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

“Now that Ethel has gone to the sea-side, I can have you to myself a little while,” said Lady Alice to her daughter.

“Poor Ethel! But it is delightful to have you here, mamma: it is so home-like and comfortable.”

“Ah, you will soon have to make a home for somebody else!”

Lesley grew red, but smiled. “We won’t think of that yet,” she said softly. “Mamma, I want to speak to you on a very serious subject.”

“Well, my darling?”

“You won’t be angry with me, will you? It is about Mrs. Romaine.”

Lady Alice’s brow clouded a little. “Well, Lesley?” she said.

“Mamma, I can’t bear Mrs. Romaine myself. Neither can you. Neither can papa. And it is very unchristian of all of us, to say the least. Because

“Neither can papa,” repeated Lady Alice, with raised brows. “My dear child, Mrs. Romaine is a great friend of your father’s. He told me only the other day that she used to come here very often to see your Aunt Sophy and yourself.”

“So she did,” said Lesley, lightly. “But, of course, she can’t very well come now at least, it would be awkward. Still I am sure papa does not like her, for he looked quite pleased the other day when I told him that she was going to give up her house, and said in his short way ’So much the better.’”

“Very slight evidence,” said Caspar Brooke’s wife smiling.

“Well, never mind evidence, mammy dear. What I want to say is that I feel very sorry for Mrs. Romaine. You see she must be feeling very much alone in the world. Oliver, whom she really cared for, is dead, and Francis is out of his mind, and Francis’ wife” with a little shudder “cannot be anything to her and then, don’t you think, mamma, that when there has been one case of insanity in the family, she must be afraid of herself too?”

“Not necessarily. Francis Trent’s insanity was the result of an accident.”

“Yes, but it is very saddening for her, all the same, and she must be terribly lonely in that house in Russell Square. I wanted to know if I might go and call upon her?”

“You, dear? I thought you did not like her.”

“I don’t,” said Lesley, frankly, “but I am sorry for her. Ethel asked me why I did not go. She thought there must be something wrong, because Rosalind never came to see her after Oliver’s death never once. I believe she has scarcely been out of the house not at all since the funeral, and that is a month ago. I have not heard that she was ill, so I suppose it is just that she is miserable, poor thing.”

Lady Alice stroked her daughter’s hair in silence for a minute or two. “I think I had better go instead of you, Lesley. There is no reason why she should feel she cannot see us. She was not to blame for that accusation though I heard that she believed it. But I will see her first, and you can go afterwards if she is able to receive visitors.”

“That is very good of you, mamma especially as you don’t like her,” said Lesley. “I can’t help feeling thankful that Ethel will have nothing to do with that family now. And since Maurice told her a little more about poor Mr. Trent, I think she sees that she would not have been very happy.” She was silent for a little while, and then went on, trying to give an indifferent sound to her words: “Captain Duchesne’s people live near Eastbourne, he told me; and Ethel has gone to Seaford.”

“Not far off,” said Lady Alice, smiling a little. “I hope that his sister Margaret will call on Ethel: I think they would like each other.”

And no more was said, for it was as yet too early to wonder even whether Harry Duchesne’s adoration for Ethel Kenyon was ultimately to meet with a return.

True to her new tastes, Lady Alice had had cards printed bearing the name “Mrs. Caspar Brooke.” She desired, she said, to be identified with her husband as much as possible: it was a great mistake to retain a mere courtesy title, as if she had interests and station remote from those of her husband. Caspar had smilingly opposed this change, but Lady Alice had stood firm. Indeed, to her old friends she remained “Lady Alice” to the end of the chapter; but to the outer world she was henceforth known as Mrs. Brooke.

She sent up one of her new cards when she called upon Mrs. Romaine. She paid this visit with considerable shrinking of heart. She had bitter memories connected with Mrs. Romaine. Since the day on which she had been reconciled to her husband, she had cast from her all suspicion of his past cast it from her in much the same arbitrary and unreasoning manner as she had first embraced it. For, like most women, she was governed far more by her feelings and instincts than by the laws of evidence. As Rosalind had once told her brother, Lady Alice had accidentally seen and intercepted a letter of hers to Caspar; and Lady Alice had then rushed to the conclusion that it was part of a long continued correspondence and not a single communication. And now nowwhat did she think? She hardly knew; of one thing only was she certain that Caspar had never been untrue to her, had never cared for any woman but herself.

She was not at all sure that Mrs. Romaine would receive her: she knew that she had written to her in a tone that no woman, especially a woman like Mrs. Romaine, is likely to forgive; but time, she thought, blunts the memory of past injuries, and if Rosalind chose to forget the past, she would forget it too. It was with a soft and kindly feeling, therefore, that Lady Alice asked for admittance at Mrs. Romaine’s door, and learned that Mrs. Romaine was at home and would see her.

Before she had been in the drawing-room five minutes, it dawned on Lady Alice’s mind that there was something odd in her hostess’ manner and even in her appearance. Of course she was prepared for a change; in the twelve years or more that had elapsed since they had met she herself must have also changed. But, as a matter of fact, Lady Alice’s long, elegant figure, shining hair and delicate complexion showed the ravages of time far less distinctly than she imagined; while Mrs. Romaine was a mere wreck of what she had been in her youth. During the last few weeks, Rosalind had grown thin: her features were sharpened, her hands white and wasted: her eyes seemed too large for her face, and were surmounted by dark and heavy shadows. Lady Alice was reminded of another face that she had last seen relieved against the whiteness of a pillow, of eyes that had gleamed wildly as they looked at her, of a certain oddness of expression that in her own heart she called “a mad look.” Yes, there was certainly a likeness between her and her brother Francis, and it was the sort of likeness that gave Lady Alice a shock.

For a few minutes the two women talked in platitudes of indifferent things. Lady Alice noticed that after every sentence or two Mrs. Romaine let the subject drop and sat looking at her furtively, as if she expected something that did not come. Was it sympathy that she wanted? It was with difficulty that Lady Alice could approach the subject. After a longer pause than usual, she said softly

“You must let me tell you how sorry I am for the sorrow that has come upon you upon us all.”

Mrs. Romaine stared at her for a moment; an angry light showed itself in her eyes.

“You have come to tell me that?” she said, with chill disdain.

“I came to say so yes,” Lady Alice answered, in her surprise.

“I am very much obliged to you, I am sure.” The tone was almost insolent, but the woman was herself again. The oddness, the awkwardness of manner had passed away, and her old grace of bearing had come back. Even her beauty returned with the flush of crimson to her face and the lustre of her eyes. The prospect of combat brought back the animation and the brilliancy that she had lost.

“There were other things I thought that you had perhaps come to say repetitions of what you said to me years ago before you left your husband.”

Lady Alice rose at once. “I think you had better not touch on that subject,” she said gently but with dignity. “I did not come here with any such intention. I hoped all that was forgotten by you as it is by me.”

“I have not forgotten,” said Mrs. Romaine, rising also, and fixing her eyes on Lady Alice’s face.

“I am sorry for it. You will allow me

“No, do not go: stay for a minute or two, I beg of you. I am not well I said more than I meant do not leave me just yet.” She spoke now hurriedly and entreatingly.

These extraordinary changes of tone and manner impressed Lady Alice disagreeably. And yet she hesitated: she did not like to carry out her purpose of leaving the house at once, when she had been entreated to remain. Looking at her, Mrs. Romaine seemed to make a great effort over herself, and suddenly put on the air that she used most to affect the air of a woman of the world, with peculiarly engaging manners.

“Don’t hurry away,” she said. “I really have something particular to say to you. Will you listen to me for two minutes?”

“Yes if you wish it.”

“I do wish it very much. You will stay? That is kind of you. And I will ring for tea.”

“No, please do not,” said Lady Alice shrinking instinctively from the thought of eating and drinking in Rosalind Romaine’s drawing-room; “I really cannot stay long, and I do not drink tea so early.”

Her hostess smiled and withdrew her hand from the bell-handle. “As you please,” she said indifferently. “It is so long since I had visitors that I almost forget how to entertain them. You must excuse me if I have seemed distrait or or peculiar. You see I have had a great deal to bear.”

“I know it, and I am very sorry,” said Lady Alice gently.

“You are very kind.” Was there a touch of satire in the tone? “And as you are here why should we not speak of one or two matters that have troubled us sometimes? As two women of the world, we ought to be able to come to a sort of compact.”

“I do not understand you, Mrs. Romaine.”

Rosalind laughed a little wildly. “Of course you don’t. But I do not mean to talk conventionalism or commonplace. Just for a minute or two, let us speak openly. You have come back to your husband yes, I will speak, and you shall not interrupt! and you hope no doubt to be happy with him. Don’t you know that I could wreck your whole happiness if I chose?”

The color rose in Lady Alices face, but she looked clearly into the others face as she replied

“My happiness with my husband is not dependent on anything that you may do or say. I really cannot discuss the subject with you, Mrs. Romaine, it is most unsuitable.”

“You are very impatient,” said Rosalind satirically. “I only want to make a bargain with you. If you will do something that I want, I promise you that I will go away from London and never speak to any of your family again.” Lady Alice’s alarm struggled for mastery with her pride and her sense of the becoming, both of which told her not to parley with this woman. But the temptation to a naturally exacting nature was very great. She hesitated for a moment, and Mrs. Romaine went rapidly on.

“I wrote a letter once.” The hot color mounted to her cheeks and brow while she was speaking. “You wrote to me about it. But you did not send it back. You have that letter still.”

Lady Alice continued to look at her steadily, but made no reply.

“That letter has been the curse of my life. I repented it as soon as it was sent you may be sure of that: I could repeat it word for word even now. Oh, no doubt you made the most of it jeered at it laughed over it with him but to me

“It is the last thing I should ever have mentioned to my husband,” said Lady Alice, with grave disdain. “He never knew that you wrote it never saw it never will see or know it from me.”

“Do you mean that you have kept it to yourself all these years?”

“I mean that I put it into the fire as soon as I had read it. Why are you so concerned about it? Was it worse than the others that you must have written before that?”

“I never wrote to him before.”

They faced each other with mutual suspicion in their eyes. Lady Alice had forgotten her proud reserve: she wanted to know the truth at last.

“I will acknowledge,” she said, “that I believed that you had written other letters of a somewhat similar kind to Mr. Brooke. I was angry and disgusted: it was that which formed one of my reasons for leaving him years ago. But I have come to a better mind since then. I do not care what you wrote, what you said, or what you did: I believe that my husband is a good man and I love him. I have come back to him, and shall never leave him again. You can do me no harm now.”

Mrs. Romaine laughed mockingly. “Can I not?” she said. “Do you know that he came to me within an hour after his release? Do you know that he asked me to go away with him to Spain, where we could be safe and happy together? What do you say to that?”

“I say this,” cried Lady Alice, almost violently, “that I do not believe a word of it.” She drew herself to her full height and turned to leave the room. Then she looked at Rosalind and spoke in a gentler tone. “I am sorry for you,” she said. “But your suffering is partly your own fault. What right had you to think of winning my husband’s heart away from me? You have not succeeded, although you have done your best to make us miserable. I have never spoken of you to him never; but now, when I go home, I shall go straight to him and tell him all that you have said to me, and I shall know very well whether what you say is false or true.”

She left the room proudly and firmly, unheeding of the mocking laugh that Rosalind sent after her. She let herself out into the street and walked straight back to her home. Caspar was out: she could not go to him immediately, as she had said that she would do. She went to her room and lay down upon the bed, feeling strangely tired and weak. In spite of her haughty rebuttal of the charge against her husband, she was wounded and oppressed by it. And as the time went on, she felt more and more the difficulty of telling him her story, of asking him to clear himself. How could she question him without seeming to doubt?

She fretted herself until a headache came on, and she was unable to go down to dinner. Lesley brought her up a cup of tea, but her mother refused her company. “I shall be better alone,” she said. “Has your father come in yet? Isn’t he very late?”

It was nearly ten o’clock when Mr. Brooke came in, and, hearing that he had been asked for, made his way to his wife’s room. He bent over her tenderly, asking her how she felt; and she put one hand up to his rough cheek, without answering.

“What has made your head ache, my darling?” he asked.

“Caspar, I have been to see Mrs. Romaine.”

She felt a sort of start or quiver go through him at the name. He put his lips softly to her forehead before he spoke. “Well!” he said, a little dryly.

“Did you did she

Then she broke down, and sobbed a little with her face against her husband’s breast. Caspar’s breath grew shorter a sign of excitement with him but for a time he waited quietly and would not speak. He could not all at once make up his mind what to say.

“Alice,” he said at last, “if you ask me questions I suppose I must answer them in one way or another. But I think I had rather you did not.” He felt that every nerve was strained in self-control as she listened to him. “Mrs. Romaine,” he went on deliberately, “is not a woman that I like or respect. I would very much prefer not to talk about her.”

“I must tell you just one thing,” she whispered, “it was my feeling about her my jealousy of her that made me leave you twelve years ago.”

She had surprised him now. “Alice! Impossible,” he said. “Why, my poor girl, there was not the slightest reason. I can most solemnly swear to you, Alice, that I never had any other feeling for Mrs. Romaine than that of ordinary friendship. My dear, will you never believe that you have always been the one woman in all the world for me?”

“Forgive me, Caspar,” she murmured, “I do believe it now.”

At the same hour, a haggard and despairing woman raised herself from the floor where she had lain for many weary hours, trying by passionate tears and cries and outbursts of unavailing lamentation to exhaust or stifle the anguish which seemed to have reached its most intolerable point. Her robes were soiled and crushed, her hair was dishevelled, her eyes were red with weeping; and, as she rose, she wrung her hands together and then raised them in appeal to the God whom she had so long forgotten and forsaken.

“Oh, my God,” she cried, “how can I bear it? All that I do is useless. I may lie and cheat and plot as much as I like, but all my schemes are in vain. I cannot hurt her, as she said: I cannot punish him: I have no power left. No power, no beauty, no will! Am I losing my senses, too, like Francis?” She shuddered at the thought. “Perhaps I am going mad they have driven me mad, Caspar Brooke and his wife, between them mad, mad, mad! Oh, God,” she said, with a long shivering sigh, “Oh, God, avert that doom! Not that punishment of all others, for mercy’s sake!”

She looked up and down her dimly lighted room with an expression upon her face of horror and unrest, which bore some resemblance to the look of one whose intellect was becoming unhinged. It seemed as if she were afraid that something might leap out upon her from the darkness, or as if goblin voices might at any moment mutter in her ear. For a long time she stood motionless in the middle of the room, her eyes staring, her hands hanging at her sides. Then she moved slowly to a writing-table, took a sheet of paper and a pen, and wrote a few lines. When she had finished she enclosed the sheet in an envelope, and addressed it to Lady Alice Brooke. And when that was done she rang the bell and sent the letter to the post. Then she nodded and smiled strangely to herself.

“Perhaps that will atone,” she murmured vaguely. “And perhaps God will not take away my reason, after all.”

And then she began to fumble among the things upon her dressing-table for the little bottle that contained her nightly sleeping draught.

Mrs. Romaines letter was brought to Lady Alice before she rose next morning. It contained these words:

“I told you what was not true to-day. Your husband never asked me to go away with him he never cared for me. I loved him, that was all. His carelessness drove me mad I tried to revenge myself on him by making you suffer. But you would not believe me, and you were right. Pity me if you can, and pray for me.

“ROSALIND ROMAINE.”

“Ah, poor soul!” thought Alice Brooke, her eyes filling with tears. “I do pity her I do, with all my heart. God help her!”

And she said those words again useless as they might be when, by and by, a messenger came hurrying to the house with the news that Mrs. Romaine had been found dead that morning dead, from an overdose of the chloral which she kept beside her for sleeplessness. And so the life of false aims and perverted longings came to its appointed end.

There was never a cloud on Alice Brooke’s domestic happiness, never a shadow of distrust between her and her husband, after this. For some little time they changed their mode of life giving up the house in Bloomsbury and spending long, blissful months in Italy and the Tyrol. It was like another honeymoon. And when they returned to London, Caspar took a house in a sunnier and pleasanter region than Upper Woburn Place, but not so far away as to prevent him from visiting the Macclesfield Club on Sundays, and having a chat with Jim Gregson and his other workman friends. These workmen and their wives came also in their turn to Mr. Brooke’s abode, where there was not only a gentle and gracious lady to preside at the table (where twelve especially valued silver spoons always held a place of honor), but a very remarkable baby in the nursery; and it was Mr. Brooke’s continual regret that he had not insisted on naming his son and heir Macclesfield, after the workmen’s buildings, instead of the more commonplace Maurice, after Maurice Kenyon. But Maurice and Lesley returned the compliment by calling their eldest child Caspar, although Lesley did say saucily that she thought it a very ugly name.

Francis Trent was in a lunatic asylum, “at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” His wife was allowed to see him now and then; and on this account she would not leave England, as some of her friends urged her to do, but occupied herself with needlework and some kind of district visiting among the poor. The Brookes and the Kenyons were both exceedingly kind to her, and would have been kinder if she had felt it possible to accept “their kindness”; but, although she cherished in secret a strong affection for Lesley, she was too much ashamed of her past conduct ever to present herself to them again. She could but live and work in silence, until one of the two great healers, Time or Death, should soothe the bitterness of her heart away.

And Ethel? Well, Mrs. Harry Duchesne knows more about Ethel than I do, and I shall be happy to refer you to her.