Read CHAPTER X - KNIGHT-ERRANTRY of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

Lesley found that she had unintentionally given great offence to Sarah, who was a supreme authority in her father’s house, and possibly to her aunt as well, by the arrangement with her father that she would have a maid of her own. In vain she protested that she did not need one, and had not really asked for one; the impression remained upon Miss Brooke’s mind and Sarah’s mind that she had in some way complained of the treatment which she had received, and they were a little prejudiced against her in consequence.

Miss Brooke was a good woman, and, to some extent, a just woman; but it was scarcely possible for her to judge Lesley correctly. All Miss Brooke’s traditions favored the cult of the woman who worked: and Lesley, like her mother before her, had the look of a tall, fair lily one of those who toil not, neither do they spin. Miss Brooke was quite too liberal-minded to have any great prejudice against a girl because she had been educated in a French convent, though naturally she thought it the worst place of training that could have been secured for her; and she had made up her mind at once, when she saw Lesley, that although there might be “no great harm” in the poor child, she was probably as frivolous, as shallow-hearted, and as ignorant as the ordinary French school-girl was supposed to be.

With Sarah the case was different. Sarah was an ardent Protestant, of a strict Calvinist type, and she had taken up the impression that Miss Lesley must needs be a Romanist. Now this was not the case, for Lesley had always been allowed to go to her own church, see her own clergyman, and hold aloof from the devotional exercises prescribed for the other girls. But Sarah believed firmly that she belonged to the Church of Rome, and she did not feel at all easy in her mind at staying under the same roof with her. She made this remark to Miss Brooke on the third day after Lesley’s arrival, and was offended at the burst of laughter with which Miss Brooke received it.

“Do you think the house will fall in, Sarah? or that you will be corrupted?”

“I think I may hold myself safe, ma’am,” said Sarah, with dignity. “But I’m not so sure about the house.”

She stood with her arms folded, grimly surveying her mistress, who, if the truth must be told, was lying on a sofa in her bedroom, smoking a cigarette. Sarah knew her mistress’ tastes, and had grown generally tolerant of them, but she still looked on the cigarettes with disapproval. Miss Brooke was discreet enough to smoke only in her own room or in her brother’s study a fact which had mollified Sarah a little when her mistress first began the practice.

“The minute you smoke one o’ them nasty things in the street, ma’am, I shall give notice,” she had said.

And Miss Brooke had quietly answered: “Very well, Sarah, we’ll wait till then.”

It must be added, for the benefit of all who are shocked by Miss Brooke’s practice, that she had begun it by order of a doctor as a cure for neuralgia. She continued it because she liked it. Lesley was only just beginning to suspect her aunt of the habit, and was inexpressibly startled and alarmed at the thought of such a thing. That her aunt, who was indisputably kind, clever, benevolent, respectable in every way, should smoke cigarettes, seemed to Lesley to justify all that she had heard against her father’s Bohemian household. She could not get over it. Sarah had got over this outrage on conventionality, but she was not yet prepared to forgive Lesley for having lived in a French convent.

“Oh, you’re not sure about the house,” said Miss Brooke. “Well, I’m sorry for you, Sarah. I’ll send in a plumber if you think that would be any good.”

“No, ma’am, don’t; but if it will not ill-convenience you I should like to put a few tracts in Miss Lesley’s room, so that she may look at them sometimes instead of the little book of Popish prayers that she has brought with her.”

Miss Brooke wondered for a moment what the book of Popish prayers could be; and then remembered a little Russia-bound book the well-known “Imitation of Christ” which she had noticed in Lesley’s room, and which Sarah had doubtless mistaken for a book of prayer. It would not have been at all like Miss Brooke to clear up the mistake. She generally let mistakes clear themselves. She only gave one of her short, clear, rather hard laughs, and told Sarah to put as many tracts as she pleased in Lesley’s room. Whereon, Lesley shortly afterwards found a bundle of these publications in her room, and, as she rather disliked their tone and tendency, she requested Sarah to take them away.

“They were put there for you to read,” said Sarah, with stolid displeasure.

“By my aunt?”

“Your aunt knew that I was going to put them there. And it would be better for you to sit and read them rather than them rubbishy books you gets out of master’s libery. Your poor, perishing soul ought to be looked after as well as your body.”

“Take them away, please,” said Lesley, wearily. “I do not want to read them: I am not accustomed to that sort of book.” Then, the innate sweetness of her nature gaining the day, she added, “Please do not be angry with me, Sarah. I would read them if I thought that they would do me any good, but I am afraid they will not.”

“Just like your mother,” Sarah said, sharply. “She wouldn’t touch ’em with the tips of her fingers, neither. And a maid, and all that nonsense. And dresses from France. Deary me, this is a sad upsetting for poor master.”

“I don’t interfere with your master,” said Lesley, somewhat bitterly. “He does not trouble about me and I don’t see why I should trouble about him.”

She said it almost below her breath, not thinking that Sarah would hear or understand; but Sarah after flouncing out of the room with an indignant “Well, I’m sure!” went straight to Miss Brooke and repeated every word, with a few embellishments of her own. Miss Brooke came to the conclusion that Lesley was, first of all, very indiscreet to take servants so much into her confidence, and, secondly, that she was inclined to rebel against her father’s authority. And it seemed good to her to take counsel with Mrs. Romaine in this emergency; and Mrs. Romaine soon found an opportunity of pouring a sugared, poisoned version of what she had heard into Caspar Brooke’s too credulous ears. So that he became colder than ever in his manner to Lesley, and Lesley wondered vainly how she could have offended him.

The sole comfort that she gleaned at this time came from the Kenyons. Ethel called on her, and won her heart at once by a peculiarly caressing winsomeness that reminded one of some tropical bird all dainty coquetries and shy, sweet playfulness. Not that Ethel was in the least bit shy, in reality; but she had a very tiny touch of the stage habit of posing, and with strangers she invariably posed as being a little shy. But in spite of this innocent little affectation, and in spite of a very fashionable style of dress and demeanor, Ethel was true-hearted and affectionate, and Lesley’s own heart warmed to the tenderness of Ethel’s nature before she had been in her company half an hour.

“You know you are not a bit like what I expected you to be,” Ethel said sagely, when the two girls had talked together for some little time.

“What did you expect?” said Lesley, her face aglow.

“I hardly know something more French, I think a girl with airs and graces,” said Ethel, who had herself more airs and graces than Lesley had ever donned in all her life; “nothing so Puritan as you are!”

“Puritan, after so many years of a French convent?”

“Yes, Puritan: no word suits you half so well! There is a sort of restrained life and gladness about you, and it is the restraint that gives it its attraction! Oh, forgive me for speaking so frankly; but when I see you I forget that I have not known you for years and years! I feel somehow as if we had been friends all our life!”

“And so do I,” said Lesley, surrendering herself to the spell, and letting Ethel take both her hands and look into her face. “But you are not at all like the English girls I expected to meet! I thought they were all cold and stiff!”

“Have you never seen an English girl before, dear?”

“Yes, but I have had no English girl friend. I never talked to an English girl before as I am talking to you.”

“Oh, how charming!” said Ethel. “And I never before talked to a girl who had lived in a convent! We are each a new experience to the other! What a basis for friendship!”

“Do you think so?” said Lesley. “I should have thought the opposite that what is old and well-tried and established is the best to found a friendship upon.”

She spoke half sadly, with a memory of her parents and her own relations with her father in her mind. Ethel gave her a shrewd glance, but made no direct reply. She was a young woman of marvellously quick intuitions, and she saw at once that Lesley’s training had not fitted her to take up her position in the Brooke household very easily.

When she went home she turned this matter over in her mind a good many times; and was so absorbed in her reflections that her brother had to ask her twice what she was thinking about before she answered him.

“I was thinking about Lesley Brooke,” she answered promptly.

“A lively subject. I never saw a girl with a more melancholy expression.”

“Well, of course, as yet she hates everything,” said Ethel, comprehensively.

“Hates everything! That’s a large order,” said the young doctor.

They were at dinner they dined at six every day on account of Ethel’s professional engagements; and it was not often that Maurice was at home. When he was at home Ethel knew that he liked to talk to her, so she abandoned her brown studies.

“Well, she hates the fog and the darkness, and the ugly buildings and the solid furniture of Mr. Brooke’s house, which dates back to the Georgian era at the very least. I’m sure she hates Sarah. And I shouldn’t like to say that she hates Doctor Sophy” Ethel always called Miss Brooke Doctor Sophy “but she doesn’t like her very much. She is awfully shocked because Doctor Sophy smokes cigarettes.”

“Quite right of Miss Lesley Brooke to be shocked,” said Maurice, laughing. “However, she need not despair, there is always old Caspar to fall back upon.”

Ethel pursed up her lips, looked at her brother very hard, and shook her curly head significantly.

“Do you mean to say,” cried the doctor, “that she doesn’t appreciate her father?”

“I don’t think she understands him. And how can she appreciate him if she doesn’t understand?”

Maurice laid down his knife and fork, and simply glared at his sister. He was an excitable young man, and had a way of expressing himself sometimes in reprehensibly strong language. On this occasion, he said

“Do you mean to tell me that that girl is such a born idiot and fool that she can’t see what a grand man her father is?”

Ethel nodded. But her eyes brimmed over with mirth.

“Then she deserves to be shut up for life in the convent she came from!” said the doctor. “I wouldn’t have believed it! Is she blind? Doesn’t she see what an intellect that man has? Can’t she understand that his abilities are equal to those of any man in Europe?”

“We all know your admiration for Mr. Brooke, dear,” said Ethel, saucily. “You had better go and expound your views to Lesley. Perhaps she and her father would get on better then.”

Maurice was silent. He sat and looked aghast at the notion thus presented to him. That Caspar Brooke his friend, his mentor, almost his hero should not have been able to live with his wife was bad enough! That his daughter should not admire him seemed to Maurice a sort of profanation! Heavens, what did the girl mean? The mother might have been an aristocratic fool; but the girl? she looked intelligent enough! There must be a misapprehension somewhere; and it occurred to Maurice that it might be his duty to remove it.

Maurice Kenyon was a born knight-errant. When he said that a thing wanted doing, his heart ached until he could do it. A Celtic strain of blood in him showed itself in the heat of his belief, the impetuosity of his actions. In Ethel this strain had taken an artistic turn; but the same nature that urged her to dramatic representation urged her brother to set to work vehemently on righting anything that he thought was wrong. There never was a man who hated more than he to leave a matter in statu quo.

Although Ethel said no more concerning Lesley’s misunderstanding of her father, Maurice was haunted by the echo of her remarks. He could not conceive how a girl possessed of ordinary faculties could possibly misprize her father’s gifts. Either she was a girl of extraordinary stupidity, or she was wilfully blind. Perhaps there was no one to point out to her Caspar Brooke’s many virtues. But they (thought Maurice) lay on the surface, and could not possibly be overlooked. The girl must have been spoiled by her residence in a French convent: she must be either stupid, frivolous, or base. Then how could Ethel care for her? Surely she could not be stupid: she could not be base she might be frivolous: Maurice could not go so far as to think that his sister Ethel would like her the worse for being a little frivolous. Yes, that must be it: she was frivolous a soulless butterfly, who pined for the gaieties of Paris. How awfully hard for a man like Caspar Brooke to have a daughter who was merely frivolous.

The more he thought of it and he thought a good deal of it the more Mr. Kenyon was concerned. No doubt it was no business of his, he said to himself, and he was a fool to worry himself. But then Brooke was his friend, in spite of the disparity of their years; and he did not like to think that his friend had such a heavy burden to bear. For, of course, it was a heavy burden to a man like Brooke. No doubt Brooke did not show that it was a burden: strong men did not cry out when their strength was tried. But a man with his power of affection, his tenderness, his depth of feeling (as Maurice thought), must be troubled when he found that his daughter neither loved nor comprehended him!

Maurice reflected that he had seen this extraordinary girl once. She had been standing at the window one day when he and Ethel were feeding that pampered poodle of Ethel’s, Scaramouch, and he had been struck by the grace of her figure, the queenly pose of her head. He had not observed her face particularly, but he believed that it was rather pretty. Her dress for his practised memory began to furnish him with details her dress was grey, and if he could judge aright, fashionably made. Yes, a little French fashion-plate a doll, powdered, perhaps, and painted, laced up, and perfumed and clothed in dainty raiment, to come and make discord in her father’s home! It was intolerable. Why did not Brooke leave this pestilent creature in her own abode, with the insolent, aristocratic friends who had done their best already to spoil his life!

Thus he worked himself up to a high pitch of passionate excitement on his friend’s behalf. It never occurred to him that Caspar Brooke might not at all be in need of it. It did not seem possible to him that a father could feel indifferent to the opinion of his child. And perhaps he was right, and Caspar Brooke not quite so indifferent as he seemed.

It must be the girl’s fault, Maurice thought to himself. Could nothing be done? Could he set Ethel to talk to her? But no: Ethel was not serious enough in her appreciation of Caspar Brooke. Mrs. Romaine? She would praise Mr. Brooke, no doubt; but Kenyon had a troubled doubt of Mrs. Romaine’s motives.

Doctor Sophy? Well, he liked Doctor Sophy immensely, especially since she had given up her practice: he liked her because she was so frank, so sensible, so practical in her dealings. But she was not a very sympathetic sort of person: not the kind of person, he acknowledged to himself, who would be likely to inspire a young girl with enthusiasm for another.

If there was nobody else to perform a needed office, it was your plain duty to perform it yourself. That had been Maurice Kenyon’s motto for many years. It recurred to him now with rather disagreeable force.

Why, of course, he could not go and tell Brooke’s daughter that she was a frivolous fool! What was his conscience driving at, he wondered. How could he, who did not know her in the least, commit such an act of impertinence as tell her how much he disapproved of her? It would be the act of a prig, not of a gentleman.

Of course he could not do it. And then he began at the beginning again, and condoled with Brooke in his own heart, and vituperated Brooke’s daughter, and wondered whether she was really incapable of being reclaimed to the paths of filial reverence, and whether he ought not to make an attempt in his friend’s favor. All of which proves that if any man deserved the name of a Don Quixote, that man was Maurice Kenyon, M.R.C.S.

Ethel unconsciously gave him the chance he secretly desired. He wanted above all things to make Lesley’s acquaintance, and to talk to her for her good about her father. And one afternoon his sister begged him, as a great favor to her; to go over to Mr. Brooke’s house with a message and a parcel for Lesley. He had been introduced to her one day in the street, therefore there could be nothing strange in his going in and asking for her, Ethel said. And would he please go about four o’clock, so as to catch Miss Lesley Brooke at afternoon tea.

Maurice told himself that it would be an impertinent thing to speak to her about her family affairs, and that he would only stay three minutes. At four o’clock he knocked at the door of Mr. Brooke’s chocolate-brown house, and inquired solemnly for Miss Brooke.

Miss Brooke was not at home.

“Miss Lesley Brooke then?”

Miss Lesley Brooke was in the drawing-room. Maurice went upstairs.