Read CHAPTER XV - MAURICE KENYON’S APOLOGY of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on

Lesley stood irresolute. In the other room she heard the sound of voices calling her own name. “We are just going, Lesley,” she heard Mrs. Romaine say. She made a hurried step towards the door.

“I can’t stop,” she said. “They will go without me.”

“What if they do?” asked Mr. Kenyon. “I’ll see you home.”

Lesley looked amazed, as well she might, at this masterful way of settling the question. And while she hesitated Maurice acted, as he usually did.

He strode to the door and spoke to Miss Brooke. “I am just showing your niece some of the books: I’ll follow in a minute or two with her if you’ll kindly walk on. It won’t take me more than a minute.”

“Then we may as well wait,” said Oliver’s voice.

Lesley would have been very angry if she had known what happened then. Mr. Kenyon, by means of energetic pantomime, conveyed to the quick perceptions of Doctor Sophy a knowledge of the fact that Lesley was a little agitated and overcome, and that he was soothing her. And that the departure of the rest of the party would be a blessed relief.

Aunt Sophy was good-natured, and she had complete trust in Maurice Kenyon.

“Don’t stay more than a minute or two,” she said. “We’ll just walk on then Caspar and I. Mr. Trent is, of course, escorting your sister. Mrs. Romaine will come with us, and you’ll follow?”

“I am quite ready,” said Lesley.

“All right,” answered Maurice, easily, “I must first show you this book.” Then he returned to the library, and she heard the sounds of retreating steps and voices as her father and his party left the building.

“You have no book to show me you had better come at once,” Lesley said, severely. But Mr. Kenyon arrested her.

“I assure you I have. Look here: the men clubbed together a little while ago and presented your father’s works to the library, all bound, you see, in vellum. I need not mention that he had not thought it worth while to give his own books to the club.”

He showed her the volumes with pride, as if the presentation had been made to a member of his own family. Lesley touched the books with gentle fingers and reverent eyes. “I have been reading ‘The Unexplored,’” she said.

“I knew you would! And I knew you would like it! I am not wrong?”

“I like it very much. But it is all new to me so new I feel like Ione when she first heard of the miseries of England I have lived in an enchanted world, where everything of that sort was kept from me; so how could I understand?”

“I know! I know! You make me doubly ashamed of myself. I have lived, metaphorically, in dust and ashes ever since we had that talk together. Miss Brooke, I must have seemed to you the most intolerable prig! Can you ever forgive me for what I said?”

“But,” said Lesley, looking straight into his face with her clear brown eyes, “if what you said was true?

“I had no right to say it.”

“That is true,” Lesley answered, coldly; and she turned about as though she did not wish to pursue the subject.

“But can you not forgive me for it? I was unjustifiably angry I confess; but since I confess it

“Mr. Kenyon, we ought to be going home. I see the woman is waiting to put the lights out.”

“We will go home if you like certainly,” said Maurice, in a tone of vexed disappointment. “Take care of the step yes, here is the door. I am afraid we cannot get a cab in this neighborhood; but as soon as we reach a more civilized locality, I will do my best to find one for you.”

By this time they were in the yard. Night had already fallen on the city, whether it had done so in the country or not. The lamps were lighted in the streets; a murky fog had settled like a pall upon the roads; and in the Sunday silence the church bells rang out with a mournful cadence which affected Lesley’s spirits.

“London is a terrible place,” she said, with a little shiver.

“Can you say that,” he asked, looking at her curiously, “after seeing the good work that is being done here? If it is a terrible place, it is also a very noble and inspiring one.”

“I know I am ignorant,” said Lesley, heavily. “It seems terrible to me.”

They were silent for a minute or two, for they were passing out of the yard belonging to the “model dwellings,” as Macclesfield Buildings were called, into the squalid street beyond; and in avoiding the group of loafers smoking the pipe of idleness, and enjoying the comfortable repose of sloth, Lesley and Mr. Kenyon were so far separated that conversation became impossible.

“You had better take my arm,” said Maurice, shortly, almost sternly. “You must, indeed: the place is not fit for you. I ought to have gone out and got a cab.”

“Indeed, I do not need it. I can walk quite well. What other people do, I suppose I can do as well.”

“Miss Brooke, you have not forgiven me.”

Lesley was silent.

“What can I say? I have no justification. I simply let my tongue and my temper run away with me. I am cursed with a hot temper: I do not think before I speak; but I never intended to hurt you, Miss Brooke, I am sure of that.”

“No,” said Lesley, very quietly, “I understand you. If you had not thought me so stupid as not to see your meaning, or so callous as not to care if I did, you would not have spoken in that way. I don’t know that your excuse makes matters much better, Mr. Kenyon. But I am not offended: you need not concern yourself.”

“Then you ought to be offended,” said Kenyon, doggedly. “And I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t believe me.”

“No, indeed I don’t.”

Lesley’s offence was so great now, whatever it had been before, that it deprived her of the power of speech. Her stately head went up: her mouth set itself in straight, hard lines. Maurice saw these tokens, and interpreted them aright.

“Don’t be angry with me again. I mean that you could not fail to despise me, to look down on me, for my want of tact and sense. I thought that you did not understand your father I was vexed at that, because I have such a respect, such an admiration for him but I know now that I was mistaken. You ought to be angry with me, for I acknowledge that I spoke impertinently; but having been angry, you can now be merciful and forgive. I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”

“How do you know that I understand my father? Why have you changed your opinion?” said Lesley, coldly. “You have nothing to go upon just as in the other case you had nothing to go upon. You rushed to one conclusion, if you will excuse me for saying so, and now you rush to another with no better reason.”

“You are very severe, Miss Brooke,” said Maurice. “But you are perfectly right, and I must not complain. Only if I may make a representation

“Oh, certainly!”

“I might point out that when I spoke to you first you had not read your father’s book, you had not, I believe, even heard of it; that you knew nothing about the Macclesfield Club, and that when I spoke to you about his work amongst the poor you were very much inclined to murmur, ‘Can any good come out of Nazareth?’”

“Mr. Kenyon

“I beg your pardon, Miss Brooke, but isn’t that substantially true? If you can honestly say that it is a misapprehension on my part, I won’t say another word. But isn’t it all true?”

He turned his eager face and bright blue eyes towards her, and read in her pale, troubled face a little of the conflict that was going on between her candor and her pride. “Now, what will she say?” he thought, with what would have seemed to Lesley incomprehensible anxiety. “On her answer depends my opinion of her, now and for ever.”

And this appeared to Maurice quite an important matter, though possibly Lesley might not have thought it so.

She turned to him at last with a frank, decisive gesture.

“It is true,” she said. “I knew nothing about his books or his works, and so how could I appreciate them? I had never heard of ’The Unexplored’ before. You are right, and I had no business to be so angry. But how do you know that I am different now?”

“Oh, I know you are,” said Maurice, confidently. “You have come to the club for one thing, you see; and you sang to the people and looked at them well, as if you cared. And you have read ‘The Unexplored’ now?”

“Yes. I have,” said Lesley, hesitatingly.

“And you like it?”

“Yes I like it.” The girl looked away, and went on nervously, hesitatingly. “It is very well done,” she said, “It is very clever.”

“Oh, if that is all you can find to say about it!”

“But isn’t it a great deal? Mr. Kenyon, I don’t know what to say about it. You see I can’t be sure whether it is all true.”

“True? The story? But, of course

“Of course the story is not true. I am not such a goose as that. But is the meaning of it true? the moral, so to speak? Is there so much wickedness in the world as my father says? So much vice and wealth and selfishness on the one side: so much misery and poverty and crime on the other? You are a doctor, and you must have seen a great deal of London life: you ought to know. Is it an exaggeration, or is it true?”

There was such intensity and such pathos in her tones that Kenyon was silent for a minute or two, startled by the vivid reality which she had attached to her father’s views and ideas. He could not have answered her lightly, even if it had been in his nature to do so.

“Before God,” he said, solemnly, “it is all true every word of it.”

“Then what can we do,” said Lesley, gently, “but go down into the midst of it and help?”

Mr. Maurice Kenyon, being a man of ardent temperament, always vows that he lost his heart to Lesley there and then. It is possible that if she had not been a very pretty girl, the most noble of sentiments might have fallen unheeded from her lips; but as she was “so young, so sweet, so delicately fair,” Kenyon could not hear his own opinions reciprocated without an answering thrill. How delightful would it be to walk through life with a woman of this kind by one’s side! a woman, whose face was a picture, whose every movement a poem, whose soul was as finely touched to fine issues as that of an angel or a saint! All these reflections rushed through his mind in an instant, and it was almost a wonder that he did not blurt some of them out at once. But Lesley went on speaking in a quiet, pensive way.

“I wonder whether I can do anything while I am here. I shall not have so very long a time, but I might try.”

“Not so long a time, Miss Brooke? I thought you had come home for good.”

“Only for a year,” said Lesley, coloring hotly. “Then I go back to mamma.”

Maurice said nothing at first. He felt the hand that rested on his arm tremble slightly, and he knew that he ought to make no more inquiries. But he could not refrain from adding, almost jealously

“You will be glad of that?”

“Oh, yes! You do not know my mother?” said Lesley, half shyly, half boldly.

“No, I never saw her.”

“It is very hard to be so long away from her. She is so sweet and good.”

“But you have your father? You are learning to know him now.”

“Oh, yes, but I want them both,” said Lesley, with an indescribably gentle and tender intonation. And as they reached Euston Road and were obliged to leave off talking while they threaded their way through the intricacies of vehicular traffic, Mr. Kenyon was revolving in his mind a new idea, namely, the possibility of a reconciliation between Brooke and his wife. He had never thought much about Lady Alice before: she seemed to him to have passed out of Caspar Brooke’s life entirely; and if it were not for this link between the two this sweet and noble-spirited and lovely girl she would not have been likely to come back into it. But Lesley might perhaps reunite the two, and Maurice’s heart began to burn within him with fear for his hero’s happiness. Why should any Lady Alice trouble the peace of a worker for mankind like Caspar Brooke?

They did not talk very much more on their way to Upper Woburn Place. They found Ethel and Oliver standing on the steps of Mr. Brooke’s house, evidently waiting for the truants. It struck Lesley as she came up that Oliver Trent’s brow was ominously dark, and that Ethel’s pretty, saucy face wore an expression of something like anxiety or distress.

“We are almost tired of waiting for you, good people,” she began merrily. “Fortunately it is fine and warm, or we should have gone and left you to your own devices, as Mr. Brooke and Rosalind have done.”

“Where have they gone?” asked Maurice.

“Walked off to her house. Miss Brooke is at home. Lesley, you are an imposition! Think of having a voice like that, and keeping it dark all this time.”

“We shall requisition Miss Brooke for the club very often, I know that,” said Maurice.

“You’ll come in with us, Lesley?” Ethel asked.

“No, thank you, Ethel. Not to-day. Thanks.”

She wondered a little nervously why Oliver was looking so vexed and yes, so miserable, too! He seemed terribly out of spirits. Had he and Ethel quarrelled? The thought gave a look of tender inquiry to her eyes as she held out her hand to him. And on meeting that sweet glance, Oliver’s face brightened. He had been feeling an unreasonable annoyance with her for walking home with Maurice Kenyon, and had even in his heart called her “a little French flirt.” Though why it should matter to him that she was a flirt, did not exactly appear.

They said good-bye to each other, and separated. Maurice went off to see a patient; Oliver accompanied Ethel to her own house; Lesley entered her own home.

She was alone for an hour or two, and, to tell the truth, she felt rather dull. Miss Brooke went away to her circle of select souls, and her father, as she knew, had gone to Mrs. Romaine’s. She took out her much-prized volume of “The Unexplored,” and began to read it again; wishing that she could talk to her mother about it, and explain to her how really great and good a man her father was. For she had got as far as this she was sure that her mother did not understand him. It would have been impossible for him to do a mean, a cruel, a dishonorable action. There had been a misunderstanding somewhere; and Lesley wished, with her whole soul, that she could clear it up.

The sound of the opening and closing of the front door did not arouse her from her dreams. She read on, holding the little paper-covered volume on her lap, deep in deepest thought, until the door of the drawing-room opened rather suddenly, and her father walked in.

It was an unusual hour at which to see him in the drawing-room, and Lesley looked up in surprise. Then, half unconsciously, half timidly, she drew her filmy embroidered handkerchief over the book in her lap. She had a shy dislike to letting her father see what she was reading.

He did not seem, however, to take any notice of her occupation. He walked straight to an arm-chair on the opposite side of the hearth, sat down, stretching out his long legs, and placing his elbows on the arms of the chair. The unruly lock of hair, which no hairdresser could tame, had fallen right across his broad brow, and heightened the effect of a very undeniable frown. Mr. Caspar Brooke was in anything but an amiable temper.

It was with a laudable attempt, however, to keep the displeasure out of his voice that he said at length

“I thought I understood you to say, Lesley, that you were not musical!”

The color flushed Lesley’s face to the very roots of her hair.

“I do not think I am very musical,” she said, trying to answer bravely. “I play the piano very little.”

“Of course you must know that that is a quibble,” said Mr. Brooke, dryly. “A talent for music does not confine itself solely to the piano. I presume that you have been told that you have a good voice?”

“Yes, I have been told so.”

“And you have had lessons?”

“Yes, a few.”

“Then may I ask what was your motive for declining to take lessons in London when I asked to do so? You even went so far as to make use of a subterfuge: you gave me to understand that you had no musical power at all, and that you knew nothing and could do nothing?”

He paused as if he expected a reply; but Lesley did not say a word.

“I cannot understand it,” Mr. Brooke went on; “but,” after a pause “I suppose there is no reason why I should. I did not come to say anything much about that part of the business. I came rather to suggest that as you have a good voice, it is wrong not to cultivate it. And your lessons will give you something to do. It seems to me rather a pity, my dear, that you should do nothing but sit round and read novels which, your aunt tells me, is your principal occupation. Suppose you try to find something more useful to do?”

He spoke with a smile now and in a softer voice; but Lesley was much too hurt and depressed to say a word. He looked at her steadfastly for a minute or two, and decided that she was sullen.

“I will see about the lessons for you,” he said, getting up and speaking decidedly, “and I hope you will make the most of your opportunities. How much time have you been in the habit of devoting to your singing every day?”

“An hour and a half,” said Lesley, in a very low voice.

“And you left off practising as soon as you came here? That was a great pity; and you must allow me to say, Lesley, very silly into the bargain. Surely your own conscience tells you that it was wrong? A voice like yours is not meant to be hidden.”

Lesley wished that at that moment she could find any voice at all. She sat like a statue, conscious only of an effort to repress her tears. And Mr. Brooke, having said all that he wanted to say, took up a book, and thought how difficult it was to manage women who met remonstrances in silence.

Lesley got up in a few moments and walked quietly out of the room. But she forgot her book. It fell noiselessly on the soft fur rug, and lay there, with leaves flattened and back bent outwards. Caspar Brooke was one of the people who cannot bear to see a book treated with anything less than reverence. He picked it up, straightened the leaves, and looked casually at the title. It was “The Unexplored.”

He held it for a minute, gazing before him with wide eyes as if he were troubled or perplexed. Then he shook his head, sighed, smiled, and put it down upon the nearest table. “Poor little girl!” he said. “I wonder if I frightened her at all!”