Read CHAPTER XXIII - CAPTAIN DUCHESNE of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on

Lesley’s life seemed to her now much less lonely than it had been at first. The consciousness of having made friends was pleasant to her, although her affection for Ethel had been for a time overshadowed by the recollection of Oliver’s unfaithfulness. But when this impression passed away, as it gradually did, after the scene that had been so painful to her, she consoled herself with the belief that Oliver’s words and actions had proceeded from a temporary derangement of judgment, for which he was not altogether responsible, and that he had returned to his allegiance; therefore she might continue to be friendly with Ethel without any sensation of treachery or shame. An older woman than Lesley would not, perhaps, have argued in this way: she would have suspected the permanence of Oliver’s feelings more than Lesley did. But, being only an inexperienced girl, Lesley comforted herself by the fact that Oliver now avoided her; and said that it could not be possible for her to have attracted him away from Ethel, who was so winning, so sweet, so altogether delightful.

Then, apart from the Kenyons, she began to make pleasant acquaintances amongst her father’s friends. Caspar Brooke’s house was a centre of interest and entertainment for a large number of intellectual men and women; and Lesley had as many opportunities for wearing her pretty evening gowns as she could have desired. There were “at homes” to which her charming presence and her beautiful voice attracted Caspar’s friends in greater numbers than ever: there were dinner-parties where her interest in the new world around her made everything else interesting; and there was a constant coming and going of people who had work to do in the world, and who did it with more or less success, which made the house in Woburn Place anything but a dull abode.

The death of her grandfather distressed her less from regret for himself than from anxiety for her mother’s future. Lady Alice’s notes to her were very short and somewhat vaguely worded. It was, therefore, with positive joy that, one afternoon in spring, she was informed by her maid that Captain Duchesne was in the drawing-room, for she felt sure that he would be able to tell her many details that she did not know. She made haste to go down, and yet, before she went, she paused to say a word to Kingston, who had brought her the welcome news.

“I wish you would go out, Kingston; you don’t look at all well, and this spring air might do you good.”

It was certainly easy to see that Kingston was not well. During the past few weeks her face had become positively emaciated, her eyes were sunken, and her lips were white. She looked like a person who had recently passed through some illness or misfortune. Lesley had tried, delicately and with reserve, to question her; but Kingston had never replied to any of her inquiries. She would shut up her lips, and turn away with the look of one who could keep a secret to the grave.

“Nothing will do me good, ma’am,” she answered dryly.

“Oh, Kingston, I am so sorry!”

“Go down to your visitor, ma’am, and don’t mind me,” said Kingston, turning her back on the girl with unusual abruptness. “It isn’t much that I’ve got to be sorry for, after all.”

“If there is anything I can do to help you, you will let me know, will you not?” said Lesley.

But Kingston’s “Yes, ma’am,” fell with a despairing cadence on her ear.

Kingston had been to her husband’s lodgings only to find that he had disappeared. He had left some of his clothes, and the few articles of furniture that belonged to his wife, and had never said that he was going away. The accident that had made Francis Trent a patient at the hospital where Lady Alice visited was of course unknown to his landlady, as also to his wife. And as his memory did not return to him speedily, poor Mary Trent had been left to suffer all the tortures of anxiety for some weeks. At first she thought that some injury had happened to him perhaps that he was dead: then a harder spirit took possession of her, and she made up her mind that he had finally abandoned her had got money from Oliver and departed to America without her. She might have asked Oliver whether this were so, but she was too proud to ask. She preferred to eat out her heart in solitude. She believed herself deserted forever, and the only grain of consolation that remained to her was the hope of making herself so useful and acceptable to Lesley Brooke, that when Lesley married she would ask Mary Kingston to go with her to her new home.

Kingston had made up her mind about the man that Lesley was to marry. She had seen him come and go: she had seen him look at her dear Miss Lesley with ardently admiring eyes: she believed that he would be a true and faithful husband to her. But she knew more than Lesley was aware of yet.

Lesley went slowly down into the drawing-room. She remembered Captain Duchesne very well, and she was glad to think of seeing him again. And yet there was an indefinable shrinking she did not know how or why. Harry Duchesne was connected with her old life with the Paris lights, the Paris drawing-rooms, the stately old grandfather, the graceful mother the whole assembly of things that seemed so far away. She did not understand her whole feeling, but it suddenly appeared to her as if Captain Duchesne’s visit was a mistake, and she had better get it over as soon as possible.

It must be confessed that this sensation vanished as soon as she came into the actual presence of Captain Duchesne. The young man, with his grave, handsome features, his drooping, black moustache, his soldierly bearing, had an attraction for her after all. He reminded her of the mother whom she loved.

It was not very easy to get into conversation with him at first. He seemed as ill at ease as Lesley herself had been. But when she fell to questioning him about Lady Alice, his tongue became unloosed.

“She does not know exactly what to do. She talks of taking a house in London if you would like it.”

“Would mamma care to live in London?”

“Not for her own sake: for yours.”

“But I I do not think I like London so much,” said Lesley, with a swift blush and some hesitation. Captain Duchesne looked at her searchingly.

“Indeed? I understood that you had become much attached to it. I am sure Lady Alice thinks so.”

“I do love it yes, but it is on account of the people who live in London,” said Lesley.

“Ah, you have made friends?”

“There is my father, you know.”

“Yes.” And something in his tone made Lesley change the subject hurriedly. Captain Duchesne would never have been so ill-bred as to speak disparagingly of a lady’s father to her face; and yet she felt that there was something disparaging in the tone.

“Have you seen the present Lord Courtleroy?” she asked.

“Yes; I have met him once or twice. He is somewhat stiff and rigid in appearance, but he is very courteous more than courteous, Lady Alice tells me, for he is kind. He wishes to disturb her as little as possible entreats her to stay at Courtleroy, and so on; but naturally she wishes to have a house of her own.”

“Of course. But I thought that she would prefer the South of France.”

“If I may say so without offence,” said Captain Duchesne, smiling, “Lady Alice’s tastes seem to be changing. She used to love the country and inveigh against the ugliness of town; but now she spends her time in visiting hospitals and exploring Whitechapel

Lesley almost sprang to her feet. “Oh, Captain Duchesne, are you in earnest?”

“Quite in earnest.”

“Oh, I am so glad!”

“Why, may I ask?” said Duchesne, with real curiosity. But Lesley clasped her hands tightly together and hung her head, feeling that she could not explain to a comparative stranger how she felt that community of interests might tend to a reconciliation between the long separated father and mother. And in the rather awkward pause that followed, Miss Ethel Kenyon was announced.

Lesley was very glad to see her, and glad to see that she looked approvingly at Captain Duchesne, and launched at once into an animated conversation with him. Lesley relapsed almost into silence for a time, but a satisfied smile played upon her lips. It seemed to her that Captain Duchesne’s dark eyes lighted up when he talked to Ethel as they had not done when he talked to her; that Ethel’s cheeks dimpled with her most irresistible smile, and that her voice was full of pretty cadences, delighted laughter, mirth and sweetness. Lesley’s nature was so thoroughly unselfish, that she could bear to be set aside for a friend’s sake; and she was so ingenuous and single-minded that she put no strained interpretation on the honest admiration which she read in Harry Duchesne’s eyes. It may have been partly in hopes of drawing her once more into the conversation that he turned to her presently with a laughing remark anent her love of smoky London.

“Oh, but it is not the smoke I like,” Lesley answered. “It is the people.”

“Especially the poor people,” put in Ethel, saucily. “Now, I can’t bear poor people; can you, Captain Duchesne?”

“I don’t care for them much, I’m afraid.”

“I like to do them good, and all that sort of thing,” said Ethel. “Don’t look so sober, Lesley! I like to act to them, or sing to them, or give them money; but I must say I don’t like visiting them in the slums, or having to stand too close to them anywhere. I am so glad that you agree with me, Captain Duchesne!”

And not long afterwards she graciously invited him to call upon her on “her day,” and promised him a stall at an approaching matinee, two pieces of especial favor, as Lesley knew.

Captain Duchesne sat on as if fascinated by the brilliant little vision that had charmed his eyes; and not until an unconscionable time had elapsed did he seem able to tear himself away. When he had gone, Ethel expressed herself approvingly of his looks and manners.

“I like those soldierly-looking men,” she said. “So well set up and distinguished in appearance. Is he an old friend of yours, Lesley?”

“No, I have met him only once before. In Paris, he dined with us with my grandfather, my mother, and myself.”

“And he comes from Lady Alice now?”

“Yes, to bring me news of her.”

Ethel nodded her bright little head sagaciously.

“It’s very plain what Lady Alice wants, then?”

“What?” said Lesley, opening her eyes in wide amaze.

“She wants you to marry him, my dear.”


“It’s not nonsense: don’t get so red about it, you silly girl. What a baby you are, Lesley.”

“I am sure mamma never thought of anything of the kind,” said Lesley, with dignity, although her cheeks were still red.

“We shall see what we shall see. Well, I won’t put my oar in isn’t that kind of me? But, indeed, your Captain Duchesne looks thoroughly ripe for a flirtation, and it will be as much as I can do to keep my hands off him.”

“How would Mr. Trent like that?” said Lesley, trying to carry the war into the enemy’s camp.

“He would bear it with the same equanimity with which he bears the rest of my caprices,” said Ethel, merrily; but a shade crossed her brow, and she allowed Lesley to lead the conversation to the subject of her trousseau.

Captain Duchesne did not seem slow to avail himself of the favor accorded to him. He presented himself at Ethel’s next “at home;” and devoted himself to her with curious assiduity. Even the discovery of her engagement to Mr. Trent did not change his manner. It was not so much that he paid her actual attention, as that he paid none to anybody else. When she was not talking to him, he kept silence. He seemed always to be observing her, her face, her manner, her dress, her attitude. Yet this kind of observation was quite respectful and unobtrusive: it was merely its continuity that excited remark. Oliver noticed it at last, and professed himself jealous: in fact he was a little bit jealous, although he did not love Ethel overmuch. But he had a pride of possession in her which would not allow him to look with equanimity on the prospect of her being made love to by anybody else.

Ethel enjoyed the attentions, and enjoyed Oliver’s jealousy, in her usual spirit of childlike gaiety. She was quite assured of Oliver’s affection for her now; and she looked forward with shy delight to the day of her wedding, which had been fixed for the twentieth of March.

Meanwhile, Oliver was devoured with secret anxiety. For what had become of Francis, and when would he appear to demand the money which had been promised to him on the day when the marriage should take place?