Read CHAPTER VII - FRIENDS AND FOES of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

Something in the slightly mutinous expression of Lesley’s face seemed to strike her father. He looked at her fixedly for a minute or two, then smiled a little, and began to busy himself amongst his papers.

“You are very like your mother,” he said.

Lesley felt a thrill of strong indignation. How dared he speak of her mother to her without shame and grief and repentance? She flushed to her temples and cast down her eyes, for she was resolved to say nothing that she might afterwards regret.

“Won’t you sit down?” said Mr. Brooke, indifferently. “You must make yourself at home, you know. If you don’t, I’m afraid you will be uncomfortable. You will have to look after yourself.”

Lesley made no answer. She was thinking that it would be very disagreeable to look after herself. She did not know how clearly her face expressed her sentiments.

“You don’t much like the prospect, apparently?” said her father. “Well” for he was becoming a little provoked by her silence “what would you like? Do you want a maid?”

“Oh, no, thank you,” said Lesley, startled into speech.

“You can have one if you like, you know. Speak to your aunt about it. I suppose you have not been accustomed to wait upon yourself. Can you do your own hair?”

He spoke with a smile, half-indulgent, half-contemptuous. Lesley remembered, with intuitive comprehension of his mood, that her mother was singularly helpless, and never dressed without Dayman’s help, or brushed the soft tresses that were still so luxuriant and so fair. She rebelled at once against the unspoken criticism.

“I can do everything for myself,” she said; “I can do my own hair and mend my dresses and everything, because I am a schoolgirl; but of course when I am older I expect to have my own maid, as every lady does.”

Mr. Brooke’s short, hard laugh was distinctly unpleasing to her ear.

“I think you will find, when you are older,” he said, with an emphasis on the words, “that a great many ladies have to do without maids and very much better for them that they should but as I do not wish to stint you in anything, nor to oppose any fairly reasonable desire of yours, I will tell your aunt to get you a maid as soon as possible.”

“Oh, no, please!” cried Lesley, more alarmed than pleased by the prospect. “I really do not wish for one; I do not wish you to have the trouble the ex

She stopped short: she did not quite like to speak of the “expense.”

“It will not be much trouble to me if Sophia finds you a maid,” said her father drily; “and as to the expense, which is what I suppose you were going to allude to, I am quite well able to afford it. Otherwise I should not have proposed such a thing.”

Lesley felt herself snubbed, and did not like it, but again kept silence.

“I cannot promise you much amusement while you stay here,” Mr. Brooke went on, “but anything that you like to see or hear when you are in town can be easily provided for. I mean in the way of picture galleries, concerts, theatres things of that kind. Your Aunt Sophia will probably be too much occupied to take you to such places; but if you have a maid you will be pretty independent. I wonder she did not think of it herself. Of course a maid can go about with you, and so relieve her mind.”

“I am sorry to be troublesome,” said Lesley, stiffly.

He cast an amused glance at her. “You won’t trouble me, my dear. And Mrs. Romaine says that she will call and make your acquaintance. I dare say you will find her a help to you.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“A very old friend,” said Caspar Brooke, with decision. “Then there are the Kenyons, who live opposite. Ethel Kenyon is a clever girl a great favorite of mine. Her brother is a doctor.”

“And she lives with him and keeps his house?” said Lesley, growing interested.

“Well, she lives with him. I don’t know that she does much in the way of keeping his house. I hope I shall not shock your prejudices” how did he know that she had any prejudices? “if I tell you that she is an actress.”

“An actress!” Lesley flushed with surprise, even with a little horror, though at the same moment she was conscious of a movement of pleasant curiosity and a desire to know what an actress was like in private life.

“I thought you would be horrified,” said her father, looking at her with something very like satisfaction. “How could you be anything else? How long have you lived in a French convent? Eight or ten years, is it not? Ah, well, I can’t be surprised if you have imbibed the conventional idea of what you would call, I suppose, your class.” He gave a little shrug to his broad shoulders. “It can’t be helped now. You must make yourself as happy as you can, my poor child, as long as you are here, and console yourself with visions of your happy future at the Courtleroys’.”

It was exactly what Lesley intended to do, and yet she felt hurt by the slightly contemptuous pity of his tone.

“I have no doubt that I shall be very happy,” she said, steadying her voice as well as she could; “and I hope that you will not concern yourself about me.”

“I should not have time to do so if I wished,” he answered coolly. “I never concern myself about anything but my proper business, which is not to look after girls of eighteen

“Then why did you send for me here?” she asked, with lightning rapidity.

The question seemed to surprise him. He raised his eyebrows as he looked at her.

“That was a family arrangement made many years ago,” he answered at last deliberately. “And I think it was a wise one. There is no reason why you should grow up in utter ignorance of your father. And I prefer you to come when you have arrived at something like a reasonable age, rather than when you were quite a child. As you are at a reasonable age, Lesley,” with a lightening of his tones, “I suppose you have some tastes, some inclinations, of your own? What are they?”

It must have been obstinacy that prompted Lesley’s answer. “I have no taste,” she said, looking down. “No inclinations.”

“Are you not fond of music?”

“I play a little a very little.”

“Oh.” The tone was one of disappointment. “Art? Drawing carving modelling any of the fads young ladies are so fond of now-a-days?”

“No.”

“Do you read much?”

“No.”

“What do you do, then?”

“I can embroider a little,” said Lesley, calmly. “The nuns taught me. And I can dance.”

She raised her eyes and studied the stormy expressions that flitted one after another across her fathers face. She knew that she had taken a delight in provoking him, and she wondered whether he was not going to retaliate by an angry word. But after a few moments pause he only said

“Would you like any lessons in singing or drawing now that you are in town?”

The offer was a temptation to Lesley. Yes, she would dearly have liked some good singing lessons; her mother even had suggested that she should take them while she was in London. She was the fortunate possessor of a voice that was worth cultivating, and she longed to make the best of her time. But she had come with the notion that her father was poor, and that she must not be an unnecessary expense to him; and this idea had not been counteracted by any appearance of luxury or lavish expenditure in her London home. The furniture, except in her own room, was heavy, old-fashioned, and decidedly shabby. Her father seemed to work very hard. He had already promised her a maid; and Lesley could not bear to ask him for anything else. So she answered

“No, I think not, thank you.”

There might be generosity, but there was also some resentment and hot temper at the bottom of Lesleys reply. This was a fact, however, that her father did not discern. He merely paused for a moment, nodded his head once or twice, and seemed slightly disconcerted. Then he said

“Very well; do just as you like. Your aunt has a Mudie subscription, I believe” what this meant Lesley had not the faintest idea “and you will find books in the library, and a piano in the drawing-room. You must ask for anything you want.” As if that was likely, Lesley thought! “I hope you will make friends and be comfortable. And a ” he paused, and hesitated in his speech as he went on “a I hope your mother Lady Alice was well when you left her?”

“Pretty well,” Lesley answered, dropping her eyes.

“Was she going to Scotland for the winter?”

“I think so.”

“Oh.” He seemed satisfied with the answer. “By the way, Lesley, are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant. Mamma would not allow the Sisters to talk to me about religion. I always drove to the English Church on Sundays.”

“Oh, very well. Do as you please. There are plenty of churches near us. But you need not bring more clergy than you can help to the house,” said Brooke, with a peculiar smile. “I am not very fond of the Blacks. I am more of a Red myself, you know.”

“A Red?” Lesley asked, helplessly.

“A Red Republican Radical Socialist anything you like,” said Brooke, laughing outright. “You didn’t read the papers in your convent, I suppose. You had better begin to study them straight away. It will be a pleasant change from the Lives of the Saints. And now, if we have finished all that we have to say I am rather busy, and

“Oh, I beg your pardon: I will go,” said Lesley, rising at once. “I had no wish to intrude upon you,” she added, with an attempt to be dignified and womanly, which she felt to be a miserable failure. Her father simply nodded in reply, took up his pen, and allowed her to leave the room.

But when she had gone, he put the pen down and sat back in his chair, musing. Lesley had surprised him a little. She had more force and fire in her composition than he had expected to find. She was, as he had said, very like her mother in face and figure; and the minute differences of line and contour that showed Lesley to be strong where Lady Alice had been weak, original where Lady Alice had been most conventional, intellectual where Lady Alice had been only intelligent, were not perceptible at first sight even to a practised observer of men and women like Caspar Brooke. But the flash of her brown eyes, so like his own, and an occasional intonation in her voice, had told him something. She was in arms against him, so much he felt; and she had more individuality than her mother, in spite of her ignorance. It was a pity that her education had been so much neglected! Manlike, Caspar Brooke took literally every word that she had uttered; and reproached himself for having allowed his foolish, frivolous wife to bring up his daughter in a place where she had been taught nothing but embroidery and dancing.

“It is a pity,” he reflected; “but we cannot alter the matter now. The poor girl will feel herself sadly out of place in this house, I fear; but perhaps it won’t do her any harm. She may be a better woman all her life the idle, selfish, self-indulgent life that she is bound by all her traditions and her upbringing to lead for having seen for a few months what honest work is like. She is too handsome not to marry well: let us only hope that Alice won’t secure a duke for her. She will if she can; and I well, I haven’t much opinion of dukes.” And so with a laugh and a shrug, Caspar Brooke returned to his work.

Lesley went upstairs to the drawing-room with burning cheeks and a lump in her throat. She was offended by her father’s manner towards her, although she could not but acknowledge that in essentials he had seemed wishful to be kind. And she knew that she had seemed ungracious and had felt resentful. But the resentment, she assured herself, was all on her mother’s account. If he had treated Lady Alice as he had treated Lady Alice’s daughter with hardly concealed contempt, with the scornful indifference of one looking down from a superior height Lesley did not wonder that her mother had left him. It was a manner which had never been displayed to her before, and she said to herself that it was horribly discourteous. And the worst of it was that it did not seem to be directed to herself alone: it included her friends the nuns, her mother, her mother’s family, and all the circle of aristocratic relations to which she belonged. She was despised as part of the class which he despised; and it was difficult for her to understand the situation.

It would have been easier if she could have set her father down as a mere boor, without refinement or intelligence; but there was one item in her impression of him which she could not reconcile with a want of culture. She was keenly sensitive to sound; and voices were important to her in her judgment of acquaintances. Now, Caspar Brooke had a delightful voice. It was low, musical, and finely modulated: his accent, moreover, was particularly delicate and refined. Lesley had, without knowing it, the same charmingly modulated intonation; and her father’s voice was instinctively familiar to her. People had often said that it was hard to dislike a man with a voice like Caspar Brooke’s; and Lesley was not insensible to its fascination. No, he could not be a mere insensate clod, with that pleasant and cultivated voice, she decided to herself; but he might be something worse a heartless man of the world, who cared for nothing but himself and his own low ambitions: not a man who was worthy to be the husband of a gentle, loving, highly-organized woman like the daughter of Lord Courtleroy.

With a deep sigh, Lesley ceased at last to meditate, and began to look about her. The room was large and lofty, and had three windows, opening upon a balcony. There were more books than Lesley had usually seen in drawing-rooms, and there was a very handsome Broadwood grand piano. The furniture was mostly of the solid type, handsome enough, but very heavy. Lesley, noticed, however, that the prints and paintings on the walls were really good, and that there was some valuable china on the mantlepiece. It was not an ugly room after all, and it displayed signs of culture on the part of its occupants; but Lesley turned from it with an impatient little shake of her head, expressive of deep disgust. And, indeed, it was sufficiently unlike the rooms to which she was accustomed to cause her considerable disappointment.

She drew aside the curtains which hung from the archway between the back room and the front; and here her brow cleared. The one wide window looked out on a space of green grass and trees, inexpressibly refreshing to Lesley’s eye. The walls were lined with rows of books, from floor to ceiling; and some easy chairs and small tables gave a look of comfort and purpose to the room. It was Mr. Brooke’s library, though not the room in which he did his work. That was chiefly done in his little den downstairs, or at his office in the city.

Lesley looked at the books with great and increasing pleasure. Here, indeed, was a joy of which her father could not rob her. No one would take any notice of what she read. She could “browse undisturbed” over the whole field of English literature if she were so minded. And the prospect was a delight.

She sauntered back into the front room, and stood at one of the windows for a minute or two. Her attention was speedily attracted by a little pantomime at a window opposite her own a drawing-room window, too, with a balcony before it, like the window at which she stood. A young lady in a white dress was talking to a black poodle, who was standing on his hind-legs, and a young man was balancing a bit of biscuit on the dog’s nose. That was all. But the young lady was so extremely pretty, and the young man looked so cheerful and bright, and the poodle was such an extremely fascinating dog, that Lesley sighed in very envy of the felicity of all three. And it never crossed her mind that the pretty girl in the white costume, who had such a simple and natural look, could possibly be Ethel Kenyon, the actress, of whom her father had been speaking half an hour before. Yet such was the case.

She was still observing the figures at the window when the door opened, and Sarah announced a visitor.

“Mrs. Romaine, please, ma’am.”

Whereupon Lesley remembered the “very old friend” whom Mr. Brooke had mentioned. But was this the very old friend? This young and fashionably-dressed woman, with short, dark, curling hair, and a white veil to enhance the whiteness of her complexion. Mrs. Romaine was very handsome, without a doubt, but Lesley did not like her.

“Miss Brooke?” said the visitor, in a silvery, flute-like voice, which the girl could not but admire. “You will forgive me for calling so soon? My old friendship with Mr. Brooke whom I have known for years made me anxious to see you, dear, as soon as possible. You will receive me also as a friend, I hope

There could be but one answer. Lesley was delighted.

“I have heard so much of you,” murmured Mrs. Romaine, sitting down with the girl’s hand in hers and gazing into her face with liquid, dreamy eyes; “and I wanted to know if I could not be of use to you. Dear Miss Brooke is so much occupied. I may call you Lesley, may I not? Dear Lesley, it will be the greatest possible pleasure to me to assist you in any way.”

“Thank you very much,” said Lesley, rather lamely.

“Dear,” said Mrs. Romaine, “may I speak to you frankly? I knew your dear mother many years ago

Lesley turned upon her with suddenly kindled eyes.

“You knew mamma?”

“I did, indeed, and I cannot express to you what my feeling was for her. Love, admiration these seem cold words: worship, Lesley, expresses more nearly what I felt! Can you wonder that I hasten to welcome her daughter to her home?”

Lesley’s innocent heart warmed to the new-comer at once. How unjust she had been, she thought, to shrink for a moment from the visitor because of her youthful and ultra-fashionable appearance. Had she not found a friend? a woman who loved her mother?

Mrs. Romaine saw the impression that she had made, and did not try to deepen it just then. She went on more lightly:

“I am a widow, you know, and I live in Russell Square. I hope that you will come and see me sometimes. Drop in whenever you like, and if there is anything that I can do for you count on me. You will want to go shopping or making calls sometimes when Miss Brooke is too busy to take you; then you must come to me. And how was dear Lady Alice when you saw her last?”

Lesley did not like these effusive expressions of affection. But she answered, gently

“Mamma was quite well, thank you.” Which answer did not give Mrs. Romaine all the information that she desired.

“I have been looking at a pretty poodle dog over the way,” she went on, conscious of some desire to change the subject. “Its mistress has been putting it through all sorts of tricks ah, there it is again!”

“The Kenyons’ dog?” said Mrs. Romaine, smiling, as she looked at the little group which had once more formed itself upon the balcony. “Oh, I see. That is young Mr. Kenyon, the doctor, a great friend of your father’s; and that is his sister, Ethel Kenyon, the actress.”

“My father spoke about her,” said Lesley.

“Oh, yes, he admires her very much. He wrote a long article about her in the Tribune once. Do you see the Tribune regularly? Your dear father writes a great deal for it, and I am sure you must appreciate his exquisite writing.”

“Do you know Miss Kenyon too?”

“Oh, yes, I know her very well. And I expect to know her better very soon, because I suppose we shall be connections before long.”

Lesley looked a smiling inquiry.

“I have a younger brother my brother Oliver,” said Mrs. Romaine, with a little laugh; “and younger brothers, dear, have a knack of falling in love. He has fallen in love with Ethel, who is really a nice girl, as well as a pretty and a clever girl, and I believe they will be married by and by.”

Lesley could not have said why, but somehow at that moment she was distinctly glad of the fact.