Read CHAPTER V - OLIVER of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on

Mr. Brooke had not long quitted Mrs. Romaine’s drawing-room when it was entered by another man, whose personal resemblance to Mrs. Romaine herself was so striking that there could be little doubt as to their close relationship to one another. It was one of those curious likenesses that exist and thrive upon difference. Rosalind was not tall, and she was undeniably plump; while her younger brother, Oliver Trent, was above middle height, and of a spare habit. The creamy white of Mrs. Romaine’s complexion had turned to deadly pallor in Oliver’s thin, hairless face: and her most striking features were accentuated, and even exaggerated in his. Her arched and mobile eyebrows, her dark eyes, her broad nostrils, curved mouth, and finely-shaped chin, were all to be found, with a subtle unlikeness, in Oliver’s face, and the jetty hair, short as it was on the man’s head, grew low down on the brow and the nape of the neck exactly as hers did although this resemblance was obscured by the fact that Rosalind wore a fringe, and carefully curled all the short hairs at the back of her head.

The greatest difference of all lay in the expression of the two faces. Mrs. Romaine had certainly no frankness in her countenance, but she had plenty of smiling pleasantness and play of emotion. Oliver’s face was like a sullen mask: it was motionless, stolid even, and unamiable. There were people who raved about his beauty, and nicknamed him Antinous and Adonis. But these were not physiognomists....

Mrs. Romaine had two brothers, both some years younger than herself. Oliver, the youngest and her favorite, was about thirty, and called himself a barrister. As he had no briefs, however, it was currently reported that he lived by means of light literature, play, and judicious sponging upon his sister. The elder brother, Francis, was a ne’er-do-weel, and seldom appeared upon the scene. When he did appear, it was always a sign of trouble and want of cash.

“So you have had Brooke here again?” Oliver inquired.

“How did you know, Noll?”

She turned her dark eyes upon him rather anxiously. Oliver’s views and opinions were of consequence to her.

“I saw him come in. I was coming up, but I turned round again and went away. Had a smoke in the Square till I saw him come out. Didn’t want to spoil your little game, whatever it was.”

He spoke with a kind of soft drawl, not unpleasing to the ear at first, but irritating if too long continued. It seemed to irritate his sister now. She tapped impatiently on the floor with her toe as she replied

“How vulgar you are sometimes, Oliver! But all society is vulgar now-a-days, and I suppose one ought not to complain. I have no ’little game,’ as you express it, and there was not the slightest need for you to have stayed away.”

Oliver was sitting on a sofa, with his elbows on his knees and the tips of his long white fingers meeting each other. When Mrs. Romaine ended her petulant little speech he turned his dark eyes upon her and smiled. He said nothing, however, and his silence offended his sister even more than his speech.

“It is easy to see that you do not believe me,” she said, “and I think it is very rude of you to be so sceptical. If you have any remarks to make on the subject pray make them at once.”

“My dear Rosy, I have no remarks to make at all,” said Oliver, easily. “Take your own way and I shall take mine. You are good enough to give me plenty of rope, and I should be uncivil indeed if I commented on the length of yours.”

Mrs. Romaine had been moving restlessly to and fro: she now stood still, on the hearthrug, her hands clasped before her, her face turned attentively towards her brother. Evidently she was struck by his words.

“If you would speak out,” she said at last, her smooth voice vibrating as if he had touched some chord of passion which was usually hushed to silence, “I should know better what you mean. You deal too much in hints and insinuations. You have said things of this sort before. I must know what you mean.”

“Come, Rosy,” said Oliver, rising from his low seat and confronting her, “don’t be so tragic so intense. Plump little women like you shouldn’t go in for tragedy. Smile, Rosy; it is your metier to smile. You have won a good many games by smiling. You must smile on now to the bitter end.”

He smiled himself as he looked at her an unpleasant smile, with thin lips drawn back from white sharp looking teeth, which gave him the air of a snarling dog. Mrs. Romaine’s face belied his words. It was tragic enough, intense enough, for a woman who had known mortal agony; the suggestion of placidity usually given by her smiling lips and rounded unwrinkled cheeks had disappeared; she might have stood for an impersonation of sorrow and despair. Oliver’s mocking voice recalled her to herself.

“A very good pose, Rosalind. The Tragic Muse indeed. Are you going to rival Ethel Kenyon? I am afraid it is rather late for you to go on the stage, that’s all. Let me see: you have touched forty, have you not? I would acknowledge only thirty-nine if I were you. There is more than a year’s difference between thirty-nine and forty.”

The strained muscles of her face relaxed: she made a little impatient gesture with her hands, then turned to the fireplace, and with one arm upon the mantelpiece, looked down into the fire.

“You drive me nearly mad sometimes, Oliver,” she said, in a low, passionate voice, “by your habit of saying only half a thing at a time. I know well enough that you are remonstrating with me now: that you disapprove of something and will not tell me what. By and by, if I am in trouble or perplexity, you will turn round upon me and say that you warned me told me that you disapproved or something of that sort. You always do it, and it is not fair. Innuendoes are not warnings.”

“My dear Rosalind,” said her brother, coolly, “I hope I know my place. I’m ten years younger than you are, and have been at various times much indebted to your generosity. It does not become me to take exception at anything that girls may like to do.”

He had the exasperating habit of treating kindness to himself with an air of condescension, as if he conferred a favor by accepting benefits. His smile of superiority hurt Mrs. Romaine.

“When you adopt that tone, Oliver, I hate you!” she cried.

“You are very impulsive, Rosy in spite of your years,” said Oliver, with his usual quietness. “I assure you I do not wish to interfere; and you must set it down to brotherly affection if I sometimes feel inclined to wonder what you mean to do.”

“To do?” she queried, looking round at him.

“Yes, to do. I don’t understand you, that is all. Of course, it is not necessary that I should understand.”

Mrs. Romaine did not often change color, but she flushed scarlet now, and was glad for a moment that the room was almost dark. Yet, as her brother stood close to her, and the fire was sending up fitful flashes of ruddy light, she felt certain, on reflection, that he had seen that blush. This certainly imparted some humility to her voice as she spoke again.

“You know, Oliver, that I always like you to approve of what I am doing. I like you to understand. Of course, whatever I do, it is partly for your sake.”

“Is it?” said Oliver, with a laugh. “I shouldn’t have thought it. As far as I can judge, you have been very careful to please yourself all through.”

There was a little silence. Then she said, in a low tone,

How have I pleased myself, I should like to know?”

“Do you want a plain statement of facts? Well, my dear, you know them as well as I do, though perhaps you do not know the light in which they present themselves to me. We three, you and Francis and I, were left to earn our own living at a somewhat early age. Francis became a banker’s clerk, and you took to literature and governessing and general popularity. By a very clever stroke you managed to induce Professor Romaine to marry you. He was fifty and you were twenty-four. You did very well for yourself twisted him round your little finger, and got him to leave you all his money; but really I do not see how this could be said to be for my sake.”

“Then you are very ungrateful, Oliver. You were a boy of fourteen when I married, and what would you have done but for Mr. Romaine and myself?”

“You forget, my dear,” said Oliver, smoothly, “that I was never exactly dependent on you for a livelihood. I took scholarships at school and college, and there was a certain sum of money invested in the Funds for my other expenses. It was perhaps not a large sum, but it was enough. I have to thank you for some very pleasant weeks at your house during the holidays; but there was really no necessity for you to marry Peter Romaine in order to provide for my holidays.”

She winced under his tone of banter, but did not speak. She seemed resolved to let him say what he liked. Rosalind Romaine might not be perfect in all relations of life, but she was certainly a good sister.

“When a few years had elapsed,” her brother went on, in a light narrative tone, “I’ll grant that Romaine was of considerable service to us. He got Francis out of several scrapes, and he shoved me into a Government office, where the duties are not particularly onerous. Oh, yes, I owe some thanks to Romaine.”

“And none to me for marrying him?”

Oliver laughed. “My dear Rosy,” he said, “I have mentioned before that I consider you married him to please yourself.”

She shrugged her shoulders, but said nothing more.

“Romaine became useful to me, of course,” said Oliver, reflectively; “and then came the first extraordinary hitch. We met the Brookes how many years ago nearly twelve, I suppose; and you formed a gushing friendship with Lady Alice Brooke and her husband, especially with her husband.”

“Why do you rake up these old stories?”

“Because I want to understand your position. You amazed me then, and you seem more than ever disposed to amaze me now. You were attracted by Caspar Brooke heaven knows why! and you made no secret of the fact. You liked the man, and he liked you. I don’t know how far the friendship went

“There was nothing in it but the most ordinary, innocent acquaintanceship!”

“Lady Alice did not think so. Lady Alice made a devil of a row about it, as far as I understand. Everyone who knows the story blames you, Rosalind, for the quarrel and separation between husband and wife.”

“It was not my fault.”

“Oh, was it not? Well, perhaps not. At any rate, the husband and wife separated quietly, twelve years ago. I don’t know whether you hoped that Brooke would give his wife any justification for her suspicions

“Oliver, you are brutal! You insult me! I have never given you reason to think so ill of me.”

“I think of you,” said Oliver, slowly, “only as I think of all women. I don’t suppose you are better or worse than the rest. As it happened the whole thing seemed to die down after that separation. Romaine whisked you off to Calcutta with him. Then he fell ill, and you had to nurse him: you and your friend Brooke did not often meet. Then your husband died, after a long illness, and you came here again three years ago for what object?”

“I had no object but that of living in a part of London which was familiar to me and of being amongst friends. You have no right at all to call me to account in this way.”

“So I said a few minutes ago. But you remarked that you wished me to understand and approve of your proceedings. I am only trying to get at your motives if you have any.”

Mrs. Romaine was tempted to say that she had no motives. But she did not think that Oliver would believe her.

“Here you are,” he went on, in his soft, slow voice, “in friendly I might say familiar relations with this man again. His wife is still living, and as bitter against him as ever, but not likely to give him any pretext for a divorce. You cannot marry him. Why do you provoke people to say ill-natured things about you by continuing so aimless a friendship?”

“I don’t think that any one would take the trouble of saying ill-natured things about me, Oliver,” said Mrs. Romaine, forcing a smile. “We are too conventional, too advanced, now-a-days, for that kind of thing. Friendship between a man and woman is by no means the abnormal and unheard-of thing that it used to be.”

“You are not so free as you think you are. You are still good-looking still young. You cannot afford to defy the world. And I cannot afford to defy it either. I don’t mind a reasonable amount of laxity, but I do not want my sister to be the heroine of a scandal.”

“I think you might trust me to take care of myself.”

“I would not say a word if Brooke were a widower. Although I don’t like him, I acknowledge that he is the sort of big blundering brute that suits some women. But there’s no chance with him, so why should you make a fool of yourself?”

Mrs. Romaine turned round with a fierce little gesture of contradiction, but restrained herself, and did not speak for a minute or two.

“What do you want me to do?” she said at last, in rather a breathless kind of way.

“Well, my dear Rosy, since you ask me, I should say that it would be far wiser to drop Brooke’s acquaintance.”

“That is impossible.”

“And why impossible?”

“His daughter is coming to him for a year: he has been here to-night to ask me to call on her to chaperone her sometimes.”

“Is the man a fool?” said Oliver.

“I think,” Mrs. Romaine answered, somewhat unsteadily, “that Mr. Brooke never knew exactly that his wife was jealous of me.”

“Oh, that’s too much to say. He must have known.”

“I am pretty sure that he did not. From things that he has said to me, I feel certain that he attributed only a passing irritation to her on my account. You do not believe me, Oliver; but I think that he is perfectly ignorant of the real cause of her leaving him.”

“And you know it?”

“I know it, and Lady Alice knows it: no one else.”

“What was it, then? You mean more than simple jealousy, I see.”

“Yes, but I am not obliged to tell you what it was.”

“Oh, no. Keep your own counsel, by all means. But you are placing yourself in a very risky position. Lady Alice Brooke knows something that would, I suppose, compromise you in the world’s eyes, if it were generally known. Her daughter is coming to Brooke’s house. You mean you seriously mean to go to his house and visit this girl? thereby offending her mother (who is sure to hear of the visit) and bringing down the ill-will of all the Courtleroys upon your head? Have you no regard for your character and your position in the world? You are risking both, and you have nothing to gain.”

“Yes, I have.”

“What is it?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“You mean you will not tell me?”

“Perhaps so.”

Oliver Trent deliberately took a match-box from the mantelpiece, struck a match, and lighted a wax candle. “I should like to see your face,” he said.

Rosalind looked at him fully and steadily for a few seconds; then her eyelids fell, and for the second time that evening the color mounted in her pale cheeks.

“I think that I know the truth,” said her brother, composedly, after a careful study of her face. “You are mad, Rosalind, and you will live to rue that madness.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, turning away from the light of the candle. “You speak in riddles.”

“I will speak in riddles, then, no longer. I will be very plain with you. Rosalind, you are in love with Caspar Brooke.”

She sank down on a low chair as if her limbs would support her no longer and rested her face upon her hands.

“No,” she said, in a low voice, “you are wrong: I do not love Caspar Brooke.”

“What other motive can you have?”

She waited for a moment, and then said, still softly

“I suppose I may as well tell you. I loved him once. In those first days of our acquaintance when he was disappointed in his wife and seeking for sympathy elsewhere I thought that he cared for me. I was mistaken. Oliver, can you keep my secret? No other soul in the world knows of this from me but you. I told him my love. I wrote to him a wild, mad letter offering to fly to the ends of the earth with him if he would go.”

Oliver stared at her as if he could not believe his ears.

“And what answer did he make?”

“He made none because he never saw it. That letter fell into Lady Alice’s hands. She did not know that it was the first that had been written: she took it to be one of a series. She wrote a short note to me about it; and the next thing I heard was that she had gone. But I know that he never saw that letter of mine.”

“All this,” said Oliver, in a hard contemptuous voice, “does not explain your present line of conduct.”

She lifted her face from her hands. “Yes, it does,” she said quickly. “If you were a woman you would understand! Do you think I want her to come back to him? No, if he cannot make me happy, he shall not be happy at her side. I shall never forgive her for the words she wrote to me! If her daughter comes, Oliver, it is all the more reason why I should be here, ready to nip any notion of reconciliation in the bud. It is hate, not love, that dominates me: it is in my hatred for Caspar Brooke’s wife that you must seek the explanation of my actions. Now, do you understand?”

“I understand enough,” said Oliver, drily.

“And you will not interfere?”

“For the present I will not interfere. But I will not bind myself. I must see more of what you are doing before I make any promises. Whatever you do, you must not compromise yourself or me.”

“Hate!” he repeated to himself scornfully as he left the house at a somewhat later hour in the evening. “It is all very well to put it down to her hate for Lady Alice. She is still in love with Brooke; and that is the beginning and the end of it.”

And Oliver was not far wrong.