Read CHAPTER XXIV - MR. BROOKE’S DESIRES of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

Lady Alice’s movements were not without interest to Caspar Brooke, although Lesley did not suspect the fact. It was quite a surprise to her when he entered the library one day, with apparently no other object than that of saying abruptly,

“What is your mother going to do, Lesley?”

“To do?” said Lesley, flushing slightly and looking astonished.

“Yes” impatiently. “Where is she going to live? What will become of her? Do you want to go to her? I wish to hear what you know about her arrangements.”

He planted himself on the hearth-rug in what might be termed an aggressive attitude really the expression of some embarrassment of feeling. It certainly seemed hard to him at that moment to have to ask his daughter these questions.

“I think,” said Lesley, with downcast eyes, “that she is trying to find a house to suit her in Mayfair.”

“Mayfair. Then half her income will go in rent and taxes. Will she live there alone?”

“Yes. At least unless until

“Until you join her: I understand. Will” and then he made a long pause before continuing “if she wants you to join her at once; and you wish to go, don’t let this previous arrangement stand in the way. I shall not interfere.”

His curtness, his abruptness, would once have startled and terrified Lesley. She had of late grown so much less afraid of him, that now she only lifted her eyes, with a proud, grieving look in them, and said,

“Do you want me to go away, then?”

Want you to go? Certainly not, child,” and Mr. Brooke stretched out his hand, and drew her to him with a caressing gesture. “No: I like to have you here. But I thought you wanted to go to her.”

“So I do,” said Lesley, the tears coming to her eyes. “But I want to stay, too. I want” and she put both hands on his arms with a gesture as affectionate as his own “I want my father and mother both.”

“I’m afraid that is an impossible wish.”

“But why should it be?” said Lesley, looking up into his face beseechingly.

His features twitched for a moment with unwonted emotion. “You know nothing about it,” he said but he did not speak harshly. “You can’t judge of the circumstances. What can I do? Even if I asked her she would not come back to me.”

And then he put his daughter gently from him and went down to his study, where he paced up and down the floor for a good half-hour, instead of settling down as usual to his work.

But Lesley’s words were not without their effect, although he had put them aside so decidedly. With that young, fair face looking so pleadingly into his own, it did not seem impossible that she should form a new tie between himself and his wife. Of course he had always known that children were conventionally supposed to bind the hearts of husband and wife to each other; but in his own case he had not found that a daughter produced that result. On the contrary, Lesley had been for many years a sort of bone of contention between himself and his wife; and he had retained a cynical sense of the futility of such conventional utterances, which were every day contradicted by barefaced facts.

But now he began to acknowledge that Lesley was drawing his heart closer to his wife. The charm of a family circle began to rise before him. Pleasant, indeed, would it be to find that his dingy old house bore once more the characteristics of a home; that womankind was represented in it by fairer faces and softer voices than the face and voice even of dear old Doctor Sophy, with her advanced theories, her committees, and her brisk disregard of the amenities of life. Yes, he would give a good deal to see Alice it was long since he had thought of her by that name established in his drawing-room (which she should refurbish and adorn to her heart’s content), with Lesley by her side, and himself at liberty to stroll in and out, to be smiled upon, and yes, after all, this was his dearest wish to dare to lavish the love of which his great heart was full upon the wife and child whose loss had been the misfortune of his life.

As he thought of the past years, it seemed to him that they had been very bleak and barren. True, he had done many things; he had influenced many people, and accomplished some good work; but what had he got out of it for himself? He was an Individualist at heart, as most men are, and he felt conscious of a claim which the world had not granted. It was almost a shock to him to feel the egoistic desire for personal happiness stirring strongly within him; the desire had been suppressed for so long, that when it once awoke it surprised him by its vitality.

The outcome of these reflections was seen in a letter written that day after his talk with Lesley. He seated himself at last at his writing-table, and after some minutes’ thought dashed off the following epistle. He did not stop for a word, he would not hesitate about the wording of sentences: it seemed to him that if he paused to consider, his resolution might be shaken, his purpose become unfixed.

“My Dear Alice,” he wrote “I hear from Lesley that you are looking for a house. Would it not be better for us all if you made your home with me again? Things have changed since you left me, and I might now be better able to consult your tastes and wishes than I was then. We are both older and, I hope, wiser. Could we not manage to put aside some of our personal predilections and make a home together for our daughter? I use this argument because I believe it will have more weight with you than any other: at the same time, I may add that it is for my own sake, as well as for Lesley’s, that I make the proposition. Your affectionate husband,

“CASPAR BROOKE.”

It was an odd ending, he thought: he had certainly not shown himself an affectionate husband to her for many years. But there was truth in the epithet: little as she might believe it, or as it might appear. He would not stop to re-read the letter: he had said what he wanted to say, and she could read his meaning easily enough. He had held out the olive branch. It was for her to accept or reject it, as she would.

Lesley could not understand why he was so restless and apparently uneasy during the next few days. He seemed to be looking for something expecting something nobody knew what. He spent more time than usual with her, and took a new interest in her affairs. She did not know that he was trying to put himself into training for domestic life, and that he found it unexpectedly pleasant.

“What’s this?” he said one day, picking up a scrap of paper that fell from a book that she held in her hand. “Not a letter, I think? Have you been making extracts?”

“No,” said Lesley, blushing violently, but not trying to take the paper from him.

“May I see it? Oh, a sort of essay description impressions of London in a fog.” He murmured a few of the words and phrases as he went on. “Why, this is very good. Here’s the real literary touch. Where did you get this, Lesley? It’s not half bad.”

As she made no answer, he looked up and saw the guilty laughter in her eyes, the conscious blushes on her cheeks.

“You don’t mean to say

“I only wrote it to amuse myself,” said Lesley, meekly. “I’ve had so little to do since I came here, and I thought I would scribble down my impressions.”

“My dear child,” said Mr. Brooke, “if you can write as well as this, you ought to have a career before you. Why,” he added, surveying her, “I had no idea of this. And I always did have a secret wish that a child of mine should take to literature. My dear

“But I don’t want to take to literature, exactly,” said Lesley, with a little gasp. “I only want to amuse myself sometimes just when I feel inclined, if you don’t think it a great waste of time

“Waste of time? Certainly not. Go on, by all means. I shall only ask to see what you do now and then; I might be able to give you a hint though I don’t know. Your style is very good already wants a little compression, perhaps, but you can make sentences that’s a comfort.” And Mr. Brooke fell to reading the manuscript again, with a very pleased look upon his face.

It was while he was still reading that a servant brought in some letters which had just arrived. He opened the first that came to hand almost unthinkingly, for his mind was quite absorbed in the discovery which he had made. It was only when his eye rested on the first page of the letter that memory came back to him. He gave a great start, rose up, putting Lesleys paper away from him, and went to the other side of the room to read his letter. It was as follows:

DEAR MR. BROOKE,

“I have already found a house that I think will suit me, and I hope that Lesley will join me there as soon as you can spare her. I am afraid that it is a little too late to change our respective ways of life. It would be no advantage to Lesley to live with parents who were not agreed.

“Yours very truly,

“ALICE BROOKE.”

Caspar Brooke turned round with a face that had grown strangely pale, walked across the room to Lesley, and dropped the letter in her lap.

“There!” he said. “I have done my uttermost. That is your mother’s reply to me.”

He strode out of the room, without deigning to answer her cry of surprise and inquiry, and Lesley took up the letter.

It was with a burst of tears that she put it down. “Oh, mother, mother!” she cried to herself, “how can you be so unkind, so unjust, so unforgiving? He is the best man in the world, and yet you have the heart to hurt him.”

She did not see her father again until the next day, and then, although she made no reference in words to the letter which she restored to him, her pale and downcast looks spoke for her, and told the sympathy which she did not dare to utter. Mr. Brooke kissed her, and felt vaguely comforted; but it began to occur to him that he had made Lesley’s position a hard one by insisting on her visit to his house, and that it might have been happier for her if she had remained hostile to himself, or ignorant of his existence. For now, when she went back to her mother, would not the affection that she evidently felt for him rise up as a barrier between herself and Lady Alice? Would she not try to fight for him? She was brave enough, and impetuous enough, to do it. And then Alice might justly accuse him of having embittered the relation, hitherto so sweet, between mother and daughter, and thereby inflicted on her an injury which nothing on earth could repair or justify.

Could nothing be done to remedy this state of things? Caspar Brooke began to feel worried by it. His mind was generally so serene that the intrusion of a personal anxiety seemed monstrous to him. He found it difficult to write in his accustomed manner: he felt a diminution of his interest in the club. With masculine impatience of such an unwonted condition, he went off at last to Maurice Kenyon, and asked him seriously whether his brain, his heart, or his liver were out of order. For that something was the matter with him, he felt sure, and he wanted the doctor to tell him what it was.

Maurice questioned and examined him carefully, then assured him with a hearty laugh that even his digestion was in the best possible working order.

Brooke gave himself a shake like a great dog, looked displeased for a moment, and then burst out laughing too.

“I suppose it is nothing, after all,” he said. “I’ve been a trifle anxious and worried lately. Nothing of any importance, my dear fellow. By the by, have you been to see Lesley lately?”

“May I speak to her?” said Maurice, his face brightening. “I thought

“Speak when you like,” Caspar answered, curtly. “I almost wish you would get if over. Get it settled, I mean.”

“I shall get it settled as soon as I can, certainly,” said Maurice.

And Mr. Brooke went away, thinking that after all he had found one way of escape from his troubles. For if Lesley accepted Maurice, and lived with him in a house opposite her father’s, there would always be a corner for him at their fireside, and he would not go to the grave feeling himself a childless, loveless, desolate old man.

It must be conceded that Mr. Brooke had sunk to a very low pitch of dejection when he was dominated by such thoughts as these.