Read CHAPTER XIX - MAURICE KENYON’S VIEWS of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Brooke advanced quite quietly into the room. Perhaps he had not seen or heard so very much. Certainly he glanced very keenly first at Lesley, who leaned half-fainting against the piano, and then at Oliver Trent, who had slunk backwards to the rug before the fire; but he said nothing, and for a minute or two an embarrassed silence prevailed in the room. Lesley then raised herself up a little, and Oliver began to speak.

“I was just going,” he said, with a nervous attempt at a laugh. “I haven’t much time to-night, and was just hurrying away. I must come in another time.”

Mr. Brooke took up a commanding position on the rug, put his hands in his pockets, and surveyed the room in silence. Perhaps Oliver felt the silence to be ominous, for he did not try to shake hands or to utter any commonplaces, but took his leave with a hurried “Good-afternoon” that neither father nor daughter returned. The door shut behind him: they heard the sound of his footsteps on the stairs and the closing of the hall door. Then Lesley bestirred herself with the sensation of a wounded animal that wishes to hide its hurt: she wanted to get away and seek the darkness and solitude of her room upstairs. But before she reached the door Mr. Brooke’s voice arrested her.

“Lesley.”

She stopped short, and looked at him. Her heart beat so suffocatingly loud and fast that she could not speak.

“I don’t trust that young man, Lesley,” was what her father said quite quietly.

Then there was a pause. Lesley was still tongue-tied, and Mr. Brooke did not seem to know what to do or say. He walked away from the fire and began to finger some papers on a table, although it was quite too dark to see any of these. Inwardly he was wondering how much or how little he ought to say.

“I wish he would not come quite so often,” he remarked.

“Oh, so do I!” said Lesley, with heartfelt warmth.

“Do you? Why, child, I thought you liked him!”

“I never liked him much,” said Lesley, faltering.

“And yet you have allowed him to come here day after day and practise with you? The ways of women are inscrutable,” said Mr. Brooke, grimly, “and I can’t profess to understand them. If you did not wish him to come, there was nothing to do but to close your doors against him.”

“I shall be only too glad,” said Lesley, eagerly.

Oh now? That is unnecessary: I shall do it myself,” said her father, with the same dryness of tone that always made Lesley feel as if she were withering up to nothingness.

“I don’t think he is very likely to come,” she said, in a very low tone. Then, with a quick impulse to clear herself, and an effort which brought the blood in a burning tide to her fair face, she went on, hurriedly “Father, you don’t think I forgot that he” and then she almost broke down, and “Ethel” was the only word that struck distinctly upon his ear.

“You mean,” said Mr. Brooke, “that you do not forget that he is going to marry Ethel Kenyon? Perhaps not; but I think that he does.”

“I am not to blame for that,” said Lesley, with a flash of the hot temper that occasionally leaped to light when she was talking with her father.

Brooke made no immediate answer. He took a match box from his pocket, struck a match, and began to light the wax candles on the mantelpiece partly by way of finding something to do, partly because he thought that he should like to see his daughter’s face.

It was a very downcast face just then, but it was tinged with the hot flush of mingled pride and shame with which she had spoken, and never had it looked more lovely. The father considered it for a moment, less with admiration than with curiosity: this daughter of his was an unknown quantity: he never could predicate what she would do or say. Certainly she surprised him once more when she lifted her head, and said, quickly

“I don’t think I understand your English ways. I know what we should do at the convent; but I never know whether I am right or wrong here. And I have no one to ask.”

“There is your Aunt Sophy.”

“It is almost impossible to ask Aunt Sophy; she never sees where the difficulty lies. I know she is kind but she does not understand what I want.”

Caspar nodded. “That is one reason why I spoke to you just now,” he said, much more gently than usual. “I knew that she was a little brusque sometimes; and I suppose I am not much better. As a rule a father does not talk to his girls as I have been talking to you, I fancy. I am almost as ignorant of a father’s duties to his daughter as you say you are of the habits of English bourgeois society for I suppose that is what you mean?”

He smiled a little the slight smile of a satire which Lesley always dreaded; and yet, she remembered, his voice had been very kind. It softened again into its gentlest and most musical tones, as he said

“You must take us as you find us, child: we shall not do you much harm, and it will not be for long.”

Lesley was emboldened by the gentle intonation to draw closer to him, and to lay an entreating hand upon his arm.

“Oh, father,” she said, “if you would but let me write to mamma!”

And then she uttered a little sob, and the tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks. As for Caspar Brooke, he stood like a man amazed, and repeated her words almost stupidly.

Write to mamma?” he said.

“It would do me good: it would not do any harm,” said Lesley, hurriedly, brokenly, and clasping his arm with both hands to enforce her plea. “I would not tell her anything that you did not like: I should never say anything but good about you; but, oh, there are so many things that puzzle me, and that I should like to consult her about. You see, although I was not much with her, I used to write to her twice a week, and she wrote to me oftener, sometimes; and I told her everything, and she used to advise me and help me! And I miss it so much it is that that makes me unhappy; it seems so hard never to write and never to hear from her! I feel sometimes as if I could not bear it; as if I should have to run away to her again and tell her everything! Nobody is like her nobody and to be a year without her is terrible!”

And Lesley put her head down on her father’s arm and cried unrestrainedly, with a sort of newborn instinct that he sympathised with her, and would not repulse her confidence.

As for Caspar Brooke, his face had turned quite pale: he stood like a statue, with features rigidly set, listening to Lesley’s outburst of pleading words. It took him a little time to find his voice, even when he had at last assimilated the ideas contained in her speech and regained his self-possession. It took him still longer to recover from a certain shock of surprise.

“Write to your mother!” he exclaimed. “Well, but, of course why should you not write to your mother?”

And then Lesley raised her head and looked at him with such amazement and perplexity that her father felt absolutely annoyed.

“Who on earth put it into your head that you might not write? Am I such a tyrant such an unfeeling monster? Good heavens! what extraordinary idea is this! Who said that you were not to write to her?”

“My mother herself,” said Lesley, drawing herself a little away from him, and still looking into his face.

“Your mother? Absurd! Why, what what

He faltered, frowned, turned away to the mantelpiece, and struck his hand heavily upon it.

“I never meant that,” he said. It seemed as if vexation and astonishment prevented him from saying more.

“My mother said that it was agreed years ago that when I came to you, we were to have no communication,” said Lesley, trembling, and yet resolute to have her say. “Was not that so?”

“I remember something of the sort,” he answered, reluctantly, frowning still and looking down. “I did not think at the time of what it implied. And when the time drew near for you to make the visit, the question was not raised. We corresponded through a third party the lawyer, you know. Perhaps at the time I had an idea of preventing letters, but not recently. Nobody mentioned it. Why” his anger rising, as a man’s anger often does rise when he perceives himself to have been in the wrong “your mother might at least have mentioned it if she felt any doubt!”

“I suppose,” said Lesley, rather haughtily, “that my mother did not want to ask a favor of you.”

He flung himself round at that. “Your mother must have given you a strange idea of me!” he said, with a mixture of anger and mortification which it humiliated him to show, even while he could not manage to hide it. “One would have said I was an ogre a maniac. But she misjudged me all her life it is useless to expect anything else of course she would try to bias you!”

“I never knew that you were even alive until the day that I left the convent,” said Lesley. “My mother certainly did not try to prejudice me before then: she simply kept silence.”

“Silence is the worst condemnation? What had I done that I should be separated from my child so completely?” said the man, the bitterness of years displaying itself in a way as unexpected to him as to his daughter. “It is not my fault, I swear, that I have lived without a wife, without well, well! it is not you to whom I ought to say this. We will not refer to it again. About this letter writing I might say, as perhaps I did say at the time the arrangement was made, that surely I had a right to claim you entirely for one year at least; but I don’t I won’t. If I did ever say so, Lesley, I regret the words exceedingly. Ever since you came to me, I have had no idea but that you were writing to her regularly and freely; and I never never in my right mind wished it otherwise.”

“But mamma talked of an agreement

“That was years ago. I must have said something in my heat which the lawyers the people who arranged things interpreted wrongly. And your mother, as you say, did not care to ask me for anything. I can only say, Lesley, that I am sorry the mistake arose.”

His voice was grave and cold again, almost indifferent. He stood with his elbow on the mantelpiece, his hand supporting his head, his eyes averted from the girl. A close eye might have observed that the veins of his forehead were swollen, and the pulse at his temple was beating furiously: otherwise he had mastered all signs of agitation. Lesley hesitated a moment: then came up to him, and put her slim fingers into his hand.

“Father,” she said, softly, “if we have misjudged you mamma and I won’t you forgive us?”

For answer he took her face between his two hands, bent down and kissed it tenderly.

“You don’t remember sitting on my knee when you were a tiny little thing, do you?” he asked her. “You would not go to sleep at nights without a kiss from me before I went out. You were rather fond of me then, child! I wish things had turned out differently!”

He spoke sadly, and Lesley returned his kiss with a new feeling of affection of which she had not been conscious before, but which she would have found it difficult to translate into words. Before she could manage to reply, the handle of the door was turned, and father and daughter stood apart as quickly as if they had had no right to stand with arms enlaced and faces almost touching: indeed, the situation was so new to both of them that they felt something like shame and alarm as they turned to meet the expected Doctor Sophy.

But it was not Doctor Sophy. It was Sarah with the tea-tray, very resentful at not having had it rung for earlier she having been instructed not to bring it up until Miss Lesley rang the bell. And after Sarah came Mr. Maurice Kenyon, unannounced, after his usual fashion. And on hearing his voice, Lesley slipped away between the curtains into the library, and upstairs, through the library door.

“Why, Brooke, old fellow, you’re not often to be found here at this hour!” began Maurice. He looked on Caspar Brooke as a prophet and a hero in his heart; but his manner before the world was characterized by the frankest irreverence. Brooke was one of those men who are never older than their companions.

“Well, you must be neglecting your patients shamefully to be here at all. What do you want at this feminine meal?”

“I didn’t come for tea,” said Maurice, actually growing a little redder as he spoke. “I came to see Miss Brooke.”

“Oh, she’s gone to a meeting of some Medical Association or other,” said Caspar, indifferently, as he sat down in Lesley’s place at the dainty tea-table, and poured out a cup of tea with the manner of a man who was accustomed to serving himself. “Here, help yourself to sugar and cream.”

“Thanks, I won’t have any tea. I did not mean your sister: I meant Miss Lesley I thought I saw her as I came in.”

“Anything important?” said Caspar, blandly. He was certain that Lesley had gone away to cry women always cry! and he did not want her to be disturbed. Although he had quarrelled with his wife, he understood feminine susceptibilities better than most men.

“Oh, no. Only to ask her to sing at the Club on Sunday. It’s my turn to manage the music for that day, you know. Trent is going to sing too.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Brooke. Then, after a pause: “I will ask her. But I don’t think she will be able to sing on Sunday. It strikes me she has an engagement.”

He could not say to Ethel’s brother what was in his mind, and yet he was troubled by the intensity of his conviction that she was throwing herself away upon “a cad.” He must take some other method in the future of giving Maurice a hint about young Trent.

Maurice thought, not untruly, that there was something odd in his tone.

“Isn’t she well?” he asked, with his usual straightforwardness. “I hope there is nothing wrong.”

“I did not say there was anything wrong, did I?” demanded Caspar. Then, squaring his shoulders, and sitting well back in his chair, with his hands plunged into the pockets of his old study coat, and his eyes fixed on his visitor’s face, he thus acquitted himself “Maurice, my young friend, I am and have been a most confounded ass.”

“Oh?” said Maurice, interrogatively.

“I think it would relieve me if I weren’t out of practice to swear. But I’ve preached against ‘langwidge’ so long at the club that I don’t think I could get up the necessary stock of expletives.”

“I’ll supply you. I shouldn’t have thought that there was a lack of them down in your printing offices about one or two o’clock every morning, from what I’ve heard. What is it, if I may ask? Anything wrong with the Football Club?”

“Football Club! My dear fellow, I have a private life, unfortunately, as contradistinguished from your everlasting clubs and printing offices.”

“It is something about Miss Brooke, is it?” said Maurice, with greater interest “I was afraid there was something

“Why?”

“Oh well, you must excuse me for mentioning it but wasn’t she wasn’t she crying as she went out of the room? And she has not been looking well for the last month or so.”

“I suppose you mean that she is not particularly happy here, with her father?”

Maurice elevated his eyebrows. “Brooke, old man, what have you got into your head?” he asked, kindly. “You look put out a good bit. Does she say she wants to leave you?”

“Oh, no, no, ’tisn’t that. I daresay she does, though. You know the whole story it is no good disguising the details from you. There’s been a wretched little mistake all my fault, no doubt, but not intentionally so: the girl came here with the idea that she might not write to her mother some nonsense about ‘no communication’ between them stood in the way; and it seems she has been pining to do so ever since she came.”

“And she never asked you? never complained, or said anything?”

“She broke down over it to-day. I’m ashamed to look her in the face,” said Brooke, vehemently. “I’m ashamed to think of what they their opinion of me is. A domineering, flinty-hearted, unnatural parent, eh, Maurice? Ogre and tyrant and all the rest of it. As if I ever meant to put a stop to her writing to her mother! I never heard of such an unjustifiable proceeding! I never thought of such an absurd idea!”

“Then weren’t you very much to blame to allow the mistake to arise?” asked Maurice, bluntly.

“Of course I was. That’s the abominable and confounded part of it. Some hasty words of mine were misinterpreted, of course. I told you I had been an ass.”

“Well, I hope it is set straight now?”

“As far as I can set it straight. Probably nothing will undo the effect. She’ll think that I was cruel in the first instance if not in the last.”

He sat staring at his boots, with a very discontented expression of countenance. But he did not get much sympathy from Mr. Kenyon.

“Well,” he said, “I suppose you’ve yourself to blame. I’ve no doubt you have been very hasty, lots of times. It’s my own idea that if you went into detail over a good many actions of your past life” this was very significantly said “you would find that you had been mistaken pretty often. We all do. And there’s one mistake that I think I can point out to you.”

Caspar looked at him hard for a moment from under his bushy eyebrows.

“One subject, Kenyon,” he said, seriously, “I shall ask you to respect.”

“All right,” said Maurice. “I am only speaking of your daughter. You must allow me to say that I think you have misjudged her, ever since she has been in your house for the last three months. I did just the same, at first. You see, she came here, as far as I can make out, puzzled, ignorant of the world, deprived of her mother’s help and care, thrown on the tender mercies of a father whom she did not know

“And whom she took to be an ogre,” said Brooke, with a bitter, little laugh.

“Brought into a world that she knew nothing about, and amongst a set of people who could not understand why she looked sad and lonely, poor child!

“I say, Maurice, you are speaking of my daughter, remember.”

“Don’t be touchy, old man. I speak and I think of her with every respect. We have all misjudged and misunderstood her: she is a young girl, little more than a child, and a child astray, pining uncomplainingly for her mother, doing her best to understand the new world she was thrown into, devouring your writings and trying as hard as she could to assimilate every good and noble idea that she came across I say that she’s a saint and a heroine,” said Maurice, with sudden passion and enthusiasm, “and we’ve forgotten that not a girl in a thousand could have come through a trying ordeal so well!”

“She hasn’t come out of her ordeal at all, Maurice: the ordeal of living in the house of a brutal father, who, in her view, probably broke her mother’s heart: all that has to be proceeded with for nine months longer!”

“It need not be an ordeal if she knows that you love her: if she writes to her mother and gets the sympathy and aid she needs. Upon my soul, Brooke, it seems to me that you are hard upon your daughter!”

“Do you think I need to be taught my duty by you, young man?” said Caspar. He spoke with a smile, but his tone was undoubtedly sharp. His disciple was not so submissive as he had hitherto appeared to be.

“Yes, I do,” said Maurice, undismayed. “Because I appreciate her and understand her, which you don’t. I was dense at first as you are, but I have learnt better now through loving her.”

“Through what, man?”

“Through loving her. It’s the truth, Brooke, as I stand here. I’ve known it for some little time. It is only because it may seem too sudden to her and to you that I haven’t spoken before, and I did not mean to do so when I came here this afternoon. But the fact remains, I love Lesley, and I want her to be my wife.”

“Heavens and earth!” said Caspar. “Is the man gone mad!”