Read CHAPTER XL - CAIN of Brooke's Daughter A Novel , free online book, by Adeline Sergeant, on ReadCentral.com.

Maurice Kenyon took an early opportunity of asking Lady Alice whether she would recognize the man Smith if she saw him again.

“I think so. Why do you ask? You know I talked to him a good deal.”

“I have been very blind,” said Maurice seriously. “I never thought until to-day of associating him in my mind with someone else someone whom I have seen twice during the past week. May I speak freely to you? You know I am as anxious as anyone can possibly be that this mystery should be cleared up. I wish to speak of Francis Trent, the brother of Oliver Trent, and the husband of the woman who makes this accusation against Mr. Brooke.”

Lady Alice recoiled. “You cannot mean that John Smith had anything to do with him?”

“I have a strong belief that John Smith and Francis Trent are one and the same. To my shame be it spoken, I did not recognize him either on Wednesday or Friday when I paid him a visit. Ethel wished me to go when she heard that he was ill.” He said this in a deprecating tone.

“I quite understand. You saw this man Francis Trent then?”

“Yes, and could not imagine where I had seen him before. I think it is the man I used to see in hospital. Lady Alice if you saw him yourself

“I, Mr. Kenyon? What! see the man and woman who accuse my husband of murder?” There was genuine horror in her tone. “How could I speak to them?”

“It is just a chance,” said Maurice, in a low voice. “If he knew that you were the wife of the man who was accused perhaps something would come of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Lady Alice, pray do not build too much on what I am going to say. If Francis Trent and John Smith be the same, then my knowledge of John Smith’s previous condition leads me to think it quite possible that it was Francis Trent who, in a fit of frenzy, committed the murder of which your husband is suspected.”

Lady Alice looked at him in silence. “I don’t see exactly,” she said, “that I should be of much use.”

“Nor I exactly,” said Maurice. “But I see a vague chance; and I ask you for your husband’s sake to try it.”

“Ah, you know I cannot refuse that,” she said quickly. And then she arranged with him where they should meet on the following afternoon in order to drive to the lodgings now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Francis Trent. Whether this proceeding might not be stigmatized as “tampering with witnesses,” Maurice and Lady Alice neither knew nor cared. If Maurice had a doubt, he stifled it by telling himself that they were not going to visit the “witness,” Mary Trent, but the sick man, John Smith, in whom Lady Alice had been interested at the hospital. It was only as a precaution that he took with him young Mr. Grierson, junior partner of the firm of solicitors to whom Caspar’s defence was entrusted. Young Grierson was a friend as well as a lawyer, and it was always as well to have a friend at hand. But really he hardly knew for what result he hoped.

The rooms in which Maurice himself, at Ethel’s instance, had located Mr. and Mrs. Francis Trent were in Bernard Street. They were plain but apparently clean and comfortable. Maurice said a word to the servant, and unceremoniously put her aside, and walked straight into the room where he knew that Francis Trent was lying.

A thin, spare woman, with a deadly pale face and black sunken eyes, rose from a seat beside the bed as they entered. Lady Alice knew, as if by instinct, that this was Mary Trent. She averted her eyes from the woman who had falsely accused her husband: she could not bear to look at her. But Mary Trent scarcely took her eyes off Lady Alice’s face.

“Will you look here, Lady Alice, if you please?” said Maurice in his most professional tone. She turned towards the bed, and saw yes, it was the face of the man whom she had known in the hospital: thinner, yellower, more haggard than ever, but still the face of the patient who used to watch her as if her presence were a means of healing in itself.

“Yes,” she said slowly, “that is John Smith.”

“His real name is Francis Trent,” said Maurice. “Do you know this lady, Francis?”

The sick man nodded. There was a curiously vacant look upon his face, brightened only at times by gleams of vivid consciousness.

“Yes, yes, I know her. The lady that came to see me in hospital,” he murmured feebly.

“Do you know who she is?”

“Why do you trouble him, sir?” said Mrs. Trent. “You see how ill he is, wouldn’t it be better for him to be left in peace?”

She spoke with sedulous calmness; but there was a jar in her voice which did not sound quite natural. Maurice simply repeated his question, and Francis Trent shook his head.

“She is the wife of Caspar Brooke, the man who, you say, killed your brother Oliver.”

The sick man’s eyes dilated, and fixed themselves uneasily on his wife. “I did not say it,” he answered, almost in a whisper. “Mary said it not I.”

“But you heard something, did you not?” said Maurice remorselessly.

“How should he hear anything,” said Mary Trent, “and he asleep in his bed at the time? Or if not asleep, too ill and weak to notice anything. It’s a shame to question him like that; and not legal, neither. You’ll please to leave us to ourselves, sir; we ain’t a show. We can but say what we saw and heard, whatever the consequences may be, but we need not be tortured for all that.”

“That’s enough, Mary,” said the man speaking from the bed in a much more natural manner and in a stronger voice than he had yet used. “You’re overdoing it you always do. It’s no good. This is the last stroke, and I give up. It has gone against the grain with me to get anybody into trouble,” he said, looking attentively at Lady Alice, “and now that I know who this lady is, I don’t feel inclined to keep up the farce any longer. I am much too ill to live to be hanged Mr. Kenyon can tell you so at any minute and I may as well give you the satisfaction of knowing that Caspar Brooke had nothing at all to do with Oliver’s death: I was his murderer, and no one else: I swear it, so help me God!”

Lady Alice turned very faint. Someone put her in a chair and fanned her, and when she came to herself she heard Francis Trent’s wife speaking.

“He’s mad, I tell you. It’s no good paying any attention to what he says, gentlemen. I saw him myself in his bed at the time, and

“Now, Mary, my dear good soul,” said Francis with the old easy superiority which he had always assumed to her, “will you just hold your tongue, and let me tell my own tale? You have done your best for me, but you know I always told you I was not to be trusted to lie about it if anybody appealed to me to evidence. I really have not the strength to keep it up. I want at least to die like a gentleman.”

“I am not at all sure that you are going to die,” said Maurice quietly, with his finger on the sick man’s pulse. Francis had put off the vacant expression, and his eyes had lighted up. He was evidently quite himself again.

“No?” he said easily. “Well, I would rather die, if it’s all the same to you; because I fancy I shall have to be put under restraint if I do live. I don’t always know what I am doing in the least. I know now, though. You can bear me out, doctor, isn’t my brain in a very queer state?”

“I fear it is,” said Maurice.

“Just so. I am subject to fits of rage in which I don’t know what I am doing. And on that night when Oliver came to see me, after Brooke had gone away, I got into one of these frenzies and followed him downstairs, picking up Brooke’s stick on the way and beating poor Oliver about the head with it.... You know well enough how he was found. I only came to myself when it was done. And then, my wife with all a woman’s ingenuity bundled me into bed, swore that I had never left it, and that Caspar Brooke had done it. It was a lie she told me so afterwards. Eh, Mary? Forgive me, old girl: I’ve got you into trouble now; but that is better than letting an innocent man swing for what I have done, especially when that man is the husband of one who was so kind to me

“And the father of Lesley Brooke,” said Maurice, looking steadfastly at Mary Trent.

A shudder ran through the woman’s frame. Then she covered her face with her hands and flung herself down at her husband’s side.

“Oh Francis, my dear, my dear!” she said. “I did it for you.”

And then for an instant there was silence in the room, save for her heavy sobs. Francis lay still but patted her with his thin fingers, and looked at Caspar Brooke’s wife with his large, unnaturally bright, dark eyes.

“She is a good soul in spite of it all,” he said, addressing himself to Lady Alice. “And she did it out of love for me. You would have done as much for your husband, perhaps, if you loved him but I have heard, that you don’t.”

“Oh, but you are wrong,” said Lady Alice. “I love him with all my heart, and I thank you deeply deeply for saving him.”

“That ought to be some payment,” said Francis Trent, with his wan, wild smile. “And I don’t suppose they’ll be very hard on me, as I did not know what I was doing. You’ll speak a word to that effect, won’t you, doctor?”

“I will indeed. But it would have been better for you as well as for others if truth had been told from the beginning,” said Kenyon.

“It can’t be helped now. Is there anything else I can do? You must have my statement taken down. And Mary, my girl, you’ll have to make your confession too.”

“Oh, Francis, Francis!” she moaned. “Not against you, my dear not against you!”

“Yes, against me,” said Francis steadily. “And let us finish with the formalities as quickly as may be, doctor, as long as my head’s clear. I killed my brother Oliver that you must make known as soon as you can. Not for malice, poor chap, nor yet for money though he had cheated me many a time but because I was mad mad. And I am mad now mad though you do not know it stark, staring mad!”

And his dark eyes glared at them so strangely that Lady Alice cried out and had to be led into another room, for it was the light of madness indeed that shone from beneath his sunken brows.

It was while she sat alone for a minute or two while the gentlemen were talking in another room, that Mary Trent came creeping to her, with folded hands and furtive mien.

“Oh, my lady, my lady, forgive me,” she said, sobbing fretfully as she spoke. “I thought but of my own I did not think of you. Nor of Miss Lesley, though I did love her yes, I did, and tried my best to save her from that wicked man. Mr. Brooke will tell you what I mean, ma’am. And tell him, if you will be so good, that I was frightened into taking back the stories I had told him about Oliver but they were all true. Everyone of ’em was true. And that I beg he’ll forgive me; for a better and a kinder gentleman I never see, nor one that loved poor people more. And Miss Lesley was just like him but it was my husband, and I thought he’d be hanged for it, and what could I do?”

And then, while Lady Alice still hesitated between pity and a feeling of revolt at pity for a woman who had sworn falsely against her dearly beloved husband, Caspar Brooke, a cry was heard from the bedroom, and Mary turned and fled back to the scene of her duties sad and painful duties indeed, sometimes, when the madman became violent, and likely enough to be very speedily terminated by death.

“What can I say to you?” said Lady Alice to Maurice Kenyon, a day or two later. “It was your acuteness that brought the matter to light. Now that that poor wretched man is hopelessly insane, we might never have learnt the truth. Is there any way in which I can thank you? any way in which I can give you a reward?”

She looked steadily into his face, and saw that he changed color.

“There is only one way, Lady Alice,” he stammered.

“You are not to call me Lady Alice: I like ‘Mrs. Brooke’ much better. Well?”

“I love your daughter,” said Maurice bluntly, “and I believe she would love me if you would let her.”

Let her?” said Mrs. Brooke, with a smile.

“She made you some promises before she came to London

“Ah, not to become engaged before the year was out. Tell her that I absolve her from that promise, and ask her again.”

Maurice found that under these conditions Lesley’s answer was all that could be desired.