance of an artist whose supremacy was already acknowledged
by the world. The latest burst of admiration into which Pincocca had
been betrayed had always to be dragged by his parents from reluctant
lips, but he never forgot any of it.

Humphrey was sure that the artist thought even less of him than the
neighbours did. Fiction he rarely read, he said. He said it with an
elevation of his eyebrows, as if novels were fathoms beneath his
attention. His eyebrows were, in fact, singularly expressive, and
he could dismiss an author's claim to consideration, or ridicule a
masterpiece, without uttering a word. There had been more truth than is
usual in such statements when Humphrey said that he was not conceited
on the score of his unprofitable spurs, but when he contemplated the
complacent sneer by which this affected young man pronounced a novelist
of reputation to be entirely fatuous, he was galled.

Cynthia had told her mother how hard he was working, and once, when
they were spending an evening at The Hawthorns some weeks after their
return, his industry was mentioned.

"Well," exclaimed the stock-jobber tolerantly, "and how's the
story?--getting along, heh?"

"Yes," said Kent, "I'm plodding on with it fairly well, sir."

He was aware that his father-in-law did not view fiction seriously,
either, and he always felt a certain restraint in speaking of his
profession here.

"And what's it about?" asked Mrs. Walford, in the indulgent tone in
which she might have put such a question to a child. "Have you made
Cynthia your lovely heroine, and are you flirting with her at Dieppe
again? _I_ know what it'll be--hee, hee, hee! I'm sure you meant
yourself by the hero in your last book; you know I told you that long
ago!"

He knew also that she would tell him that, just as mistakenly, about
the hero of every book he wrote.

"N-no," he said, "I shouldn't quite care to try to make 'copy' out of
my wife. It wouldn't be easy, and it wouldn't be congenial."

"You ought to know her faults better than anybody else, I should think,
by this time," said Miss Wix.

"And her virtues," said Humphrey.

"Oh," said Miss Wix, with acidulated humour, "he says two months are
quite long enough to find out all Cynthia's virtues, Louisa!"

"I didn't hear him say anything of the sort," Said Mrs. Walford
crossly. "Well, what is it about? Tell us!"

He felt awkward and embarrassed.

"I can't explain a plot; I'm very stupid at it," he said. "You shall
have a copy the moment it is published, mater, and read the thing."

"I do wish he'd call me 'mamma'!" she cried. "He makes me feel a
hundred years old."

To change the subject, he inquired if she had read Henry James's new
book.

"I don't know," she said. "Oh yes, they sent it me from the library
this week. It isn't bad; I didn't like it much. Did _you_ read it,
Cæsar?"

Cæsar became conscious that people talked.

"Read?" he echoed wearily. "Read what?"

"Henry James's last. I forget what it was called----Something. I saw
you with it the other day. A red book."

"I looked through it. I had nothing to do."

"Quite amusing?" she said. "Wasn't it?"

"I forget," he murmured; "I never do remember these things."

"It took a clever man some time to write," said Kent; "it might have
been worth your attention for a whole afternoon."

Cæsar was not disturbed. Neither his confidence nor his amiability was
shaken.

"Do you think so?" he said with gentleness. "I _can't_ read these
things any more. There's nothing to be gained. What does one acquire?
Whether Angelina marries Edwin, or whether she marries Charles----!" He
shook his head and smiled compassionately. Sam Walford guffawed. "When
I feel that my mind's been at too great a tension, I sometimes _glance_
at a novel; but I'm afraid--I'm _really_ afraid--I can't concede that I
should be justified in giving up an afternoon to one."

"Cæsar has his work to think of, you know," put in Cynthia; "he's not
like us women."

"You'll find it a tough job to get the best of Cæsar in an argument,"
proclaimed Walford boisterously.

"Oh, I don't deny that I _have_ read novels in my time. There was a
time when I could read a yellow-back." He made this admission in the
evident belief that a book was more frivolous in cardboard covers than
in the cloth of its first edition. "But I can't do it to-day."

"Well," cried Mrs. Walford, "_I_ must say I agree with Humphrey; I must
say I think it's very clever to write a good novel--I do really! _I_
couldn't write one; I'm sure I couldn't--I haven't the patience."

"Oh!" exclaimed Cæsar, with charming confusion; "it's Humphrey's
own line--of course it is! I always forget." He turned to Kent
deprecatingly: "You know, I never associate you with it; it's a
surprise every time I remember."

Kent said it was really of no consequence at all.

"Well, well, well," said Walford, "everybody to his trade! We can't all
be born with a fortune in our throats. Wish we could--eh, Humphrey, my
boy? Did you hear what Lassalle said about his voice the other day?
Cæsar, just tell Humphrey what Lassalle said about your voice the other
day."

"Oh, Humphrey doesn't want to listen to that long story," said Mrs.
Walford, "I'm sure?"

He could do no less, after this, than express curiosity.

"Well, then, Cæsar, tell us what it was." "Do, Cæsar," begged his
sister; "I haven't heard, either."

"A trifle," he demurred, "not interesting. I didn't know I'd mentioned
it."

"Oh yes," said Miss Wix. "Don't you remember you told us the story at
tea, and then you told it again to your father at dinner? But do tell
Cynthia and Humphrey!"

"I--er--dined with Pincocca last night at his rooms," he drawled. "One
or two men came in afterwards. He introduced me. I didn't pay much
attention to the names--you know what it is--and by-and-by Pincocca
pressed me to sing. He said I was 'a pupil,' and I could see that one
of the men was prepared to be bored.... This really is so very personal
that----"

"No, no, no! go on. What nonsense!" said his mother.

"I could see he was prepared to be bored; so I made up my mind
to--_sing!_ I was nettled--very childish, I admit it--but I was
nettled. I didn't watch him while I sang--I couldn't. I did better than
I expected.

"You forgot _everything_," cried Sam Walford, "_I_ know!"

"I did, yes. I didn't think of Pincocca, or of him, or of anybody
in the room. When I had finished, he came up to me, and said, 'Mr.
Walford, I am green with jealousy. Ah, Heaven! if _I_ could command
such a career!' The man was Lassalle."

"Flattering?" shouted his father to Kent.

"Flattering? 'If _I_ could command such a career!' Eh?"

Kent asked himself speechlessly if this thing could be.

"If _I_ could command such a career!'" declaimed Mr. Walford. "What do
you think of that? He's coming out in the spring, you know."

"Yes, so I've heard," said Humphrey. "Where?"

"That's not settled; here in town, I expect, at Covent Garden. He sang
to the manager last week. The man was--was staggered."

"Ha!" said Kent perfunctorily.

"There's never been anything heard like it. I tell you, he'll take
London by storm."

"What _I_ can't understand," said Miss Wix, her mouth pursed to a
buttonhole, "is how it was you didn't know Lassalle directly he came
in. Is he the only musical celebrity you aren't intimate with?"

Her nephew looked momentarily disconcerted.

"One doesn't know everybody," he said feebly; "Lassalle happened to be
a man I hadn't met."

"What do you mean, Emily?" flared Mrs. Walford. "You don't imagine that
Cæsar made the story up, I suppose?"

"'Mean'?" said Miss Wix with wonder. "'Make it up'? Why should he
make it up? I said I 'didn't understand,' that is all. Quite a simple
observation."

She rose, and seated herself stiffly on a distant couch. Mrs. Walford
panted, and turned to Humphrey, who she was afraid had overheard.

"How very absurd," she said jerkily--"how _very_ absurd of her to make
such a remark! So liable to misconstruction. By the way, do you see
anything of that Mr. Turkey--Turquand--what was he called?--now? Has
he--er--er--any influence with the Press?"

"He knows a good many people of a kind. Why?"

"We shall be very pleased to see him," she said; "I liked him very
much. He might dine with us one night, when there's nobody particular
here.... I was thinking he might be useful to Cæsar. The Press can be
so spiteful, can't it--so very spiteful? Of course, Cæsar will really
be independent of criticism, but still----"

"Still, you'll give Turquand a dinner."

"Oh, you satirical villain!" she said playfully. "Hee, hee, hee! You're
all alike, you writing men; you'll even lash your mamma-in-law. Aren't
you going to have anything to drink? Sam, Humphrey has nothing to
drink. Cynthia, a glass of wine?"

The servant had entered with a salver and the tantalus, and Sam Walford
proposed the toast of his son's debut. They prepared to drink it, and
it was noticed then that Miss Wix sat alone in her distant corner.

"Emily, aren't you going to join us?"

"I beg your pardon, Emily," exclaimed Walford; "I didn't know you were
with us, upon my word I didn't!"

"'The poor are always with us,'" said Miss Wix, in a low and bitter
voice. "If it can be spared, a drop of whisky."

"Then, you'll tell Mr. Turquand we shall be happy to see him?" said
Mrs. Walford to Kent. "Don't forget it. You might bring him in with you
one evening. I dare say he'll be very glad of the invitation--and he
can hear Cæsar sing. What's your hurry? I want to talk to Cynthia. You
aren't going to write any more when you get back, I suppose?"

He acknowledged that he was--that he had taken his wife to a matinée on
that understanding--but it was past twelve when they left her mother's
house and turned homeward through the silent suburb. The railway had
just yielded back a few theatre-goers, weary and incongruous-looking.
In the cold clearness of the winter night the women's long-cloaked
figures and flimsy head-gear drooped dejectedly, and the men, with
their dress-trousers flapping thinly as they walked, appeared already
oppressed by the thought of the early breakfast to which they would
be summoned in time to hurry to the station again. The prosperous
residences lying back behind spruce, trim shrubberies and curves of
carriage-drive finished abruptly, and then began borders in which fifty
pounds was already a distinguished rental. The monotonous rows of
villas, with their little hackneyed gables, and their little hackneyed
gates, their painful grandiloquence of nomenclature, seemed to Kent a
pathetic expression of lives which had for the most part reached the
limit of their potentialities and were now passed without ambition and
without hope. Some doubtless looked forward or looked back from the
red brick maze, but to the majority the race was run, and this was
conquest. He was about to comment on it, but the girl was unusually
quiet, and the remark on his lips was not one that would have been
productive of more than a monosyllabic assent in 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 room
where he worked, and lit the lamp. Beyond the window, over the bare
trees, the moon was shining whitely. He stood for a few moments staring
out, and thinking he scarcely knew of what; then he began to re-read
the last page of the manuscript that lay on the desk. He had just begun
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 that 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!" she murmured; "don't you feel cold?"

"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
nib. "Something ... can't you guess what it is, Humphrey? Think--it's
about _me_."

A tear splashed on to 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 sobbing spasmodically.

"Oh, you do love me? You do love me, don't you?" she gasped. "I'm not a
disappointment, _am_ I?"

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 that 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 moment 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 before the desk were lit only by the pallor of the moon.
Cynthia turned, and looked up in his face deprecatingly:

"Oh, I'm so sorry; I meant to remind her. I'm punished--I'm left in the
dark myself!"

He stooped and kissed her. The fondness that he felt for her normally,
intensified by compassion, assumed in this ephemeral circumscription
of idea the quality of love, and he rejoiced to think that, after all,
he was deceived and that their union was indeed, indeed, the mental
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 Kent divine.



CHAPTER IX


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, until 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 did about three hours' work before Cynthia
went down. Then they breakfasted, and, with an effort to throw some
interest 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 encouraging. After breakfast he would make an
attempt to read the newspaper, with his thoughts wandering back to
his manuscript, and Cynthia would have an interview with Ann. This
interview, ostensibly concluded before he went back 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 forth."

"Yes, ma'am." "Oh, and--Ann!" "What do you say, ma'am?" More
instructions, interrupted by a prolonged banging 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,"
echoed by Ann; the boy's departing whistle, "Ann!" "Yes, ma'am?" "Ask
him how much a pound the salmon is to-day." "Hi! how much a pound's
the salmon?" Meanwhile, 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 had felt such a brute when Cynthia
cried and declared that he had insulted her before the servant, and it
had wasted so much of his 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 occasion, however, and the superior Ann's
feet appeared to him to grow heavier every week. The domestic machinery
was in his ears from morning till nightfall--from the time that she
began to bang about the house for cleaning purposes to the hour that he
heard her rattle the last of the dinner things in the scullery and go
to bed. It seemed to him often that it could not take much longer to
wash the plates and dishes of a Lord Mayor's banquet than Ann took to
wash those of his and Cynthia's simple meals, and when, like the report
of a cannon, the oven-door slammed, he yearned for his late lodging in
Soho as for a lost paradise.

And this wasn't all. His wife was less companionable to him daily.
Fifty times he had registered a mental oath that he would abandon
his hope of cultivating her and resign himself to her remaining what
she was; but he had too much affection for her to succeed in doing
it yet, and with every fresh endeavour 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 Cæsar,
whose debut 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 four-pence
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 was as dull as her topics, for she was as
sensitive as she was uninteresting.

Her wistful question, whether she had proved a disappointment,
recurred to him frequently, and to avoid wounding her he affected
good spirits more often than he yawned. But the strain was awful; and
when he escaped from it at last and sank into a chair alone, it was
with the sense of exhaustion that one feels after having been saddled
for an afternoon with a too talkative 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'.
Besides, it was necessary to book to Streatham Hill, from the West End,
and the service was appalling, with the delays at the stations and the
stoppages between them, especially on the return journey, when the
train staggered to a standstill at almost every hundred yards.

One evening when he dined with 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 delighted.

"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
know?"

"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 Meredithian, 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. 'Occasionally a girl, kissed from behind as she stretched to
reach a honeysuckle, rent with a scream the sickly-coloured, airless
evening.' The 'sickly-coloured, airless evening.' Isn't it great?
What do you think of that for atmosphere? And he's got it with the
two adjectives. But the 'honeysuckle'--the 'honeysuckle' with that
'sickly-coloured, airless'--you can smell it!" "Whose?"

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

"You shouldn't let him read, Mrs. Kent, while he has work on the
stocks," said the journalist. "I know this phase in him 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 graceful still. She looked a wife of whom any man might be proud.

"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-coloured, airless, doesn't mean anything at
all."

"It means a good deal to me," said 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 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 Cousins are affable. Affability covers a
multitude of sins, and there's a lot of compensation in a compliment.
Cousins senior told me I had a 'great gift.'"

"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," went on Humphrey hastily; "and I want two
hundred and fifty this time."

"They won't give it you."

"Why not?"

"Partly because you'll accept less. And you haven't gone into a second
edition, remember." "Look at the reviews!"

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

"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's any encouragement to you."

"Good Lord," said Kent, "it only came out in January! Is that a fact?"

"One of 'Life's Little Ironies'! Hers is the kind of stuff to sell,
my boy! The largest public don't want nature and style; they want an
improbable story and virtue rewarded. The poor 'companion' rambles
in the moonlight and a becoming dress, and has love passages 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; I and the poor 'companion' says, 'Give me a cottage, with the
man I love,' making eyes at the biggest 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 story by Mrs. St. Julian, for she
shall be called the wife of the lord. Sonny, the first mission of a
novel is to be a pecuniary success--you are an ass! Excuse me, Mrs.
Kent."

"You may give him all the good advice you can. 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 man!" She laughed.

"Turk didn't imply that he liked them either. Isn't it painful, though,
to think of the following a woman like that can command? What a world
to write for--it breaks one's heart!"

"It's an over-rated place," said Turquand; "it's a fat-headed,
misguided, beast of a world!"

"It isn't the world," said Cynthia brightly; "it's the people in it!"

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 say
such a stupid thing in Turquand's presence paralysed his tongue; and
Turquand, 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, had professed
to discover a congenial spirit in Miss Wix. It was about Miss Wix that
he asked now.

Cynthia laughed again.

"Yes, your favourite is quite well," she answered--"as cheerful as
ever."

"Fate hasn't been kind to Miss Wix," said Turquand; "she's been
chastened and chidden too much. In other circumstances----"

"Skittles!" said Humphrey.

"In other circumstances, she might have been sweeter, and less amusing.
Personally, I am grateful that there were not other circumstances. I
like Miss Wix as she is; she refreshes me."

"I wish she had that effect on _me_," said Kent, as the guest 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, he insisted on
accompanying him to the station, and parted from him on the platform
with almost sentimental regret.

Only his interest in his book sustained him. He was deep enough in
it for it to have a fascination for 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 spontaneous and delightful, and happy
sentences seemed to fall off his pen of their own accord. He wrote
under difficulties when the summer came, for Cynthia required more and
more attention; but while he often devoted a whole morning or afternoon
to her, he made up for it by working on the novel half the night. More
than once he worked on it all night, and after a bath and a shave he
joined her at breakfast on very good terms with himself. To support the
sprightliness, however, he needed to breakfast with someone to whom he
could report his progress, and cry, "I've come to such a point," or,
"That difficulty that we foresaw, you know, is overcome--a grand idea!"
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 into tears at the smallest
provocation. There was much for Kent to consider besides the novel.
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 time when they expected
their baby 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 that she had imagined it would
prove, she did not hold that to be Humphrey's fault. She found him,
if eccentric, tender and considerate. 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 suspected how tedious she appeared to him. Though she
would have been a happier woman with a different man, the cost of the
mistake that they had made was far more heavy to him than to her. He
realised what a mistake it had been, while she was ignorant of it. And
of this, at least, he was glad.



CHAPTER X


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 to
be sinking. The local doctor came three times a day, and a physician
was called in, 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 cheque. "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 that he might attend to them, that the ferns in the dusty
majolica pots were dying for want of water--or he would sit down and
write, by a dogged effort, at the rate of a word a minute, asking
himself anxiously what sum it was safe to expect from Messrs. Cousins.
His banking account was diminishing rapidly under the demands made upon
it now, and he found it almost as hard to write a chapter of a novel
as if he had never attempted to do such a thing before. He returned
thanks 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; but he wished himself a mechanic or a petty tradesman,
whose vocations, he presumed, were independent of their moods.

It was not till the crisis was past and Cynthia was downstairs again,
in a wrapper on the sofa, that he began to feel that he was within
measurable distance of the conclusion. The nine months that he had
allotted to 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 one 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 'satisfied,' you know what I
mean, of course? It's as well done as I expected to do it. Another week
'll see it finished, darling."

She patted his arm.

"Poor old boy! 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! and I'm
going to pack you off to Bournemouth or somewhere soon, to bring your
colour back. I was speaking to Dr. Roberts about it this morning. He
says it's just what you need."

"I've been very expensive, Humphrey," she said wistfully. "How much? We
didn't think it would cost so much as it has, did we? You should have
married a big, strong woman, Humphrey, or----"

"Or what?"

"Or nobody," she murmured.

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

"I'm quite content, thank you," he said, in as light a tone as he could
manage. "What are you crying for? 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 that 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 wretched."

"What did you think of?" asked Kent indulgently.

"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--it might have been best for you, really and
seriously best, 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 it away."

"What can have put such a stupid idea into your head?" said Kent,
wishing pityingly that he had not felt it quite so often. "Don't be a
goose, sweetheart! What nonsense! I should be 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
wondered--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 has
been in! I didn't think there could be such awfulness in the world.
And in the first confinement, too! It makes one afraid that no woman
can ever expect to understand any man."

"Hang your nurse!" said 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?"

"Another nurse. Mamma is going to advertise in _The Morning Post_ for
us at once. We want a thoroughly experienced woman, don't we, dear? We
don't know anything about babies ourselves, and----"

"Oh, rather! Poor little soul! we owe him as much as that. Life is the
cost of the parents' pleasure defrayed by the child. We'll make the
world as desirable to him as we can."

He paused for her to comment on his impromptu definition of life, by
which he was agreeably conscious he had said something brilliant; but
it passed by her unheeded. He reflected that Turquand would either have
approved it, or picked it to pieces, and that for it to go unnoticed
was hard.

She looked at him tenderly.

"I knew you'd say so. 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 the difference on earth. What
shall we call him?"

"Him! You're not going to get a man?"

"Baby, you silly! Have you thought of a name? _I_ have!"

He was still wishing that she had a sense of humour and occasionally
made a witty remark.

"What?" he asked.

"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 heard it. I think
we might choose something better than that."

"But it's yours," she persisted. "I want him called by your name--I
do, I do!" She held his hand tightly, and her lips trembled. "If ...
if I were ever to lose you, Humphrey, I should like our child to have
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 at me and said, 'Well, you have a little son come
to see you, Mrs. Kent,' the first thing I thought was, 'We can call
him "Humphrey."' I wanted to say it to you when they let you in, but
I couldn't, I was so tired; I thought it instead. When nurse brought
him over to me, or when he cried, or when I saw him moving under the
blanket in the bassinet, I thought, 'There's my other Humphrey!'"

He kissed her, and sat staring at the fire, his conscience clamorous.
He had not realised 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 disappointment were mutual--if she, too, were
discontented with the bargain she had made. To listen to her speaking
in such a way, to accept her devotion, 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 that he had
never met her? His mind smote him.

The question obtruded itself during the following days, but now at
least his plea of being busy was always genuine enough; he was writing
fiercely. The pile of manuscript to which he added sheet after sheet
was heavy and thick. Then there came a morning when he went to bed at
three, and rose again at eight, to begin his final chapter, having
told the servant to bring him a sandwich and a glass of claret for
luncheon. When one o'clock struck, and she entered, tobacco had left
him with no appetite and a furred tongue. He threw 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, the exaltation with which the novelist is depicted in fiction as
working all the time. His aspect was untidy enough for him to have
served as an admirable model for that personage. He had not shaved for
three days, and a growth of stubbly beard intensified the haggardness
that came of insufficient sleep.

The wind was causing the fire to be more a nuisance than a comfort,
and every now and then 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, excepting 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 he couldn't
bring himself to take his eyes from the paper while he stretched for
his pouch and the matches. He meant to 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
magnetised by the pen's 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. His pen was dropped. He drew a breath of
relief and thanksgiving, and lit his pipe. His novel was done.

Unlike the novelist in fiction again, he did not mourn beautifully that
the characters who had peopled his solitude for twelve months, and
whom he loved, were about to leave him for the harsher criticism of
the world. He was profoundly glad of it. He felt exhilaration leap in
his jaded veins as he picked up his pen and added "The End." He felt
that he was free of an enormous load, a tremendous responsibility,
of which he had acquitted himself well. Almost every morning, with
rare exceptions, for a year he had, so to speak, awakened with this
unfinished novel staring him in the face; almost every night for a
year he had gone up the stairs to the bedroom remembering what a lump
of writing had still to be accomplished. And now it was done; and
he couldn't do it better. Blessed thought! If he recast 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!

He was eager to forward it to the publishers without delay, but
Turquand had so recently referred to his expectation of reading it in
the manuscript that he sent it to Soho first. "Let me have it back
quickly," he begged; and the journalist's answer in returning the
parcel reached him on the next evening but one. He showed it to Cynthia
with delight; Turquand wrote very warmly. The manuscript was submitted
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. Cynthia had not
regained strength enough to care to travel at present, and her parents
and brother generally spent the evening at No. 64, where, truth to
tell, Kent found their interest 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 inquiries and ridiculous suggestions that he was sometimes in
danger of being rude. Cæsar alone displayed no curiosity in a matter
so frivolous, but listened with his superior air, which tried Kent's
patience even more. The fat young man's debut had been postponed again.
Now he was to appear for certain in the spring, and he explained, in a
tone implying that he could, if he might, impart esoteric facts, that
the delay had been discreet.

"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 had still 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!" He looked at the ceiling with a meditative
smile, as if dwelling upon curiously amusing circumstances. "_Very_
funny!" he added.

Excepting his master, he did not know a professional singer in England,
and, whenever a benefit concert was to be given, he would chase the
organiser all over the town in hansoms, and telegraph to him for an
appointment "on urgent business" in the hope of being allowed to sing.
But his assurance was so consummate that--although one was aware he
had not yet done anything at all--he almost persuaded one while he
talked that he was the pivot round which the musical world revolved.
Cæsar 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 exaggerated 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 ardour that reminded him of the early days of his
acquaintance with her in Dieppe.



CHAPTER XI


"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 irritably. "Damn nonsense!
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."

"Oh, I expect we shall 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 you?"

"She seems all right," said Cynthia, rather doubtfully. "A little
consequential, perhaps--that's all."

"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----"

"She's our first," explained Kent, "and we're rather in awe of her.
She was surprised to find that there weren't two nurseries--she is
frequently 'surprised,' and then we apologise 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 questioningly, looking at
Kent with a smile.

He laughed and shook his head.

"Than _we_, then! And she's the least bit in the world too
self-important."

"Than 'we'?" echoed Mrs. Walford. "Than 'we'? Nonsense! 'Than _us_'!"

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

"Than _us!_" said the lady again defiantly. "Unquestionably it is 'than
_us!_"

"Very well," he replied; "I'm not arguing about it, mater."

"_I_ always say 'than us,'" said Sam Walford good-humouredly. "Ain't it
right?"

"No," said Miss Wix; "of course it isn't, Sam!"

"Ridiculous!" declared Mrs. Walford, with asperity. "'Than we' is quite
wrong--quite ungrammatical. I don't care who says it isn't--I say it
_is_."

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

"What's the difference--what does it matter?" put in Cynthia. "There's
nothing to get excited about, mamma."

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

"Well, let's return to our muttons," said Kent. "Once upon a time there
was a nurse, and----"

"Oh, you are very funny!" Mrs. Walford 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 decent English," said Miss Wix, "since you don't mind.
This lively conversation must be very good for Cynthia. Humphrey,
you're quite a member of the family; you see we're rude to one another
in front of you. Isn't it nice?"

"I shouldn't come to you to learn politeness, either," retorted Mrs.
Walford hotly. "I shouldn't come to you to learn grammar, or politeness
either. You're most rude yourself--most ill-bred!"

"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
who' or 'than whom'? Now, then!"

"You say 'than whom,' but that's the one instance where the comparative
does govern the objective in English. And Angus, or Morell, or somebody
august, denies that it ought to govern it there."

Momentarily she looked disconcerted. Then she said:

"All I maintain is that 'than we' is very pedantic 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 euphonious than the other. I
prefer it altogether."

Miss Wix gave a sharp little laugh.

"You may consider it more euphonious to say 'heggs' and 'happles,'
too, but that doesn't make it right."

Her sister turned to her wrathfully, and the ensuing passage at arms
was terminated by the spinster putting her handkerchief to her eyes and
beginning to cry.

"I won't be spoken to so," she faltered--"I won't! Oh, I quite
understand--I know what it means; but this is the last time I'll be
trampled on and insulted--the last time, Sam!"

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

"I'm in the way--yes! And I'm shown every hour that I'm in the way!"
she sobbed, in crescendo. "Humphrey is a witness how I am treated. I
won't stop where I'm not wanted. This is the end of it. I'll go--I'll
take a situation!"

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

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

When she recovered, she drank the whisky-and-water tearfully, and
begged Kent to take her back to The Hawthorns. He complied amiably,
and tried on the way to dissuade her from her determination. It was
his first experience of this phase of Miss Wix, and he was a good deal
surprised by the valour that she displayed. Her weakness had passed,
and the light of resolution shone in the little woman's eyes. Her
nostrils were dilated, her carriage was firm and erect. He felt that
it was no empty boast when she asserted stoutly that she would go to a
registry-office on the morrow--nor was it; as much as that she would
probably do. But the prospect of employment was as the martyr's stake
or an arena of lions, to her mind; and, after the office had been
visited, the decision of her manner would decrease, and the heroism in
her eyes subside, until at last she trembled in a cold perspiration
lest her relatives should take her at her word.

"It'll be a small household if you go," he said; "I suppose Cæsar won't
live at home after he comes out, and they will be left by themselves."

Miss Wix sniffed.

"_When_ he comes out!"

"Yes; he seems to have been rather a long while doing it. But there
can't be any doubt about it this time; the agreement for the spring is
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 signed--and
written in invisible ink. I don't seem to remember the time when that
young man _wasn't_ 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 already, just as he had
suspected, when he had been invited to meet an operatic celebrity
at The Hawthorns, who it was that sent the telegram of regrets and
apologies that bore the star's name. He wondered how much the Walfords'
foolishness and his pupil's vanity had been worth to the Italian
singing-master, who gesticulated about the drawing-room and foretold
such triumphs.

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

"For you," she cried, "from Cousins! Be quick; we're all dying of
impatience. How did you leave Aunt Emily?"

"She's going to bed," he said, tearing the envelope open.

His heart had leapt, and he trusted only that he wasn't destined to be
damped by the suggested price. The others sat regarding him eagerly,
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; all the colour had gone from his face. His lips
twitched, and his voice was not under control as he answered.

"They haven't accepted it," he said; "they're returning it to me. They
don't think it good."

"What?" she ejaculated.

"Oh, Humphrey!" he heard Cynthia gasp; and then there were seconds in
which he was conscious that everyone was staring at him, seconds in
which he would have paid heavily to be in the room alone. That the book
might be refused, after such reviews as had been written of his last,
was a calamity that he had never contemplated, and he was overwhelmed.
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 that the sum would be a hundred and fifty; in moments of
profound depression he had even groaned, "I shan't get 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 wholly 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! It takes you
a year to write, and then they don't accept it. A damn good business
_you_'re in, upon my word!"

"Hush, Sam!" said Mrs. Walford. "What do they say? what reason do they
give? Let me look!"

Kent handed the letter to her mutely, his wife watching him with
startled, pitying eyes, and she read it aloud:

        "'DEAR SIR,

        "'We are obliged by 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!" grunted Walford.

        "'We regret to say, however, that, in view of our 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 returning the MS. to you to-day, with our
        compliments and thanks.'"

"Ha, ha!" said Kent wildly; "they return it with their compliments!"

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

"Do you think so?" he said. "I call it very funny. There's a touch of
humour about their 'compliments' that'd be hard to beat."

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

"Papa!" 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's your own publishers'.
It's no good putting on the sarcastic, my boy. Here"--he caught up the
letter 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
facts."

"And _I_ say the thing's strong, sound work," exclaimed Kent, "and the
reader's an ass! Oh, what's the use of arguing with you? 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 himself 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
publishers. I'm afraid you none of you appreciate it so much as you
ought. We're having a ripping 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'll be
round in the morning, Cynthia. Come, Sam, it's past ten!"

She rose, and put on her things, Kent assisting her. The stock-jobber
took leave of him with a scowl; and when the last "good-night" had
been exchanged, Cynthia and the unfortunate author stood on the hearth
vis-à-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 his moods yet, and she ached
with sorrow for him. To turn to his wife on any matters connected
with his work, however, never entered his head any more; so when she
murmured deprecatingly, "Papa didn't mean anything by what he said,
darling; you mustn't be vexed with him," all he replied was, "Oh, he
hasn't made an enemy for life, my dear! If you're 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 husband's work,
and yet feel the tenderest sympathies for the 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 by the dying
fire and wondered. She wondered--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.



CHAPTER XII

She loved him. When they married, perhaps neither had literally loved
the other, but the girl had roused much stronger feelings in the man
than the man had wakened in the girl. To-day the position was reversed;
and her perception that he did not find her so companionable as she had
dreamed was the beginning of a struggle to render herself a companion
to him.

If she had been a woman of keener intuitions, she must have perceived
it long ago, but her intuitions were not keen. She was not so dull as
he thought her, nor was she so dull as when she married, but a woman of
the most rapid intelligence she would never be. Her heart was greater
than her mind--much greater; her heart entitled her to a devotion that
she was far from receiving. To her mind marriage had made a trifling
difference; her sensibilities it had developed enormously. Her husband
overlooked her sensibilities, and chafed at her mind. Fortunately for
her peace, her tardy perception of their relations did not embrace
quite so much as that.

She stayed at Bournemouth for a fortnight, and when she came home her
efforts to acquire the quickness that she lacked, to talk in the same
strain as Kent, to utter the kind of extravagance which seemed to be
his idea of wit, were laboured and pathetic. Especially as he did not
notice them. She read the books that he admired, and was bored by them
more frequently than she was moved. She attempted, in fact, to mould
herself upon him, and she attempted it with such scanty encouragement,
and with so little apparent result, that, if her imitation had not
become instinctive by degrees, she would have been destined to renounce
it in despair.

He was not at this time the most agreeable of models; he was too
much humiliated and too anxious. Though Mr. and Mrs. Walford were
superficially affable again, he felt a difference that he could
not define in their manner, and was always uncomfortable in their
presence. He had called the book _The Eye of the Beholder_, and he
submitted it to Messrs. Percival and King. But February waned without
any communication coming from the firm, and once more the Walfords
asked him almost every day if he had "any news." His only prop now
was Turquand, whom he often went to town to see. Turquand had been
genuinely dismayed, by Messrs. Cousins' refusal, and it was by his
advice that the author had chosen Percival and King. Kent awaited their
verdict feverishly. Not only was his humiliation bad to bear, but his
financial position was beginning to be serious, and the Walfords'
knowledge of the fact aggravated the unpleasantness of it.

Messrs. Percival sent the manuscript back at the end of April. They
did not offer any criticism upon the work; they regretted merely that
in the present state of the book market they could not undertake the
publication of _The Eye of the Beholder_.

Then the novelist packed it up again, and posted it to Fendall and
Green. Messrs. Fendall and Green were longer in replying, and the fact
of the second rejection could not be withheld from the Walfords. After
they had heard of it, the change in their manner towards him was more
marked. They obviously regarded him as a poor pretender in literature,
and her mother admitted as much to Cynthia once.

"Well, mamma," said Cynthia valiantly, "I don't see how you can speak
like that! It's terribly unfortunate, and he's very worried, but you
know what Humphrey's reviews have been--nothing can take away the
success he has had."

"Oh, 'reviews'!" said Mrs. Walford, with impatience. "He mustn't talk
to us about 'reviews'!"

"Of course all those were 'worked' for him by Cousins. We are behind
the scenes, we know what such things are worth."

This conviction of hers, that his publishers had paid a few pounds to
the leading London papers to praise him in their columns, was not to be
shaken. Cynthia did not repeat it to him, and Kent did not divine it,
but Miss Wix--who had consented to remain at The Hawthorns--appeared
quite a lovable person to him now in comparison with his wife's mother.
Of intention Louisa did not snub him, the stock-jobber was not rude
to him deliberately, but both felt that their girl had done badly
indeed for herself, and their very tones in addressing him were new and
resentful.

In secret they were passionately mortified on another score. Their
prodigy, the coming bass, had once more failed to secure a debut, and
at last there was nothing for it but to admit that the thought of a
musical career must be abandoned. The circumstances surrounding this
final failure were veiled in mystery, even from Cynthia, but the fact
was sufficiently damning in itself. The wily Pincocca was paid fees
no longer, and Cæsar took a trip to Berlin with a company-promoter
whom his father knew, and who did not speak German, while his mother
invented an explanation.

It was trying for the Walfords, both their swans turning out to be
ganders at the same time, and that one of them had been acquired, not
hatched, was more than they could forgive themselves, or him. There
were occasions soon when Kent was more than slighted, when no disguise
was made at all. One day in July, Walford said to him:

"I tell you what it is, Humphrey, this can't go on! You'll have to give
your profession up and look for a berth, my boy. How's your account
now?"

"Pretty low," confessed his son-in-law, feeling like a lad rebuked for
a misdemeanour.

Walford looked at him indignantly.

"Ha!" he said. "It's a nice position, 'pon my word! And no news, I
suppose--nothing fresh?".

"Nothing, sir."

"You'll have to chuck it all. You'll have to chuck this folly of yours,
and put your shoulder to the wheel and work."

"I thought I did work," said Kent doggedly. "Do you think literature is
a game?"

"I think it's an infernal rotten game--yes!"

"Ah, well, there," said Kent, "many literary men have agreed with you."

"You'll have to put your mind to something serious. If you only earn
thirty bob a week, it's more than your novels bring you in. What your
wife and child will do, God knows--have to come to us, I suppose. A
fine thing for a girl married eighteen months!"

"She hasn't arrived at it yet," answered Kent, very pale, "and I don't
fancy she will. Many thanks for the invitation."

Walford stopped short--they had met in the High Road--and cocked his
head, his legs apart.

"Will you take a berth in the City for a couple of quid, if I can get
you one?" he demanded sharply.

"No," said Kent, "I'll be damned if I will! I'll stick to my pen,
whatever happens, and I'll stick to my wife and child, too!"

The other did not pursue the conversation, but the next time that
Humphrey saw Mrs. Walford she told him that his father-in-law was very
much incensed against him for his ingratitude.

"It is sometimes advisable for a man to change his business," she said.
"A man goes into one business, and if it doesn't pay he tries another.
Your father-in-law is much older than you, and--er--naturally more
experienced. I think you ought to listen to his opinion with more
respect. Especially under the circumstances."

"Oh?" he murmured. "Have you said that to Cynthia?"

"No; it is not necessary to say it to anybody but you. And it might
make her unhappy. She is troubled enough without!"

She had, as a matter of fact, said it to her with much eloquence the
previous afternoon.

"And another thing," she continued: "I am bound to say I don't see any
grounds for your believing--er--er--that your profession has any prizes
in store for you, even if you could afford to remain in it. You mustn't
mind my speaking plainly, Humphrey. You are a young man, and--er--you
have no one to advise you, and you may thank me for it one day."

"Let me thank you now," he said, fighting to conceal his rage.

"If you can," she said; "if you feel it, I am very glad. You see what
you have done: you wrote a book, which you got very little for--some
nice reviews"--she smiled meaningly--"which we needn't talk about. And
then you spend a year on another, which nobody wants. To succeed as a
novelist, one must have a very strong gift; there is no doubt about
it. A novelist must be very brilliant to do any good to-day--very
brilliant. He wants--er--to know the world--to know the world,
and--er--oh, he must be very polished--very smart!"

"I see," he said shakily, as she paused. "You don't think I've the
necessary qualifications?"

"You have aptitude," she said; "you have a certain aptitude, of
course, but to make it your profession----So many young men, who
have been educated, could write a novel. _You_ happen to have done
it; others haven't had the time. They open a business, or go on the
Stock Exchange, or perhaps they haven't the patience. I'm afraid your
publishers did you a mistaken kindness by those unfortunate reviews."

"How do you mean?" he asked. "Yes, the reviewers didn't agree with you,
did they?"

She smiled again, and waved her hands expressively.

"Oh, they were very pretty, very nice to have; but--er--newspaper
notices do not take us in. Naturally, they were paid for. Cousins
arranged with the papers for all that."

"With----"

He looked at her open-mouthed, as the names of some of the papers
recurred to him.

"With them all," she said. "Oh yes! You must remember we are quite
behind the scenes."

"Pincocca," he said musingly. "Yes, you knew Pincocca. But he was a
singing-master, and he doesn't come here now."

"Oh, Pincocca was one of many--one of very many." She giggled
nervously. "How very absurd that you should suppose I meant Pincocca!
You mustn't forget that Cæsar knows everybody. I'm almost glad he isn't
going on the stage, for that reason. He brought such crowds to the
house at one time that really we lived in a whirl. I believe--between
ourselves--that this man he has gone to Berlin with is at the bottom
of his throwing up his career. A financier. A Mr. McCullough. One of
the greatest powers in the City. And--er--Cæsar was always wonderfully
shrewd in these things. Don't say anything, but I believe McCullough
wants to keep him!"

"I won't say anything," he said.

"McCullough controls millions!" she gasped. "And your father-in-law
thinks, from rumours that are going about, that he's persuaded Cæsar to
join him in some negotiations that he has with the German Government.
Of course we mustn't breathe a word about it. Sh! What were we saying?
Oh yes, I'm afraid those unfortunate reviews did you more harm than
good. Nothing great in the City can be got for you, because you haven't
the commercial experience, but a clerkship would be better than doing
nothing. You must really think about it, Humphrey, if you can't do
anything for yourself. As your father-in-law says, you are sitting down
with your hands in your pockets, eating up your last few pounds." It
occurred to her that a clerkship might look small beside the ease with
which her son was securing a partnership in millions. "Of course," she
added, "Cæsar always did have a head for finance. And--er--he's a way
with him. He has _aplomb--aplomb_ that makes him immensely valuable for
negotiations with a Government. It's different for Cæsar."

Kent left her, and cursed aloud. He went the same evening to
Turquand's, partly as a relief to his feelings, and partly to ask his
friend's opinion of the feasibility of his obtaining journalistic work.

"For Heaven's sake, talk!" he exclaimed, as he flung himself into the
rickety chair that used to be his own. "Say anything you like, but
talk. I've just had an hour and a half of my mother-in-law neat! Take
the taste out of my mouth. Turk, I wish I were dead! What the devil is
to be the end of it? The Walfords say 'a clerk-ship'! Oh, my God, you
should hear the Walfords! I've 'a little aptitude,' but I mustn't be
conceited. I mustn't seriously call myself a novelist. I've frivolled
away a year on _The Eye of the Beholder_, and Cousins squared the
reviewers for me on _The Spectator_ and _The Saturday_ and the rest!
Look here, I must get something to do. Don't you know of anything,
can't you I introduce me to an editor, isn't there anything stirring
at all? _I_'m buried; I live in a red-brick tomb in Streatham; I hear
nothing, and see nobody, except my blasted parents-in-law. But you're
in the thick of it; you sniff the mud of Fleet Street every day; you're
the salaried sub of a paper that's going to put a cover on itself and
'throw it in' at the penny; you----"

"Yes," said Turquand, "I

     'Ave flung my thousands gily ter the benefit of tride,
      And gin'rally (they tells me) done the grand.'

It looks like it, doesn't it?"

"I know all about that! But surely you can tell me of a chance? I don't
say an opening, but a chance of an opening. Man, the outlook's awful. I
shall be stony directly. You must!"

"Fendall and Green haven't written, eh?"

"No; their regrets haven't come yet. How about short stories?"

"You didn't find 'em particularly lucrative, did you?"

"A guinea each; one in six months. No; but I want to be invited to
contribute: 'Can you let us have anything this month, Mr. Kent?'"

"My dear chap! should I have stuck to _The Outpost_ all these years if
I had such advice to give away? I did"--he coughed, and spat out an
invisible shred of tobacco--"I did stick to it."

"You weren't going to say that! You were going to say, 'I did advise
you once, but you _would marry_!' Well, I don't complain that I
married. The only fault I have to find with my wife is that she's the
Walford's daughter. She's not literary, but she's a very good girl.
Don't blink facts, Turk; my money would have lasted longer if I hadn't
married, but I shouldn't have got my novel taken on that account. The
point of this situation is that, after being lauded to the skies by
every paper of importance in England, I can't place the book I write
next at any price at all, nor find a way to earn bread and cheese by my
pen! If a musician had got such criticisms on a composition, he'd be a
made man. If an artist had had them on a picture, the ball would be at
his feet. If an actor had got them on a performance, he'd be offered
engagements at a hundred a week. It's only in literature that such an
anomalous and damnable condition of affairs as mine is possible. You
can't deny it."

"I don't," said Turquand.



CHAPTER XIII


Nor did the conference, which was protracted until a late hour,
provide an outlet to the dilemma; it was agreeable, but it did not
lead anywhere. If he should hear of anything, he would certainly
let the other know; that was the most the sub-editor could say.
Authors are not offered salaries to write their novels, and Kent was
not a journalist by temperament, nor possessed of any journalistic
experience. As to tales or articles for _The Outpost_, that paper did
not publish fiction, and their rate for other matter was seven and
sixpence a column. However, some attempt had to be made, and Kent went
to town every day, and Cynthia saw less of him than when he had been
writing _The Eye of the Beholder_. He hunted up his few acquaintances,
and haunted the literary club that he had joined in the flush of his
success. He applied for various posts that were advertised vacant, and
he inserted a skilfully-framed advertisement. No answer arrived; and
the tradesmen's bills, and the poor rates, and the gas notices, and the
very; competent nurse's wages, continued to fall due in the meanwhile.
When the competent nurse's were not due, the incompetent "general's"
were. Dr. Roberts' account came in, and the sight of his pass-book now
terrified the young man.

They had not been married quite two years yet, and he asked himself if
they had been extravagant, in view of this evidence of the rapidity
with which money had melted; but, excepting the style in which they had
furnished, he could not perceive any cause for such self-reproach. They
had lived comfortably, of course, but if the novel had been placed when
it was finished, they could have continued to live just as comfortably
while he wrote the next. He feared they would have to take a bill of
sale on the too expensive furniture, and that way lay destitution.
Cynthia's composure in the circumstances surprised him. He told her so.

"It'll all come right," she said. "You are sure to get something
soon, and perhaps Fendall and Green will accept _The Eye of the
Beholder_--fulsomely!"

This was an improvement, for a few months since she would have been
unable to recollect their name and have referred to them vaguely as
"the publishers." He felt the sense of intimacy deepen as "Fendall and
Green" dropped glibly from her lips, and the "fulsomely" made him feel
quite warm towards her.'

"Have you told your people what a tight corner we're in?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Why should I? That's our affair."

"So it is," he assented. "Poor little girl! it's 'orrible rough on you,
though; I wonder you aren't playing with straws. You didn't know what
economy meant when we married."

Praise from him was nectar and ambrosia to her. She wanted to embrace
him, but felt that if she embraced the opportunity to give a happy
definition of "economy" it would be appreciated better. She perched
herself on the arm of his chair, and struggled to evolve an epigram. As
she could not think of one, she said:

"What nonsense!"

"I wish you had read the book, and liked it," said Kent, speaking
spontaneously.

"Say you wish I'd read it?" replied his wife. "Oh, you'd like it,
because it was mine. But I mean I wish----"

"What?"

"I don't know."

She twisted a piece of his hair round her finger.

"My taste is much maturer than it was," she averred, with satisfaction.
"Somehow, I can't stand the sort of things that used to please me; I
don't know how I was able to read them. They bore me now."

He smiled. As she had often done to him before, she seemed a child
masquerading in a woman's robes.

"You're getting quite a critic!"

"Well," she said happily, "you'll laugh, but I got _A Peacock's Tail_
from the library, and when the review in _The Chronicle_ came out, the
reviewer said just what I'd felt about it. He did! I'm not such a silly
as you think, you see."

"My love!" he cried, "I never thought you were a 'silly.'"

"Not very wise, though! Oh, I know what I lack, Humphrey; but I _am_
better than I was--I am really! Remember, I never heard literature
talked about until I met you; it was all new to me when we married,
and--if you've noticed it--you aren't very, _very_ interested in
anything else. The longer we live together, the more--the nicer I shall
be."

He answered lightly:

"You're nice enough now."

But he was touched.

After a long pause, as if uttering the conclusion of a train of thought
aloud, she murmured: "Baby's got _your_ shaped head."

"I hope to God it'll be worth more to him than mine to me!" he
exclaimed.

She was silent again.

"What are you so serious for, all of a sudden?" he said, looking round.

Cynthia bent over him quickly with a caress, and sprang up.

"It was you who wanted the _t's_ crossed for once!" she said
tremulously. "There, now I must go and knock at the nursery door and
ask if I'm allowed to go in!"

The man of acute perceptions wondered what she meant, and in what way
he had shown himself dull at comprehending so transparent a girl.

It was in October, when less than twenty pounds remained to them,
that something at last turned up. Turquand had learnt that an
assistant-editor was required on _The World and his Wife_, a weekly
journal recently started for the benefit of the English and Americans
in Paris. The Editor was familiarly known as "Billy" Beaufort, and
the proprietor was a sporting baronet who had reduced his income from
fourteen thousand per annum to eight by financing, and providing with
the diamonds, which were the brightest feature of her performance,
a lady who fancied that she was an actress. Beaufort had been the
one dramatic critic who did not imply that she was painful, and it
was Beaufort who had latterly assured the Baronet that _The World
and his Wife_ would realise a fortune. He had gone about London for
thirteen years assuring people that various enterprises would realise
a fortune--that was his business--but the Baronet was one of the few
persons who had believed him. Then Billy Beaufort took his watch, and
his scarf-pin, and his sleeve-links away from Attenborough's--when
in funds he could always pawn himself for a considerable amount--and
turned up again resplendent at the club, whose secretary had been
writing him sharp letters on the subject of his subscription. The
only alloy to his complacence, though it did not dimmish it to any
appreciable degree, was that he was scarcely more qualified to edit a
paper than was a landsman to navigate a ship. He described himself as a
journalist, and the description was probably as accurate as any other
he could have furnished of a definite order; but he was a journalist
whose attainments were limited to puffing a prospectus and serving up
a réchauffé from _Truth_. Never attached to a paper for longer than
two or three months, he was, during that period, usually attached to a
woman too. He drove in hansoms every day of the year; always appeared
to have bought his hat half an hour ago; affected a big picotee as a
buttonhole, and lived--nobody knew how. While he was ridiculed in Fleet
Street as a Pressman, he was treated with deference there on account of
his reputed smartness in the City, and--while the City laughed at his
business pretensions--there he was respected for his supposed abilities
in Fleet Street. So he beamed out of the hansoms perkily, and drove
from one atmosphere of esteem to another, waving a gloved hand, on the
way, to clever men who envied him.

In days gone by he had tasted a spell of actual prosperity. By what
coup he had made the money, and how he had lost it, are details, but he
had now developed the fatal symptom of dwelling lovingly on that epoch
when he had been so lucky, and so courted, and so rich. There is hope
for the man who boasts of what he means to do; there is hope for the
boaster who lies about what he is doing; but the man whose weakness is
to boast of what he once did is doomed--he is a man who will succeed no
more. If the sporting Baronet had grasped this fact, _The World and his
Wife_ would never have been started, and Billy Beaufort would not have
been looking for an assistant-editor to do all the work.

Kent obtained the post. The man with whom Beaufort had parted was a
thoroughly experienced journalist, who had put his chief in the way
of things, but had subsequently called him an ass, and what Billy
sought now was a zealous young fellow who would have no excuse for
giving himself airs. Beaufort believed in Turquand's opinion, and had
always thought him a fool for being so shabby, knowing him to have
ten times the brain-power that he himself possessed, and Turquand had
blown Humphrey's trumpet sturdily. He did more than merely recommend
him; he declared--with a recollection of the nurse and baby--that Kent
was _the_ man to get, but that he was afraid it would not be worth his
while to accept less than seven pounds a week. When the matter was
settled, Humphrey sought his friend again, and, wringing his hand,
exclaimed:

"You're a pal; but--but, I say! What are an assistant-editor's duties?"

Exhilaration and misgiving were mixed in equal parts in his breast.

Turquand laughed, as nearly as he could be said ever to approach a
laugh.

"The assistant-editor of _The World and his Wife_ will have to cut pars
nimbly out of the English society journals and the Paris dailies, and
'put 'em all in different language--the more indifferent, the better!'
He must handle the scissors without fatigue, and arrange with someone
on this side to supply a column of London theatrical news every
week--out of _The Daily Telegraph_. Say with _me_! It's worth a guinea,
and I may as well have it as anybody else."

"You're appointed our London dramatic critic," said Kent. "Won't you
have thirty bob?"

"A guinea's the market price; and I can have some cards printed and
go to the theatres for nothing, you see, when I feel like it; they
don't take any stock in _The Outpost_. He must attend the _répétitions
générales_ himself--if he can get in--and make all the acquaintances he
can, against the time when the rag dies."

"'Dies'?" echoed Kent. "Is it going to die?"

"Oh, it won't live, my boy! If it had been a permanent job, I shouldn't
have handed it over to you--I'm not a philanthropist. But it will give
you a chance to turn round, and an enlightened publisher may discern
the merits of _The Eye of the Beholder_ in the meanwhile. You'd better
go on looking for something while you are on the thing; perhaps you'll
be able to get the Paris Correspondence for a paper, if you try."

"What more? What besides the scissors--nothing?"

"There's the paste; I don't imagine you'll need much else."

"You're a trump!" repeated Kent gratefully. "I feel an awful fraud
taking such a berth, Turk; but in this world one has to do what one----"

"Can't!"

"Exactly. By George! it seems to be a paying line."

"There is always room at the top, you know," said Turquand. "When you
rise in what you can't do, the emolument is dazzling."

Beaufort was returning to Paris the same day, and he was anxious for
Kent to join him there with all possible speed. Kent's first intention
was to go alone and let Cynthia follow him at her leisure; but when he
reached home and cried, "'Mary, you shall drive in your carriage, and
Charles shall go to Eton!'" she refused to be left behind.

"I can be ready by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest," she exclaimed
delightedly, when explanations were forthcoming. "What did you mean by
'Charles' and 'Mary'? Oh, Humphrey, didn't I tell you it would all come
all right? How lovely! and how astonished mamma and papa will be!"

"Yes, I fancy it will surprise 'em a trifle," he said. "We'll go round
there this evening, shall we? And we'll put the salary in francs--it
sounds more." He hesitated. "I say, do you think Nurse will mind living
in Paris?"

Cynthia paled.

"I must ask her; I hadn't thought of that. Oh ... oh, I dare say I
shall be able to persuade her! It's rather a hurry for her, though,
isn't it? She does so dislike being hurried."

"Tell her at once," he suggested; "she'll have all the more time to
prepare in. Run up to her now."

"Let--let us think," murmured Cynthia; "we'll consider.... Ann must be
sent away, and we shall have to give her a month's wages instead of
notice."

"She's no loss," he observed. "I don't know I what your mother ever saw
in her. She can't even cook a steak, the wench!"

"She fries them, dear."

"I know she does," said Kent. "A woman who'd fry a steak would do a
murder. Well, we shall have to give her a month's wages instead of
notice--it's an iniquitous law! But what about Nurse?"

"Perhaps," said Cynthia nervously, "if _you_ were to mention it to her,
darling, if you don't I mind----"

"Of course I don't mind," he answered, but without alacrity. "What an
idea! Tell Ann to send her down."

She entered presently, an important young person in a stiff white
frock; and he played with the newspaper, trying to feel that he had
grown quite accustomed to seeing an important young person in his
service.

"You wished to speak to me, madam, but baby will be waking directly----"

"I shan't keep you a moment," said Kent. "Er--your mistress and I are
going to Paris; we shall be there some time. I suppose it's all the
same to you where you live? We want you to be ready by Thursday, Nurse."

"To Paris?" said Nurse, with cold amazement, and a pause that said even
more.

Cynthia became engrossed by a bowl of flowers, and Kent felt that,
after all, Paris was a long way off.

"I suppose it's all the same to you where you live?" he said again,
though he no longer supposed anything of the sort. "And there are three
days for you to pack in, you know--three nice full days."

"Three days, sir?" she echoed reproachfully. "To go abroad! May I ask
you if you would be staying in a place like that all the winter, sir?"

"Yes, certainly through the winter--or probably so. It mightn't be so
long; it depends."

"I could not undertake to leave 'ome for good, Sir," said the nurse.
"I am engaged. My friend lives in 'Olloway, and----"

"Oh, it wouldn't be for good," declared Cynthia ingratiatingly; "we
couldn't stay there for good ourselves--oh no! And, of course, if you
found we stopped too long to suit you, Nurse, why, you could leave us
when you liked, couldn't you? Though Mr. Kent and I would both be very
sorry to lose you, I'm sure!" They looked at her pleadingly while she
meditated.

"What Baby will do, _Hi_ don't know, madam," she said; "changing his
cow, poor little dear!"

"Will it hurt him?" demanded the mother and father, in a breath.

"If you have the doctor's consent, madam, you may _chance_ it. It isn't
a thing that _Hi_ would ever advise."

"Well, well, look here," said Kent; "we'll see Dr. Roberts about it
to-day, and if he says there's no risk, that'll settle it. You will get
ready to start Thursday morning, Nurse."

"I will _endeavour_ to do so, sir," she said with dignity.

They felt that on the whole she had been gracious. And Kent, having
obtained Dr. Roberts' sanction to change the cow, commissioned a
house-agent to try to let No. 64 furnished at four guineas a week.



CHAPTER XIV


Lest he should feel unduly elated, _The Eye of the Beholder_ came back
on Wednesday afternoon, but this time he did not post it to another
firm instanter. He could not very well ask for it to be returned to
Paris, and he left it with Turquand when he bade him good-bye. "Send it
where you like," he begged; "perhaps you might try Farqueharsen next.
Yes, I've rather a fancy for Farqueharsen! But let it make the round,
old chap, and drop me a line when there aren't any more publishers for
it to go to."

The nurse's "endeavour" was crowned by success. The Walfords had
congratulated him so warmly that he almost began to think they were
nice people again. And the departure was made on Thursday morning as
arranged.

They travelled, of course, by the Newhaven route, and reached the gare
St. Lazare after dark on a rainy evening. The amount of luggage that
they possessed among them made Kent stare, as he watched half a dozen
porters hoisting trunks, and a perambulator, and a bassinet on to the
bus, and it seemed as if they would never get out of the station. At
last they rattled away, through the wet streets, the baby whimpering,
and the nurse flustered, and he and Cynthia very tired. They drove to
a little hotel near the Madeleine, where they intended to stay until
they found a suitable pension de famille, and where dinner and the
warmth of beaune was very grateful. Nurse also "picked up" after the
waiter's appearance with her tray and a half-bottle of vin ordinaire,
and, as their fatigue passed, exhilaration was in the ascendant once
more. Cynthia's recovery was so marked that, finding the rain had
ceased and the moon was shining, she wanted to go out and look at the
Grand Boulevard. So Humphrey and she took a stroll for an hour, and
said how strange it was to think that they had come to live in Paris,
and how funnily things happened. And they had a curaçoa each at a café,
and went back to their fusty red room on the third-floor, with the
inevitable gilt clock and a festooned bedstead, quite gaily.

The chambermaid brought in their chocolate at eight o'clock next
morning, and her brisk "Bonjour, m'sieur et madame!" sounded much
more cheerful to them both than Ann's knock at the door, with "The
'ot water, mum!" to which they were accustomed. The sun streamed in
brilliantly as she parted the window-curtains. After the chocolate and
rolls were finished, Kent proceeded to dress, and leaving Cynthia in
bed, betook himself to the office of the paper in the rue du Quatre
Septembre.

Beaufort had not come yet, and, pending his chief's arrival, he
occupied himself by examining a copy. The tone of the notes struck him
as decidedly poor, and a lengthy interview with one of the prominent
French actresses abounded in all the well-worn cliches of the amateur.
The "dainty and artistic" room into which the interviewer was ushered,
the lady's "mock" despair, which gave place to "graceful" resignation
and "fragrant" cigarettes, made him sick. Beaufort was very cordial
when he entered, though, and it was vastly reassuring to discover how
lightly he took things. The work, Mr. Kent would find, was as easy
as A, B, C. "Turf Topics" was contributed by a fellow called Jordan,
and, really, Mr. Kent would find a few hours daily more than enough
to prepare an issue! They went into the private room, where a bottle
of vermouth and a pile of French and English journals, marked and
mutilated, were the most conspicuous features of the writing-table; and
Kent came to the conclusion that his Editor was an extremely pleasant
man, as the vermouth was sipped and they chatted over two excellent
cigars.

At first the duties did not prove quite so simple as had been promised
to one who had never had anything to do with producing a paper before,
and the printer worried him a good deal. But Beaufort was highly
satisfied. The novice was swift to grasp details, and took such an
infinity of pains in seasoning and amplifying the réchauffés, that
really his stuff read almost like original matter. As he began to feel
his feet, too, he put forth ideas, and, finding that the other was
quite ready to listen to them, gained confidence, and was not without
a mistaken belief that in so quickly mastering the mysteries of a
weekly and painfully exiguous little print, of which four-fifths were
eclectic, he had displayed ability of a brilliant order.

Primarily the labour that he devoted to the task was ludicrously
disproportionate to the result, but by degrees he got through it with
more rapidity. When a month had passed since the morning that he first
sat down in the assistant-editorial chair of _The World and his Wife_,
he discovered that he was doing in an afternoon what it had formerly
taken two days to accomplish, and he marvelled how he could have been
so stupid. The work had devolved upon him almost entirely now, for
Beaufort, having shown him the way in which he should go, dropped in
late, and withdrew early, and did little but drink vermouth and say,
"Yes, certainly, capital!" while he was there. It was Kent who proposed
the subject for the week's interview, wrote--or re-wrote--the causerie,
and who even secured the majority of the few advertisements that they
obtained. Also, when the semi-celebrity to be interviewed was not a
good-looking woman, it was he who was the interviewer. When the lady
was attractive, Billy Beaufort attended to that department himself.

Cynthia had found a pension de famille in the Madeleine quarter, highly
recommended for a permanency, and here they had removed. They had two
fairly large bedrooms, communicating, on the fourth floor, and paid
a hundred and fifty francs a week. It did not leave much over from
the salary for their incidental expenses, after reckoning the nurse's
wages; but it was supposed to be very cheap, and madame Garin and her
vivacious daughter, who skipped a good deal for thirty years of age,
and was voluble in bad English, begged them on no account to let any
of the other boarders hear that they were received at such terms, for
that would certainly be the commencement of madame Garin and her
daughter's ruin. Some of the boarders were French people, but the
meals, with which twenty-five persons down the long table appeared to
be fairly content, were very bad. They would have been thought bad even
in a boarding-house in Bloomsbury. The twenty-five persons were waited
on by a leisurely and abstracted Italian, and the intervals between
the meagre courses were of such duration that Kent swore that he had
generally forgotten what the soup had been called by the time that the
cold entree reached him.

Yet they were not uncomfortable. Their room was cosy in the lamplight
when the winter had set in and Etienne had made a fire, and the
curtains of the windows were drawn to hide the view of snowy roofs;
and though the dinner often left them hungry, they could go out and
have chocolate and cakes. And even as a foreign Pressman, Kent got some
tickets for theatres and concerts. It was livelier than Leamington
Road, to say the least of it--more lively for him than for Cynthia,
perhaps; but an improvement for her as well, since one or two of the
women were companionable. She took walks with them while he was at the
office, and practised her French on them in the chilly salon.

One afternoon when he was sitting at the office table and Beaufort had
gone, the clerk came in to him with a card that bore the name of "Mrs.
Deane-Pitt." She was staying in Paris, and the Editor had accepted his
suggestion that it might be a good idea to interview a novelist for
a change. Kent had sent the proofs to her the day before, but he had
never seen her. He told the clerk with some satisfaction to show her
in, and he wished he had put on his other jacket, for the author of
_Two and a Passion_ was a woman to meet.

He felt shabbier still when she entered; she looked to him like an
animated fashion-plate reduced to human height. From the hues of her
hat to the swirl of her skirt, it was evident that Mrs. Deane-Pitt made
money and knew where to spend it. An osprey in the hat was the only
touch of vulgarity. Everybody would not have termed her "pretty"; but
her eyes and teeth were good, and both flashed when she talked. Her age
might have been anything from thirty to thirty-five.

"I wanted to see Mr. Beaufort," she said, in a clear, crisp voice; "but
I hear he's out."

"Yes; he is out," said Kent. "Is it anything _I_ can do?"

"Well, I don't like that interview. I dare say it was my own fault,
but I object to suffering for my own faults--one has to suffer for so
many other people's in this world. It's all about _Two and a Passion_.
I wrote _Two and a Passion_ seven years ago--and I didn't get a royalty
on it, either! Why not talk about the books I've done since, and say
more about the one that's just out? You say, 'Mrs. Deane-Pitt confessed
to having recently published another novel,' and then you drop it as if
it were a failure. And 'confessed'--why 'confessed'? That's the tone I
don't like in the thing. You write about me as if I were an amateur."

He felt that Beaufort would not be sorry to have missed her.

"May I see the proofs again?" he asked.

She gave them to him, and settled herself in her chair. He looked at
them pen in hand, and she looked at him.

"It can easily be put right, can't it, Mr.----"

"'Kent.' Easily--oh yes! Will you tell me something about your new
book? I'm ashamed to say I haven't read it yet."

"Don't apologise. It's called _Thy Neighbour's Husband_."

"Does she bolt with him, or do you end it virtuously?"

"Virtuously, monsieur," she said, smiling. "You travel fast!"

"And--please go on! Are there cakes and ale, or does she tend the sick
and visit the poor?"

"You appal me!" said Mrs. Deane-Pitt. "Whatever my faults, I am modern;
I end with a question-point."

"Not questioning the lady's----"

"Oh, her happiness, of course!"

"'This brilliant and absorbing study, which is already giving rise to
considerable discussion,' would be the kind of thing?"

"Quite," she said. "I'm awfully sorry to give you so much trouble."

"The 'trouble' 's a pleasure. You don't want your 'favourite dog'
mentioned, do you? Favourite dogs are rather at a discount. Er----"

"Three," she said. "Yes; a boy and two girls."

"Does the boy--'in a picturesque suit'--come into the room, and lead up
to 'evident maternal pride'?"

"He's a dear little fellow!" she answered. "But do you think 'evident
maternal pride' would be quite in the key? No; I'd stick to me and the
work! Besides, domesticity is tedious to read about; the dullest topic
in the world is other people's children."

Kent laughed.

"I'll explain to Mr. Beaufort," he declared; "you shall have a
revise sent on to-morrow. I'm sure you'll find it all right when he
understands the style of thing you want."

"Thank you," she said dryly. "I assure you I have no misgivings, Mr.
Kent. 'Kent'! I've never had any correspondence with you, have I? The
name's familiar to me, somehow."

"An alias is 'The garden of England,'" he said.

"No; you haven't written anything, have you?"

"Two novels. One is published, and the post is wearing out the other."

"I remember," she cried, uttering the title triumphantly; "I read it.
What grand reviews you had! Of course, I know now. I liked your book
extremely, Mr. Kent. 'Humphrey Kent,' isn't it?"

"Thank you," he said. "Yes, 'Humphrey Kent.'"

"And you go in for journalism, too, eh?"

"Oh, this is a departure. I was never on a paper till lately."

"Really!" she exclaimed. "You aren't giving fiction up?"

"I'm pot-boiling, Mrs. Deane-Pitt. Do you think it very inartistic of
me?"

"Don't!" she said. "Inartistic! I hate that cant. There are papers that
are always calling _me_ inartistic. One's got to live. Oh, I admire
the people who can put up with West Kensington and take three years to
write a novel, but their altitude is beyond me. I write to sell, _moi_
--though you needn't put that in the interview. But I shouldn't have
thought you'd have any trouble in placing your books--you oughtn't to
to-day! I expect you've been too 'literary'--you'll grow out of it."

"You don't believe in----"

"I'm a practical woman. The public read to be amused, and the
publishers want what the public will read, good, bad, or rotten; that's
my view. You mustn't make me say these things, though," she broke off,
laughing, and getting up; "it's most indiscreet--to a Pressman.... I
shall send you a copy of _Thy Neighbour's Husband_--to a colleague.
Good-afternoon, Mr. Kent. I'll leave you to go on with your work now.
Pray don't look so relieved."

"I should value the copy ever so much," he said. "It was anything but
relief--I was struggling to conceal despair."

She put out her hand, and a faint perfume clung to his own after the
door had closed. Though her standpoint was not his own, her personality
had impressed him, and, as he watched her from the window re-entering
her cab, Kent was sorry that she hadn't remained longer.

He hoped she would not forget her promise to send her novel to him, and
when it reached him, a few days later, he opened it with considerable
eagerness. The style disappointed him somewhat, and the story seemed to
him unworthy of the pen that had written _Two and a Passion_. But he
replied, as he was bound to do, with a letter of grateful appreciation,
and endeavoured, moreover, to persuade himself that he liked it better
than he did. The lady, on her side, wrote a cordial little note,
thanking him for the amended proof-sheets--"I had no idea that I was so
clever or so charming." She said she should be pleased to see him if he
could ever spare the time to look in--she could give him a cup of "real
English tea"; and she was "Very truly his--Eva Deane-Pitt."



CHAPTER XV


She was living in the avenue Wagram--she had taken a small furnished
flat there for a few months--and when he saw her on the Boulevard,
about a week afterwards, Kent was puzzled to discover the reason that
he had not availed himself of her invitation. He called a day or two
later, and found her cynical but stimulating. In recalling the visit,
it appeared to him that she was more entertaining in conversation
than in print, which suggested that her good things were not so good
as they sounded, but while she talked he was amused. He left the flat
with the consciousness of having spent a very agreeable half-hour,
and was sorry that her "day," which she had mentioned to him, was a
fortnight ahead. She seemed to know many persons in Paris whom he would
be glad to meet, and apart from the hostess, with whom he had drunk
"English tea" and smoked Egyptian cigarettes, the entree to the little
yellow drawing-room promised to be enjoyable. That she was a widow he
had taken for granted from the first, and his assumption had proved
to be correct. She was a woman who struck one as born to be a widow;
it was difficult to conceive her either with a husband or living in
her parents' home. As to her children, she spoke of them frequently,
and saw them seldom. Kent decided that she was too fashionable and
a trifle hard, but this did not detract from the pleasure that the
visits afforded him; perhaps his perception of her character was
indeed responsible for much of the pleasure, for it rendered it more
complimentary still that she was nice to him.

She was surprised to learn that he was married, and declared that she
looked forward to knowing his wife. She did not, however, take any
steps to gratify the desire, and Kent was not regretful. He felt that
few things more productive of boredom for two could be devised than a
tête-à-tête between Mrs. Deane-Pitt and Cynthia; and, though he was
reluctant to acknowledge it to himself, he had a feeling also that, if
it occurred, the lady would be a little contemptuous of him afterwards.
He knew her opinion of young men's marriages in the majority of cases,
and was uncomfortably conscious that she would not pronounce his own to
be one of the exceptions.

Mrs. Walford's letters to her daughter had hitherto been in her
most enthusiastic vein. Mr. McCullough had given the disappointed
bass a berth in Berlin, and in her letters this was alluded to as a
"position," upon which she showered her favourite adjectives of "jolly"
and "extraordinary" and "immense." Cæsar was "McCullough's right hand,"
the "best houses in Berlin" were open to him, and his prospects, social
and financial, were dazzling. Of late, however, he had been dwelt on
less, and one morning there came a letter that contained a confession
of personal anxiety. The recent heavy drop in American stocks, and the
failure of two or three brokers, had seriously affected the jobber.
They thought of trying to let The Hawthorns, which was much too large
for them now, and moving out of the neighbourhood. Cæsar remained
McCullough's "right hand," but briefly; and it was evident that the
writer was in great distress.

Cynthia was terribly grieved and startled. She dashed off eight pages
of love and inquiries by the evening mail, and when the news was
confirmed, with more particulars, she felt that she could do no less
than run over to utter her sympathy in person.

Kent agreed that it was perhaps advisable, and raised the money that
was necessary cheerfully enough by pawning his watch and chain.

Only when she sent him a rather lengthy telegram from Streatham,
detailing her mother's frame of mind, did he feel that she was
exaggerating his share in her solicitude.

The chilly salon, where the ladies played forfeits after dinner, or
where the vivacious daughter thumped the piano, was not attractive
during Cynthia's absence. Neither was it lively to smoke alone in his
room, or to go to a theatre or a music-hall by himself; and when,
in calling on Mrs. Deane-Pitt, he mentioned his loneliness and she
proposed that he should take her to the Variétés, he accepted the
suggestion with alacrity.

As he obtained the tickets for nothing, his only expense was cabs, and
the liqueurs between the facts; and it was so enjoyable, laughing with
her on the lounge of the café, that the recollection of their being
paid for out of the balance of his loan from the mont-de-piété was
banished. Mrs. Deane-Pitt made some more of her happy remarks while
they sipped the chartreuse, and her teeth and eyes flashed superbly.
The piece was a great success, but Kent thought the entr'actes were
even gayer. And when the curtain had fallen and they reached the avenue
Wagram, she would not hear of his leaving her before going in and
having some supper.

His liqueurs looked very paltry to him contrasted with the table
that exhibited mayonnaise and champagne, and his exhilaration was
momentarily damped by envy. Fiction meant a good deal when one was
lucky; how jolly to be able to live as this woman did! Her maid took
away her cloak and hat, and he opened the bottle. She drew off her long
gloves, and patted her hair before the mirror with fingers on which
some rings shone.

"Let's sit down! Am I all right?"

He thought he had never seen her look so charming or so young.

"You have a colour," he said.

"A proof it's natural; when we went out I was as pale as a ghost! I
work too hard, I do--what are you smiling at?--I work horribly hard.
Life's so dear--yes, 'expensive'--don't say it, it would be unworthy of
you. And I can't do a fifth part of what's offered me, with all my fag."

"Am I supposed to sympathise with you for that?"

"Certainly you should sympathise; what de you suppose I tell you
for--to be felicitated? Do you think it's agreeable to have to refuse
work when one needs the money it would bring in? The trials of Tantalus
were a joke to it. I had to let a twenty-thousand-word story for _The
Metropolis_ slide only the other day, and I could place half a dozen
shorter stories every week if I'd the time to write them."

"You do write a great many," said Kent, "and you seem fairly
comfortable."

"'Wise judges are we of each other!' You ought to see my bills; that
music-stand over there is full of them! That's the place I always keep
them in--I'm naturally tidy, it's one of my virtues. I had to turn out
Chopin's Mazurkas yesterday to make room for some more. I only came to
Paris because people don't write you so many abusive letters when they
have to pay two-pence-halfpenny postage. Oh, I'm comfortable enough
in a fashion, but I've my worries like my neighbours. I suppose I'm
extravagant, but I can't help it. Besides, I'm not! Do you think I'm
extravagant?"

He looked at her, and nodded, smiling.

"No," she said, "not really? Why?"

"Heavens! you haven't the illusion that you're economical? I believe
you spend a small fortune on cabs alone."

"I don't spend a solitary franc on one when I'm _not_ alone."

"You never walk, so far as I can ascertain----"

"No; not so far as that, but I toddle a bit."

"Your champagne is above criticism, and you dress like--like an angel.
The simile is bad----"

"And improper. Go on; what other faults have I? I like to know my
friends' opinion of me."

"'If to her share some human errors fall----'" he murmured.

"Don't look, then! Shall I hide it behind my table-napkin? That's
sheer cowardice. Fill your glass, and mine, please. Go on; tell me how
I strike you frankly! I know; you think I don't approach literature
reverently enough and ought to devote twelve months to a book, and let
my poor little children go barefoot in the meanwhile? Well, I did give
twelve months to a book once; but I had a husband when I wrote _Two
and a Passion_, and he provided the shoes. Now, if I didn't work as I
do, I should have to live at Battersea, and buy my clothes at Brixton,
and take my holidays at Southend. You wouldn't calmly condemn me to
Southend? My income, apart from what I make, barely pays my rent."

"Your rent is somewhat heavy," suggested Kent, "with two flats going at
once."

"Wretch! do you lecture me because I couldn't find a tenant for the
Victoria Street place? He blames me for my misfortunes!"

She caught the long gloves up, and swirled them round on his cheek.
Like the others, they were perfumed; but now their scent was in his
face. They looked in each other's eyes an instant, smiling across
the corner of the table. Then, as the smile died away, they remained
looking in each other's eyes attentively. He drew the gloves from her
hold, and played with them. Her hand lay upturned to take them back,
and in restoring them his own rested on it. She averted her gaze, but
her palm did not slip away so quickly as it might have done.

"You know you may smoke," she said, rising and going over to the fire.
"I'll have one, too."

"Isn't it too late?" he asked, joining her.

His voice was not quite steady, and now he didn't look at her as he
spoke.

"You can have one cigarette," she said, sinking into an armchair, and
crossing her feet on the fender. "How's the paper going? Eclipsing _Le
Petit Journal_?"

"Of course," he said. "Did you ever know anybody's paper that wasn't?"

"You count Paris your home, I suppose? You mean to stop here
permanently? _I_ go back in March; the people are returning here then.
I loathe London after Paris, but I shall have escaped most of the
winter there, that's one thing. Where did you live in town?"

"_My_ neighbourhood _was_ Battersea, that is to say, it was suburban
wilds. We had a villa at Streatham--have it now, in fact," he added,
remembering with dismay that there was a quarter's rent due. "No, I'm
afraid I can't condole with you, Mrs. Deane-Pitt."

"'Pride sleeps in a gilded crown, contentment in a cotton night-cap,'"
she said. "An address is only skin-deep, after all; besides, Streatham
is pretty."

"Pretty _well_. And it looks prettier out of a big house."

"Get money, my friend," she said languidly; "you are young enough, and
I think you're clever enough. When all things were made, nothing was
made better. And it's really very easy; as soon as you are popular, the
editors will take anything."

"'First catch your hare,'" he observed. "I'm not popular."

The clock on the mantelshelf struck one, and he threw away his
cigarette-end and got up.

"Good-night, Mrs. Deane-Pitt."

"Good-night," she said.

Her touch lingered again, and her personality dominated him as he
walked back to the pension de famille through the silent streets. He
was angry with himself to perceive that it was so. What the devil had
he been about in that business with the gloves over the table? She had
let him do it, too! Did she like him. He wouldn't go to see her any
more! Well, that was absurd, but he would not go so frequently as he
had. And he must keep a rein on himself. Nothing could come of it, he
was convinced, even if he wished; and he did not wish. It would be too
beastly to deceive a girl like Cynthia ... and their baby only a year
old! He decided, as he mounted the stairs, to tell Cynthia when she
came back that he had been to the Variétés with Mrs. Deane-Pitt. It
would not disturb her to hear that, and, though it was juggling with
his conscience, he would feel cleaner afterwards. There was a letter
from her waiting for him on the bedroom table, and he washed his hands
before he opened it.

Cynthia wrote to say that she should be home the next evening but one,
and that her parents had been rejoiced to see her. On the whole, things
did not seem to be so desperate as she had feared; but it was quite
determined that The Hawthorns should be let, for, fortunately, there
was a Peruvian family who were prepared to take it just as it stood,
and mamma had already been to view a house at Strawberry Hill which was
quite nice, and far cheaper. Whether Miss Wix would remove with them
was doubtful.

"Mamma's temper is naturally not of the best just now, and I gather
that the dissensions have been rather bad. Papa talks of allowing Aunt
Emily a pound a week to live by herself, and really she seems to prefer
it."

She added, underlined, that Cæsar was still "the right hand of
McCullough." She had learnt to smile a little at Cæsar, and Kent winced
as he came to that allusion to a mutual joke. And then there followed
a dozen affectionate injunctions: he was not to be dull, "poor boy who
had no watch and chain!" but to go somewhere every night; he was to hug
baby for her, and to give and keep a score of kisses. She was "Always
his loving wife." He read it under the paraffin lamp with his overcoat
on, and wished that it hadn't arrived till the morning.

Mrs. Deane-Pitt's inquiry how _The World and his Wife_ was going had
had more significance than Kent's careless reply. The band of Paris
Correspondents in the vicinity of the boulevard Magenta and elsewhere
were already beginning to talk about Billy Beaufort, for, not only
was he neglecting the first chance of a competence that had fallen
his way for years--he was squandering the whole of a very handsome
salary, and getting into difficulties, besides. The amount of energy
which this man, when in his deepest waters, expended upon a search for
opportunities was equalled only by the abysmal folly by which he ruined
all that he obtained. He was one of the fools who devote their lives
to disproving the adage that experience teaches them. The circulation
of the paper was purely nominal, and the Baronet had constantly to be
applied to for further funds; indeed, the only work in connection with
the journal which Billy did now was to write euphemistic reports to the
proprietor. The money did not supply the journal's deficiencies alone.
Card debts had to be settled somehow; and an ephemeral attachment to a
girl who tied herself in knots at the Nouveau Cirque was responsible
for some embarrassment.

Hitherto, however, Beaufort had always spared the hundred and
seventy-five francs at the end of the week to his assistant-editor.
But on the Saturday after Cynthia's return he asked him casually if he
would mind waiting for it a few days.

"Sorry if it puts you out at all," he said. "I can't help myself. You
shall have it for certain Wednesday or Thursday. I suppose you can
finance matters in the meanwhile, eh?"

Kent could do no less than answer that he would try. On Monday morning,
though, madame Garin's bill would come up with the first breakfast,
and he saw that he would be compelled either to make an excuse to her,
or to pretend to forget it till he could pay.



CHAPTER XVI


Their bills had been paid with such exceeding regularity up to the
present that he decided to take the bolder course, distasteful as it
was. He had been obliged to ask landladies to wait longer in his time,
but it was one thing to be "disappointed" as a bachelor, and quite
another when one had a wife, and baby, and nurse in the house. Madame
Garin's countenance, moreover, was of a rather forbidding type, and did
not suggest a yielding disposition in money matters. He was agreeably
surprised to hear her say, after a scarcely perceptible pause, that
it was of no consequence when he spoke to her in passing her little
office in the hall on Monday morning. Cynthia's relief was immense; it
had been a serious crisis to her, her earliest experience of having to
ask for credit; and, to be on the safe side, he had not promised to
pay before Thursday. Both trusted that the salary would be forthcoming
on Wednesday, though, for if the nurse wanted anything bought in the
meanwhile they would be obliged to temporise with her, and that would
have its awkwardness.

Beaufort did not refer to the subject on Wednesday, and Kent went home
with sixty-five centimes in his pocket. He got in late, and Cynthia was
already at dinner. She glanced at him inquiringly as he took his seat,
and he shook his head.

"Not yet," he murmured.

She disguised her feelings and continued to talk chiffons with
the woman opposite; but when they mounted to their room and the
proprietress looked out of the bureau at them with a greeting, she felt
a shade uncomfortable, and hastened her steps.

"I hate that bureau," she said as soon as they had reached the haven of
the first landing. "The Garins seem to live in it, and you can't get by
without their seeing you! Well, he didn't give it to you, eh?"

"No; it'll be all right to-morrow, though. It's lucky I said 'Thursday'
instead of to-day. Has Nurse been to you for anything?"

"Thank goodness, she hasn't! But Baby is bound to be out of something
directly. You do think we are sure of it to-morrow, Humphrey, _don't_
you?"

He said there was no doubt about it, and they drew their chairs to the
hearth. The night was cold, and presently he went out to a grocer's
and spent sixty centimes on a bottle of the kind of red wine that the
restaurants threw in with the cheapest meal, smuggling it upstairs
under his overcoat. In madame Garin's wine-list it figured as "médoc"
at two francs, and she would not have been pleased with him for getting
it at a shop. They made it hot over their fire in one of the infant's
saucepans; and, sweetened with sugar from the nursery cupboard, they
found it comforting. Though their capital was now a son, they were
not unhappy, in the prospect of a hundred and seventy-five francs in
the course of twenty-four hours, and once Cynthia laughed so I gaily
that the nurse came in and intimated that "the rooms opening into one
another made the noise very disturbing to Baby."

Kent went to the office next day without a cigarette, for he had smoked
his last, and he I awaited his chief's arrival with considerable
impatience. The Editor had not been in when he returned to luncheon,
but in reply to Cynthia's eager question he assured her that he was
certain to have the money in his pocket when he saw her again in the
evening. He wanted a cigarette by this time very badly indeed, and when
the office clock struck three, he left his desk, and stood pulling his
moustache at the window moodily. He began to fear that it was going to
be one of the days when Billy Beaufort did not appear in the rue du
Quatre Septembre at all.

His misgiving proved to be well founded, and dinner that night was
agreeable neither to him nor the girl. She had been reluctant to go
down to it, on hearing that madame Garin could not be paid, and, though
he persuaded her to go down, she sped past the bureau with averted
eyes. It was useless to go in search of Beaufort; the only thing of
which one could be positive with regard to his movements at this hour
was that he would not be at his hotel; but Kent promised; her to see
him before commencing work in the morning, and said that the amount
necessary should be sent round to her at once.

Beaufort was staying at the Grand, and he was; still in his room when
Kent called there. He was found in bed, reading his letters. A suit of
dress-clothes trailed disconsolately across a chair, and by the window
a fur-coat and a hat-box had rolled on to the floor. He had not drunk
his chocolate, but a tumbler of soda-water and something, and a syphon,
stood on the table beside, him, surrounded by his watch and chain, some
scattered cigarettes, and the bulk of his correspondence. He looked but
half awake and cross.

"What's the matter?" he murmured. "Sit down. There's a seat there, if
you move those things. Will you have anything to drink?"

"I won't have a drink, but I'll take one of those cigarettes, if I
may," said Kent, sticking it in his mouth and inhaling gratefully. "I'm
sorry to dun you, but you told me I could have the money 'Wednesday or
Thursday,' and I'm pressed for it. I wish you would let me have it now;
I want to send it up to my pension before going on to the shop."

Beaufort put out his tongue and drank some more of the contents of the
tumbler thirstily.

"That'll be all right," he said, yawning; "don't you bother about that!"

"But the point is, that I want it now," said Kent. "I dare say it would
be 'all right,' but I'm in need of it this morning. My bill came up on
Monday, and I put the woman off till yesterday--I can't put her off
any more."

"What? Is this the first week you owe her? My boy, a week! I haven't
paid my bill here for eleven weeks. Let her wait."

"You haven't a wife," said Kent. "_I_ have. It's damned unpleasant for
a girl, I can tell you!"

"How much does the old harpy want?" inquired the Editor, with
resentment.

"A hundred and sixty, more or less, with extras. I have the
interesting document with me, if you'd like to see it."

Billy gaped again.

"Oh, well," he said, "we'll engineer it. You--you tell your wife not
to worry herself; and don't trouble any more. I'll see you through." He
settled his head on the pillow, and appeared to be under the impression
that the difficulty was disposed of.

"It's very good of you," answered Kent, as his tone seemed to call for
gratitude. "I'm glad to hear you say so. But how soon can I have it?"

"Eh? Oh, I shall be able to draw to-morrow. You shall have a hundred
and sixty to-morrow. I give you my word of honour on it. _I_'ll work it
for you somehow. I won't see you in a hole."

Kent stared at him. On the morrow a second week's salary would be
due--and on the next day but one, a second account from madame Garin.
He pointed the fact out to Beaufort quietly, but with emphasis. He said
that, if matters were financially complicated, it would be well for him
to understand the position, in order that he might realise his outlook,
and, if essential, make a temporary removal to a quarter where he could
live more cheaply. He did not want to badger him, he explained, but
Beaufort's programme was not capable of imitation in his own case,
and, as a family man, he must cut his coat according to his cloth.

"If you want me to let part of my salary stand over for the next
few weeks, and it's unavoidable, I suppose it is unavoidable," he
said finally; "only, I can't be left in the dark about it. Am I to
understand that you propose to pay me a hundred and sixty francs
to-morrow, instead of three hundred and fifty? Or shall I have the lot?"

What he received was a peaceful snore, and he perceived that Billy
Beaufort had fallen asleep. He contemplated him for a minute
desperately, and lit another cigarette. The thought of Cynthia sitting
at home in the bedroom, waiting in suspense for a messenger's knock at
the door, nerved him to upset a chair, and Beaufort opened his eyes
with a grunt.

"What can you do?" demanded Kent, briefly this time, lest slumber
should overtake him again. "Can you give me any money before I go?"

"I've told you I'll do my utmost. You shall have a hundred and sixty
francs to-morrow; I can't give it you now--I haven't got it. If I had,
you may be sure you wouldn't have to ask twice for it. I'm not a chap
of that sort, Kent. By George! I never desert a pal. I've my faults,
but I never desert a pal.... If a louis on account is any good, I can
let you have that."

"Well?" said Humphrey, seeing that there was no more to be done, "I
rely on you. And--thanks--I'll take the louis to go on with."

He went down and out on to the Boulevard, and sent Cynthia a petit
bleu, saying, "Got something. Balance to-morrow," and wondered gloomily
whether madame Garin would continue complacent when she discovered
that, after all, he suggested paying one week's bill instead of two.
Perhaps it would be easier to arrange with the vivacious daughter?

He resolved to try, and the young lady was all smiles and "Mais
parfaitement, monsieur," when he spoke to her. He congratulated himself
on having had the idea; but, though Beaufort provided him with the sum
agreed upon next day, and repeated that he "never deserted a pal" with
an air of having achieved a triumph, he did not make up the deficit,
and, instead of being able to square accounts with the Garins, the
assistant-editor gradually found himself getting deeper into their
debt. From its being a doubtful point whether he would receive his
salary in full, it became a question whether he would get any of it at
all; and when he obtained half, he learnt by degrees to esteem it a
fortunate week. Beaufort overflowed with promises and protestations.

Everything was always "on the eve of being righted," but the day of
righteousness never dawned. Mademoiselle Garin began to stop "monsieur
Kent" in the hall and convey to him with firmness that her mother had
very heavy obligations to meet, and Cynthia sat at the dinner-table in
constant terror of the old woman coming in and publicly insulting them.

One morning, when the laundress brought back their linen, Humphrey
had to feign to be asleep, while Cynthia explained that "monsieur had
all the money and was so unwell that she did not like to wake him."
The poor creature was sympathetic, and went away telling madame not
to disquiet herself--it was doubtless only a passing indisposition.
But after she had gone, the girl begged Humphrey to take a loan on her
engagement-ring, and after some discussion he complied. Everything is
more valuable in Paris than in London until one has occasion to pawn
it, and then it is worth much less, especially jewellery. From the
mont-de-piété Kent procured about forty per cent, of what a London
pawn-broker would have lent him. However, the loan was useful. Though
it did not clear them, it afforded temporary relief; and it paid the
nurse's wages, which were due the same day. Cynthia said that she had
become so "demoralised"--she used a happy term now with a frequency
he would have found astonishing if he had recalled how she talked when
they first met--that a substantial payment on account "made her feel
quite meritorious"; and there was a week in which they went to the
theatres again, and walked past the bureau with heads erect.

March had opened mildly, and people were once more beginning to sit
outside the cafés; and Mrs. Deane-Pitt was returning to England. Kent
had kept his resolution not to enter the yellow drawing-room in the
avenue Wagram when it could be avoided--partly, no doubt, because of
the anxieties he had had to occupy his mind, but partly also by force
of will. When he heard that she was leaving, though, he could do no
less--nor did he feel it necessary to do less--than call to bid her
"au revoir," and he was conscious, as the servant replied that she was
at home, that he would have been disappointed otherwise.

He gown betokened that visitors were expected; teacups demonstrated
that visitors had been. She welcomed him languidly, and motioned him to
a seat.

"I thought you must have gone to London, or to Paradise," she said.
"What have you beer doing with yourself?"

"I've been so fearfully busy," he answered lamely.

"On the paper?"

"Of course."

"I don't hear good reports of the paper," she said. "I hope they aren't
true?"

"The paper is as good as it always was," responded Kent--"neither
better nor worse. May I ask what you hear?"

"I heard that Sir Charles Eames is getting tired of it. Says he is
running a journal that nobody reads but himself, and _he_ 'don't
read it much.' He informed a man in his club, who told it privately
to another man, who told it in confidence to a woman who told me--I
wouldn't breathe a word of it to anyone myself--that 'if the price
didn't improve soon he should scratch it.' What will the robin do then,
Mr. Kent?"

Humphrey looked grave. This was the first plain intimation he had had
that _The World and his Wife_ was likely to collapse, and badly as the
post was paying him now, it was more lucrative than any that awaited
him. He thought that Mrs. Deane-Pitt might have communicated her news
more considerately.

"The robin will manage to find crumbs, I suppose," he said; "I wasn't
born on _The World and his Wife_."

"May I offer you some tea and cake in the meantime?"

"No, thanks."

Her tone annoyed him this afternoon; it was hard and careless. He
fancied at the moment that his only feeling for her was dislike,
and sneered at the mental absurdities into which he had strayed.
There was a lengthy pause--a thing that had seldom occurred between
them--followed by platitudes.

"Well," he murmured, getting up, "I'm afraid I must go."

She did not press him to remain.

"Must you?" she said. "I dare say we shall meet again. It's a small
world in every sense."

"I hope we shall. Au revoir, and bon voyage, Mrs. Deane-Pitt."

"If you should go back yourself, you'll come to see me? You know where
I live."

"Thank you; I shall be very glad."

But as he went down the stairs Kent was surprised to perceive that
he felt suddenly mournful. The noise of the door closing behind him
was charged with ridiculous melancholy, and there appeared to him
something sad in this conventional ending that had the semblance of
estrangement. The sentiment and impression of the hour that he had
spent in the room after the Variétés recurred to him, and contrasted
with it their adieu became full of pathos. He questioned reproachfully
if, in his determination not to be more than a friend, he might not
have repaid her own friendship by ingratitude, and so have wounded her.
He first decided that he would send her a letter, and then that he
would not send her a letter. He made his way through the Champ Elysées
reflectively, and once half obeyed a violent temptation to turn back.
He would have obeyed it wholly but that he felt its indulgence would
be laughable, or that Mrs. Deane-Pitt would be likely to look upon it
in that light. So he restrained the impulse. But he could not laugh
himself.



CHAPTER XVII

The respite afforded by the mont-de-piété was brief, and all that Kent
received from Beaufort in the next three weeks was twenty francs. The
Garins' faces in the hall were very glum, now, and the sum against
"_Notes remises_" at the top of the bills that came up to the bedroom
on Monday mornings had swelled to such disheartening dimensions that
the debtor no longer gave himself the trouble to decipher the various
items. In addition to this, the affairs of _The World and his Wife_ had
reached a crisis, and he learnt from the Editor that it was doomed. An
interval of restored hope ensued. The life of the paper hung in the
balance--then they went to press no more.

Beaufort declared that Kent's claim would be discharged without delay,
and, knowing the ex-proprietor's position, Humphrey could not believe
that he would be allowed to suffer. That the Baronet was ignorant of
his claim's existence and that it was Billy Beaufort who had to find,
the money for him, he had no idea; no more had he suspected, when he
took Cynthia to the Nouveau Cirque and applauded the contortions of
"Mlle. Veronique," that the artiste who stood on her head, and kissed
her toes to them, was in part responsible for their plight. Billy,
realising that the matter must be squared somehow, if things weren't
to become more unpleasant, spoke reassuringly of Sir Charles being
momentarily in tight quarters; and Humphrey, in daily expectation of
a cheque, made daily promises of a settlement to the Garins, while he
discussed with Cynthia what should be their next move.

To remain in Paris would be useless, and they decided that they would
go back to England as soon as the cheque was cashed. Perhaps it was
fortunate, after all, that No. 64 had not been let! In London he must
advertise again, and a post might be easier to find now that he could
call himself an "assistant-editor" in the advertisement. The days went
by, however, and Beaufort, whom he awoke, like an avenging angel, at
early morning and tracked in desperation from bar to bar until he ran
him to earth at night, still remained "in hourly expectation of the
money." Both Cynthia and Kent feared that their inability to pay was
known to everybody in the house; and they imagined disdain on the face
of the Italian who waited on them at meals, and indifference in the
bearing of Etienne when he laid the fire. The chambermaid's "Bonjour,
m'sieur et madame," had a ring of irony to their ears, and on Mondays,
in particular, they were convinced that she sneered when she put down
their tray.

The thought made the girl so miserable that Kent took an opportunity of
asking mademoiselle Garin if it was so, and she informed him that he
was mistaken.

"Nobody 'as been told, monsieur," she said; "oh, not at all! But,
monsieur, it is impossible that you remain, you know, if your
affairs do not permit of a settlement. Your intentions are quite
honourable--well understood; but my mother cannot wait. Her expense
is terrible 'eavy 'ere; vraiment, c'est épouvantable, je vous assure,
et--and--and my mother 'as an offer for your rooms, and she asks that
you and madame locate yourselves elsewhere, monsieur, on Saturday."

After an instant of dismay, Humphrey was, on the whole, relieved at
the idea of being allowed to depart in peace and to await his cheque
where the situation wouldn't be strained. It was rather a nuisance,
having to make a removal for so short a time, but when it was effected,
he felt that they would be a great deal more comfortable. He replied
that they would go, of course, and that madame Garin could depend upon
his sending her the amount that he owed the moment that his arrears
of salary were forthcoming. He said he thoroughly appreciated the
consideration that she had shown them, and could not express how deeply
he regretted to have inconvenienced her.

"Yes, monsieur," murmured mademoiselle Garin. She hesitated; she added,
in a slightly embarrassed tone: "You know, monsieur, my mother must
keep your luggage 'ere? Her lawyer 'as advised that."

"What?" said Kent. "Oh, my dear mademoiselle Garin! I will give your
mother an acknowledgment--a promissory note--whatever she likes! She
will only have to trust me for a few more days; I'm perfectly certain
to have the money in the course of a week. She won't keep the luggage,
surely? My--my dear young lady, think what it means with a wife and
child!"

Mademoiselle Garin spread her arms with a shrug.

"It is always 'a few more days,' monsieur," she said. "My mother will
permit you to take your necessaries for the few days, and the things
belonging to the little one. No more."

"Can I see her?" inquired Kent, rather pale.

"Oh yes; she is in the bureau."

"The servants can hear everything that goes on in the bureau," he
demurred. "Can't I talk to her in her room?"

Mademoiselle Garin preceded him there, and he tried his best to wring
consent from the old woman, but she was as hard as nails, and would not
listen for long. An "acknowledgment of the debt," certainly--the lawyer
had advised that, too, and he would prepare it--but their luggage,
jamais de la vie! The baby's box, and the bassinet; and for madame Kent
and himself such articles as were indispensable for one week. She would
agree to nothing else.

Cynthia was upstairs, playing with the baby, and Kent went in and shut
the door that communicated with the nursery.

"What is it?" she asked, after a glance at his face.

He wondered if he could soften the news, but it did not lend itself to
euphemisms. He told it to her in as light a tone as he could acquire.

"It won't be for any length of time, and we can easily make shift for
a bit," he said. "It isn't as if the child's things had to be left
behind, you see. A handbag will hold all we really need for ourselves.
What do we want, after all, for a week? It isn't a serious matter, if
one comes to look at it. It sounds worse than it is, I think."

She sat startled and still. Then she cuddled the baby close, and forced
a smile.

"My brown frock will do," she assented; "I shall go in that! Oh, it
isn't so dreadful, no. Of course, just for a moment it does give one a
shock, doesn't it? But--but, as you say, it sounds worse than it is.
Were they nasty to you?"

"The old lady wasn't very affectionate; the girl wasn't so bad. It's
cussed awkward, darling, I know. Poor little woman! I was funking
telling you like anything. It took me ten minutes coming up those
stairs, and I nearly went out for a walk first."

She laughed; she was already quite brave again.

"We shall get through it all right," she said. "Where shall we go? We
might go back to the hotel where we stayed first, mightn't we? We paid
there."

"I thought of that," he replied; "but it was rather dear, wasn't it? We
had better spend as little a possible; there are our passages, and we
mustn't arrive in London with nothing. I'm afraid we shan't be able to
get your ring out in any case."

"That can't be helped. I'm sorrier about your watch and chain. A man is
so lost without a watch. Saturday? Saturday will be mi-carême, won't
it? We shall celebrate it nicely.... Oh!" She sat upright, and stared
at him with frightened eyes. "Humphrey--Nurse!"

His jaw dropped, and he looked back at her blankly.

"I'd forgotten her," he said.

"To see our luggage detained--it could only mean the one thing!
Humphrey, what would she think? What can we do? She mustn't, mustn't
know; I should die of shame."

"No," he said; "she mustn't know, that's certain. Good Lord! what an
infernal complication at the last minute! _I_ don't know what's to be
done, I'm sure. Take the child in to her, and let's think!"

He filled a pipe, and puffed furiously, until Cynthia came back.

"Couldn't we," he suggested---"couldn't we say that as we're at the
point of going home, we don't think it's worth while carting the heavy
trunks to another place? Madame Garin has 'kindly allowed us to leave
them here in the meantime.' Eh?"

Cynthia mused.

"Then, what are we going to another place ourselves for?" she said.

"Yes," said Kent; "that won't do. Hang the woman! she's a perfect
bugbear to us; we're all the time struggling to live up to the teapot.
I wish to heaven we could get rid of her altogether!"

"That," answered the girl, after a pause--"that is the only thing we
can do. We must send her away, and _I'll_ take baby."

"You? A nice job for you! You could never go down to a meal; and
travelling too--imagine it!"

"I can do it; I'd like it! Anything, anything rather than she should
see us turned out and our luggage seized. That would be too awful! Yes,
we must get her away, Humphrey. We must get her away before we leave
here. Whatever happens afterwards is our own affair. She'll be gone and
know nothing about it."

"That's very good," he said thoughtfully. "But there'll be her wages,
and her passage back. Great Scott! and another month's wages because we
don't give her proper notice! How much would it come to? I've got two
francs fifty, and I've pawned my match-box. I'm afraid we must think of
something else."

"We could send her second-class on the boat as well. Yes, certainly
second-class. What does that cost? Have you got the paper you had? Look
for it, do! it used to be in your bag."

Kent searched, and found it. He also felt that their lot would be
comparatively a bed of roses if they were spared the astonished
inquiries of the nurse.

"Second-class tickets are twenty-five and sevenpence," he announced,
"and two months' wages are four pounds. Say five pounds ten. Well,
dear, I might as well try to raise a million!"

He blew clouds, and waited for an inspiration, while she walked about
the room with her hands behind her.

"Even if we could get it," she remarked, breaking a heavy silence, "I
don't know what reason we could give for packing her off so suddenly.
It would look rather a curious proceeding, wouldn't it?"

"We could say," said Kent, "that we have decided to live in Paris
permanently. She'd want to go then--the charms of 'Olloway!"

"Yes," answered Cynthia, "we could say that. But why in such a gasping
hurry?"

"Yes, it would be rather a rush, it's a fact. Well, I'll tell you! We
are going on a visit to some friends in the country, and they haven't
room for another nurse. Mrs. Harris's nurse will do all that's needed
while we're there.... But five pounds ten! I can see Beaufort and make
the attempt; but the man hasn't got it till the draft comes. You can't
get blood out of a stone."

"Let _him_ go and pawn his match-box, then, and his watch and chain,
and his engagement-ring. He must find it for you. Humphrey, tell him
you must have it. Say it's--it's a matter of life or death. Think of
what we've gone through already, trembling in case she suspected what a
state we were in. The blessed relief it will be to be alone and have no
pretences to make! I shall feel new-born."

"I'll see him to-day," said Kent, catching her enthusiasm. "He's often
in a place in the rue Saint-Honoré about four o'clock. What time is it
now? Go in and ask her--she's the only one among us with a watch. Tell
her mine has stopped--unless it has stopped too often."

"Yours is 'being cleaned.'" She disappeared for a second, and returned
to say that it was half-past three. "Hurry, and you may catch him now!"
she continued. "And--and, Humphrey, be very firm about it, won't you?
If he hasn't got it, make him give you a definite promise when you
shall have it. To-day's Tuesday--say you _must_ have it by Thursday,
at the latest. And come back and tell me the result as quickly as you
can. Wait, here's a kiss for luck."

Kent kissed her warmly--she had never before seemed to him so
companionable, such "a good fellow," as she did in this dilemma--and,
picking up his hat and cane, he ran down the stairs, and made his way
to the buffet in the rue Saint-Honoré at his best pace.

Beaufort was not to be seen in the bar, nor was he in the inner room;
but on inquiring at the counter, Kent learnt that a gentleman there was
now waiting for Billy, having an appointment with him for a quarter to
four. This was very lucky. Kent took a seat on the divan and ordered
a bock. Rolling a cigarette, he debated how he could put the matter
strongly enough. He had expended so much eloquence of late without
deriving any benefit from the interviews that he did not feel very
hopeful of the upshot. However, he was resolved that he wouldn't fail
for any lack of endeavour. After Beaufort came in, a little before
five, he sat watching him warily until the other man took his leave.

Beaufort expressed pleasure at seeing him, and asked him to have a
drink. Kent did not refuse the invitation, for it would be easier
to talk there, in the corner, than dodging among the crowd in the
streets, and he opened fire at once. He felt that his best card was
absolute frankness, and explained the situation without reserve. Billy
was entirely sympathetic. He romanced about Sir Charles, but was
subsequently truthful. A draft from the Baronet might be delivered any
morning or evening, but in the event of its not coming in time, he
would straighten matters out himself! "He was damnably short, but he
had arranged with a pal to jump for him. If he touched a bit to-morrow
--of which there was, humanly speaking, no doubt--Kent should have a
hundred and forty francs at night, and the balance of what was owing
to him early in the week." Damon would repay himself when the draft
arrived!

Such devotion demanded another drink, and though this left him with
less than a franc in I his pocket, Kent went back to the pension de I
famille in much better spirits, and feeling that he had good news to
impart. Cynthia looked upon the tidings in the same light. As the nurse
might learn from the servants that their rooms were to be vacated on
Saturday, they decided to speak to her without delay. Kent informed her
that they were going to friends in the country, preparatory to settling
in Paris for two years, and that she must make her preparations to
return to England on Saturday morning. This gave a margin for delay on
Beaufort's part. The young woman was greatly taken aback, and though
she did not wish to stay, there was real feeling in her voice as
she said how sorry she would be to leave the baby. She hung over the
bassinet, and tears came into her eyes. Then Cynthia choked, and began
to cry too, and Humphrey found her five minutes later with her face
buried in her pillow, sobbing that she felt "ashamed to have told lies
to such a conscientious, nice-minded girl."



CHAPTER XVIII


Kent's appointment with Beaufort next evening was for half-past eight,
outside the Café de la Paix. The sous remaining after the conversation
in the rue Saint-Honoré had gone for a nursery requirement, so he
was unable to sit down while he waited. His man was very late, and
he walked to and fro before the stretch of chairs and tables on the
boulevard for nearly an hour, tacitly confessing himself penniless
to every idler there. When Billy arrived at last, he began by saying
that his news was "not altogether unsatisfactory," whereat Humphrey's
heart sank, and when details were forthcoming, it appeared to him about
as unsatisfactory as it could possibly have been. Stripped of the
circumlocution by which the speaker sought to palliate its asperities,
the news was, that the completion of his business had been deferred
till Saturday, and that while he was confident of "touching" then, he
feared that he could do nothing in the meantime. Kent took no pains
to conceal his despondence. Seeing that he and Cynthia must leave the
boarding-house by noon, and get the nurse out of the way and into the
train by ten o'clock in the morning, "Saturday" sounded as hopeless
as Doomsday. He explained the urgency of the situation afresh, over
a _fine_, and, after reflection, Billy thought that, assisted by the
signature of somebody else, he could raise a hundred and fifty francs
in another quarter. When he had had a second _fine_ he was sure of it,
and bade Humphrey meet him there again on the morrow at a quarter to
two.

The following day was Thursday, and when Kent descended about eleven,
madame Garin requested him to sign the document her lawyer had drawn
up. After that had been done, and J duly witnessed--one may do anything
one likes in France excepting not pay--Kent told her that his wife
wished her to view the contents of the baby's trunk before it was
closed. As a matter of fact, it was a rather large one, and they
were anxious to avoid the possibility of its giving rise to remark
in front of servants at the moment of departure. She replied that
such an examination was not necessary; it would be sufficient if they
instructed their nurse to pack nothing that didn't belong to the little
one. This led to his informing her that the girl was quitting their
service, and, to his horror, madame Garin said frigidly:

"You know what I have consented to, monsieur? The things of the child;
and for madame Kent and yourself what is enough for one week. Nothing
else."

"My God!" exclaimed Kent with a gasp; "you don't mean to say you won't
let the girl take her box?"

"But certainly I mean it," she returned. "It was perfectly understood.
I have already been too liberal."

"But--but--heavens above!" he stammered, "the girl doesn't owe you
anything! My wife is dismissing her, so as to keep our humiliation from
her knowledge, madame. If you refuse to let her box go, the exposure is
complete!"

The proprietress shrugged her shoulders: "That does not concern me!"

This time Kent literally lacked the courage to tell Cynthia what had
occurred. He went out, and dropped on to the first bench that he came
to, sick in his soul. What was the use now if Beaufort did bring him
the money when they met? The girl could not be sent home without her
luggage, and they would have to make a clean breast of the whole affair
to her, and beg her to be tolerant with them. Cynthia had been very
plucky; she had taken the disappointment of last night like a brick,
and was at the moment full of hope for the result of the appointment
at a quarter to two; but he felt that this unexpected blow would surely
crush her. It was the death-stroke to their scheme and entailed even
more mortification than they had feared originally. He was at the
foot of the Champs Elysées, and he sat staring with wide eyes at the
passers-by--at the bonnes, big of bosom, with the broad, bright ribbons
depending from their caps; at the children with their hoops, and the
women in knicker-bockers, flashing through the sunshine on their
bicycles. Paris looked so light-hearted that woe seemed incongruous in
it.

Now, it happened, about half an hour subsequent to his leaving the
house, that Cynthia decided to go with her baby and the nurse for a
walk. Halfway down the stairs it was perceived that something had been
forgotten, and she continued the descent alone. To her dismay, she saw
the gaunt figure of madame Garin standing at the office door, and as
she came timorously down the last flight, the proprietress stood with
folded arms, watching her. Perhaps her nervousness was very evident;
perhaps the other had been sorrier for her than she had shown; but as
the girl reached the hall the grim old woman moved towards her, and,
with a gesture that said as plainly as words, "Oh, you poor little
soul!" took her face between her hands, and kissed her on the forehead.

"Listen," she said; "that's all right about the box of your servant--be
easy!"

Cynthia murmured a response to her kindness without realising what was
meant.

Presently Kent became aware that, among the stream of nurses and
infants flowing up from the place de la Concorde, were his own nurse
and infant, and that Cynthia accompanied them. She recognised him
before they reached the bench, and coming over to him with surprise,
sat down. And then each spoke of what the other did not know.

"What a half-hour you have had!" she cried when she understood.

And he exclaimed:

"But the relief! Heaven be praised you came this way!"

Their fate now hung once more on what Billy Beaufort would have to say,
and Kent sped to the rendez-vous with restored energy. By the clock in
the middle of the road it was twenty minutes to two when he reached
the Café de la Paix, and, as before, it was impossible for him to take
a chair. He rolled a thin cigarette with a morsel of tobacco that
remained in his pouch, and paced his beat, smoking. At two o'clock
Billy had not come. He had not come at half-past two. Kent doubted if
this augured well for the tidings that were to be communicated, but he
fortified himself by remembering that he awaited a man who was rarely
punctual in any circumstances. Nevertheless, the later it became,
the worse the chance looked, and when the clock pointed to three, he
began to lose both hope and patience. At a quarter to four there was
still no sign of Beaufort. The watcher's feet ached, and the pavement
seemed to grow harder, and his boots to get tighter, with every turn.
A little tobacco-dust lurked in the corners of his pouch--he thanked
God to see it; and carefully, as if it had been dust of gold, he shook
it on to a paper, and assuaged his weariness and rage with another
cigarette. Beaufort meant the success or the failure of their plan, and
while he had but scant expectation of his turning up now, he dared; not
go away. He promised himself to go at four, but at four dreaded lest
he might miss him just by five minutes and determined to stop until
a quarter past. Despair had mastered him wholly when a cab rattled
to a standstill and, forgetting! the pain of his feet, he saw Billy
spring out. A glance, however, assured him that the waiting had been
to no purpose; and after Billy had made many apologies, and recounted
a series of misadventures, his statement was that he was unable to
obtain any money until Saturday afternoon.

Kent dragged himself home, and Cynthia and he sat with bowed heads.

"We're done," said Humphrey, "and that's all about it! I must tell the
girl we can't pay our bills and are turned out. But _she's_ always been
paid up to the present; what's it to do with her, after all?"

"We _won't_ be done!" declared Cynthia; "we won't! Humphrey, if--if I
wrote----"

"No, by Jove!" he said; "I do bar that. We've kept our affairs from
your people all along, and we won't give ourselves away now.... Do you
mind very much?"

She did, but lied nobly.

"You're perfectly right," she answered; "I was a coward to think of it."

Kent squeezed her hand.

"You're a trump," he said. "Little woman, I've another idea--Turquand!"

She was breathless.

"Beautiful!"

"If Turquand has got it, Turquand will lend it; but--but _has_ he?
Well, it's worth trying. Let's see: I can catch the post; he'll get
the letter in the morning. If he answered on the instant, we could
have the money to-morrow night. Good Lord! how tired I am! Where's the
stationery?"

He dashed off a note begging his friend to send five pounds ten--or
six pounds, if he could manage to spare so much--immediately, and then
he remembered that he could not buy a stamp. There was a sick pause;
defeat confronted them again.

"There's nothing for it," he said; "I must go and ask the Garins! I'd
post it without one if we were in England, but here----"

He left her walking about the room in excitement and went down.

The bureau was shut; he learnt that the women were out.

"Do you think Nurse herself has got one?" he suggested, coming back,
"or--or twenty-five centimes?"

"She is out, too. She took baby ten minutes ago.... Humphrey!"

"Another inspiration?"

"The bottles!" she cried triumphantly, pointing to the wardrobe. "There
are three!"

On an empty bottle of the wine that they sometimes boiled in the
evening, two sous were refunded if a customer chose to give himself
the trouble to take it back. They had had occasion to acquire the
knowledge. Kent pulled the bottles out, and, after an abortive effort
to make a parcel of them, caught up his letter and ran to the shop. He
got thirty centimes--bolted to the post-office, and saved the mail.

Nothing could be done now but pray that Turquand might be in a position
to oblige him.

In the meantime the young woman--all unconscious of the jeopardy in
which it had been--packed her box calmly in the room behind their door,
and prepared for her departure on Saturday morning with the composure
of one whose ticket and wages were as good as in her purse. By Friday
evening the box was corded and labelled. When Kent and Cynthia entered
and beheld it so, suspense tightened its grip about their hearts.

The mail would not be delivered until about nine o'clock, and when they
judged that the hour was near, they sat with tense nerves, straining
to hear Etienne's heavy footsteps on the landing. As yet they had not
arranged where to remove to on the morrow, and they spoke disjointedly
of the necessity for deciding something. Kent said that it would be
desirable to have two rooms in the new place also; then they would be
able to talk when the baby was asleep; in one room it would be awful.
This assumption that the nurse would not be with them was followed by
intensified misgivings, and in her imagination both saw her sitting on
her tin box, with her hat on, while they faltered to her that after
all, she couldn't go.

"If it comes in the morning, you know," he said, at the end of a long
silence, "it will be in time. Her train doesn't start till ten."

"Y-e-s," said Cynthia; "she _expects_ it to-night.... Is that some one
coming upstairs?"

"Nobody," answered Kent, listening intently.... "No, her train doesn't
start till ten. I don't think, in point of fact, that we can look for
it to-night. You see----"

"We needn't _give up_ if it hasn't come when we go to bed."

"No; that's what I mean. One must allow for--hark!... no; it's
nothing--one must allow for him having to----"

Cynthia uttered a cry.

"It _is_! Come in--entrez--yes!"

Etienne appeared.

"A letter for monsieur!"

Kent snatched it from his hand; it was from Turquand. He tore it
open. Postal orders for six pounds dazzled their eyes. In pencil was
scribbled: "Here you are, sonny!--Yours ever, TURK."

Cynthia gave a hysterical laugh. They were say.

Ten minutes later, after she had blessed Turquand and her eyes were
dried, she opened the door or the adjoining room with great dignity,
and said:

"By the way, Nurse, I had better give you your money now. You can
change enough postal orders for your ticket, you know, opposite the
station."

Then she came back radiant. And Kent said salvation must be celebrated
and, as their cab next day wouldn't cost ten shillings, they would go
out on the Boulevard and drink Turquand's health--and buy some tobacco
on the way.

Compared with what their state of mind had been, they were supremely
contented now that the danger of their servant witnessing their
disgrace was over; and in the morning, when they had bidden her
good-bye, and watched her drive away, and their misfortunes were
nobody's business but their own, they drew a breath of veritable
thanksgiving.

Cynthia's trunks, and Humphrey's, and his hat-box, and the
dressing-case that somebody had given to the girl as a wedding-present,
were drawn together in a corner of the room to be left behind; and,
with intermittent attentions to the baby, they stored their toilet
articles, and all the linen that it would hold, in the hand-bag that
was to be taken with them. The bassinet was already shut up and sewn
in its canvas wrapper; and the blankets, and such of the child's
clothing as would not go in its box, had been packed downstairs in the
perambulator. There was nothing further to do but to put the oatmeal,
and the saucepan, and a few other infantile necessaries, in a basket.

Leaving Cynthia to collect these, Kent hurried out to obtain
accommodation at an hotel. He went first to the one where they
had stayed on their arrival--it was close at hand. But all the
communicating rooms were occupied, and he was forced to try somewhere
else. Jordan, who had done "Turf Topics" for _The World and his Wife_,
had once mentioned to him a place in the rue de Constantinople as
being cheap and comfortable, and he bent his steps there impatiently,
regretting that they had not made their arrangements earlier. The
mother had intended to see to the matter, in order to be sure that
everything, was suitable, and that there wasn't a draught from the
window, and the rest of it, but, being so much worried, she had put it
off.

When he reached the address in the rue de Constantinople, he was not
favourably impressed. The terms were low, but the proprietress seemed
so, too; and, though her manner was jovial enough, and the place looked
clean, he hesitated to settle with her. After he had tried at an hotel
in the rue des Soeurs Filandières, at which he was obliged to own that
the rate was higher than he was prepared to pay, he decided that he
had been hypercritical and went back; but, as ill-luck would have it,
the woman had let the apartments that she had shown him five minutes
after he left. It was mi-carême, and the streets were beginning to be
blocked by sight-seers. He remembered that Cynthia would be sitting
anxiously in the chaotic bedroom, wandering why he was gone so long;
and, hurrying through the crowd, he returned to the rue des Soeurs
Filandières and said he had changed his mind.

He was glad when he had done so. It was for only a week, perhaps for
less; and there was a chambermaid who would be willing to assist
madame with the little one when she could, since madame found herself
temporarily without a bonne. She had a cock eye, but she seemed to have
a good heart, and Kent assured her that any extra services that she
might render should be rewarded.

He made for the boarding-house at his best pace and told the waiter to
send for a cab constructed to carry luggage on the roof. Cynthia was in
a chair, with the baby on her lap, and she looked up eagerly. On the
table was a tray with luncheon, for which she would have been unable
to go down, even if she had had the audacity; and she explained that
madame Garin, finding that she did not appear, had sent it up to her,
unasked. Cynthia had not been hungry, but that was very nice of madame
Garin! They were not entitled to déjeuner to-day.

The little basket was ready now, and Kent cast a gloomy glance at the
impedimenta that were to be detained, questioning if he could manage
to distribute more than three francs among the servants. Almost at the
same moment there was a knock, and Etienne entered.

"I have called a cab," he announced surlily. "The patronne says there
is no need for a voiture en galérie, because monsieur must not take his
trunks."

The colour fell from their faces, and for a second they stood dumb and
stock-still.

"Oh yes," stammered Kent at last, "we are leaving our heaviest
trunks--we are going to send for them. But we need a voiture en
galérie, all the same. I will speak to madame Garin."

He found her erect in the hall in her favourite attitude, her arms
folded across her flat breast. Her face was as pale as his own, and her
eyes were angry. He looked at her amazed.

"I don't understand your message, madame," he murmured. "I cannot have
a voiture en galérie? But it is for the things you have allowed!"

"Not at all!" she exclaimed. "What do you suppose you will remove from
my house? You will take 'what I have allowed'? But you need no voiture
en galérie for that!"

"Pray speak quietly," he implored. "Look, there's the perambulator over
there; and there are the box and bassinet! Of course they must go on
the roof of a cab, we can't put them inside."

"Zut!" she answered; "I do not permit you to take such things. I will
watch what you take. Fetch your things down!"

"Do you mean to say," muttered Kent with dry lips, "that at the last
moment you refuse to let us take the child's bassinet?"

"I never consented to it. You lie!"

"Good God!" he said. "Isn't mademoiselle Garin at home? I want to see
mademoiselle--where is she?"

"My daughter is out. No; you will not take the bassinet, and you will
not take the perambulator. You will take what you can carry in the
hand, and that is all."

"The perambulator we _must_ have," he insisted. "If you keep the
bassinet, you must let us have the perambulator--the child's bedding
and half its clothes are in it."

"Never!" she repeated, and hugged herself determinedly.

"You have had my acknowledgment of the debt, and then you repudiate the
agreement," said Kent, trembling with passion. "It is very honest, such
behaviour!"

"'Honest'?" she echoed. "Ha! ha! it was perhaps 'honest' that you came
here with your wife, and your little one, and your nurse, to live in
my house, and eat at my table, and did not pay me for it? You are a
thief--you are a rogue and a thief!"

His fingers twitched to smash some man in the face.

"And the box?" he gasped, fighting for the ground inch by inch. "Do you
allow _that_?"

"Never, never, never! Go and fetch your things down!"

He went up slowly with weak knees. Cynthia was standing in the middle
of the room, pale and frightened. She had her hat on; the baby, dressed
for the streets, was clasped in her arms.

"She won't let the luggage go," said Kent hoarsely. "God knows what's
come to her--_I_ don't! Perhaps she thinks we were trying to get out
more than was arranged; she swears now that she promised nothing. Come
on; it's no good waiting. There's a cab at the door, let's go!"

"But--but what shall we do?" faltered the girl. "Humphrey, Baby _must_
have his things; it's impossible to do without them! Oh, this is awful!"

"Awful or not, we must put up with it. For Heaven's sake, let's get out
of the damned place as fast as we can! Where were the most important
things put?"

"I don't know--they are everywhere," she declared tremulously. "I want
the basket when we get in; but afterwards I want the box, and the
bedding--I want everything of Baby's. She must be a perfect wretch!"

He seized the basket and the hand-bag, and they descended the stairs,
the baby crying loudly, and the tears dripping down the girl's cheeks.
Fortunately, the boarders had all gone to see the procession; but
madame Garin was still where Kent had left her, and Etienne, and
the chambermaid, and the Italian waiter, suppressing a smile, stood
watching about the hall. In an agony of shame that seemed as if it
would suffocate her, Cynthia slunk past them to the cab, her head
bent low over the child, and as the driver opened the door, she fell,
rather than sank, on to the seat. Kent made to follow her immediately,
but this was not to be. Madame Garin stopped him. She commanded him
to display the contents of the bag; and then ensued a scene in which
she became a mouthing, shrieking harridan. Remonstrance was futile.
Collars, stockings, handkerchiefs, slippers, were wrested from him
piece by piece, and flung on the office floor, while she loaded him
with abuse, and the servants nudged one another, grinning. Kent clung
to the basket like grim death, but the hand-bag, when she threw it back
at his feet at last, had been emptied of so much that he dreaded to
guess what was left in it. He picked it up without a word, and scurried
through the hail, and plunged into the fiacre. Even then the ordeal
was not over. As the man mounted to the box, a woman approached with
whom they had grown rather friendly in the house, and, seeing Humphrey
with the bag, she came to the cab-window and put amiable and maddening
questions as to where they were going and when they were coming back.
Kent was voiceless, but Cynthia leant forward and replied. In the midst
of his misery and abasement, he admired his wife for the composure she
contrived to simulate in such a moment.

On reaching the hotel it was necessary to invent some story to account
for the absence of luggage, and he remarked as carelessly as possible
that it would be delivered on the morrow. He had ordered luncheon to
be ready for them; and in the room intended for Cynthia and the boy a
fire had been lighted. She flew to the basket, and boiled some oatmeal
while Kent endeavoured to soothe the mite, whose meal had been delayed
by the disturbance, and who cried as if he would never be pacified any
more. When the food was cooked, and something like order was restored,
the luncheon was allowed to be brought up, the fillet overdone, and the
potatoes hard and stiff. However, after what they had been through,
it tasted to them delicious; and emboldened by the thought that there
would be no bill for a week, Kent told the waiter to take away the
wine that was included and to bring them a bottle of burgundy instead.
The wine put heart into them both, and as their fatigue passed, they
drew their chairs to one of the windows, and found courage to discuss
the situation, while they gazed at the little ornamental garden at the
corner of the street.

The baby slept, tucked in the quilt of the high; big bed, and Cynthia
said that by-and-by he must be put inside the bed for the night, in the
frock that he had on. Every minute revealed some further deficiency.
They opened the bag, and they had neither brushes, nor sponges, and
but a single comb. Yet she laughed again, for instinctively she
realised that she was at the apex of her opportunity--that at such a
crisis a wife must be either a solace or an affliction; she realised,
that, whatever happened to them during the rest of their lives, there
would be moments when he looked back on their experiences in Paris
and remembered how she had behaved. As they sat there beside the open
window, with the remainder of the bottle of burgundy between them, and
a smile forced to her lips, the philistine might have been a bohemian
born and bred. Again Kent marvelled silently at her pluck.

By the time the dinner was laid their nerves were almost as equable as
their speech. But this renewed calmness received a sudden shock. It was
the rule of the proprietress, they were told politely, to ask for a
deposit from strangers, and she would be obliged if monsieur Kent would
let her have twenty or thirty francs, purely as a matter of form.

Cynthia started painfully, and Kent refastened the paper of his
cigarette before he answered.

"Certainly," he said. "Is thirty francs enough? I've only a cheque in
my pocket, but tell madame I'll give her the money to-night."

When the waiter had withdrawn, he and Cynthia looked at each other
aghast. Their breathing-space had been brief. They knew that their
having no luggage had made the woman suspicious of them, and that,
unless they were to be promptly turned out here as well, the thirty
francs must be found. Dinner had to be eaten, lest they should appear
discomfited by the message; but the coffee was no sooner swallowed than
Kent prepared to go out. Swearing to obtain two or three louis before
they slept, and reminding the girl that if Beaufort's expectations
had been fulfilled he would now be in a position to let them have
much more, he went to search for Billy among his various haunts. The
streets were massed, and the slow pace permitted by the mob infuriated
him. All Paris seemed to have surged on to the Boulevard, thronging
the pavements and the roads, and playing the fool. He pushed forward
as best he could, and tried the Grand, in the faint hope that the
other might be dining there, or that something could be learnt of his
movements, but he was able to learn nothing. After all, he thought, it
would have been wiser to inquire at the bar in the rue Saint-Honoré;
and retracing his steps, he now pressed through the crowd in the
direction of the Madeleine, impeded and pelted with confetti at every
yard. At the corner of the rue Caumartin a clown in scarlet satin
thrust a pasteboard nose into his face. Kent; cursed him and shoved him
aside, and the buffoon spun into the arms of a couple of shop-girls,
who received him with shrill screams. The concourse appeared to grow
noisier and more impenetrable every moment. It was the first mi-carême
celebration that the young man had witnessed, and with fever in his
veins, and wretchedness in every fibre of him, this carnival confusion,
with its horseplay and hindrance, was maddening. The lamplight sparkled
with the rain of coloured discs--they were pitched into his eyes and
his ears as he struggled on--the asphalt was soft and heavy with them.

When he reached the Madeleine things were better. But at the buffet
Beaufort had not been seen since five o'clock. Somebody there believed
that he had an appointment at nine at the Café de la Paix. Kent edged
into the throng again, and forged his way until the café was gained.
The figure that he sought was in none of the rooms. He squeezed along
to all the likeliest cafés on the Boulevard in turn, and in one of
them he descried Jordan, whom he buttonholed eagerly. Yes, Jordan had
met Beaufort this evening. Beaufort had said that later on he might
go to the Moulin Rouge. This was a clue, at least, and Kent tramped
wearily until the glittering sails of the windmill revolved in view.
The price of admission had been raised to-night, but he could not
hesitate. The dancing had already begun, and two-thirds of the assembly
ran about in fancy dress. A quadrille was going on, and in different
parts of the ballroom three sets were enclosed by vociferous, English
spectators, while the band brayed a tuneless measure. His gaze roved
among the company vainly, and he thought that he would be able to make
his examination better when the sets broke up. The listless dancers,
with stuff skirts and elaborate, be-ribboned petticoats lifted to their
shoulders, looked like factory hands as they lumped perfunctorily over
the floor. Momentarily a mechanical smile alleviated the gloom of their
excessive plainness; at long intervals, spurred to energy by the cries
of the audience, one of them gave a kick higher than usual, or threw
a bit of slang to her vis-à-vis; but for the most part the performers
were as spiritless as marionettes; the air of gaiety and interest was
confined entirely to those who looked on.

It was midnight when Beaufort was found, and he was partially drunk.
Kent caught him by the arm, and heard that his business had not been
completed to-day, but was--once more--"certain for next week."
Completed or not, however, Kent had to have money, and he made the
circumstances clear, a task which, in his companion's condition, was
somewhat difficult. He said that they were in new quarters, penniless,
and that the woman demanded a deposit; their luggage was detained at
the Garins', and could not be recovered unless he paid the bill, or,
at all events, a substantial portion of it. In the meanwhile, they
possessed literally nothing; a good round sum on account of his claim
was absolutely essential. Billy was "tremendously grieved." He answered
that he could "manage--twenty francs." And he repeated with emotion
that "he never deserted a pal." In the end Kent extracted fifty, and,
secretly relieved even by this, but dog-tired, dragged himself down the
rue Blanche towards the hotel.

Cynthia was waiting up for him, reading a sheet of an old newspaper
that had lined one of the drawers, to keep herself awake. She heard
the result of his expedition with gratitude. They could now give the
proprietress what she wanted, and would be able to buy a hairbrush and
one or two other immediate necessaries. She kissed him, and retired to
the next bedroom, where she prayed that the child would allow her a
good night. Kent, whose fatigue was so great that it was a labour to
undress, bade her call him if he could help her in any way.

It seemed but a few minutes afterwards that he was startled back to
consciousness by the baby's crying, and, listening in the darkness, he
heard Cynthia moving about. Blundering to the door with half-opened
eyes, he found her trying to quiet the boy, and to heat some food at
the same time, and the weariness of her aspect made his heart bleed.
The fire, which had been built up to last until the chambermaid's
entrance, had gone out, and rocking the child on her lap with one hand,
the girl, semi-nude, held a saucepan with the other over the flame of a
candle. She rebuked him for coming in, for, "poor fellow! he must be so
tired." He took the saucepan from her and, fetching the candle from his
own room, held the food to warm over both flames, while Maternity paced
the floor. A clock in the distance told them that the hour was three.

At last a tremor stirred the placid surface of the milk. The baby was
fed, and coaxed to repose again. And, oblivious now of everything but
the need for sleep, they dropped upon their beds and slept.



CHAPTER XIX


"Good-morning, monsieur. Here is the chocolate."

"Good-morning. And madame, has hers been taken in?"

"Ah, three hours ago!... Look, it is a beautiful day, monsieur!"

Then, when the waiter had let in the sunshine and gone, Kent would
rise, and find Cynthia either busily stirring more food over the fire,
or preparing the boy's bath. Afterwards she would carry him into the
little enclosure opposite, and, what with her unfamiliarity with a
nurse's duties and the makeshifts that she was put to, it often seemed
to her that this was the only time during the day that she was free to
sit down.

Their meals were all served in Kent's bedroom; but just as the luncheon
appeared, the baby, who was feverish and fretful, would surely cry,
and she would be obliged to call out that Kent was not to wait for
her. "Begin!" For dinner, she made desperate efforts. By this time the
child, bathed once more, was supposed to be already asleep; and more
oatmeal had to be stirred and carefully watched for five-and-twenty
minutes, an operation that entailed burning cheeks and occasionally
despair, since the saucepan had a habit of boiling over without warning
and requiring to be filled and stirred for twenty-five minutes again.
When the task was achieved, there followed a hurried attempt to make
herself look cool and nice before the soup arrived--Kent was apt to be
irritable if she was not ready--and providing the baby did not wake at
the last moment and prevent her going in after all, the dinner-hour was
very agreeable.

Thanks to the chambermaid, they had been able to dispense with the
tallow candles at sixpence each, and had obtained a lamp, which was
much more cheerful. The _vin compris_ had turned out to be rather good,
too, and after the appalling meals at the Garins' the cuisine struck
them as quite first-rate. Not infrequently, when the coffee was brought
in, they sent down for liqueurs, and their evenings, despite the worry
of the day, and their ignorance where the money was coming from to pay
the bill, were very jolly.

Beaufort's expectations were still unrealised. On Tuesday he was
certain "Things would be right on Thursday," and on Thursday, with
undiminished confidence, he repeated, "Early in the week." The
proprietress of the hotel was a huge red woman, who had been a
low-class domestic servant. The "gracious service unexpressed" by which
she had attained her present prosperity, the squinting chambermaid
did not know, and she added, with a grin and a grimace, that it was
really very difficult to conjecture it. The flaming countenance and
belligerent eye of the proprietress would, in the circumstances, have
scared Kent from the door, had she been visible when he came there to
arrange, and on Friday night he slept uneasily. She presented the bill
next morning at nine o'clock, and at twelve sent him a message that she
wished it to be settled at once. His interview with her was eminently
unpleasant, and on Monday, when the fire for the child was not laid and
Cynthia inquired the reason, she learnt that the woman had forbidden
the servant to take up any fuel.

But for Nanette, their position would now have been untenable. She
smuggled wood to the room; pacified her mistress by the recital of
imaginary telegrams picked up on monsieur Kent's floor; and finally,
squeezing Cynthia's hand one afternoon, offered to bring down some
money that she had saved out of her wages. This was the last straw.
Cynthia put her arms round her neck and kissed her; and when Humphrey
came home and she told him what had happened, they both felt that to
have to decline such a loan and wish that it could be accepted, was
about the deepest humiliation to which it was possible for people to
sink.

They were mistaken, but it was the lowest point that they themselves
were called upon to touch. The day following, Beaufort telegraphed,
asking Humphrey to meet him at the Cabaret Lyonnais, where, at a
moderate price, he ordered a little dinner of supreme excellence. Billy
had not had his loan made yet--that, he said buoyantly, was "certain
for next week"--but he had had a lucky night at baccarat. And after
the benedictine he pulled out a bundle of notes on to the table of the
shabby restaurant and, beaming with rectitude, paid his debt in full.

With a cigar in his mouth and delight bubbling in his veins, Kent
jumped into a cab, and, having rattled to the rue des Soeurs
Filandières, threw their receipt and the remainder of the money
into Cynthia's lap. She nearly dropped the baby with astonishment,
and though they were unable to go out anywhere, it was perhaps the
liveliest night that they had spent in Paris. After adding the Garins'
account, and the cost of their return, and a present to Nanette, it was
momentarily disconcerting to perceive how few of the notes would be
left; but the relief was so enormous that their spirits speedily arose
again, and, extravagant as it was, they ordered champagne, and invited
Nanette to share it.

Kent recovered their luggage the next morning, and the morning after
that they departed for London. They had heard in the meanwhile that the
Walfords could easily put them up until No. 64 was ready for them. The
journey without a nurse was awkward, and though it had been essential
to go to the Walfords', Kent was chagrined to reflect that her absence
would have to be explained. Compared with the crossing from Newhaven,
this passage was, to Cynthia, who had to remain below all the time,
a long voyage; when they reached Victoria at last, she felt that she
would have given a good deal to be going to the Grosvenor Hotel.
Strawberry Hill was gained about nine o'clock, and Kent found the house
a pathetic descent from The Hawthorns. Mr. and Mrs. Walford, however,
were not unamiable, and as they did not refer to the absence of the
nurse otherwise than by inquiring how soon he expected to replace
her; he concluded that his wife had anticipated their surprise and
discounted it more or less dexterously in her letters.

"So the paper was a failure?" said Walford, when the excitement of the
entrance had subsided. "Oh, well, you will be able to get something to
do here, I dare say, before long. What do you think of the house? Not
so bad, eh?"

"Not bad at all," said Kent--"very pretty! That was awful news, sir! I
was infernally sorry to hear about it. Might have been worse, though
--a good deal."

"Ups and downs," said the jobber; "we'll get square at the finish. Grin
and bear it, Louisa, old girl! You'll always have enough to eat."

Mrs. Walford laughed constrainedly. She did not relish allusion to
their reverses; it appeared to her insult added to injury.

"I don't think we've either of us much cause to grieve," she answered.
"We're very comfortable here, don't you think so, Humphrey? There are
such nice people in the neighbourhood, Cynthia--people who move in the
best society, and--hee, hee, hee!--we are making quite a fashionable
circle; we are out almost every night. Well, I don't hear much about
Paris? Did you have a jolly time?"

"We went everywhere and saw everything," said Cynthia. "Humphrey got no
end of tickets, and--well, yes, Paris is lovely!"

"Why 'well, yes'?"

"Well, of course, the paper's stopping was an anxiety to us, mamma.
Naturally. How's Aunt Emily?"

"Emily writes us once a week, acknowledging the receipt of her
allowance. How she is I really can't tell you; she says very little
more than that she has 'received the money.' She's living in apartments
in Brunswick Square, and I believe she is very glad she is alone. _I_
am, I can tell you! She has become very sour, Emily has."

"Apartments in Brunswick Square aren't so remarkably cheap," said Kent.
"Aunt Emily must be expensive, mater?"

"Well, she has--er--one room. It's a nice large room, I understand, and
quite enough for one person, I'm sure! There was no occasion for her to
take a suite, she isn't going to give any parties."

"No occasion whatever. A bedroom can be very cosy when the lamp's
lighted and there's a bottle of wine on the table, can't it, Cynthia?"

"She won't have any bottles of wine. What are you thinking of?" said
Mrs. Walford. "Not but what she could afford wine," she added hastily;
"but it doesn't agree with her; it never did! I suppose you know that
Cæsar is still in Germany? He has settled there. If there are moments
when I feel out of it in spite of the company we see at Strawberry
Hill, it's when I read of the life that boy leads in Berlin. He is in
a brilliant circle--most brilliant!"

"Cynthia told me he had a first-rate thing."

"Capital thing!" affirmed Sam briskly. "I tell you, he's going to the
top of the tree. When he's my age Cæsar will be a big figure in Europe."

Kent thought he was a fair size already, but replied briefly that he
had been "very fortunate."

"Ability, my lad! He's got the brains! Do you know, Louisa, it was damn
foolishness of us ever to persuade that boy to go on the stage? He was
meant for what he is--we'd no right to divert his natural bent. He's
in the proper groove because his tendency was too strong for us. But
we were wrong--I say we did very wrong! By George! he might never have
made more than a couple of hundred a week among greasy opera-singers
all his life. What a thing!" By dint of many midnight conferences with
Louisa, he had almost succeeded in believing that he meant part of what
he said.

"Are his prospects so very wonderful, then?" asked Cynthia, surprised.
"What is it he _is_ doing? It is only a sort of clerkship, isn't it?"

"A clerkship?" shrieked her mother. "How can you talk such ridic'lous
nonsense? A clerkship? Absurd! He's McCullough's right hand--quite
his right hand! McCullough says he would be worth twice as much as he
is to-day if he had met Cæsar five years ago. He told your papa so last
week--didn't he, Sam?"

"He did," said the jobber. But there was less conviction in his tone.
This was new, and he hadn't taught himself to try to credit it yet.

"He told your papa that Cæsar's power of--er--of gripping a subject
was immense; he had never met anything like it. He consults him in
everything; he doesn't take a step without asking Cæsar's opinion
first; I don't suppose a young man ever had such an extraordinary
position before. Clerkship? Ho, you don't know what you're talking
about!"

Kent gave the conversation a twist by inquiring Miss Wix's number, as
he and Cynthia would have to pay her a visit; and, on searching for her
address, Mrs. Walford discovered, with much surprise, that she was not
in Brunswick Square, after all, but that her one room was in a street
leading out of it.

The mistake was unimportant. Moreover, his mind was too much occupied
for him really to think of making social calls on any one but Turquand.
To the office of _The Outpost_ he betook himself next morning, and
learnt that his friend was at Brighton until Monday. This did not look
as if he had been pressed for his six pounds, but in other respects it
was disappointing. Kent proceeded from _The Outpost_ to the offices
of two other papers, where he left advertisements, and after that he
had only to stroll back through the streets, which looked very ugly
and depressing after Paris, to Ludgate Hill. Luncheon was over when he
re-entered the villa, but it had not been cleared away, and he found
Cynthia in the dining-room alone, reading a novel. He noted, with as
agreeable surprise as she could have afforded him, that it was the copy
of his own book that he had given to Mrs. Walford on their return from
Dieppe. He looked at his wife kindly.

"Turk's not in town," he said, helping himself to cold sirloin
and salad; "gone to Brighton for a day or two. I've paid for my
advertisements. Have you sent off yours yet, to try to induce a general
servant to accept a situation?"

Cynthia shook her head meaningly, and came across and took a chair
beside him.

"Kemp is awfully nice with Baby," she said; "she is upstairs with him
now, and on the whole I've been thinking that we had better not hurry
to get home again; we had better be a long time arranging matters,
Humphrey! While we are here we haven't any expenses."

Kent stared, and then smiled.

"This is abominable morality," he said. "Paris has certainly corrupted
you, young woman. And, besides, your people would worry my life out
with questions. Nothing puts me in a worse temper than being asked what
my news is when I haven't any."

"That's all very well, my dear boy, but we have no money. There's a
quarter's rent overdue now, isn't there? and we should only have a
month's peace before the tradespeople began to bother. I really think
we ought to take two or three weeks, at all events, finding a girl;
I do indeed. Mamma and papa would beg us to stop if they knew what a
state we were in; it seems to me we ought to do it without giving them
the--ahem--needless pain of listening to our confession."

"You're very specious," laughed Kent. The semi-serious conclusion
might have been uttered by himself, and he approved the tone without
recognising the model. "Has your mother noticed that you haven't got
your ring on?"

"No. I couldn't tell her a story about it, and I'm praying that she
won't. I've been envying you your trouser-pockets ever since we
arrived. Don't take ale, Humphrey--have some claret, it will do you
more good. If we sold our furniture----"

"What would it fetch at a sale? And apartments would cost us more than
the house! No ... we'll make ourselves welcome here for a week or so.
And--well, let's hope the advertisements will turn up trumps! Then we
shall be independent."

One of the advertisements was to appear on Monday.



CHAPTER XX


It was slightly disheartening to perceive how many other
assistant-editors were open to offers, and he had the uncomfortable
consciousness that his competitors' experience was probably a great
deal wider than his own. He knew that a daily was out of the question
for him, and his chance of securing a post on a periodical seemed
scarcely better on Monday morning, when he saw the "Wanted" columns.
Cynthia declared that his own advertisement "read nicer than any in
the list" and that if she were an editor it would certainly be the one
to attract her attention; but Cynthia was his wife and not an editor,
and her view encouraged him no more than Sam Walford's supposition at
the breakfast table, that he might "obtain the management of a sound
magazine."

He went in the evening to Soho, and Cornelia's successor, in opening
the door, told him that Turquand had returned. The journalist was at
the table, writing furiously, and Kent declined to interrupt him more
than he had already done by entering. Turquand indicated the cupboard
where the whisky was kept; and, picking up a special edition, Kent sat
silent until the other laid down his pen.

"_That's_ off my chest!" said Turquand, looking up after twenty
minutes. "Well, my Parisian, how do you carry yourself? Do you still
speak English?"

"I can still say 'thanks' in English," answered Kent. "I was devilish
obliged to you, old chap. Here's your oof."

"Rot!" said Turquand. "Have you been popping anything to get it?"

"The popping took place before I wrote you. Don't be an ass; I couldn't
take the things out, even if I kept it. Go on; don't play the fool!
Well, I've had some bad quarters of an hour in the pleasant land of
France, I can tell you."

"That's what I want you to do," said Turquand. "Let's hear all about
it. What do you think of that whisky? Half a crown, my boy; my latest
discovery! I think it's damned good myself."

He listened to the recital with an occasional smile, and somehow, now
the trouble was past, many of the circumstances displayed a comic side
to the narrator. What was quite destitute of humour was the present,
and when they fell to discussing this, both men were glum.

"I suppose you haven't been able to do anything with the novel?" Kent
asked. "Has it made the round yet, or does a publisher remain who
hasn't seen it?"

"It came back last week from Shedlock and Archer. Oh yes, publishers
remain. It's at Thurgate and Tatham's now; I packed it off to them on
Friday. Farqueharsen was no use; I tried him, as you asked; he rejected
it in a few days. I wrote you that, didn't I?"

"You did communicate the gratifying intelligence. Where has it been?"

Turquand produced a pocket-book.

"Farqueharsen, Rowland Ellis, Shedlock and Archer," he announced. "I
must enter 'Thurgate and Tatham.' I dare say you'll place it somewhere
in the long-run; we haven't exhausted the good firms yet. By-the-bye,
the front page has got a bit dilapidated; you'd better copy that out
and restore the air of virgin freshness when Thurgate sends it home."

"You expect he will, then?"

"I don't know what to expect, you seem so infernally unlucky with it.
For the life of me, I don't know why it wasn't taken by Cousins, in
the first instance. I looked it through again the other night, and I
consider it's--I don't want to butter you, but I consider it's great
work; by Jove, I do!"

Kent glowed; he felt, as he had done all along, that it was the best
of which he was capable, and praise of it was very dear to him, even
though the praise was a friend's.

"I say, you know about your wife's aunt, I suppose?" said Turquand.
"What do you think of her?"

"She has left the Walfords, you mean? Who told _you_?"

"Miss Wix told me. But I didn't mean that departure; I meant her other
one."

"Not heard of any other departure of the lady's. What? Where's she
gone?"

"She has gone to journalism," said Turquand, with a grin; "the fair
Miss Wix is a full-blown journalist! Don't your wife's people know?
She's keeping it dark then. She came to see me, and said her income
was slightly inadequate, and she 'thought she could do some writing.'
Wanted to know if I could put her in the way of anything."

"Get out!" scoffed Kent. "Did she really come to see you, though? Very
improper of her!"

"Oh, Miss Wix and I always took to each other. I think she dislikes
me less than anybody she knows. I'm not kidding you; it's true, honour
bright."

"What, that she's writing?"

Turquand nodded. His face was preternaturally solemn, but his eyes
twinkled.

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

"Well, upon my soul!" 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. "The acrimonious Wix? Is this a
fact, or delirium tremens?"

"Fact, I swear. She does the Correspondence 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 of
'em 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 removed 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 gentleman 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 a master-piece. Must have bucked _Changed Pansy_ up a lot. And
occasionally she has to invent a letter from a mercenary mother and
admonish her. The admonishments of mercenary mothers are; estimated to
sell fifteen thousand alone. You should buy a copy; it's on all the
bookstalls."

"Buy it!" 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--sniffs 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 shake in the night.
I've got her name now! She's 'Auntie Bluebell.' 'Auntie Bluebell's
Advice to Our Readers'; _Winsome Words_, One penny weekly."

Kent himself began to shake, and but that the bookstalls were shut when
he took his leave, he would have borne a copy home. He told the news to
Cynthia, and she laughed so much 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 that he was afraid Humphrey was "a
damn improvident bohemian."

Their mirth was short-lived, unfortunately. The first advertisement was
productive of no result; and the solitary communication received after
the appearance of the second was a circular from a typewriting office.
The outlook now was as desperate 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 Strawberry Hill a week, too, the warmth
of the Walfords' manner towards their son-in-law had perceptibly
decreased; and though Kent did not comment on the difference in his
conferences with Cynthia, he knew that she was conscious of it by her
acquiescing when he asserted that they had been here long enough.

At this stage he would have taken a clerkship gladly if it carried
a salary sufficing for their needs; and after they had returned to
Leamington Road, and had temporised with the landlord, and sold a
wedding present for some taxes, and were living on credit from the
tradespeople, he began to debate whether the wisest thing he could do
wouldn't be to drown himself and relieve Cynthia's necessities with the
money 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 soberly; 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 devoutly he trusted that it would see the light after he was dead,
and make so prodigious a stir that the names of the publishers who had
refused it were held up to obloquy and scorn.

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

"How d'ye do, Mr. Kent? Are you trying to cut me?"

"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! For good?"

"Oh yes; we live in town, you know--in the suburbs, at least."

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

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

The mechanicalness of his utterance passed, and animation leapt back
in him as he recovered from his surprise. The sun was shining and
her sequins were iridescent. She was wearing violets. His impression
embraced the trifles with a confused sense that they made a delightful
whole--the smart, smiling woman in the sunshine, the purple of the
flowers, 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. Of 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 interests."

"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 interchange 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 had 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 vigour. It made him happy,
also, to observe that the manner of their parting had had no sequel;
and, in recalling the mood in which he had walked through the Champs
Elysées, he decided that he had been extremely stupid to attach so much
importance to it. She was an agreeable woman towards whom his feeling
was a friendship that he had once been in danger of exaggerating; he
would certainly call upon her at the first opportunity! It was quite
possible that she might be able to tell him something useful too.

Before he fulfilled his intention, however, an unlooked-for development
occurred. The office of the agent who had endeavoured to find a tenant
for him was on the road to the station, and a day or two later the man
ran out after him and asked if he was still willing to let No. 64. Kent
replied shortly that the opportunity had presented itself too late; but
after he passed on he reflected. The house was wanted at once by some
Americans who had considered it previously. They now made an offer of
three and a half guineas a week for a period of six or twelve months.
It appeared to Kent that 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 to the country for a few months,
which was exactly what she stood in need of; and though he could not
leave London himself, he could shift alone somewhere till he found a
berth and she rejoined him.

Cynthia and he discussed the idea lengthily. She was opposed to the
separation, but she agreed that it would be very unwise of them to
refuse to let the house. She said that they might all live together in
apartments on the money; fresh air and peace would be delicious if Kent
were with her, but she thought that she would rather stay with him in
London than go away by herself.

This point was debated a good deal. 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; in a little village where
living was cheap she would not only recover her roses--as soon as he
earned a trifle she could have a nursemaid. If they took lodgings
together, on the other hand, they must be reconciled to going to a
suburb--and a suburb would be twice as expensive as the country. By
himself, Humphrey could get a top bedroom in Bloomsbury for the same
sum that he now spent on third-class railway 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 at Monmouth to re-coup after an attack
of influenza. The spinster had spoken very highly of it all--the
picturesque surroundings, 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 that they had been
ridiculously low. She determined to write to her aunt and ask if she
remembered the address.

On second thoughts, though, she said she must ask her in person. She
had not paid her a visit yet, nor had Kent, and an inquiry by post
wouldn't do at all. They went the following morning, having looked in
on the agent, and informed him that they were prepared to accept the
offer, and to give up possession at the end of the week. The payments,
of course, were to be made monthly in advance.

Miss Wix lodged in Hunter Street, and they found that in her improved
circumstances she boasted two rooms. The parlour that she had acquired
was furnished chiefly with a large round table, a number of Berlin-wool
antimacassars, and a waxwork bouquet under a flyblown shade; and at
the table, which was strewn with letters, the spinster had been sourly
engaged upon her "Advice" for _Winsome 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 weren't thirsty. The
request for a five-years-old address evidently perturbed her very much;
but after a rummage behind the folding doors, she emerged with it, and,
to mollify her, Cynthia referred again to her journalism 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. I kept it quiet because I did
not wish it known--a very sufficient reason. Mr. Turquand is much too
talkative."

"I think you ought to be very proud," said Kent--"a lady journalist!
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 hear?"

"Among chits," exclaimed the spinster, with sudden wrath--"among chits
and fools. Smack 'em and put 'em in an asylum! If you want to, then,
read it aloud. Cynthia shall hear what I have to do in order to live.
If Louisa weren't your mother, my dear, I'd say that it's a greater
shame to her than to me. I would! If she weren't your mother, that's
what I'd say."

"Well, let's have a look," said Humphrey quickly. "Where is it? Now,
then--what's this? Oh, _Miserable 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 can feel for you! It's the old, old story----'"

"That'll do," snapped Miss Wix. "'The old, old story'? My word, 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 disdainful.
"Haven't you had enough of it yet? What do you think of me?"

"I think with respect of anyone who can earn a salary," said Kent. "I
see there's one to _Anxious Parent_. May I glance at your advice to
_Anxious Parent_? 'My dear friend, were you I 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 a good settlement. Let them wed as they wish, and be
thankful that Ermyntrude is going to have a husband against whom you
can urge no other objection than that he is unable 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 cottage proved to be
vacant, and as the references of the American family were satisfactory,
and the inventory 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, kissing her affectionately, told her to
"Make haste and get strong." And the close of a week, which had opened
without a hint of such developments, saw Cynthia living with her baby
in Monmouth, and Kent reinstalled in his bachelor quarters in Soho.



CHAPTER XXI


It was very jolly to be back with Turquand. The first evening, 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 overwhelmed 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
a quite 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 odour of lavender in the pages, and momentarily he pictured 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, though the satisfaction
was perhaps a shade calmer than, during the first year of his married
life, he had fancied that it would be. 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 any rate, 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 evening
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, Kent found his expenses
dismaying. He was encroaching on the money laid aside for the landlord
and the rates, and, if nothing turned up, there would speedily be
trouble again. The butcher who had supplied No. 64 had been to the
agent for Mr. Kent's address, and he presented himself and his bill
with no redundance of euphemism. When another advertisement had been
inserted ineffectually, the respite was over and anxiety returned.

As yet Kent had not called on Mrs. Deane-Pitt, 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 at once, and
when she agreed with him that it was immensely difficult, instead of
answering that it was likely some opening might be mentioned to her,
his face fell. He felt that it behoved him to deprecate his confidences.

"You must forgive my boring you about my affairs," he said. "And what
are you doing? Are you at work on another book now?"

"I've a serial running in _Fashion_," she said; "and they print such
ghastly long instalments that it takes me all my time to keep pace with
them. You haven't bored me at all. 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 a dreary laugh. "For that matter,
I wouldn't care if it weren't on a paper. I'd jump at anything--a
secretary-ship for preference."

"Secretaryships want personal introductions; they aren't got through
advertisements." She hesitated. "_I_ can tell you how you might make
some money, if you'd like to do it," she added tentatively. "It's
between ourselves--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 making some money 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.

Instantaneously he did not grasp her meaning.

"How?" he exclaimed. "Do you mean you are offering 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, either. That's just it! I'm obliged to refuse work because
I haven't time to undertake it. No, but it might be a partnership 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 a week or two after it's 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. Deane-Pitt had had the courage to place her
literary reputation 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. I want money now, not a year hence."

"A year hence!" 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 that 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. 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 emphasis. "Don't concern
yourself about its fate, my friend; your responsibility will be limited
to writing it. Your book took a year? I've no doubt you considered, and
corrected, and spent an afternoon polishing a paragraph. Supposing you
take six or seven weeks, then? Do you mean to say you couldn't write
two thousand words a day?"

"No, I don't believe I could--not if you offered me the Mint!" said
Kent.

"But you can put down the first words that come into your head!
_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; all that remains is
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 do--well,
perhaps he _could_ manage it in the time; he did not know. Two hundred
pounds would certainly be salvation, and, for seven weeks' work, a
magnificent reward.

"I'll tell you," she continued, after a few moments: "if you liked to
do me a short story or two now and again, we should have money from
those in the meanwhile. I don't want to persuade you against your
convictions, if you have any, but our business together would pay you
better than an appointment, even if you found one; and--though that's
nothing to do with it--it would be a tremendous benefit to me as well.
See, with our two pens we can produce double the work, and we share the
advantage of the popularity I've gained."

"Oh, I quite appreciate the pecuniary pull," he answered. "I could
hardly write short stories while I was fagging at a novel, though."

"I think myself one goes back to the novel all the fresher for the
break," she said; "but, of course, everybody has his own system of
working. Would you care to write me a couple of three-thousand-word
stories first? We can discuss the book later. If you let me have two
stories to-morrow night, I could give you five guineas each for them on
Saturday."

"To-morrow is out of the question. You don't realise how slowly I
write, and I haven't the motives."

"Say the next day--say by Thursday. But it must be by then. The man
goes out of town on Saturday, and I want him to read them before he
goes. If _I_ can have the manuscripts on Thursday, _you_ can have ten
guineas Saturday night."

"It's a very good offer," said Kent. "You must get a royal rate."

"Well, I couldn't always offer you so much, but, then, I don't often
want them quite so long. Two, of three thousand words, and to end
happily, for choice. Not too strong. If they will illustrate well,
all the better, but you needn't give yourself any trouble on that
score--it's the artist's affair."

"I'll do them," said Humphrey. "I suppose I must make an attempt to
imitate your style?"

"It isn't necessary. I generally begin with a very short sentence, like
'It was noon,' or 'It rained'; you might do that; but I really don't
know that it matters.... Mr. Kent----"

"Yes?" he said.

"This is a confidential matter; I rely on your honour not to mention it
to a living soul, of course! I don't know how much married you are, but
I depend on you not to tell your wife. It would ruin me if it came out."

He assured her that she might trust him, and having pledged himself to
the lighter task, he resolved on his way home that he would undertake
the heavier, too. She did not want a year of his best work--he doubted
if he could contemplate that, even if refusal meant Strawberry Hill
for Cynthia and the baby, and the workhouse for himself--she asked
only a few weeks of his worst. Money was indispensable; he must make
it in whatever way he could. A ghost, eh? He was rising finely in the
career of literature. His first novel had received what was almost the
highest possible cachet; his second was "declined with thanks"; and now
no mode of livelihood was left him but to be a ghost. His throat was
tight with shame; there were tears in it.

That passed. He reflected that with two hundred pounds in his pocket
he would be able to sit down to another novel on his own account; he
might be luckier with that than with _The Eye of the Beholder_. What
were a few weeks compared with two hundred pounds? Mrs. Deane-Pitt
must have thought him a fool to hesitate. Practical herself, indeed!
But--well, for all that, it was rather fascinating to feel that so
intimate a confidence was going to subsist between them! She had been
a trifle nervous, too, as she took that cigarette; he hoped he hadn't
been a prig. She was very nice; it distressed him to think that she had
been afraid of him even for a second. Two hundred pounds? He wondered
what share it was--half, or more than half, or less. With a woman,
however, he could not go into that. His admission that five guineas
seemed a lot to him for a three-thousand-word story had probably been
injudicious--and it must have made him sound very ignorant besides.
Well, that couldn't be helped. And he would be glad if the partnership
paid her well; whatever terms she obtained, she must be perfectly
aware that her offer was a liberal one to a man in his position, and
he was grateful to her. He felt it again--she had been "nice." He
began to revolve a plot for the first of the stories, and by the time
he reached home he had vaguely thought of one. When Turquand came in,
it had shaped. Saying that he had work to do, Kent left him, and went
upstairs. He drew a chair to the table, and sat down and wrote--slowly,
painfully. The man was an artist, and he could not help the care he
took. He sneered at himself for it. Mrs. Deane-Pitt had impressed on
him that anything would do, and here he was meditating and revising as
if it were a story to submit to the most exclusive of the magazines in
his own name. He dashed his pen in the ink, and threw a paragraph on
the paper. But he could not go on. His consciousness of that slip-shod
paragraph higher up clogged his invention, so that he had to go back
to it and put it right. Presently a touch of cheerfulness crept into
his mood. That was well said. Yes, she would praise that! The pride
of authorship possessed him; he wrote with pleasure; and at two
o'clock, when a third of the tale was achieved, he went to bed feeling
exhilarated.

It was no easy duty to him to complete both stories by Thursday
morning, and, confronted by the necessity for making Turquand a
further excuse for retirement, he almost wished now that he were
living alone. He was vastly relieved that the other accepted his
allusions to "something that would keep him busy for a month or so"
with no apparent perception of a mystery. After the first inevitable
question was shirked, the journalist put no more, and behaved as if
the explanation had been explicit. Neither Kent's friendship, nor his
admiration for him, had ever been so warm, as while he decided that
Turquand's experience must lead him to suspect something like the truth
and enabled him to conceal the suspicion under his normal demeanour.

With Cynthia the ghost was less fortunate, though he barely divined it
by her answer. He told her as much as he was free to tell: he wrote
that he had work on hand at last, and that they would have ten guineas
on Saturday, and a large sum in a couple of months. Where the stuff
would appear, he could not say without a falsehood, and he trustee! she
would not be curious on the point. The reservation that he regretted
gave to his tone an aloofness that he did not design; Cynthia refrained
from inquiring, but she was hurt. She felt that he might have imparted
such intelligence a little more enthusiastically, at a little greater
length. Did he suppose that her interest was limited to the payment?
Was she only held sympathetic enough, to mind the baby when they were
obliged to discharge the nurse? Now that he returned to work, her
husband was going to treat her as a child again, just as he had done
when he was engaged on his book! She did not perceive that, while he
had been writing the book, she had occupied the position most natural
to her; she did not detect that the attitude in which she recalled it
was a new one. It was, however, the attitude of a woman. The hidden
chagrin and urbanity of her reply was a woman's. These things were part
of a development of which, while they had remained together, neither
she nor the man who missed her had been acutely aware.



CHAPTER XXII


Mrs. Deane-Pitt paid Kent the ten guineas a few days after the Saturday
on which she had expected to receive the Editor's cheque, and she made
no secret of being delighted with the two tales. They were based upon
rather original ideas, and after she had had them typewritten, and
read them, she talked to him about them with the frankest appreciation
possible. Kent almost lost sight of his regret that they weren't to
appear under his own name, as the lady expressed her approval, and
declared enthusiastically that to call them "excellent" was to say too
little. He found it very stimulating to hear his work praised by Mrs.
Deane-Pitt, especially as it was work done for her. Although she had
professed to be careless of the quality, it was not to be supposed
that she would not rather sign good stuff than bad, and the warmth and
gaiety of her comments took the sting from the association and lent it
a charm.

When he began her novel, it was with the discomfiting consciousness
that the breakneck speed imposed on him would prevent the labourer
being worthy of his hire. He was too hurried to be able to frame a
scenario, and neither he nor the lady who was to figure as the author
had more than a hazy idea of what the book was going to be about. He
had mentally sworn to keep his critical faculty in check and to produce
a chapter of two thousand words every day--if he did not bind himself
to the accomplishment of a fixed instalment daily, the book would not
be finished in double the time at his disposal! And he rose at seven,
and worked till about midnight, on the day on which Chapter I. was
done. He had corrected in a fashion as he composed, and he did not read
it through when he put down his pen--that would be too disheartening.
He remembered the opening chapter of _The Eye of the Beholder_, and,
contrasted with the remembrance, these pages that he had perpetrated
appeared to him puerile and painful. He folded them up, and posted them
to Mrs. Deane-Pitt with a note before he slept.

"Whether you will want the novel after you have seen this, I don't
know," he wrote; "I am sending it to you to ascertain. It is a specimen
of the rubbish the thing will be if I have to turn it out at such a
rate. I will call, on the chance of your being in, to-morrow afternoon."

He found her at home, and she welcomed him with a humorous smile.

"You have read it?" asked Kent, with misgiving.

"Yes; I've read it," she said. "Violet! Pray don't look so frightened
of me!"

"Why 'violet'? Well?"

"The type of modesty. Well, what's the matter with it? It'll do all
right."

Kent drew a breath.

"I'm glad to hear you say so. I'm bound to confess I thought it very
slovenly myself."

"Oh, nonsense!" she said. "Have you gone on with it?"

"No; I waited for your verdict. I thought you might call me names and
cry off. I'll go on with it now, though, like steam."

"Do! I suppose you couldn't manage a five-thousand-word story for me
this week, could you? It would be good business."

He stared ruefully.

"No, indeed! Not if I'm to write a chapter a day."

"Oh, the chapter a day, please! Get the novel done at the earliest
moment possible; that's the chief thing. You will, won't you? I should
be so grateful to you if you finished it in six weeks."

"I promise to finish it as quickly as I can," he said. "Even if I
didn't care to serve you, I should do that, for my own sake. When I get
two hundred pounds, I shall be at the end of my troubles."

"Happy man!" said Mrs. Deane-Pitt. "Would that two hundred pounds would
see the end of mine! And as you do want to serve me, you'll do it even
more quickly than you can?"

"Or try."

"That's very nice of you. I wonder how true it is. One of the answers
one has to make, isn't it? Then when you're behind with the work,
and your wife wants to be taken out somewhere, you'll nobly remember
there's a miserable woman in Victoria Street depending on you and
persuade Mrs. Kent to go with a sister, or a cousin, or an aunt? You'll
say to yourself 'Excelsior!' and other improving mottoes, meaning
'Loyalty forbids'?"

"I'll say 'Loyalty forbids' when I want to go out by myself; my wife's
in the country."

"Tant mieux! if it isn't shocking," she laughed. "I'm afraid a woman on
the spot would prove too strong for me. Am I grossly selfish? Poor boy
who has got no wife!"

She looked at him as she had looked across the supper-table in the
avenue Wagram. He could not think of anything to say, of a nature that
commended itself to him; and he exclaimed abruptly:

"Oh, you may rely on me, Mrs. Deane-Pitt; I'll never go anywhere; I'll
be a hermit! By the way, you don't know I'm in Soho now. Perhaps I'd
better give you the address?"

"Certainly," she said; "I may want to write to you. The Hermit of Soho!
Well, when you've been good and done penance thoroughly, hermit, you
may come and see me sometimes; I'll allow you that distraction. Come
in whenever you like, and you can tell me how the thing is going. Any
afternoon you please at this time. And don't come in trembling at me
any more; I don't expect you to write me a masterpiece in six weeks,
poor boy."

Kent kept his word to her doggedly, and, although he continued to rise
early, he was seldom free to join Turquand until about nine o'clock
in the evening. When the chapter was done, he would go downstairs,
and light another pipe, and Turquand would put away his book or his
paper without any indication of curiosity. With a woman such a state
of things would have been impossible; but Turquand's manner was so
unforced that by degrees Kent came to own that he was tired, or to
make some other allusion to his labour quite freely. And not once did
the other say to him, "Well, but what is it you're doing?" On the days
that he called on Mrs. Deane-Pitt, it was later still before he could
loll in the parlour; the temptation to go to her, however, was more
than he could resist. He realised very soon that she had an attraction
for him which was not in the least like friendship, and which he could
never term "friendship" any more. In moments, as he sat writing in his
shabby bedroom under the tiles, the thought of her would suddenly creep
into him, and beat in his pulses till he was assailed by a furious
longing to be in her presence; and though he often denied the longing,
he frequently obeyed it. He would throw down his pen, and change his
coat, and leave the house impetuously, seeing her, in fancy, all the
way to the flat. During a fortnight or so, he sought some reason for
the visit. Would she like the heroine to go on the stage when her
husband lost his money? Did she think it would be a good idea to kill
the husband, and introduce a new character to reinstate the girl in
luxury? But presently such excuses were abandoned. For one thing,
Mrs. Deane-Pitt was too much occupied with her serial to accord any
serious consideration to his work; and for another, she welcomed him
as a matter of course. It was agreeable to her to see this man who
was in love with her, and whom she liked, looking at her with eyes
that betrayed what he would not allow his tongue to acknowledge. "Oh,
I'm glad," she would say, "I was hoping it was you. Sit down and make
yourself comfortable--no, bring me that cushion first--and talk to
me, and be amusing." Sometimes she received him radiantly, sometimes
wearily. On one afternoon she declared she was in the best of spirits,
and had just been wishing for someone to bear her company; on the next
she sighed that she was worried to death, and that he had only arrived
in time to save her from extinction. "Bills," she would yawn, when he
questioned her, "bills! A dressmaker, a schoolmistress--I forget which.
Some wretch threatens something, I know. Don't look so concerned; I
shall survive. Cheer me up." Then the servant would enter with the
tea-things, and afterwards, in the cool shadows of the drawing-room,
through which the perfume of the heliotrope that grew in a huge bowl
under the crimson lamp floated deliciously, there would be cigarettes,
and a half-hour that he found exquisite in its air of intimate
familiarity. Though no verbal admission was ever made, there were
seconds in which Kent's voice, as plainly as his face, told her what he
felt for her, and seconds in which the tones of the woman said, "I'm
quite conscious of the effect I have on you; we both understand, of
course." Occasionally he had a glimpse of her children, and once when
he was there, Mrs. Deane-Pitt took the boy on her lap, among the folds
of her elaborate tea-gown, and fondled him. "Do you think I make a nice
mother, Mr. Kent?" she said, flashing a glance. "This monkey doesn't
appreciate his privileges." She kissed the child three times, and in
the gaze that she lifted over his curly head there was, for an instant,
provocation that shook the man.

But such incidents as this were exceptional, and, as a rule, Kent could
not have cited a single instance of coquetry when he took his leave
and returned to the attic. Nor did the passion she had aroused in him
militate against the success of his enterprise, taking "success" to
mean its completion by the given date. Perhaps he was more industrious,
even, in the perception that she was always warmest when he had done
the most. "I finished the thirtieth chapter last night!" Then she would
be delightful, and if she had appeared harassed at all, her languor
would speedily give place to gaiety. The tremulous afternoons were
never so quick with the sense of alliance, so entirely fascinating
to him, as when he was able to surprise her by some such report. The
desire to please the woman became fully as strong a stimulus to the
ghost as his eagerness to receive the money that would permit him
to begin a third novel for himself. The two short stories had been
published now, in a periodical in which Kent would have been very proud
to see his own name, and though he did not grudge them to her, he could
not help feeling, as he read them, that they were better than he had
known and that it would be eminently satisfactory to resume legitimate
work.

After the fortieth chapter was scrawled, conclusion was in sight, and
though he could not quite sustain his earlier pace, he never turned
out less than one thousand words a day. Had anybody told him, a couple
of months before, that he could do even this, he would have ridiculed
the statement, but the consciousness that acceptance was certain had
been very fortifying. He scarcely allowed himself leisure to eat after
passing the fortieth chapter. The stuff was undeniably poor, though
it was not so jejune as it seemed to Kent. The worst part was the
construction, for, ignorant what the next development was to be, he was
often forced to write sheets of intermediate and motiveless dialogue
until an idea presented itself; but for the style, hasty as it was,
there was still something to be said. Instinctively Kent gave to a
commonplace redundancy a literary twist, and the writing had almost
invariably a veneer, though the matter written might be of no account.

During the final week he did not go to Victoria Street at all. He could
not suppress the artist in him wholly, and for the climax he meant to
do his utmost. It was a sop to his conscience--he could remember the
last chapter and forget the rest. He had sent or taken the manuscript
to Mrs. Deane-Pitt piece by piece, and he took her the last of it
on the evening that he wrote "The End." A telegram had told her to
expect him. He had written the book in seven weeks; but he felt as
exhausted as if he had built a house in the time, brick by brick,
with his own hands. She read the pages that he had brought, while he
watched her from an arm-chair; and, with the candour which was so
striking a feature in such an association, she cried that the scene
was admirable--that she could not have done it half so well. Kent's
weariness faded from him as they talked, and momentarily he regretted
that he had not been able to write a book for her equal to _The Eye of
the Beholder_.

With regard to her negotiations, however, she was not so outspoken--it
was only by chance that Kent had seen the two short stories; she had
not even told him for what paper they were intended. There was some
delay in paying the two hundred pounds, and her explanations were
vague and various. The partner with whom she always dealt was on the
Continent; she would not sign an agreement before American copyright
was arranged; she generally ran her stories as serials before they
were issued in book-form and it was not decided what she was going to
do--half a dozen reasons for postponement were forthcoming. She gave
him his share at last, though, and very cordially, and he felt some
embarrassment in taking her cheque when the moment arrived, its being
his earliest experience of business with a woman. If he had had others,
he would have appreciated her action in paying him in full, and only a
little late, more keenly than he did, though he was far from ungrateful
to her as it was.

He put the cheque in his pocket as carelessly as he could manage, and
said:

"Well, you've done me a tremendous service, Mrs. Deane-Pitt, and, by
Jove! I thank you for it--heartily."

"Oh, rubbish!" she replied; "the work's been as useful to me as to you;
you've nothing to thank me for."

"It makes more difference to me," said Kent; "it means--you hardly know
what it means! I needn't look out for a berth now; I can sit down to
another novel. I owe you that."

"If you like to think so----" She smiled, but her tone was
constrained. "I should be glad if somebody owed me something; I'm more
used to its being the other way round."

"I feel a Croesus. We ought to celebrate this accession to wealth;
it demands a festivity! If I get seats for a theatre, will you go to
dinner with me somewhere to-morrow night? What shall we go to see? Have
you been to Daly's yet?"

"I'm engaged to-morrow night, and the next."

"To-night, then?"

"This evening I am dining out; there's the card on my desk."

"What a fashionable person you are!" exclaimed Kent, rather enviously.
"Would Friday evening suit you?"

"Yes, I'm free on Friday; but a theatre is awfully stifling this
weather, isn't it?"

"Well, we needn't go to a theatre," he said; "we might dine at
Richmond. Will you drive down to Richmond, and have dinner at the Star
and Garter on Friday?"

Mrs. Deane-Pitt promised that she would, but the animation with which
she had given him the cheque had deserted her; and after a minute, she
said:

"I suppose your starting another novel for yourself needn't stand in
the way of our business together? There are several things I can offer
you, if you care to do them."

"Oh, thanks," said Kent; "but I'm afraid I'd better stick to the novel.
I want to do all I can with it, you see."

"L'un n'empêche pas l'autre--a short story now and then won't interfere
with it, surely? I can place a ten-thousand-word story at once if you
like to write it for me."

The refusal was difficult, and he hesitated how to express himself. He
had never contemplated the association as a permanent one, and now that
an alternative was open to him, its indignity looked doubly repellant.
He was surprised that Mrs. Deane-Pitt expected it to continue. Couldn't
she understand that he felt it a humiliation--that he had adopted the
course merely as a desperate measure in a desperate case? He had taken
her comprehension for granted.

"I'd rather not, if you don't mind," he said awkwardly. "It would take
me off my own work more than you can imagine. My motive for doing this
was to make it possible for me to devote myself heart and soul to a
novel; and that is what I want to do."

She looked downcast.

"When do you mean to begin it? You could knock off ten thousand words
first, couldn't you? And I believe an occasional short story would
come as a relief to you, too! I wouldn't persuade you against your
will--pray don't think that--but, as a matter of fact, there is no
reason why you shouldn't make a few pounds a week all the time you're
writing your book, you know? if you like. I don't want another novel
yet, but I can take almost any number of short stories; or, if you
preferred it, you might write me a short thing that could be published
in paper covers at a shilling. Will you think it over? I don't want
to hurry your decision." She hummed a snatch of tune, and picked up a
new song that was lying on the piano. "Have you seen this?" she said
carelessly. "It's pretty."

Kent took it from her, and played with the leaves in a pause. He was
conscious that he must decline now, and definitely, and the insistence
of her request made the duty harder every second. Mrs. Deane-Pitt
sauntered about the room; she felt blank and annoyed with herself.
Was this her reward for liking the man enough to give him two hundred
pounds in a lump, instead of paying him by instalments, which would
have been infinitely more convenient to her?

"If you won't think me boorish," he said at last abruptly, "I'd rather
keep to my intention. I'm not a boy--I need all the time at my
disposal to succeed in."

She gave a forced laugh.

"How much younger do you want to be? If the money doesn't attract you,
it won't be in your way, I suppose; and--you can do it to oblige me!
Come, I'm quite frank! I own that you're very useful to me. You don't
mean that you're going to strike and leave me in the lurch?"

The face upturned to him was more earnest than her words. Her brown
eyes widened, and fastened on him, and for an instant his resolution
broke down. But it was his work, and his ambition, his fidelity to his
art, that she was asking him to waive--he would not!

"Nobody so sorry as the 'striker,'" he said, in a tone to match her
own. "Let me be your banker when I'm going into a dozen editions, Mrs.
Deane-Pitt, and I'll serve you all you want. The service you ask me
to-day is just the one I can't do."

"Bien," she murmured; "I suppose you know your own business best."

But she was plainly disappointed, and, though she speedily spoke of
another subject, her voice lacked spontaneity. Kent's courage knew no
approving glow, and if, during the minutes he remained, she had begged
him to assist her by returning the cheque, he would most certainly
have done it. He thought that she must hate him--though in truth he
had never appealed to her so strongly--and it was the only occasion on
which he had ever taken leave of her without regret.

To Cynthia he wrote immediately, telling her he had been paid two
hundred pounds, and enclosing twenty-five, that she might have a
surplus to draw upon without applying to him. He also remitted to Paris
the amount necessary to redeem her ring, and his watch and chain, and
the rest. He had now an opportunity of going down to see her, and
he told her that she might expect him on Monday or Tuesday in the
following week. The picture he had once seen of surprising her in the
garden had long since ceased to present itself to him, and he was not
impatient to find himself in his wife's company in the circumstances.
He questioned if Mrs. Deane-Pitt would be disposed to go with him
to Richmond after what had passed. To refuse a woman's petition to
augment her income, but to invite her to dinner at Richmond, was rather
suggestive of the bread and the stone. Yet, now that propinquity was
not her ally, he was fervently glad that he had had strength to refuse.
It was a partnership that every month would have made more difficult
to sever, and she had, apparently, looked for it to extend over years.
As to Richmond, he hoped the engagement would be fulfilled; it would
pain him intensely otherwise. He owed her too much to be reconciled
to their separating with coldness, and he determined to send a note,
reminding her of her promise.

Her reply allayed his misgivings. It was confirmed by her demeanour
when they met. Indeed, her display of even more good fellowship than
usual made him feel rather guilty.

She seemed to divine his reflections, and to assure him that such
self-reproach was needless. She had never been brighter or more
informal with him than in the hansom as they drove down. Her air
implied that their previous interview had been a trivial folly which,
as sensible people, they must banish from their minds, and she talked
of everything and nothing with the gaiety of a schoolgirl on an
unforeseen excursion, and the piquancy of a woman who had observed and
lived.

Her vivacity was infectious, and Kent's constraint gradually melted in
a rush of the warmest gratitude for her forbearance. He was so entirely
at her mercy here, and he thought that few women similarly placed would
have refrained from planting at least one little sting among their
verbal honey. His admiration began to comprise details. He remarked
the hat she wore, and the delicacy of a little ear against her hair's
duskiness. He noted with pleasure the quick, petulant twitch of a
corner of her mouth as her veil got in the way, and the appreciative
gaze of young men in the cabs that rolled towards them--a gaze which
invariably terminated in a swift scrutiny of the charming woman's
companion.

When the hotel was reached, he had never been livelier; and, often as
he had read an opposite opinion, he found it very delightful to see
the woman he was in love with eat, and drink her champagne. It was
intimate, it lessened the _noli me tangere_ mien of feminine fashion
and brought her closer. The attire of an attractive woman who has never
belonged to him has always a mystery for a man, though he may have had
three wives and kept a dressmaker's shop. But liveliness was succeeded
by a vaguer emotion, as they lounged on the terrace over their coffee
and liqueurs. Under the moon the river shone divine, limitless in its
glint and shadow. Her features took tenderness from the tremulous
light, and sometimes a silence fell which, as he yielded himself to
the subtile endearment of the moment, soft as the breath of love on
his face, Kent felt to be the supplement of speech. A woman who could
have uttered epigrams in the mood that possessed him now would have
disgusted him, and insensibly their tones sank. She spoke gently,
seriously. Presently some allusion that she made begot a confidence
about her earlier life--her marriage. It disturbed him to hear that she
had been fond of Deane-Pitt when she married him, yet he was grieved
when she owned how quickly her illusions had died. Her belief that
she might have been "a better woman" if she had married a different
man was pathetic in its revelation of unsuspected heart-aches, and
sympathy made him execrate the feebleness of words. Her voice acquired
an earnestness that he had never heard in it before, and while he was
stirred with the sincerest pity for her, a throb of rapture was in his
veins that she could be talking so to him. The minutes were ineffable,
in which she seemed to discard the social mask and surrender more and
more of her identity to his view. Spiritually she appeared to be lying
in his arms; and when she checked herself, and rallied with a laugh
which was over-taken by a sigh, he felt that he could have listened to
her for ever.

"How solemn we've become!" she exclaimed; "and we came out to be
'festive' to-night."

"I shall always remember the 'you' of to-night," he said.

They were silent again. She passed her hand across her eyes
impatiently, as if to wave away the pictures of the past. By
transitions their tones regained their former cheerfulness. She
mentioned the hour, and drew her wrap about her. It was time to return.

"It has been delicious," she murmured, looking up at the stars. "Only
you let me bore you."

"By talking of yourself?"

"So stupid of me!"

"You know," said Kent--"you know!"

"I _wanted_ to tell you; you won't think so badly of me, perhaps."

"I?"

"I'm sure you have. Now, sometimes?"

"If I confessed my thoughts, you'd never say so any more."

"Really?" Her eyes flashed mockery. "You mustn't tell me, then--I might
be vain."

The cab bowled over the white roads rapidly. The flutter of her scarf
on his shoulder stole through his blood, and the clip-clop sound of the
horse's hoofs seemed to him to waken echoes in his inside.

"Do you know, it was very indiscreet of me to come down here with
you?" she laughed.

"Supposing somebody had met us!"

"And then?"

"What would be thought?"

"_What_ could be thought?" he asked unsteadily.

"Scandal, perhaps. I'm very angry with you; you've made me do wrong.
Why did you make me do wrong when I had such faith in you?"

"You've given me the happiest evening of my life," said Kent; "is that
the wrong?"

"Do you think happiness must always be right? It's a convenient creed.
Happiness at any price--and let the woman pay it, eh? That's a man's
philosophy. You're quite right, though; but, then, you're at the
happiest time of life. No, nobody is ever that! The happiest time of
life's the past. Believe me, or believe me not, the past is always
beautiful; to-morrow I shall regret to-day."

"So shall I," said Kent. "But very much indeed I appreciate it now....
What are you cynical for? You only put it on. It's not 'you' really."

"'Wise judges are we of each other.' How do you know?"

"You said that to me once before--in Paris."

"Said what? Oh, the quotation! When?"

"At your place, after the Variétés."

"What a memory! Yes, you're certainly resolved to try to make me vain.
But I'm adamant. Did you know that? I'm made of stone. Do you treasure
up what every woman says to you? The answer is a wounded gaze; it's
dark to see expressions, but I'll take it for granted."

"I remember what _you_ said to me half an hour ago, and I know your
bitterness is a sham. You were meant to be----"

"Oh, 'meant'!" she cried recklessly; "a woman's what she's made. I'm
afraid _I've_ been made untidy. Do you mind driving in a hansom with
such a figure?"

She plucked at her veil in the strip of looking-glass, and bent her
face to him for criticism. The brilliance of the eyes that she widened
glowed into him as she leant so, and his arms trembled to enfold her.
His mouth was dry as he muttered a response.

The sweetness of June was in the air that caressed them as they sped
through the moonlight. With every sentence she let fall, with every
glance she shot at him, she dizzied him more, and he sat strained with
the struggle to retain his self-command. Through his febrile emotions,
the horror of proving false to Cynthia loomed like an angel betokening
the revulsion of his remorse. He could imagine the afterwards--he
knew how he would feel--and there were instants in which he prayed for
the drive to finish and permit escape. But there were instants also in
which he ceased to fight, and steeped in the present, yearned only to
forget his wife, though tardy remembrance should be a double scourge.

Her fingers were busy at a knot of violets in her dress; and she held
the flowers up to him, looking round, smiling.

"Shall I give you a buttonhole?" she inquired gaily. "It would be an
appropriate conclusion--my ideals, my withered hopes, and my dead
violets! Oh, I shiver to think of what I said to you! Did I gush
towards the last? I've a fearful, a ghastly misgiving that I gushed. If
you acknowledge that I did, I'll never forgive you; but you shouldn't
have encouraged me. Stoop for the souvenir! It cost a penny--symbolic
of the sentiment.... Though lost to sight, to memory dear! It will
be a very dear memory, won't it? Use me one day! I shall come in as
material--the hard woman of the world, who bares her soul on impulse,
and the Star and Garter terrace, to the man she likes and stands
revealed as--as what? I wonder what you'd make of me. Child, I shall
never get this buttonhole in if you don't turn! I've admitted I'm a
spectacle, but you might suffer for a second."

Her hair swept his cheek as she wrestled with refractory stalks, and
the dark eyes grew and; fastened on him again.

The hansom sped on. The quietude was left behind, and the lights of
the West End twinkled around them. There was the rattle of traffic.
Kent was laughing at something she had said, and he heard himself with
surprise--or was it; himself? The cab rolled to a standstill, and they
got out. The lift bore them to her landing. The servant opened the door.

"Good-night," he said; "I won't come in."

"Oh, come in; it's not ten o'clock. You'll have a brandy-and-soda
before you go?"

She entered without waiting for his reply, and he followed her
reluctantly. Only the lamp had been lighted, and the room was full of
crimson shadow. He stood watching her unpin her hat before the mirror,
and pull at her gloves.

"I don't think I'll stop," he said again, "really! I've something to
do."

"If I can't persuade you----" she answered listlessly.

Her gaiety had deserted her, and there was weariness in her attitude as
she drooped by the mantelshelf; her air, her movements, had a languor
now. She put out her bare hand slowly, and Kent's clung to it.

He stood holding her hand in a pause....

"I can't leave you," said Kent.



CHAPTER XXIII


It was a little less than a fortnight after the dinner at Richmond
that Kent brought Mrs. Deane-Pitt the ten-thousand-word story that she
had wanted, and, like the two earliest stories that he had written for
her, it was work to which he would have been glad to see his own name
attached. He had promised to let her have half a dozen short stories
as soon after its completion as possible, and it was his delight to
surprise her by the versatility, as well as the originality, of the
invention that he displayed in these. In one he wrote an idyll; in
another a gruesome little sketch, bound to attract attention by its
weirdness; in a third he seemed to be running through the stalest of
devices towards the most commonplace of conclusions, until, lo! in the
last half-column there came a literary thunder-clap, and this story was
even more startling than its predecessors. But all the links fitted, if
a reader liked to take the trouble to look back, and the tragedy had
been foreshadowed from the beginning. The tales tickled the fancy of
the Editor for whom they were intended. They tickled it so much that
he asked Mrs. Deane-Pitt to contribute regularly for a few months; and
the lady accepting the compliment and the invitation, Kent continued to
supply _The Society Mirror_ with an idyll, or a tragedy, or a comedy
every week, astonished at his own fecundity.

It was amazing how his hand was emboldened, I his imagination
stimulated, by the knowledge that his work was accepted before it was
penned. There were weeks during which he turned out a story for Mrs.
Deane-Pitt nearly every day. All the stories were built upon more or
less brilliant ideas, each of them was noteworthy and distinctive when
it appeared in _The Society Mirror_ or elsewhere; and if his share of
the swindle had been punctiliously paid to him now, he would have been
making a good deal of money. Even as it was, he was making it in a
sense, for his partner always credited him with the sums that were not
forthcoming--entering them in an oxidised silver memorandum-book that
she kept in one of the drawers of her desk. When he said that it did
not matter about that, she laughingly told him not to be a fool.

His conscience was not dull, however, and there were hours when Kent
suffered scarcely less acutely than one realises that a wife may
sometimes suffer in similar circumstances. His remorse then was just
what he had known it would be. From making his projected visit to
Monmouth he had excused himself--it was repugnant enough to play the
hypocrite in his letters--and by degrees Cynthia ceased to refer to
his coming; but while her silence on the point relieved him from the
necessity for telling her further falsehoods, it intensified his shame.

His abasement was completed by the seventh rejection of _The Eye of the
Beholder_. He sent it off again at once, to Messrs. Kynaston, to get it
out of his sight; but the return of the ill-starred package had revived
all the passion of his disappointment concerning it, and he could not
get rid of the burning at his heart so easily as he did of the parcel.
The weight of the slighted manuscript lay on his spirit for days after
Thurgate and Tatham's refusal. The irony of it, that Mrs. Deane-Pitt
could place his hasty work in the best papers, was enabled to pay him
two hundred pounds for writing a novel of which he was ashamed, while
his own book, to which he had devoted a year, was scorned on all sides!
True, he had had, in his own name, very much better, reviews than those
that had been accorded so far to the novel written for her. But ...
what a profession?

Once he owned to her something of what he was feeling. He couldn't help
himself--he wanted her to comfort him.

"_The Eye of the Beholder_ has come back again," he groaned.

"Really?" she said. "How many is that?"

"God knows! It's awfully hard that _you_ can place whatever I do, Eva,
and _I_ get my best stuff kicked back to me from every publisher's
office in London. I'm miserable!"

She smiled. She did not mean to be unsympathetic, but Kent hated her
for it furiously as she turned her face.

"There's much in a name," she said with a shrug. "What's the
difference, though? Your terms aren't bad, 'miserable one,' whether the
name is mine or yours. By the way, I can work another tale for _The
Metropolis_, if you'll knock it off for me; I was going to write to
you."

Kent never appealed to her for pity again. But a little later there
came a letter from Cynthia, replying to his brief announcement of
Thurgate and Tatham's rejection. Her consolation and prophesies of
"success yet" overflowed four sheets, and the man's throat was tight as
he read them.

Well, he must do the tale for _The Metropolis_! But he would write some
short stories for himself as well, he determined. It had not been a
lucrative occupation when he essayed it before, but those early stories
had been the wrong kind of thing--he perceived it now: he would write
some short stories of the pattern that was so successful when it was
signed "Eva Deane-Pitt."

He soon began to see his work over her signature in almost every
paper that he looked at. If he turned the leaves of a magazine on a
book-stall, a tale of his own met his eyes, signed "Eva Deane-Pitt";
if he picked up a periodical in a restaurant, a familiar sentence
might flash out of the pages at him, and there would be another of his
stories "By Eva Deane-Pitt." Yes, he would submit to the editors on his
own account! He would not receive such terms as she, that he knew; he
doubted strongly whether he would even receive so much as she spared
to him after retaining the larger share. But he could, and he would,
get what was dear to him--the recognition and the kudos to which he was
entitled!

He found that he did not write so quickly for himself as in his
capacity of ghost, but he was not discouraged, for he felt that he
was writing better. For a week he did nothing for the woman at all;
he wrote all day and half the night as "Humphrey Kent," and when a
manuscript was declined by _The Society Mirror_ he sent it to _The
Metropolis_, and forwarded the story rejected by _The Metropolis_ to
_The Society Mirror_. He could not abandon his work for her entirely,
but under the pressure that she put upon him, and his new interests,
he wrote for her more and more hastily--wrote frank and unmitigated
rubbish at last, and on one occasion candidly told her so.

She had telegraphed to him at six o'clock, begging him to call,
and he had risen from his table feeling that his head was vacant.
She clamoured for a two-thousand-word story by the first post the
following morning, and insisted, as usual, that "anything would do."
He assured her that he was too exhausted even to invent a motive; how
could he produce two thousand words before he slept? She overruled his
objections, hanging about him with caresses. She made him promise that
the sketch should reach her in time.

"Write twaddle, dearest boy," was her parting injunction, "but write
it! A motive? A mercenary girl jilts her lover because he is poor, and
then her new fiancé loses his fortune, and the jilted lover succeeds
to a dukedom! What does it matter? Write a story that Noah told to his
family in the Ark--only cover enough pages. Write any rot; simply fill
it out. I depend on you, Humphrey, mind!"

He went home and did it--on the lines she had laid down. She wanted
drivel--she should have it! He did not stop to think at all. He wrote,
without a pause or a correction, as rapidly as his pen would glide, and
posted the tale to her before half-past ten. A note went with it.

"I have done as you ordered," he scribbled. "Don't blame me because no
editor will take such muck now you are obeyed."

She had no complaint to make when he saw her next. And it was after
this that Kent's work for her was uniformly fatuous, while he lavished
on his own a wealth of fastidious care for which she would have mocked
him had she known. He visited her at much longer intervals now, for a
disgust of her caresses was growing in him, a horror of the amorous
afternoons, which ended always with a plea for additional tales. But
that cowardice prevented him, he would have stayed away altogether.
There grew something like horror of the woman herself, insatiable, no
matter with how much work he might supply her--coaxing him for "two
little stories more; anything will do--I must have a new costume,
darling, really!" while a batch of manuscript that he had brought to
her lay in her lap. He could remember now, with her arms about him,
the many original ideas that she had had from him at the beginning,
and he felt with a shudder that her clutch was deadly. First she had
had his brains, and now she stole his conscience. He foresaw that, if
the strain that she put upon him continued, a day must come when the
imagination that she was squeezing like an orange would be sterile, or
fruitful of nothing better than the literary abortions with which his
mistress was content.

His dismay at his position did not wane. It became so evident that, by
degrees, a coldness crept into the woman's manner towards him. He was
at no pains to dispel it. That their relations drifted on to a purely
business footing inspired him with no other fear than that presently
she might make him a scene and entail upon him the disagreeable
necessity for declaring, as delicately as he could, that his infidelity
to his wife had been a madness that he violently regretted, and would
never repeat. The obvious retort would be so superficially true that
fervently he trusted that the necessity would not arise.

Meanwhile the short stories submitted in his own name, with silent
prayers, had all been refused; but, undeterred by the failure, he wrote
more and more. The present tenants of No. 64 were anxious to renew
their agreement for another six months, and he was pleased to hear
it. The prospect of meeting Cynthia again frightened him; and, closing
readily with the off er that afforded him a respite, he remained
at his literary forge in Soho, writing for Mrs. Deane-Pitt and for
himself--seeing sometimes three of his tales for her published, by
different papers, in the same week, and finding the tales submitted in
the lowlier name of "Humphrey Kent" returned without exception.

He would once have said that such a state of things couldn't be, but
now he discovered that it could be, and was. There was not at this
stage: a periodical or magazine in London that Humphrey Kent did not
essay in vain, and there were; not more than three or four (of the
kind that one sees in a club or an educated woman's room) in which his
stuff did not appear, at a substantial rate of payment, when it was
supposed to be by Mrs. Deane-Pitt. There were not in London five papers
making a feature of fiction, which did not repeatedly reject the man's
best work, signed by himself, and accept his worst, signed by somebody
else. Not five of the penny or sixpenny; publications--not five among
the first or second-class--not five editors appraising fiction in
editorial chairs who did not either find or assume a story bearing the
unfamiliar name of "Humphrey Kent" to be below their standard, while
they paid ten or twelve guineas for a tale scribbled by the same author
in a couple of hours when it was falsely represented to be by Mrs.
Deane-Pitt. During nine months he was never offered a single guinea by
an editor for a tale. Every story that he submitted during nine months
was declined, and every story that he gave to Mrs. Deane-Pitt was sold.
Raging, he swore that some day he would set the facts forth in a novel;
and even as he swore it, he knew that they would be challenged and
that, in at least one literary organ of eminence, a critic would write,
"We do not find the situation probable."

Once an editor did know his name. He was the Editor of a fashionable
magazine, and Kent had called at the office to inquire about a
manuscript that had been lying there for a long while. The gentleman
was very courteous: he did not remember the title, and, unfortunately,
he could not put his hand on the tale at the moment, but he promised to
have a search made for it, and to read it as soon as it was found.

A letter from him (and the manuscript) reached Kent the same week. It
was as considerate a letter of rejection as any one could dictate. The
Editor began by saying that the story "was clever, as all Mr. Kent
touched was clever, but----" And then he proceeded to analyse the
plot, to demonstrate that the motive was too slight for the purpose.
The tone was so kindly that, though Kent could not perceive the justice
of the criticism--he was sensible enough to try--he felt a glow of
gratitude towards the writer; and his appreciation was deepened when
the following post brought him a copy of the current issue of the
magazine, "With compliments."

He opened it at once, and the first thing that he saw in it was a story
done for Mrs. Deane-Pitt--the story that he had written, tired and
insolently careless, about the mercenary girl and the jilted lover and
the succession to the dukedom.

And this, too, he swore, should be some day recorded in a novel, though
a critic, knowing less about it than the author, would "not find the
situation probable."

Now, when he was least expecting it, there came to him the first gleam
of encouragement that he had had since he received his last review.
Messrs. Kynaston wrote, offering to undertake the publication of _The
Eye of the Beholder_, if he were willing to accept forty pounds for the
copyright.

He did not hesitate even for an instant; he said "Thank God!" as
devoutly as if he had never expected more for it.

Turquand had just come in.

"It's a wicked price," grunted Turquand; "but I suppose you'll take it
if you can't get them to spring?"

"Take it! I could take them to my heart for it! Oh, thank God! I mean
it. Yes, it's beggarly, it's awful; but, at any rate, the book 'll
see the light. Price? It isn't a price at all, but the thing 'll be
published. There's quite enough money for us to live while I'm writing
my next, and this will send me to it with double energy. I shall go to
Kynaston's to-morrow morning."

He did go, and, though he was less enthusiastic there, his attempt
to induce the publisher to increase the terms was but weak. Seven
rejections had made a high hand unattainable.

"I got a hundred for my first," he said, "and you offer me forty for my
second. It isn't scaling the ladder with rapidity."

"The other was longer, perhaps," suggested Mr. Kynaston, tapping his
fingers together pensively--"three volumes?"

"Don't you reckon that this will make three volumes, then?" said Kent.

"Two. It's unfortunately short; that's the only fault I have to find
with it. I like it--it's out of the common; but there isn't enough
of it." He sighed. "I am sorry that 'forty' is the most I can say. I
considered the subject very deeply before I wrote you--very deeply
indeed."

His expression implied that he had lain awake all night considering,
and that regret at being unable to offer more might even keep him awake
again to-night.

He did not disguise his opinion of the novel, however, especially after
the matter was settled.

"Send us something else, Mr. Kent," he said warmly, as he saw the
author downstairs and pressed his hand--"something a trifle longer--and
we shall be able to do better for you. Yours is a very rare style; you
have remarkable power, if I may say so. If fine work always meant a
fine sale, _The Eye of the Beholder_ should see six editions. I shall
get it out at once. Good-day to you: and don't forget--make your next
book a little longer!"

Turquand would not be back for some hours, and Kent did not hurry home.
He sauntered through the streets reflecting. He resolved that now he
would do ghost-work no more, and he wondered how Eva would receive
the announcement. Disappointing as she would doubtless find it, she
would not have had much to complain of, he thought; he congratulated
himself anew on their liaison having ended, since it left him but one
association to sever, instead of two. Again an access of remorse in
its most poignant form assailed him, and he wished he could bear his
good news to Cynthia in lieu of writing it--wished he could confess to
Cynthia--wondered if the desire to do so was mad.

This desire had fastened on Kent more than once. He thought he would
feel less guilty towards her--would _be_ less guilty towards her--if
she knew. There had been moments when, if they had not been separated,
he would have told her the truth in a burst, and, whether she pardoned
him or not, have lifted his head, feeling happier for the fact that the
avowal had been made. He did not imagine that his craving to confess
to her was any shining virtue. He was conscious, just as he had been
conscious in Paris, when he had informed her casually of the supper in
the avenue Wagram, that it was as much the weakness of his character as
its nobility which urged him to voice the load that lay on his mind;
but, weak or noble, the longing was always there, and at times it
mastered him completely.

Sleet began to fall, and he went into a tea-room and ordered some
coffee. A copy of _Fashion_ lay on the table, and, mechanically turning
the pages, he noticed that the feature of the issue was an instalment
of a story in three parts by Lady Cornwallis. The name arrested his
attention, for she was the widow of a man who had been a connection
of the late Deane-Pitt's, and Kent was aware that Eva and she were
on friendly terms. He glanced at the heading with an ironical smile;
the lady was not known to him as an author, though she had figured
prominently of late in the witness-box, where a shrewd solicitor,
and a dressmaker of distinction, had posed her in a quite romantic
light; he surmised bitterly that her maiden effort in fiction had
been remunerated more handsomely than his second novel. What was his
astonishment, on glancing at the opening paragraph, to discover that
the story "By Lady Cornwallis" was another of the stories that had been
written by himself for Mrs. Deane-Pitt!

As a matter of fact, the Editor, thinking that her name would be a
draw just now, had offered Lady Cornwallis a hundred pounds for a tale
to run through three numbers. Lady Cornwallis, who had never tried to
write anything more elaborate than a love-letter in her life, and who
was being dunned to desperation for an account at a livery-stable, had
gone to Mrs. Deane-Pitt to do it for her. Mrs. Deane-Pitt, who wrote
much less quickly than she pretended, had relegated the duty to Kent.
It was a literary house-that-Jack-built. Lady Cornwallis, fearing that
her friend might ascertain how much the Editor paid, had ingenuously
halved the sum with her; Mrs. Deane-Pitt, confident that the young
man would be unable to ascertain, had given to him ten pounds. At the
details of the transaction Kent could only guess, as he sat staring at
his work while his coffee got cold; but the evolution of the story,
perpetrated in a Soho attic for ten pounds, and published as Lady
Cornwallis's at the cost of a hundred, was interesting.

He was fiercely and inconsistently resentful. In one way it mattered
nothing to him. Since his stuff wasn't printed over his own name, it
was unimportant over whose name it appeared. But the perception did
not lessen his angry sense of having been duped. He remembered the
circumstances in which he had written this tale and the lies that Eva
had told him about it. Was he to become the ghost of every impostor in
London?

Though he did not refer to the discovery that he had made, it lent a
firmness to his tone when he informed her that his book was accepted
and that he was going down to the country to devote a year to another.
She heard him without remonstrance. Whatever her faults, she had
the virtue of being a woman of the world, and she did not endow the
parting, for which she was partially prepared, with any tactless
tragedy. For an instant only, recalling the benefit of histrionics
at Richmond, she considered the feasibility of sentiment begetting a
reconciliation; then she dismissed the idea. The man was remorseful
--not of having become estranged from her, but of having succumbed--and
sentiment would be wasted to-day. Besides, it would make the interview
painful for him, and she didn't care for him half enough to be eager to
give him a bad time. She shrugged her shoulders.

"Everything has an end," she said languidly--"even _Daniel Deronda_. I
owe you a lot of money, by-the-by. I'm afraid I can't square accounts
with you at the moment, but I suppose you don't mind trusting me?"

"You owe me nothing," said Kent. "If my boorishness has left any liking
for me possible, let me have the pleasure of feeling that I did you one
or two trifling services."

But he did not go down to the country. More than ever he felt that to
rejoin his wife with his guilt unacknowledged would be a greater trial
than he could endure. She was so innocent. If she had been a different
kind of woman, his reluctance would have been duller and easier to
overcome; but to have been false to Cynthia made him feel as if he had
robbed a blind girl.

That he could not delay rejoining her much longer he was distressfully
aware. It was ten months since she had gone away, and even if the
people in Streatham wished to retain the house for a third half-year,
as he understood was likely--their return to New York, or wherever
they had come from, being indefinitely postponed--that would be no
reason why he and Cynthia should not live together at Monmouth or
somewhere else.

He had written her that Messrs. Kynaston had taken _The Eye of the
Beholder_, and during the next day or two he was in hourly expectation
of her reply. On the third afternoon after he had posted his letter,
the door opened and she came into the room.

He had not heard the bell ring, and at the sound of her footstep he
turned quickly--and then, almost before he realised it, his wife was in
his arms, laughing and half crying, saying how glad she was to see him,
how delighted she was at the book's acceptance.

"I had to come," she exclaimed--"I had to! Oh, darling! you don't mind
because the money isn't much? Think what Kynaston said of it! And for
your next you'll get proper terms.... Well, are you surprised to see
me? Let me look at you. You're different. What have you been doing to
yourself? And Baby--you wouldn't know Baby. He talks!... I've been
praying you'd be at home. I wouldn't let them show me in; I've been
picturing walking in on you all the way in the train.... Sweetheart!"
She squeezed him to her again, and then held him at arm's length,
regarding him gaily. "You've changed," she repeated; "you look more
serious. And I? Am I all right--am I a disappointment?"

"You're beautiful," said Kent slowly. "You have changed, too."

He gazed at her with a curious sense of unfamiliarity, striving to
define to himself the alteration that puzzled him. Her face had gained
something besides the hues of health. It seemed to him that her eyes
were deeper, that her smile was more complex. Vaguely he felt that he
had thought of her as a girl and was beholding a woman--that he had
insulted a woman who was lovelier than any he had known.

"Aren't you going to invite me to take off my things? May I?"

"Do," he said, with the same sense of strangeness. "Can I help you?" He
took them from her, awkwardly, and put her into a comfortable chair,
and made up the fire. "It's a new hat, it suits you! I always liked you
in a little hat. Did you I get it down there?"

"I trimmed it myself," she said. "Mind the pin!"

"You shall have some tea--or would you rather have dinner? You must be
hungry!"

"Tea, please, and cake. Can you produce cake?"

"There's a confectioner's just round the corner." He rang the bell.

"Then, madeira. I didn't tell the servant who I was; better say 'my
wife' casually when she comes in. I suppose you don't have ladies to
tea and madeira cake, as a rule?"

"Not as a rule," he said--"no."

She laughed again, and stretched her shoes to the blaze luxuriously.

"So this is the room. This is where you lived before we knew each
other. How funny that it should be the first time I've been in it!
I've often imagined you here, and it isn't the least bit like what I
fancied, of course; I always saw the window over there! Well, talk to
me--tell me all! what you are thinking about? I believe you find me
plain now the hat's off!"

Tea was brought to them in about a quarter of an hour, and they sat
before the fire sipping it, and stealing glances at each other--the
woman's, amused, delicious; Kent's, guilty and tortured. He was tempted
to kiss her, but could not bring himself to do it deliberately; and
with every phrase that fell from her lips his heart grew; heavier.

"You've scarcely been to Strawberry Hill all the time, I hear," she
said. "This is very good tea, Humphrey!"

"Not very often; I've been so busy. Yes, it isn't bad, is it? the
landlady gets it for me. Are they offended with me?"

"H'mph! they'll look over it. You'll have to be very nice and
repentant."

"I will. I'll go this week if I can."

"This week? You must take me to-night!" she cried. "What do you suppose
is going to become of me? I can't stop here.... Shall I give you
another cup?"

Kent felt the blood sinking from his face. His hands shook as he bent
over the fire, and for a moment he had no voice to reply.

"You don't go back to Monmouth to-night?" he asked harshly, without
looking at her.

"N--no," she said; "I can't go back till to-morrow."

"I was thinking of the child," he muttered.

"He's as safe with the nurse as with me," she answered; "I wouldn't
have left him even for a day if he hadn't been."

"I see," said Kent.

His pause appeared to him to become significant and terrible.

"I can't go there with you this evening," he said abruptly; "it can't
be done. I have to be here--there is some one I must meet. I mean, I
can take you there, but I can't possibly stay. You--you must forgive
me, Cynthia."

Still he was not looking at her. When she spoke, her tone was different.

"You will do as you like," she said quietly.

He lifted himself, and faced her.

"Cynthia!"

"Well?"

"Cynthia, don't think I don't care for you."

She did not answer, but she was very pale, and her lips were proudly
set.

"You're angry with me?" he stammered.

"What prevents you--your business? If you're too late for a train,
there are hansoms. It would be expensive, I know----"

"'Expensive!'"

"Perhaps it might cost half a sovereign."

"Cynthia! It's impossible."

"Oh, please don't let's talk about it!" she said. "I made a mistake,
that's all. I've made a good many since I married you; this was one
more."

"I _can't_ go," gasped Kent, fighting for his words. "I----If I cared
for you less, I should! I can't go, because there's something I must
tell you first. If ... but you won't. I want you to know ... I've a
confession to make to you. It's over, but ... I've acted badly to you;
I haven't the right to go to you. For God's sake, don't hate me more
than you can help--I've been unfaithful."

Her first sensation was as if, without warning, he had dealt her a
brutal blow in the face. There was the same staggered sense of fright,
succeeded by the same sick wave of horror. Another woman had known
him? Her brain did not leap for details instantaneously, as a man's
would have leapt in the inverse situation; the name the woman bore, her
position--what had such things to do with it? Curiosity to compare her
with herself in looks would follow; now, while she stared at him with
bloodless features, she was conscious of nothing but the pollution:
another woman had known him. Kent stared back at her, appalled at
her aspect; but he divined what she felt no more than he could have
understood her emotions had she analysed them for him. "Another woman
had known him" was the tumult in her soul; he believed her pride
outraged that he had known another woman. The difference was enormous.
The curiosity and thirst for vengeance apart, the wife's sensation was
what the husband's would have been, had he heard of her own defilement.
But that he himself appeared to her defiled he could not grasp;
unworthy, contemptible, corrupt, he realised, but "defiled," no.

"Cynthia, forgive me!"

She swayed a little as his voice struck her agony.

"I'll try."

"You see why I couldn't go?"

"Yes," she said hoarsely.

"I should have told you anyhow soon.... You aren't sorry I've told you?"

"I don't know. I think ... I think I'm sorry just now. I shall be able
to thank you for that later."

"I did it for the best," said Kent.

"You were right."

He leant against the mantelpiece, his chin sunk. The only sound in
the room came from the kettle, on which the woman's eyes were fixed
intently. The clock of St. Giles-in-the-Fields tolled four.

"What am I to do?" he said.

"Oh," she moaned, "don't ask me; I can't think yet.... You've killed
me, Humphrey--you've killed me!"

He dropped before her chair and stroked her hand. Her pain writhed like
a live thing at his touch, but, in pity for him, she let the hand lie
still and suffered.

"Did you ... love her so much?" she asked.

"God knows I didn't!"

"And yet----Humphrey, she wasn't----?"

"I was mad. She was a lady. It wasn't love; I didn't love her at
all.... If you were a man, you'd understand. I sinned with my body, but
my mind--she never had that ...it was with you--with you. It was the
animal in me--how can I explain to an angel?"

Presently she said:

"Does a woman ever learn to understand a man? She gives him her life;
yet to the end----They begin differently.... He has known everything
before he comes to her, and she has known nothing. She's told that it
doesn't matter, that it's right. She doesn't believe it in her heart
--the more she loves him, the less she believes it--but she tries to
persuade herself she believes it. It's wrong--wrong! To him she's a
new girl, and to her _he_ is a new world. How can marriage be the same
thing to both. You didn't love her, but you gave yourself to her. Could
a husband think less of his wife's sin for a reason like that?"

Kent rose, and stood beside her dumbly. Some glimmer of her point of
view reached him and confused him by its strangeness.

"I'll do whatever you want. What can I say?"

"Help me to forget," she said in a low voice. "Will you help me to
forget?"

"You'll let me come to you?"

"Give me a few days--wait a few days. Only I can't be your wife again,
Humphrey, all at once--I can't.... Ah, don't think me unforgiving;
it isn't that. Come to me, if you will, and work, and we'll be good
friends together. Don't be afraid, I won't make it bad for you, I
promise--I'll never remind you even by a look.... Are the terms too
hard?"

"You're merciful."

The seconds crept away.

"I must go," she said; "I'll write to you."

"Shall you go to your mother's?"

"I must; there's no train to Monmouth after three. Will you send for a
cab to take me to Waterloo? I'll tell them you were coming with me, but
something prevented you.... Can I bathe my eyes in your room before I
go?"

Kent showed her where it was, and waited for her in the parlour. Then
they went downstairs together to the cab. She leant forward and gave
him her hand.

"Don't be afraid of me," she whispered again.

"God bless you!" he said, closing the door.



CHAPTER XXIV


Cynthia wrote to him to go to her.

The day was bright, and a promise of spring was in the air as he
journeyed down. Some of its brightness seemed to tinge his mood, and
he was conscious of a vague wonder at the pleasurable emotions that
stirred him as fields and hedgerows shot past.

She was on the platform awaiting him, though he had not telegraphed
the time of his arrival. He saw her at once, and was momentarily a
prey to misgivings. Her welcoming smile as they advanced towards each
other dissipated his dread. But it revived his embarrassment, and his
embarrassment appeared to her pitiable.

"I knew," she said frankly, "that you would come by this train."

She gave orders to a porter about the luggage, and Kent passed into
Monmouth by her side. He heard that her brother had come down to see
her, and was at the cottage now. Cæsar was having a holiday, and had
been spending a fortnight with his parents.

"He was going back this evening, but I made him stay till to-morrow.
Mrs. Evans found him a room a few doors off."

He understood that it was to lessen the awkwardness of the first
evening for him that she had detained her brother, and he was grateful
to her.

"You must know the place well by now?" he said, looking about him.

"Every inch, I think. It's so pretty. I'm sorry it isn't summer; you'd
see. We have a lot of artists then. I got rather chummy with two girls
painting here in the autumn; we used to go to tea at each other's
lodgings. I learnt a lot.... That's our house--the one at the corner.
There's Mrs. Evans at the gate. She calls you 'the master.' She hopes
the master will find her cooking good enough for him. For tea she's
made some hot cakes specially in your honour."

As they drew nearer, a nurse approached wheeling a child. He heard that
it was "Humphrey," and bent over the little fellow timidly. Cynthia
hung about them, praying that the boy would not cry. She asked him who
the gentleman was, and, having been repeatedly told that "papa was
coming," he answered "Papa!" Whereat she triumphed and the man was
pleased.

In the parlour, which struck Kent agreeably with its quiet,
old-fashioned air, the Right Hand of McCullough was perusing a
financial paper. He put it aside to greet Kent cordially. His presence
dominated the evening, and, in the knowledge that he was departing
early next day, Kent even found him amusing, though to be amusing was
not his aim. Ostensibly he had come to England on a financial mission,
and his vague allusions to it were weighted by several names of
European importance. Occasionally his attention wandered and he lapsed
into a brown study, obviously preoccupied by millions. For this he
apologised, in case it had been unnoticed, and rallied Cynthia on the
"yellow-backs" that were visible on the bookshelf.

"I'm afraid I see a lot of yellow-backs!" he said, lifting a playful
finger.

A novel, by a woman, of which _The Speaker_ had written that "it's
dialogue would move every literary artist to enthusiasm," lay on the
window-sill--Kent had already observed it with gratification--and
Cæsar acknowledged that he had read it. He conceded that it possessed
a "superficial smartness." "Superficial" was his latest word, and when
his discourse took a literary turn, his authoritative opinions were
peppered with it.

Kent's bedroom was furnished very plainly, but it was exquisitely neat.
His gaze rested with thankfulness on a large table, of a solidity that
seemed to promise that it would not wobble. Beside the blotting-pad
was an inkstand, of whose construction the primary object had been
that it should hold ink; a handful of early flowers was arranged in a
china bowl. There was a knot in his throat as he contemplated these
preparations--the more touching for their simplicity--and when he sat
down, the table confirmed its promise, and he found that the position
afforded him a view of a corner of the garden.

It was here that he worked.

By degrees the frankness of her manner became more spontaneous in
Cynthia, and his embarrassment in her society was sometimes forgotten.
They were, as she had promised, the best of friends. Their rambles
together had a charm which one associates with a honeymoon, but in
which their own honeymoon had been lacking. In these rambles Kent was
never bored; it appeared to him delightful to place himself in her
hands and be taken where she listed in the April twilight. To seek
shelter from showers in strange quarters was adventurous; and milk had
a piquancy drunk with Cynthia in farmyards. He signed the extension of
the Streatham agreement with gladness.

The alteration in her impressed him still more strongly now that he
had opportunities for studying it; and the gradual result of three
years, presenting itself to him as the fruit of ten months, was
startling. His wife had become a woman--in her tone, in her bearing,
in her comments, which often had a pungency, though they might not be
brilliant. She was a woman in the composure with which she ignored
their anomalous relations--a very fascinating woman withal, whose
composure, while it won his admiration, disturbed him too, as the weeks
went by. It was in moments difficult to identify her new personality
with the girl's whose love for him had been so constantly evident.
Among her other changes, had she grown to care less for him? He could
not be surprised if she had.

Shortly after his arrival, Messrs. Kynaston had begun to send his
proof-sheets, and in May _The Eye of the Beholder_ was published. In
the walk that they took after Cynthia had read it, she and Kent spoke
of little else. It had amazed him to perceive how eager he was to hear
her verdict, and at her first words, "I'm proud of you," the colour
rushed to his face. He would never have supposed that her approval
could excite him so much, or that her views would have such interest
for him. When the criticisms began to come in, it was delicious, as
they sat at breakfast, to open the yellow envelopes and devour the
long slips with their heads bent together; and then, after he had paid
a visit to the child, he would go up to his room and wish that the
corner of the garden that he overlooked contained the bench.

       *       *       *       *       *

Despite the seven rejections, and the opinion of Messrs. Cousins'
reader that the construction rendered the novel hopeless, the
criticisms were magnificent. The more important the paper, the less
qualified was the praise. The lighter periodicals were sometimes a
little "superior," but the authoritative organs were earnest and
cordial, and in no less powerful a pronouncement than _The Spectator_'s
the construction was called "masterly." _The Saturday Review_ repeated
that Mr. Kent's style was admirable; and _The Athenæum_, and _The Daily
Chronicle_, and _The Times_, and every paper to which a novelist looks,
described him as a realist of a high order.

       *       *       *       *       *

Delusions die hard, and the bitter reviewer, rending the talented young
author's book, is a companion myth to the sleepless editor poring
indefatigably over illegible manuscripts in quest of new talent. As
a matter of fact, it is only to his reviewers that the struggling
novelist ever owes a "thank you"; and Kent wrote with exultation and
confidence under the stimulus of the encouragement that he received.
_The Eye of the Beholder_ did not sell in thousands--you may lead
a donkey to good fiction, but you cannot make him read--but in a
moderate degree it was a success even with the public; and work had an
irresistible attraction in consequence.

Nevertheless, the question whether Cynthia's attitude was not perhaps
the one that had become most natural to her haunted Kent with growing
persistency. Had it been possible, he would have asked her. He found
himself wishful of a little tenderness from the woman who had once
wearied him--or from the woman who had sprung from her. She was
merciful, she was charming, she drew him towards her strongly; but
she talked to him as a sister might have done. The suggestion of a
honeymoon in their rambles now tantalised him by its illusiveness, and
he was piqued by the feeling that their intercourse was devoid even of
the incipient warmth of courtship.

It occurred to him that the book that he was writing might be dedicated
to her, and the idea pleased him vastly. It begot several other ideas
which he indulged. Roses were transferred from a shop-window to
Cynthia's bosom, and he sent to town for a story that she had said she
would like to read. Her surprise enchanted him, and he wished, as her
gaze rested on him, that he could surprise her oftener. The thought of
the evening to be passed beside her would come to him during the day,
and fill him with impatience to realise the picture again. Tea was no
sooner finished than they put on their hats, to wander where their
humour led them. Generally they returned at sunset; and sometimes they
returned under the stars. Supper would be awaiting them, and afterwards
they sat and talked--or dreamed, by the open window--until, all too
early, she gave him her hand and said "Good-night."

His heart followed her. Surely Kent comprehended that the feeling
that she awoke in him was more than admiration, more than pique, was
something infinitely different from the calm affection into which his
first fancy had subsided. He knew that the conditions that she had
imposed had aroused no ephemeral ardour, but had illumined in himself
as vividly as in her a development that possession had left obscure. He
knew he loved her--he loved her, and he was unworthy of her love. He
could not speak--that was for her--but his eyes besought, and the woman
read them. She made no sign. So speedily?--her pride forbade it. Her
manner towards him remained unchanged. But tenderness tugged at her
pride, and joy at what she read flooded her soul.

She would be contemptible to condone so soon, she told herself. He
would never know how he had made her suffer--never suspect how in
minutes the unutterable recollection that she had hidden for his sake
had wrenched and tortured her while she talked to him so easily; she
prayed that he never _might_ know! But to yield at his first sigh,
because he looked unhappy--how could she contemplate it?

Yet was his unhappiness her sole temptation? She trembled. Was she
despicable to long for his arm about her again? Was it degraded to feel
that even to-day----

In July Kent was lonelier than he had been hitherto. His wife could
seldom contrive to accompany him when he went out, and the excursions
were in any case curtailed. She seemed to care less for walking, and
there were little tiresome things that demanded her attention, or to
which, at least, she chose to give it. The child missed her, when he
woke at eight o'clock, if she was not at home to run in to him; she
wanted to practise on the wheezy piano; there was needle-work she was
compelled to do--always something!

The first time, Kent was merely disappointed, and came back early in
low spirits; but after the third of his solitary walks, misgivings
oppressed him with double weight. She was indifferent--no other
explanation was possible; she was indifferent, and no longer chose to
mask it!

"You're always busy," he told her at last. "I miss you dreadfully,
Cynthia. Is it so important that what you are doing should be gone on
with to-night?"

"I should like to finish it to-night," she said constrainedly--"yes.
I'm sorry you miss me, but the girl is clumsy with her needle; one
can't expect perfection."

"Yesterday something else prevented you. You have only been out with me
once this week."

"Surely more than that?" she said calmly; "twice, I think?"

"Once. You went with me on Tuesday. There's all day for the boy,
Cynthia; you might spare me the evening."

She bent lower over the pinafore, engrossed by it.

"It isn't only the boy, poor little chap! What a tyrant you'd make him
out! Yesterday I didn't feel like going; I was up to my eyes in a book."

Kent regarded her hungrily.

"I've very little claim on you, I know; but when I first came----"

"'Sh!" she said.... "What a mountain out of a molehill! If I haven't
been with you since Tuesday, we must have our walk together toil
morrow."

Kent found this very unsatisfactory. It was a concession, and he did
not seek her society as a concession. The walk, as usual latterly, was
short, and neither had the air of enjoying it very much. They roamed
along the dusty roads for the most part in silence, and for the rest
with platitudes. He could not avoid seeing that her companionship was
reluctantly accorded, and after their return, when she put out her hand
in the stereotyped "Good-night," he resolved not to beg her to go with
him any more.

He wasn't without a hope that, by refraining from the request, he might
move her to gratitude; but her avoidance of him did not diminish, and
when August came, he questioned whether he ought to leave her for a
while. The part that she had allotted to herself was plainly more than
she could sustain; to relieve her temporarily of his presence might be
the most considerate plan he could adopt? But the notion repelled him
violently. Though she was colder and ill at ease, she enchained him.
He had very little, and that little he was loath to lose. To look at
her across the room, unobserved, in their long pauses was not charged
with regret only--the bitterness had an indefinable joy as well; he
liked to note the effect of lamplight on her profile as she read, took
pleasure in her grace when she moved. To spare her what distress he
could, however, was his duty--yes, if she wished it, he would go! He
debated, where he sat smoking by the window one evening, whether she
would wish it if she knew how dear she had grown to him; whether if he
stammered to her something of his remorse----His pain had become almost
intolerable.

The hour was very still. In the west, on the faint azure, some smears
of flame colour lingered; then, while he stared out, faded, and hung
in the sky like curls of violet smoke. Over the myriad tints of green
came the low whinny of a horse. His wife sat sewing by the table, and,
turning, he watched the rhythmical movement of her hand. A passionate
longing assailed him to free his tongue from the weight that hampered
it and cry to her he loved her, though she might not care to hear. He
knocked the ashes from his pipe, and sauntered nearer.

"Aren't you going to smoke any more?" she said.

"Not now; I've been smoking all day."

"You should try to write without."

"I ought to--but I never could."

He touched the muslin on her lap diffidently--it _was_ on her lap.

"What are you making--another pinafore?"

"Yes. Do you think it's pretty?"

His hand lay close to her own; but she held the garment up to him, and
perforce he drew back.

It was not so easy to voice emotion as to feel it. Half an hour crept
away; shadows filled the room, and a grey peace brooded over the grass
outside. The tones deepened, and beyond a ridge of blackened boughs the
moon swam up. He decided that he would speak after supper. But after
supper, when she resumed her sewing, he felt that it would be useless.
He sat by the hearth, holding a paper that he did not read. Presently
the landlady was heard slipping the bolt in the passage, and Cynthia
pushed her basket from her, preparing to retire. With her change of
position, a reel escaped and rolled to the fender. Kent had not noticed
where it fell, but he became conscious, with a tremor, that she was
stooping by his side. In rising, it seemed to him that her figure
brushed his arm as if with a caress. She had drawn apart from him
before he could do more than wonder if it had been accidental, but now
he watched her with a curious intentness. She wandered about the room
a little aimlessly, righting a photograph, settling a flower in a glass
on the shelf. Having gathered up her work, she hesitated, and sought
some books; when she had chosen them, her arms were full and she could
not give him her hand.

But she did not say "Good-night," either. A she passed him on the
threshold, her face was lifted, and for a moment her gaze engulfed him.

When he dared to interpret it, Kent stole shakenly up the stairs. The
way was dark; but ahead--in a room of which the door had been left
ajar--his eager eyes saw Light.



THE END





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