Read CHAPTER IX - THE ELDER BROTHER of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

Oliver turned round sharply, with an air of visible impatience. He knew the voice well enough, and the moon-light left him no doubt as to the linéaments of a face with which he was quite familiar. Francis Trent was not unlike either Rosalind or Oliver; but of the two he resembled his sister rather than his younger brother. True, he did not possess her beauty, but he had her sleepy eyes, her type of feature, her colorless skin, and jetty hair. The colorlessness had degenerated, however, into an unhealthy pallor, and the stubbly beard which covered his cheeks and chin did not improve his appearance. Besides he was terribly out at elbows; his coat was green with age, his boots were broken, and his cuffs frayed and soiled. His hat was unnaturally shiny, and dented in two or three places. Altogether he looked as unlike a brother of the immaculate Oliver and the exquisitely-dressed Rosalind as could possibly have been found for either in the world of London.

Oliver surveyed him with polite disgust, and waved him back a little.

“You have been drinking coarse brandy, Francis,” he said, coolly; “and you have been smoking bad tobacco. I wish you would consult my susceptibilities on those points when you come to interview me. You would really find it pleasanter in the end.”

“Where am I to find the money to consult your susceptibilities with?” asked the man, with a burst of what seemed like very genuine feeling. “Will you provide me with it? If you don’t, what remains for me but to drink British brandy and smoke strong shag? I must drink something I must smoke something. Will you pay the piper if I go to more expense?”

“Not if you talk so loudly as to attract the attention of every passing policeman,” said Oliver, dryly. “If you want to talk to me, as you say you do, keep quiet please.”

Francis Trent growled something like an imprecation on his brother below his breath, and then went on in a lowered tone.

“It’s easy for you to talk. You are not saddled by a wife and a lot of debts. You haven’t to keep out of the way for fear you should be wanted by the police although you have not been very particular about keeping your hands clean after all. But you’ve been the lucky dog and I the unlucky one, and this is the result.”

“If you are going to be abusive, my good friend,” said Oliver, calmly, “I shall turn round and go home again. If you will keep a civil tongue in your head I don’t mind listening to you for five minutes. What have you got to say?”

The man was evidently in a state of only half-repressed irritation. His brows twitched, he gnawed savagely at his beard, he looked at Oliver with furtive hate from under his heavy dark brows. But the younger man’s cool tones seemed to possess the power of keeping him in check. He made a visible effort to calm himself as he replied,

“You needn’t be so down on me, Oliver. You must allow for a fellow’s feeling a little out of sorts when he’s kept waiting about here for hours. I am convinced that Rosalind saw me this afternoon; I’m certain that you saw me to-night. If I had not caught you now I would have gone to the front door and hammered at it till one of you came out.”

“And you think that you would have advanced your cause thereby?”

“Why, hang it all, Oliver, one would think that I was not your own flesh and blood! Have you no natural affection left?”

“Not much. Natural affection is a mistake. You need not count on that with me.”

“You always were a cold-blooded, half-hearted sort of a fellow. Not one to help a friend, or even a brother,” said Francis, sullenly.

“Suppose you come to the point,” remarked Oliver. “It is getting on to eleven o’clock. I really can’t stand here all night.”

“It is nothing to you that I have stood here for hours already.”

“No, it is not.” There was a touch of sharpness in his tone. “I am in no mood for sentiment. Say what you have to say and get done with it, or I shall leave you.”

“Well,” said Francis, after a pause, in which he was perhaps estimating his own powers of persuasion against his brother’s powers of resistance, and coming to the conclusion that it was not worth his while to contend with him any longer, “I have come to say this. I am hard up devilish hard up. But that’s not all. It is not enough to offer me a five-pound note or a ten-pound note and tell me to spend it as I please. I want something definite. You seem to have plenty of money: I have none. I want an allowance, or else a sum of money down, sufficient to take Mary and myself to the Colonies. I don’t think that is much to ask.”

“Don’t you?”

The icy tone which Oliver assumed exasperated his brother.

“No, be hanged if I think it is!” he said vehemently, though still in lowered tones. “I want two hundred a year it’s little enough: or two or three thousand on the nail. Give me that, and I’ll not trouble you or Rosy any more.”

“And where do you suppose that I’m to get two or three thousand pounds, or two hundred a year?”

“I don’t care where you get it, so long as you hand it over to me.”

“Very sorry I can’t oblige you,” said Oliver, nonchalantly “but as your proposition is a perfect impossibility, I don’t see my way to saying anything else.”

“You think I don’t mean it, do you?” growled his brother. “I tell you that I will have it. And if I don’t have it I’ll not hold my tongue any longer. I’ll ruin you.”

“Don’t talk in that melodramatic way,” said Oliver, quietly. But his lip twitched a little as if something had touched him unpleasantly. “You know very well that you have no more power of ruining me than you have of flying to yonder moon. You can’t substantiate any of your stories. You can blacken me in the eyes of a few persons who know me, perhaps; but really I doubt your power of doing that. People wouldn’t believe you, you know; and they would believe me. There is so much moral power in a good hat and patent leather boots.”

“Do you dare to trifle with me” the man was beginning, furiously, but Oliver checked him with a slight pressure on his arm, and went on suavely.

“All this threatening sort of business is out of date, as you ought to know. One would think that you had been to the Surrey-side Theatres, lately, or the Porte St. Martin, and taken lessons of a stage villain. ‘Beware! I will be revenged,’ and all that sort of thing. It doesn’t go down now, you know. The fact is this you can’t do me any harm, you can only harm yourself; and I think you had better be advised by me and hold your tongue.”

Francis was silent for a minute or two. He was evidently impressed by Oliver’s manner.

“You’re right in one way,” he said, in a much more subdued tone. “People wouldn’t listen to me because I am so badly dressed I look so poor. But that could be remedied. A new suit of clothes might make all the difference, Oliver. And then we could see whether some people would believe me or not!”

“And what difference will it make to me if people did believe you?” said Oliver, slowly.

The man stared at him open-mouthed. Oliver was taking a view of things which was unknown to Francis.

“Well,” he answered, “considering that you and most of my relations and friends have cut me for the last ten years because I got into trouble over a few accounts at the bank and considering the sorry figure I cut now in consequence I don’t know why you should be so careless of the possibility of partaking my downfall! I should say that it would be rather worse for you than it has been for me; and it hasn’t been very nice for me, I can assure you!”

Oliver’s face grew a trifle paler, but his voice was as smooth as ever when he began to speak.

“Now, look here, Francis,” he said, “I’ll be open and plain with you. Of course, I know what you are alluding to; it would be weakness to pretend that I did not. But I assure you that you are on the wrong track. In your case you were found to have embezzled money, falsified accounts, and played the devil with old Lawson’s affairs generally. You were prosecuted for it, and the whole case was in the papers. You got off on some technical point, but everybody knew that you were guilty, and everybody cut you dead except, you will remember, your brother and sister, who continued to give you money, and were exceedingly kind to you. You were publicly disgraced, and there was no way of hushing the matter up at all. I am sorry to be obliged to put things so disagreeably

“Go on! You needn’t apologize,” said Francis, with a rather husky laugh. “I know it all as well as you do. Go on.”

“I wish to point out the difference between our positions,” said Oliver, calmly. “I did something a little shady myself, when I was a lad of twenty at your instigation, mind; I signed old Romaine’s name in the wrong place, didn’t I? Old Romaine found it out, kept the thing quiet, and said that he had given me the money. I expressed my regret, and the matter blew over. What can you make out of that story?”

He spoke very quietly, but there was a watchfulness in his eye, a slight twitching of his nostril, which proved him to be not entirely at his ease. His elder brother laughed aloud.

“If that were all!” he said. “But you forget how base the action would seem if all the circumstances were known! how black the treachery and ingratitude to a man who was, after all, your benefactor. Rosalind never knew of that little episode, I believe? And she has a good deal of respect for her husband’s memory. I should like to see what she would say about it.”

“She would not believe you, my dear boy.”

“But if I could prove it? If I had in my possession a full confession signed by yourself the confession that Romaine insisted on, you will remember? What effect would that have upon her mind? And there was that other business, you know, about Mary’s sister, whom you lured away from her home and ruined. She is dead, but Mary is alive and can bear witness against you. How would you like these facts blazoned abroad and brought home to the mind of the pretty girl whom I saw you kissing a little while ago on the steps of a house in Upper Woburn Place? She is a Miss Kenyon, I know: an actress; I have heard all about her. Her brother is a doctor; and she has twenty thousand pounds in her own right.”

“You do seem, indeed, to know everything,” said Oliver, with a sneer.

“I make it my business to know everything about you. You’ve been so confoundedly mean of late that I had begun to understand that I must put the screw on you. And I warn you, if you don’t give me what I ask, or promise to do so within a reasonable time, I shall first go to Rosalind, and then to these Kenyon people, and Caspar Brooke, and all these other friends of yours, and see what they will give me for your secrets.”

“They’ll kick you out of the house, and you’ll be called a fool for your pains,” said the younger man, furiously.

“No, I don’t think so. Not if I play my game properly. You are engaged to Miss Kenyon, are you not?” Oliver stood silent.

“I tell you that she shall never marry you in ignorance of your past unless you shut my mouth first. And you are the best judge of whether she will marry you at all or not, when she knows what we know.”

Then the two brothers were both silent for a little while. Oliver stood frowning, tracing a pattern on the pavement with the toe of his polished boot, and gazing at it. He was evidently considering the situation. Francis stood with his back to the railings, his eyes fixed, with a somewhat crafty look, upon his brother’s face. He was not yet sure that his long-cherished scheme for extracting money from Oliver would succeed. He believed that it would; but there was never any counting upon Oliver. Astute as Francis considered himself (in spite of his failure in the world), Oliver was astuter still.

Presently Oliver looked up and met Francis’ fixed gaze. He started a little, and made an odd grimace, intended to conceal a nervous twitch of the muscles of his face. Then he spoke.

“You think yourself very clever, no doubt. Well, perhaps you are. I’ll acknowledge that, in a certain sense, you might spoil my game for me. Not quite in the way you think, you know; but up to a certain point. As I don’t want to have my game spoilt, I am willing to make a bargain with you is that plain?”

“Fair sailing, so far,” said Francis, doggedly. “Go on. What will you give?”

“Nothing just now. The sum you named on the day when I marry Ethel Kenyon, on condition that you give me back that confession you talk about, swear not to mention your wife’s sister, and take yourself off to Australia.”

“Hm!” said Francis considering. “So I have brought you to terms, have I? So much the better for you and perhaps for me. Are you engaged to Miss Kenyon?”

“I asked her to-night to marry me, and she consented.”

“You always were a lucky dog, Oliver,” said Francis, with almost a wistful expression on his crafty face. “I never could see how you managed it, for my part. If that pretty girl” with a laugh “knew all that I knew

“Exactly. I don’t want her to know all you do. Are you going to agree to my terms or not?”

“I should have said they were my terms,” said the elder brother, “but we won’t haggle about names. Say two thousand five hundred pounds down?”

“No, two thousand,” said Oliver, boldly. “That will suit me better than two hundred a year.”

“Ah, you want to get rid of me, don’t you? How soon is it likely to be?”

“Oh, that I can’t tell you. As soon as she fixes the day.”

“I swear by all that I hold sacred,” said Francis, with sudden energy, “that I won’t wait more than six months, and then I’ll take two thousand.”

“Six? Make it twelve. The girl may want a year’s freedom.”

“I won’t wait twelve. I swear I won’t. I’m tired of this life. I can’t get any work to do, though I’ve tried over and over again. And I’m always unlucky at play. There’s Mary threatening to go out to work again. If we were in another country, with a clear start, she should not have to do that.”

Oliver meditated. It did not seem to him likely that Ethel would refuse to marry him in six months’ time, but of course it was possible. Still he was pretty sure that he could get the money advanced as soon as his engagement was noised abroad. It was rather a pity that he would have to publish it so soon especially when his projects respecting Lesley Brooke had not been carried out but it could not be helped. The prospect of ridding himself of his brother Francis was most welcome to him. And if he could quiet him by promises, it might perhaps not be necessary to pay him the money after all.

“Well,” he said, at last, “I promise it within six months, Francis. On the conditions I named, of course.”

“And you will keep your word?” said Francis, looking suspiciously into his brother’s smooth, pale face.

“If not,” answered Oliver, airily, “you have the remedy in your own hands, you know. You can easily bring me to book. And now that this interesting conversation is ended, perhaps you will kindly allow me to go home? The night is fine, but I am a good deal chilled with standing

“And what am I, then? I’ve been waiting for you, off and on, for hours. And I haven’t got a shilling in my pocket, either. Haven’t you got a pound or two to spare, Oliver? For the sake of old times, you know.”

Some men would have found it pitiful to hear poor Francis Trent, with his broken-down, cringing, crafty look, thus sueing for a sovereign. For he had the air of a ruined gentleman, not of an ordinary beggar, and the signs of refinement in his face and bearing made his state of abasement and destitution more apparent. But Oliver was not touched by any such sentimental considerations. He looked at first as if he were about to refuse his brother’s request; but policy dictated another course. He must not drive to desperation the man in whose hands lay his character and perhaps his future fortune. He put his hand into his pocket, brought out a couple of sovereigns, and dropped them into Francis’ greedily outstretched palm. Then he crossed the road towards his sister’s house, while the elder brother slunk away with an air of anything but triumph. It was sad to see him so depressed, so broken-spirited, so hopeless. For he had been meant for better things. But his will was weak, his principles had never been settled, and with his first lapse from honesty all self-respect seemed to leave him. Thenceforth he went down hill, and would long ago have reached the bottom but for the one helping hand that had been held out to stay him in his mad career. That hand belonged to none of his kith and kin, however. It was seamed and roughened and reddened by honest toil; but the toil had at least been honest and the toiler’s love for the fine gentleman for whom she worked was loving and sincere. To cut a long story short, Francis Trent had married a dressmaker of the lower grade, and a dressmaker, moreover, who had once been a ladies’-maid.

While he slouched away to his poverty-stricken home, and Oliver solaced himself with a novel and a cigar, and Miss Ethel Kenyon sank to sleep in spite of a tumult of innocent delight which would have kept a person of less healthy mind and body wide awake for hours, Lesley Brooke, who was to influence the fate of all these three, lay upon her bed bemoaning her loneliness of heart, and saying to herself that she should never be happy in her father’s house. It was not that she had met with any positive unkindness: she could accuse nobody of wishing to be rude or cold, but the atmosphere was not one to which she was accustomed, and it gave her considerable discomfort. Even the Mrs. Romaine of whom her father spoke as if she would be a friend, was not very congenial to her. Rosalind’s eyes remained cold, despite their softness, and Lesley was vaguely conscious of a repulsion such as we sometimes feel on touching a toad or a snake when Mrs. Romaine put her hand on the girl’s listless fingers. No, what it was Lesley could not tell, but she was sure of this, that she could never like Mrs. Romaine.

And she cried herself to sleep, and dreamed of the convent and the sunny skies of France.