Read CHAPTER XX - LESLEY’S LETTER of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

“Not a bit of it,” said Maurice sturdily. “I speak the words of truth and soberness. I’ve thought about it for some time.”

“A week?”

“I’m in earnest, Brooke. Do you consent?”

“My good man,” said Caspar, slowly, “you forget that I am probably the last person in the world whose consent is of any value.”

“Pooh!”

“You may say ‘pooh’ as much as you like, but the fact remains. When Lesley leaves me, say next August or September, she goes to her mother and her grandfather, who’s an earl, more’s the pity. They have the guardianship, you understand.”

“But you have it legally still.”

“Hum no: we had a formal separation. I named the terms, certainly: I was angry at the time, and was inclined to say that if I might not bring up the child in my own way, neither should its mother. That was why we compromised by sending her to school but it was to be a school of Lady Alice’s choice. The year with me afterwards was a suggestion of mine, of course. But I can’t alter what was agreed on then.”

“Naturally. But

“And as to money affairs,” said Caspar, ruthlessly cutting him short, “I have been put all along into the most painful and ridiculous position that a man can well be in. I offered to settle a certain income on my wife and daughter: Lady Alice and her father refused to accept any money from me. I have paid various sums into his bank for Lesley, but I have reason to believe that they have never touched a farthing of it. You see they’ve put me at a disadvantage all round. And what is to be done when she marries, unless she marries with their consent, I don’t quite see. She won’t like to offend them or seem ungrateful when they have done so much for her; and I according to the account that they will give her I have done nothing. So I don’t suppose I shall be consulted about her marriage.”

“You are her father: you must be consulted.”

“Well, as a matter of form! But I expect that she is destined to marry a duke, my dear fellow; and I call it sheer folly on your part to have fallen in love with her.”

“But you don’t object, Brooke?”

“I only hope that the destined duke will be half as decent a chap as you are. But I can’t encourage you Lesley will have to look out for squalls if she engages herself to you.”

“May I not speak to her then?” inquired Maurice ruefully. “Not at once, perhaps, you know; but if I think that I have a chance?”

“Say what you like,” said Brooke, with a genial smile; for his ill-humor had vanished in spite of his apparent opposition to Maurice’s suit. “I should like nothing better for my own part; but we are both bound to consider Lesley. You know you are a shocking bad match for her. Oh, I know you are the descendant of kings and all that sort of bosh, but as a matter of fact you are only a young medico, a general practitioner, and his lordship is bound to think that I am making something for myself out of the marriage.”

“You don’t think he’ll consent?”

“Never, my dear boy. One mésalliance was enough for him. He has got rid of me, and regained his daughter; but no doubt he intends to repair her mistake by a grand match for Lesley.”

“But perhaps she would not marry the man he chose for her?”

Brooke laughed. “Can’t answer for Lesley, I don’t know her well enough,” he said. “Have you any notion, now, that she cares for you?”

Maurice shook his head dismally. “Not in the least. I scarcely think she even likes me. But I mean to try my chance some day.”

“I wish you joy,” said Lesley’s father, with a slight enigmatical smile. “Especially with the Earl of Courtleroy. Hallo! there’s the dinner bell. We have wasted all our time talking up here: you’ll stay and dine?”

“No, thanks wish I could, but I must dine with Ethel, and go out directly afterwards.”

“When is the marriage to take place?” said Caspar, directing a keen glance to the face of his friend.

“Ethel’s? There is nothing settled.”

“I say, Maurice, I don’t like Trent. He’s a slippery customer. I would look after him a bit if I were you, and put Ethel on her guard. I think I am bound to say as much as that.”

“Do you think any harm of him?”

“I think harm of him unjustly, perhaps. I am not so sure that I know of any. I only want you to keep your eyes open. Good-bye, old man.”

And Caspar Brooke gave his friend’s hand such a pressure that Maurice went away satisfied that Lesley’s father, at any rate, and in spite of protest, was upon his side.

Miss Brooke came into dinner at the last moment, so Mr. Brooke and his daughter were saved the embarrassment of dining alone for it could not be denied that it would have been embarrassing after the recent scene, if there had been no third person present to whom they could address remarks. Miss Brooke’s mind was full of the meeting which she had attended, and she gave them a glowing account of it. Lesley spoke very little, but her face was happier than it had been for a long time, although her eyes were red. Mr. Brooke looked at her a good deal in a furtive kind of way, and with more interest than usual. She was certainly a good-looking girl. But that was not all. Caspar Brooke had passed the period of caring for good looks and nothing else. Lesley had spirit, intelligence, honesty, endurance, as well as beauty. Well, she might make a good wife for Maurice after all. For although he had declared that Kenyon was “a shocking bad match,” he was inclined to think in his own heart that Kenyon was too good for his daughter Lesley.

However, he had a soft corner in his big heart for the little girl who used to sit on his knee and refuse to go to sleep without his good-night kiss, and he was pleased when she came up to him before he went out that evening, and timidly put her face up to be kissed, as if she had still been the child he loved. She had never done that before; and he took it more as a sign of gratitude for permission to write to Lady Alice than actual affection for himself.

“Are you writing your letter?” he said, touching her cheek half playfully, half caressingly.

“Yes,” said Lesley, looking down. “Is there have you no message?”

“Why should I have a message? Your mother and I correspond through our lawyer, my dear. But well, yes, if you like to say that I am sorry for this mistake of the last few months, you may do so. I have no doubt that she has missed your letters, and I should like her to understand that the correspondence was not discontinued at my desire. I regret the mistake.”

He said it formally and gravely, and in a particularly icy tone of voice; but Lesley was for the moment satisfied. She went back to her writing-desk and took up her pen. She had already written a couple of sheets, but in them her fathers name had scarcely been mentioned. Now, however, she wrote:

“You may be wondering, dearest mamma, why I am writing to you in this way, because you told me that I must not write, and I have put off my explanation until almost the end. I could not bear to be without your letters any longer, and to-day I said so to my father. I could not help telling him, because I was so miserable. And he wishes me to tell you that it was all a mistake, and he is very sorry; he never meant to put a stop to our writing to each other, and he is very, very sorry that we thought so.” Lesley’s version was not so dignified as her father had intended it to be. “He was terribly distressed when he found out that I was not writing to you; and called himself all sorts of names a tyrant and an ogre, and asked what we must have thought of him! He was really very much grieved about it, and never meant us to leave off writing. So now I shall write as often as I please, and you, dearest mamma, will write to me too.

“There is one thing I must say, darling mother, and you will not be angry with me for saying it, will you? I think father must be different now from what he was in the old days; or else perhaps there may have been a mistake about him, such as there has been about the letters! For he is so clever and gentle and kind a little sarcastic now and then, but always good! The poor people at the Club (which I told you about in the last sheet) just adore him; and they say that he has saved many of them from worse than death. And you never told me about his book, dear mamma ’The Unexplored.’ It is such a beautiful book surely you think so, although you think ill of the writer? Of course you have read it? I have read it four times, I think; and I want to ask him about some parts of it, but I have never dared I don’t think he even knows that I have read it. It has gone through more than twelve editions, and has been translated into French and German, so you must have seen it. And Mr. Kenyon says it sells by thousands in America.

“It was Mr. Kenyon who first told me about it, and made me understand how blind I was at first to my father’s really great qualities. I know he is not like grandpapa he does sometimes seem a little rough when compared to grandpapa; but then you always said I must not expect every man I met in the world to have grandpapa’s courtly manners. And it must have been very lonely for you if he went out at such funny hours as he does now, and did not breakfast or lunch with you! But I am told that all ’journalists keep these hours,’ and that it is very provincial of me not to know it! It is a very different house, and different life, from any that I ever saw before; but I am getting accustomed to it now, especially since Mr. Kenyon has talked to me.

“Dearest mother, don’t think that I love you one whit the less because I am away from you, and am learning to love other people a little too. Nobody could be to me what you are, my own dear mother. Your child,

“LESLEY.”

So Lesley’s girlish, emotional, indiscreet letter went upon its way to Lady Alice, who was just then in Eaton Square, and Lesley never dreamt of the tears that it brought to her mother’s eyes.

The letter was a shock to Lady Alice in more ways than one. First, it showed her that on one point at least she had been mistaken and it was a point that had long been a very sore one to her. Caspar had not meant the correspondence between mother and daughter to cease so he said now; but she was certain that he had spoken very harshly about it when the arrangement was first made. He had even affected to doubt whether she had heart enough to care whether she heard from her child or not. Well, possibly he had altered his views since those days. Lesley said that he must be different! Poor Lesley! thought Lady Alice, how very little she knew! She seemed to have been as much fascinated by her father as Lady Alice had been, in days long past, by Caspar Brooke as a lover; but Lady Alice reflected that she had never thought of Caspar as good or gentle or “great” in any way. She thought of him chiefly in his relation to herself, and in that relation he had not been satisfactory. Yes, she remembered well enough the sarcastic remarks, the odd hours, the discomfort of her solitary meals. Lesley could see all these points, and yet discover good in the man, and not be disgusted? Lady Alice could not understand her daughter’s impartiality.

Of course it had occurred to her once or twice that, being human, she might have been mistaken. She could have got over the dreariness and discomfort of Caspar’s home, if Caspar had but loved her. Suppose it was just a remote possibility Caspar had loved her all the time!

“The child has infected me with her romantic ideas,” said Lady Alice, at last, with a faint, sad smile. “Let me see what does she say about her friends? The Kenyons Ethel Kenyon Mr. Trent the clergyman of the parish Mr. Kenyon Mr. Kenyon I wonder who the Mr. Kenyon is of whom she speaks so highly. Surely not a clergyman too? Poor Caspar disliked clergymen so much. I wonder if Mrs. Romaine is still living in the neighborhood. But no, I remember: she went out to Calcutta and then to some German baths with her husband. What became of her, I wonder! If she were friendly with Caspar still, Lesley would be sure to mention her to me!”

And she read the letter through once more. But Lesley had not said a word about Mrs. Romaine: her heart had been too hot and angry with the remembrance of what Mrs. Romaine’s brother had done, to lead her to say one word about the family.

Lady Alice lingered curiously over Lesley’s remarks on “The Unexplored.” She had not read the book herself. She had seen it and heard of it very often so often that she thought she knew all that it contained. But for Lesley’s sake she resolved to read it now. Perhaps it held strange, dangerous doctrines, against which her daughter ought to be cautioned. Of course the house did not contain a copy. But early in the day Lady Alice went to the nearest bookseller’s and bought a copy. The obliging book-seller, who did not know her, remarked that “Brooke’s ‘Unexplored’” was always popular, and asked her whether she would like an unbound copy, or one bound in neat great cloth. Lady Alice took the latter: she had a distaste for paper-covered books.

She read “The Unexplored” in her own room that morning, but of course she was not struck by it exactly as Lesley had been. The facts which had horrified Lesley were no novelties to her. She was, in truth, slightly angry that her innocent Lesley should have so much of the great city’s misery and shame laid bare to her. She acknowledged the truth of the portraiture, the beauty of the descriptions, the eloquence of the author’s appeals to the higher classes; but she acknowledged it with resentment. Why had Caspar written a book of this sort? a book that taunted the higher classes with their birth, and reproached the wealthy with their riches? It was rather a disgrace than otherwise, in Lady Alice’s aristocratic eyes, to be connected in any way with the writer of “The Unexplored.”

Nevertheless, the book stirred in her the desire to vindicate the worth of her order and of her sex; and the next day, after having despatched a long and tender letter to Lesley (with a formal message of thanks to her husband), she went out to call on a lady, who was noted in her circle as a great philanthropist, and mentioned to her in a timid way that she wished she could be of any use amongst the poor, but she really did not see what she could do.

Her friend, Mrs. Bexley, was nothing if not practical.

“But, my dearest Lady Alice, you can be of every use in the world,” she said. “I am going to drive to the East End to-morrow morning, to distribute presents at the London Hospital it is getting so close to Christmas, you know, that we really must not put it off any longer. I generally go once a week to visit the children and some of the other patients. Won’t you come with me?”

“I am afraid I should be of very little use,” said Lady Alice.

“But we shall not want you to do anything only to say a kind word to the patients now and then, and give them things.”

“I think I could do that,” said Lesley’s mother, softly.

She went back to her father’s house quite cheered by the unexpected prospect of something to do something which should take her out of the routine of ordinary work something which should bring her closer (though she did not say it to herself) to the aims and objects of Lesley and Caspar Brooke.

The visit was a great success. Lady Alice, with her tall, graceful figure, her winning face, her becoming dress, was a pleasant sight for the weary eyes of the women and children in the accident wards. Mrs. Bexley was wise enough not to take her near any very painful sights. Lady Alice talked to some of the little children and gave them toys: she made friends, rather shyly, with some of the women, and promised to come and see them again. Mrs. Bexley was well known in the hospital, and was allowed to stay an unusually long time. So it happened that one of the doctors, coming rather hurriedly into one of the wards, paused at the sight of a lady bending over one of the children’s beds, and looked so surprised that one of the nurses hastened to explain that the stranger came with old Mrs. Bexley and was going away again directly.

The doctor nodded, and went straight up to the child’s bed. Lady Alice, raising herself after careful arrangement of some wooden animals on the sick child’s table, came face to face with a very handsome man of about thirty, who seemed to be regarding her with especial interest. He moved away with a slight bow when she looked back at him, but he did not go far. He paused to chat with another little patient, and Lady Alice noticed that all the small faces brightened at the sight of him, and that two or three children called him imperiously to their bedsides. Something about him vaguely interested her perhaps it was only his pleasant look, perhaps the affection with which he was regarded, perhaps the expression which his face had worn when he looked at her. She remembered him so well that she was able when she paid a second visit to the hospital to describe him to one of the Sisters, and ask his name.

“Kenyon,” she repeated, when it was told to her. “I suppose it is not an uncommon name?”

Lesley had spoken of a Mr. Kenyon. It was not this Mr. Kenyon, of course!

But it was “this Mr. Kenyon;” and thus Maurice met the mother of the girl he loved in the ward of a London hospital, whither Lady Alice had been urged by that impulse towards “The Unexplored,” of which her husband was the author. And in another ward of the same hospital lay a patient whose destiny was to influence the fates of both an insensible man, whose name was unknown to the nurses, but whom Oliver would have recognized as his brother, Francis Trent.