"And so do I," said Lesley, surrendering herself to the spell, and letting Ethel take both her hands and look into her face. "But you are not at all like the English girls I expected to meet! I thought they were all cold and stiff!"
"Have you never seen an English girl before, dear?"
"Yes, but I have had no English girl friend. I never talked to an English girl before as I am talking to you."
"Oh, how charming!" said Ethel. "And I never before talked to a girl who had lived in a convent! We are each a new experience to the other! What a basis for friendship!"
"Do you think so?" said Lesley. "I should have thought the opposite—that what is old and well-tried and established is the best to found a friendship upon."
She spoke half sadly, with a memory of her parents and her own relations with her father in her mind. Ethel gave her a shrewd glance, but made no direct reply. She was a young woman of marvellously quick intuitions, and she saw at once that Lesley's training had not fitted her to take up her position in the Brooke household very easily.
When she went home she turned this matter over in her mind a good many times; and was so absorbed in her reflections that her brother had to ask her twice what she was thinking about before she answered him.
"I was thinking about Lesley Brooke," she answered promptly.
"A lively subject. I never saw a girl with a more melancholy expression."
"Well, of course, as yet she hates everything," said Ethel, comprehensively.
"Hates everything! That's a large order," said the young doctor.
They were at dinner—they dined at six every day on account of Ethel's professional engagements; and it was not often that Maurice was at home. When he was at home Ethel knew that he liked to talk to her, so she abandoned her brown studies.
"Well, she hates the fog and the darkness, and the ugly buildings and the solid furniture of Mr. Brooke's house, which dates back to the Georgian era at the very least. I'm sure she hates Sarah. And I shouldn't like to say that she hates Doctor Sophy"—Ethel always called Miss Brooke Doctor Sophy—"but she doesn't like her very much. She is awfully shocked because Doctor Sophy smokes cigarettes."
"Quite right of Miss Lesley Brooke to be shocked," said Maurice, laughing. "However, she need not despair, there is always old Caspar to fall back upon."
Ethel pursed up her lips, looked at her brother very hard, and shook her curly head significantly.
"Do you mean to say," cried the doctor, "that she doesn't appreciate her father?"
"I don't think she understands him. And how can she appreciate him if she doesn't understand?"
Maurice laid down his knife and fork, and simply glared at his sister. He was an excitable young man, and had a way of expressing himself sometimes in reprehensibly strong language. On this occasion, he said—
"Do you mean to tell me that that girl is such a born idiot and fool that she can't see what a grand man her father is?"
Ethel nodded. But her eyes brimmed over with mirth.
"Then she deserves to be shut up for life in the convent she came from!" said the doctor. "I wouldn't have believed it! Is she blind? Doesn't she see what an intellect that man has? Can't she understand that his abilities are equal to those of any man in Europe?"
"We all know your admiration for Mr. Brooke, dear," said Ethel, saucily. "You had better go and expound your views to Lesley. Perhaps she and her father would get on better then."
Maurice was silent. He sat and looked aghast at the notion thus presented to him. That Caspar Brooke—his friend, his mentor, almost his hero—should not have been able to live with his wife was bad enough! That his daughter should not admire him seemed to Maurice a sort of profanation! Heavens, what did the girl mean? The mother might have been an aristocratic fool; but the girl?—she looked intelligent enough! There must be a misapprehension somewhere; and it occurred to Maurice that it might be his duty to remove it.
Maurice Kenyon was a born knight-errant. When he said that a thing wanted doing, his heart ached until he could do it. A Celtic strain of blood in him showed itself in the heat of his belief, the impetuosity of his actions. In Ethel this strain had taken an artistic turn; but the same nature that urged her to dramatic representation urged her brother to set to work vehemently on righting anything that he thought was wrong. There never was a man who hated more than he to leave a matter in statu quo.
Although Ethel said no more concerning Lesley's misunderstanding of her father, Maurice was haunted by the echo of her remarks. He could not conceive how a girl possessed of ordinary faculties could possibly misprize her father's gifts. Either she was a girl of extraordinary stupidity, or she was wilfully blind. Perhaps there was no one to point out to her Caspar Brooke's many virtues. But they (thought Maurice) lay on the surface, and could not possibly be overlooked. The girl must have been spoiled by her residence in a French convent: she must be either stupid, frivolous, or base. Then how could Ethel care for her? Surely she could not be stupid: she could not be base—she might be frivolous: Maurice could not go so far as to think that his sister Ethel would like her the worse for being a little frivolous. Yes, that must be it: she was frivolous—a soulless butterfly, who pined for the gaieties of Paris. How awfully hard for a man like Caspar Brooke to have a daughter who was merely frivolous.
The more he thought of it—and he thought a good deal of it—the more Mr. Kenyon was concerned. No doubt it was no business of his, he said to himself, and he was a fool to worry himself. But then Brooke was his friend, in spite of the disparity of their years; and he did not like to think that his friend had such a heavy burden to bear. For, of course, it was a heavy burden to a man like Brooke. No doubt Brooke did not show that it was a burden: strong men did not cry out when their strength was tried. But a man with his power of affection, his tenderness, his depth of feeling (as Maurice thought), must be troubled when he found that his daughter neither loved nor comprehended him!
Maurice reflected that he had seen this extraordinary girl once. She had been standing at the window one day when he and Ethel were feeding that pampered poodle of Ethel's, Scaramouch, and he had been struck by the grace of her figure, the queenly pose of her head. He had not observed her face particularly, but he believed that it was rather pretty. Her dress—for his practised memory began to furnish him with details—her dress was grey, and if he could judge aright, fashionably made. Yes, a little French fashion-plate—a doll, powdered, perhaps, and painted, laced up, and perfumed and clothed in dainty raiment, to come and make discord in her father's home! It was intolerable. Why did not Brooke leave this pestilent creature in her own abode, with the insolent, aristocratic friends who had done their best already to spoil his life!
Thus he worked himself up to a high pitch of passionate excitement on his friend's behalf. It never occurred to him that Caspar Brooke might not at all be in need of it. It did not seem possible to him that a father could feel indifferent to the opinion of his child. And perhaps he was right, and Caspar Brooke not quite so indifferent as he seemed.
It must be the girl's fault, Maurice thought to himself. Could nothing be done? Could he set Ethel to talk to her? But no: Ethel was not serious enough in her appreciation of Caspar Brooke. Mrs. Romaine? She would praise Mr. Brooke, no doubt; but Kenyon had a troubled doubt of Mrs. Romaine's motives.
Doctor Sophy? Well, he liked Doctor Sophy immensely, especially since she had given up her practice: he liked her because she was so frank, so sensible, so practical in her dealings. But she was not a very sympathetic sort of person: not the kind of person, he acknowledged to himself, who would be likely to inspire a young girl with enthusiasm for another.
If there was nobody else to perform a needed office, it was your plain duty to perform it yourself. That had been Maurice Kenyon's motto for many years. It recurred to him now with rather disagreeable force.
Why, of course, he could not go and tell Brooke's daughter that she was a frivolous fool! What was his conscience driving at, he wondered. How could he, who did not know her in the least, commit such an act of impertinence as tell her how much he disapproved of her? It would be the act of a prig, not of a gentleman.
Of course he could not do it. And then he began at the beginning again, and condoled with Brooke in his own heart, and vituperated Brooke's daughter, and wondered whether she was really incapable of being reclaimed to the paths of filial reverence, and whether he ought not to make an attempt in his friend's favor. All of which proves that if any man deserved the name of a Don Quixote, that man was Maurice Kenyon, M.R.C.S.
Ethel unconsciously gave him the chance he secretly desired. He wanted above all things to make Lesley's acquaintance, and to talk to her—for her good—about her father. And one afternoon his sister begged him, as a great favor to her; to go over to Mr. Brooke's house with a message and a parcel for Lesley. He had been introduced to her one day in the street, therefore there could be nothing strange in his going in and asking for her, Ethel said. And would he please go about four o'clock, so as to catch Miss Lesley Brooke at afternoon tea.
Maurice told himself that it would be an impertinent thing to speak to her about her family affairs, and that he would only stay three minutes. At four o'clock he knocked at the door of Mr. Brooke's chocolate-brown house, and inquired solemnly for Miss Brooke.
Miss Brooke was not at home.
"Miss Lesley Brooke then?"
Miss Lesley Brooke was in the drawing-room. Maurice went upstairs.
Lesley was sitting in a low chair near a small wood fire, which the chillness of the October day made fully acceptable. She had a book on her lap, but she did not look as if she were reading: her chin was supported by her hand, and her brown eyes were gazing out of the window, with, as Maurice Kenyon could not fail to see, a slightly blank and saddened look. The girl had been now a fortnight in London, and her face had paled and thinned since her arrival; there was an anxious fold between her brows, and her mouth drooped at the corners. If her old friends—Sister Rose of the convent, for instance—had seen her, they could hardly have recognized this spiritless, brooding maiden for the joyous "Lisa" of their thoughts.
Mr. Kenyon had only one moment in which to note the significance of her attitude, for Lesley changed it as soon as she heard his name. He gave her Ethel's message at once and Ethel's parcel, and then stood, a little confused and unready for she had risen and was looking as if, when his errand was accomplished, he ought to go. Fortunately, Doctor Sophy came in and invited him cordially to sit down; rang for tea and scolded him roundly for not coming oftener; then suddenly remembered that one of her everlasting committees was at that moment sitting in a neighboring house, and started off at once to join her fellows, calling out to Lesley as she went to give Mr. Kenyon some tea, and tell her father, who was in the library.
"My father is out: Aunt Sophy does not know that," said Lesley to her visitor.
"Then I ought to go?" said Maurice, smiling.
"Oh, no!"—Lesley looked disturbed. "I did not mean to be so inhospitable. The tea is just coming up."
"Thank you," said Maurice, accepting the unspoken invitation and seating himself. "I shall be very glad of a cup."
She sat down too, veiling the real embarrassment of a school-girl by an assumption of great dignity. Maurice looked at her and felt perplexed. Somehow he could not believe that Brooke's daughter was such a very frivolous girl when he came to look at her. She had a fine brow, expressive eyes, a very eloquent mouth. He wondered what she was reading. Glancing at the title of the book, his heart sank within him. She had a yellow-backed novel in her hand, of a profoundly light and frivolous type. Maurice was fond of certain kinds of novels, but there were others that he disliked and despised, and, as it happened, Lesley had got hold of one of these.
"You are reading?" he said. "Am I interrupting you very much?"
"Oh, no," Lesley answered, smiling and shutting the book. "Tea is coming up, you see. I am falling into English habits, and beginning to love the hour of tea."
Sarah brought in the tea-tray as she spoke; and even Sarah's sour visage relaxed a little at the sight of the young doctor. She went downstairs, and presently returned with a plate of small, sweet cakes, which she placed rather ostentatiously upon the table.
"Sarah must have brought those cakes especially for me," said Mr. Kenyon lightly, when she had left the room. "She knows they are my especial favorites. And your father's too. I don't know how many dozen your father and I have not eaten, with our coffee sometimes in an evening! I suppose you are learning to like them for his sake!"
He was talking against time for the sake of giving her back the confidence that she seemed to have lost, for her face had flushed and paled again more than once since his entry. But perhaps he was wrong, for she answered him with a quietness of tone which showed no perturbation.
"These little macaroon things, you mean? I like them very much already. I did not know that my father cared about them. I have been away so long"—smilingly—"that I know but little of his tastes."
"I could envy you the pleasure you will have, then?" said Maurice, quickly.
Lesley opened her brown eyes. "The—the pleasure?" she faltered in an inquiring tone.
"Yes, the pleasure of discovering what are the tastes and feelings of a man like your father," said Maurice.
Then, as she looked disconcerted still, and as if she did not know quite what he meant, he went on, ardently:
"You have the privilege, you know, of being the only daughter of a man who is not only very widely known, but very much respected and admired. That doesn't seem much to you perhaps?"—for he thought he saw Lesley's lip curl, and his tone became a little sharp. "I assure you it means a great deal in a world like ours—in the world of London. It means that your father is a man of great ability and of unimpeachable honesty—I mean honesty of thought, honesty of purpose—intellectual honesty. You have no idea how rare that quality is amongst public men—or literary men—or journalists. Indeed it is a wonder that Brooke is so successful as he is, considering that he never wrote or said a word that he did not mean. No doubt that seems a small thing to you: it is not a small thing to say of a journalist now-a-days."
"I don't know much about journalists," said Lesley. "But all that you are saying would be taken as a matter of course amongst gentlemen."
There was a snub for Maurice, and a sly hit at her father, too. Maurice began to wax warm.
"Miss Brooke," he said, "you entirely fail to understand me; and I can imagine that you, perhaps, fail to understand your father also."
"If I do," said Lesley, proudly, "I hardly need to be set right by a stranger."
The young doctor sprang to his feet. "I a stranger!" he said. "I, who have known and appreciated and worked with Caspar Brooke for the last half dozen years—I to be called a stranger by his daughter? I don't think that's fair: I don't indeed."
He paused and put his tea-cup down upon the table. "If you'll only think for a minute, Miss Brooke," he said, entreatingly, with such a sudden softening of voice and manner that Lesley sat amazed, "I cannot believe but that you'll pardon me. I owe so much to your father—he has been a guide, a helper, almost a prophet to me, ever since I came across him when I was a medical student at King's College Hospital, and I only want everybody to see him with my eyes—loving and reverent eyes, I can tell you, though I wouldn't say so to everybody, seeing that love and reverence seem to have gone out of fashion! But to his daughter——"
"His daughter surely does not need to be taught how to think of him by another, whether he be an old friend or a comparative stranger," said Lesley. "She can learn to know him for herself."
"But can she?"—Maurice Kenyon's Irish strain, which always led him to be more eager and explicit in speech than if he had been entirely of Anglo-Saxon nationality, was running away with him. "Are you sure that she can? Look here, Miss Brooke: you come to your father's house straight from a French convent, I believe. What can you know of English life? of the strife of political parties, of literary parties, of faiths and theories and passions? You are plunged into the midst of a new world—it can't help but be strange to you at first, and you must feel a trifle forlorn and miserable—at least I should think so——"
Lesley was in a dilemma. Kenyon's words were so true, so apt, that they brought involuntary tears to her eyes. She could get rid of the lump in her throat only by working herself up into a rage: she could dissipate the tears only by making her eyes flash with anger. The melting mood was not to her taste. She chose the more hostile tone.
"Mr. Kenyon, excuse me, but you have no right at all to talk about my being miserable. You may know my father: you do not know me."
"But knowing your father so well——"
"That has nothing to do with it. Am I not a separate human being? What have you to do with me and my feelings? You say that I do not know English ways—is it an English way," cried Lesley, indignantly, "to try to thrust yourself into a girl's confidence, and intrude where you have not been asked to enter? Then English ways are not those that I approve."
Maurice Kenyon felt that his cause was lost. He had gone rather white about the lips as he listened to Lesley's protest. Of course, he had offended her by his abominable want of tact, he told himself—his intrusive proffer of unneeded sympathy and help. But it was not in his nature to acknowledge himself beaten, and to take his leave without a word. His ardor impelled him to speak.
"Miss Brooke, I most sincerely beg your pardon," he said, in tones of deep humility. "I see that I have made a mistake—but I assure you that it was from the purest motives. I don't"—forgetting his apologetic attitude for a moment—"I don't think that you realize what a truly great man your father is—how good, as well as great. I don't think you understand him. But I beg your pardon for seeming to think that I could enlighten you. Of course, it must seem like impertinent interference to you. But if you knew"—with a tremor of disappointment in his voice—"what your father has been to me, you would not perhaps be so surprised at my wanting his daughter to sympathize with me in my feelings. I had no idea"—this was intended to be a Parthian shot—"that my admiration would be thought insulting."
He bowed very low, and turned to depart, vowing to himself that nothing would induce him ever to enter that drawing-room again; but Lesley, pale and wide-eyed, called him back.
"Stay, Mr. Kenyon," she said, rising from her seat.
He halted, his hat in one hand, his fingers still on the knob of the door.
"I never meant to say," said Lesley, confronting him, "that I was incapable of sympathy with you in admiration for my father. With my feeling towards him you have nothing to do—that is all. I am not angry because you express your own sentiments, but because——"
She stopped and bit her lip.
"——Because I dared divine what yours might be?" asked Maurice, boldly, and with an accent of reproach. "Is it possible that yours can be like mine? and am I to blame for saying so? How can you estimate the worth of his work? You, a girl fresh from school! I know it is very rude to say so, but I cannot help it. If you were more of a woman, Miss Brooke, if you had had a wider experience of life and mankind, you would acknowledge that you could not possibly know very much of what your father had done, and you would be glad of the opportunity of learning!"
This was just the speech calculated to make Lesley furiously angry, and it was with great difficulty that she restrained the words that rose impetuously to her lips. She stood motionless and silent, and Maurice mistook her silence for that of stupid obstinacy, when it was the silence of wounded feeling and passionate resentment. He went on hotly, for he began to feel himself once more in the right.
"Of course you may know all about him: you may know as much as I who have lived and worked at his side, so to speak, for the last six years! You may be familiar with his writings: you may have seen the Tribune every week, and you may know that wonderful book of his—'The Unexplored' I mean, not the essays—by heart; there may be nothing that I can tell you, even about his gallant fight for one of the hospitals last year, or the splendid work he has set going at the Macclesfield Buildings in North London, or the way in which his name is blessed by hundreds—yes hundreds—of men and women and children whom he has helped to lead a better life! You may know all about these things, and plenty more, but you can't know—coming here without having seen him since you were a baby—you can't know the beauty of his character, or the depths of his sympathy for the erring, or the tremendous efforts that he has made, and is still making, for the laboring poor. You can't know this, or else I'd tell you, Miss Brooke, what you would be doing! You would be working heart and soul to lighten his burdens and relieve him of the incessant drudgery that interferes with his higher work, instead of sitting here day after day reading yellow-backed novels in a drawing-room."
And then, in a white heat of indignation, Mr. Maurice Kenyon took his leave. But he did not know the consternation that he had created in Lesley's mind. She was positively frightened by his vehemence. But she had never seen an angry man before—never been spoken to in strong masculine tones of reprobation and disgust, such as it seemed to her that Maurice Kenyon had used. And for what? She did not know. She was not aware that she had behaved in an unfilial manner to her father. She did not realize that her cold demeanor, her puzzled and bewildered looks, had told Mr. Kenyon far more than she would have cared to confess about the state of her feelings. For the rest, Ethel's words and Maurice's vivid imagination were to blame. And, angry as Lesley was, she felt with a thrill of dismay that Mr. Kenyon's discourteous words were perfectly true. She did not appreciate her father; she did not know anything about him. All that she had hitherto surmised was bad. And here came a young man, apparently sane, certainly handsome and clever, although disagreeable—to tell her that Caspar Brooke was a hero, a man among ten thousand, an intellectual giant, an uncrowned king. It was too ridiculous; and Lesley laughed aloud—although as she laughed she found that her eyes were wet with tears.
Lesley retained for some time a feeling of distinct anger against Maurice Kenyon, even while she came to acknowledge the truth of divers of his words. But their truth, she told herself indignantly, was no justification of his brutality. He was horribly rude and meddlesome and intrusive. What business was it of his whether she gave her father or not the meed of praise that he deserved? Why should she be lectured for it by a stranger? Maurice Kenyon's conduct—Maurice Kenyon himself—was intolerable, and she should hate him all the days of her life.
And in good sooth, Maurice's behavior is somewhat hard to excuse. He certainly had no business at all to attack Lesley on the subject of her feelings about her father, and his mode of attack was almost ludicrously wanting in judgment and discrimination. But that which tact and judgment might perhaps have failed to effect, Maurice's sledge-hammer blows brought home to Lesley's understanding. He was to blame; but he did some good, nevertheless. When the first shock was over, Lesley began to reflect that her own world had been a narrow one, and that possibly there were others equally good. And this was a great step to a girl who had been educated in a French convent school.
Part of Lesley's inheritance from her father, and a part of which she was quite unconscious, was a singularly fair mind. She could judge and balance and discriminate with an impartiality which was far beyond the power of the ordinary woman. Being young her impartiality was now and then disturbed by little gusts of passion and prejudice; but the faculty was there to be strengthened by every opportunity of exercising it. This faculty had been stirred within her when Lady Alice first told her of her father's existence; but she had tried to stifle it as an accursed thing. She held it wicked to be anything but a partizan. And now it had revived within her, and was urging her to form no rash conclusions, to be careful in her thoughts about her new acquaintances, to weigh her opinions before expressing them. And all this in spite of a native fire and vivacity of temperament which might have led her into difficulties but for the counterbalancing power of judgment which she had inherited from the father whom she had been taught to despise.
So although she raged with all her young heart and strength against Mr. Kenyon's construction of her feelings and motives, she had the good sense to ask herself whether there had not been some truth in what he said. After all, what did she know of this strange father of hers, whose every action she judged so harshly? She had heard her mother's story, which certainly placed him in a very unamiable light. But many years had gone by since Lady Alice left her husband, and a man's character might be modified in a dozen years or so. Lesley was willing to go so far. He might even be repentant for the past. Then Sister Rose's words came back to her. She, Lesley, might become the instrument of reconciliation between two who had been long divided!
The color flashed into her face and slowly faded away. What chance had she of gaining her father's ear? True, she could descant by the hour together, if she had the opportunity, on Lady Alice's sweetness and goodness; but when could she get the opportunity of speaking about them to him? He looked on her with an eye of mistrust, almost of contempt. She had been brought up in a school of thought which he despised. How far away from her now, by the by, seemed the old life with which she had been familiar for so many years! the life of simple duties, of easy routine, of praise and tenderness and placid contentment. She was out in the world now, as other girls were who had once shared with her the convent life near Paris. Where were they now—Aglae and Marthe and Lucile and Anastasie? Did they all find life in the world as difficult as Lesley found it?
No, there was little chance, she decided, of acting as a mediatrix between her parents. Her father would not listen to any word she might say. And she was quite sure that she could never speak of his private affairs to him. They had been divided so many years; they were strangers now, not father and daughter, as they ought to be.
Curious to relate, a feeling of resentment against the decree that had so long severed her from him rose up in Lesley's heart. It was not exactly a feeling of resentment against her mother. Rather it was a protest against fate—the fate that had made that father a sealed book to her, although known and read of all the world beside. If there were admirable things in his nature, why had she been kept in ignorance of them?—why told the one ugly fact of his life which seemed to throw all the rest into shadow? It was not fair, Lesley very characteristically remarked to herself: it certainly was not fair.
If he was so distinguished a man in literature as Maurice Kenyon represented him to be, why had she never been allowed to read his books? She wanted, for the first time, to read something that he had written. She supposed she might; for there was no one now to choose her books for her. Only a day or two before she had dutifully asked her Aunt Sophia if she might read a book that Ethel had lent her (it was the yellow-backed novel, the sight of which had made Maurice so angry), and she had said, with her horrid little laugh—oh, how Lesley hated Aunt Sophy's laugh!——
"Good heavens, child, read what you like! You're old enough!"
And Lesley had felt crushed, but resolved to avail herself of the permission. But where should she find her father's works? She would cut out her tongue before she asked Aunt Sophy for them, or her father, or the Kenyons, or Mrs. Romaine.
She set to work to search the library shelves, and was soon rewarded by the discovery of a set of Tribunes, a weekly paper in which she knew that her father wrote. She turned over the leaves, with a dazed feeling of bewilderment. None of the articles were signed. And she had no clue to those that were written by her father or anybody else.
She returned the volumes to their places with a heavy sigh, and continued to look through the shelves—especially through the rows of ponderous quartos and octavos, where she thought that her father's works would probably be found. Simple Lesley! It was quite a shock to her when at last—after she had relinquished her search in heartsick disappointment—she suddenly came across a little paper volume bearing this legend:—
"The Unexplored. By Caspar Brooke. Price One Shilling. Tenth Edition."
She took the book in her hand and gazed at it curiously. This was the "wonderful book" of which Maurice Kenyon had spoken. This little shilling pamphlet—really it was little more than a pamphlet! It seemed an extraordinary thing to her that her father should write shilling books. "A shilling shocker" was a name that Lesley happened to know, and a thing that she heartily despised. Her taste had been formed on the best models, and Lady Alice had encouraged her in a critical disparagement of cheap literature. Still—if Caspar Brooke had written it, and Maurice Kenyon had recommended it, Lesley felt, with flushing cheek and suspicious eyes, that it was a thing which she ought to read.
Holding it gingerly, as if it were a dangerous combustible which might explode at any moment, she hurried away with it to her own room, turned the key in the lock, and sat down to read.
At the risk of fatiguing my readers, I must say a word or two about Caspar Brooke's romance "The Unexplored." It had obtained a wonderful popularity in all English-speaking countries, and was well known in every quarter of the globe. Even Lady Alice must have seen it advertised and reviewed and quoted a hundred times. Possibly she had refused to read it, or closed her eyes to its merits. Possibly what a man wrote seemed to her of little importance compared to that which a man showed himself in his daily life. At any rate, she had never mentioned the book to her daughter Lesley. She certainly moved in a circle which was slightly deaf to the echoes of literary fame.
"The Unexplored" was one of those powerful romances of an ideal society with which recent days have made us all familiar. But Caspar's book was the forerunner of the shoal which the last ten years have cast upon our shores. He was one of the first to follow in the steps of Sir Thomas More and Sir Philip Sidney, and picture life as it should be rather than as it is. His hero, an Englishman of our own time, puzzled and distressed at the social misery and discord surrounding him, leaves England and joins an exploring expedition. In the unexplored recesses of the new world he comes across a colony founded in ancient days by a people who have preserved an idyllic purity of heart and manners, together with a fuller artistic life and truer civilization than our own. To these people he brings his stories of London as it is to-day, and fills their gentle hearts with amazement and dismay. A slender thread of love-making gives the book its romantic charm. He gains the affections of the king's daughter, a beautiful maiden, who has been attracted to him from the very first; and with her he hopes to realize all that has been unknown to him of noble life in his own country. But the book does not end with its hero and heroine lapped in slothful content. For the heart of the maiden burns with sorrow for the toiling poor of the great European cities of which he has told her: to her this region has also the charm of "The Unexplored," and the book ends with a hint that she and her husband are about to wend their way, with a new gospel in their hand, to the very city of which he had shaken the dust from his shoes in disgust before he found an unexplored Arcadia.
There was not much novelty in the plot—the charm of the book lay in the way the story was told, in the beauty of the language; and also—last but not least—the burning earnestness of the author's tone as he contrasted the hopeless, heartless misery of the poor in our great cities with the ideal life of man. His pictures of London life, drawn from the street, the hospital, the workhouse, were touched in with merciless fidelity: his satire on the modern benevolence and modern civilization which allows such evils to flourish side by side with lecture-rooms, churches, intellectual culture, and refined luxury was keen and scathing. It was a book which had startled people, but had also brought many new truths to their minds. And although no one could be more startled, yet no one could be more avid for the truth than the author's own daughter, of whom he had never thought in the very least when he wrote the book.
Lesley rose from her perusal of it with burning cheeks and humid eyes. She herself, without knowing it, was in much the same position as the heroine of her father's book. Like the girl Ione, in "The Unexplored," she had lived in a charmed seclusion, far from the roar of modern civilization, far from the great cities which are the abomination of desolation in our time. Knowledge had come to her filtered through the minds of those who closed their eyes to evil and their ears to tales of sin. She did not know how the poor lived: she had only the vaguest and haziest possible notions concerning misery and want and disease. She was not only pure and innocent, but she was ignorant. She had scarcely ever seen a newspaper. She had read very few novels. She had lived almost all her life with women, and she had imbibed the notion that her marriage was a matter which her mother would arrange without particularly consulting her (Lesley's) inclinations.
To a girl brought up in this way there was much to shock and repel in Caspar Brooke's romance. More than once, indeed, she put it down indignantly: more than once she cried out, in the silence of her room, "Oh, but it can't be true!" Nevertheless, she knew in her heart of hearts that the strong and burning words which she was reading could not have been written were they not sincerely felt. And as for facts, she could easily put them to the test. She could ask other people to tell her whether they were true. Were there really so many criminals in London; so many people "without visible means of subsistence?" so many children going out in a morning to their Board Schools without breakfast? But surely something ought to be done! How could people sit down and allow these things to be? How could her father himself, who wrote about such things, live in comfort, even (compared with the wretchedly poor) in modest luxury, without lifting a finger to help them?
But there Lesley caught herself up. What had Mr. Kenyon said? Had he not spoken of the things that Caspar Brooke had done? For almost the first time Lesley began to wonder what made her father so busy. She had never heard a word concerning the pursuits that Mr. Kenyon had mentioned as so engrossing. "The splendid work at Macclesfield Buildings:" what was that? The people whom he had helped: what people? Whom could she ask? Not her father himself—that was out of the question. He never spoke to her except on trivial subjects. She remembered with a sudden and painful flash of insight, that conversations between him and his sister were sometimes broken off when she came into the room, or carried on in half-phrases and under-tones. Of course she had heard of Macclesfield Buildings; and of a club and an institute and a hospital, and what not; but the words had gone over her head, being destitute of meaning and of interest for her. She had been blind and deaf, it seemed to her now, ever since she came into the house; but Maurice Kenyon and her father's book had opened her eyes to the reality of things.
Later on in the day her maid came to help her to dress for dinner. Lesley looked at her with new interest. For was she not one of the great, poor, struggling mass of human beings whom her father called "the People?" Not the happy peasant-class, as depicted in sentimental storybooks: whether that existed or not, Lesley was not learned enough to say: it certainly did not exist in London. She looked at the woman who waited on her with keenly observant eyes. Her name was Mary Kingston, and Lesley knew that she was not one of the prosperous, self-satisfied, over-dressed type, so common amongst ladies' maids; for she had been "out of a situation" for some time, and had fallen into dire straits of poverty. It would not have been like Miss Brooke to hire a common-place, conventional ladies' maid; she really preferred a servant "with a history." Lesley remembered that she had heard of Mary Kingston's past difficulties without noting them.
"Kingston," she said, gently, "do you know much about the poor?"
Kingston started and colored. She was a woman of more than thirty years of age—pale, thin, flat-chested, not very tall; she had fairly good features and dark, expressive eyes; but she was not attractive-looking. Her lips were too pale and her dark eyes too sunken for beauty. There was a gentleness in her manner, however, a patience in her low voice, which Lesley had always liked. It reminded her, in some undefined way, of her old friend, Sister Rose.
"I've lived among the poor all my life, ma'am," Kingston said.
"Do they suffer very much?" Lesley asked.
Kingston looked slightly puzzled. "Suffer, ma'am?"
"Yes—from hunger and cold, I mean: I have been reading about poor people in this book—and——"
Kingston cast a rapid glance at the volume. Her face kindled at once.
"Oh," she said, "I've read that book, ma'am, and what a beautiful book it is!"
"Do you know it?" Lesley asked, amazed. Then, moved by a sudden impulse, "And you know it was written by my father?"
Who would have thought that she could say the last two words with such an accent of tender pride?
"No, ma'am, I did not know. Is it really this Mr. Brooke? The name, you see, is not so uncommon as some, and I did not think——"
"I know, I know," said Lesley, hurriedly. "But just tell me this—is it true? Do the poor people suffer as much in England as he says they do?"
"Oh yes, ma'am, I'm afraid so, at least. I've seen a good deal of suffering in my day."
Lesley was quiet for a little while, and the woman brushed out her shining hair. "Tell me," she said, "what is the worst suffering of all—will you? I mean, a suffering caused by being poor—nothing to do with your own life, of course. Is it the being hungry, or cold—or what?"
Kingston considered for a moment. "I think," she said at last, "it isn't the being cold or hungry yourself that matters so much as seeing those that belong to you cold and hungry. That's the worst. If you have children, it does go to your heart to hear them ask you for something to eat, and you have nothing to give them."
"Yes," said Lesley, softly, "I should think that is the worst."
"But I don't know," said Kingston, in a perfectly unmoved and stolid tone, "whether it's worse than having no candles."
Lesley looked up in astonishment.
"It's when any one's ill that you feel that," the woman went on, in the same level tones. "In winter it's dark, maybe, at four o'clock, and not light again till nearly nine in the morning. It doesn't matter so much if you can go out. But if you have to sit by some one who's ill, and you can't see their faces, and if they leave off moaning you think they're dead—and perhaps when the early morning light comes it's only a dead face you have to look upon, and you never saw them draw their last breath—why, then, you feel mad-like to think of the candles that are wasted in big houses and of the bread that's thrown away."
Lesley listened, appalled. A homely detail of this kind impressed her more than any appeal to her higher imagination. The woes of the poor had suddenly become real.
"I hope you never had to go through all that, Kingston," she said, very gently.
"Yes, ma'am, twice," said Kingston. "Once with my mother, and once with my little boy. They were both dead in the morning, but I didn't see 'em die."
"But where was your husband? Was he dead?" said Lesley, quickly.
"Oh, no, ma'am. But he was amusing himself. He was a gentleman, you see—more shame to me, perhaps you'll say. I couldn't expect him to think of things like candles."
"Oh!—And is he—is he dead?"
"No ma'am, he isn't dead," said Kingston. And from the shortness of her tone and the steadiness with which she averted her face Lesley came to the conclusion that she did not want to be questioned any more.
Lesley went down to dinner feeling that she had made some new and extraordinary discoveries. She noticed that her father and her aunt made several allusions which would have seemed mysterious and repellant to her the day before, but which now possessed an almost tragic interest. When before had she heard her aunt speak casually of a Mothers' Meeting and a Lending Library? These were common-place matters to the ordinary English girl; but to Lesley they possessed the elements of a romance. For was it not by means of hackneyed, common-place machinery of this kind that cultured men and women put themselves into relation with the great, suffering, coarse, uncultured, human-hearted poor?
LESLEY SEEKS ADVICE.
Added to Lesley's new views of life, there was also a new feeling for her father. In the first rush of enthusiastic admiration for his book, she forgot all that she had heard against him, and believed—for the moment—that he was all Maurice Kenyon represented him to be. But naturally this state of mind could not last. The long years of her mother's influence told against any claim to love or respect on the father's part. Lesley remembered how bitterly Lady Alice spoke of him. She could not think that her mother had been wrong.
It is a terrible position for a son or daughter—to have to judge between father and mother. It is a wrong position, and one in which Lesley felt instinctively that she ought never to have been placed. Of course it was impossible for her to help it. Father and mother had virtually made her their judge. They said to her, "Live for a year with each of us, and choose which you prefer. You cannot have us both." And as the only true and natural position for a child is that in which he or she can have both, Lesley Brooke was in a very trying situation. She had begun life in her father's house as her mother's ardent partisan; and she was her mother's partisan still. Only she was not quite sure whether she was not going to find that she could love her father too. And in that case, Lesley was tremulously certain that Lady Alice would accuse her of unfaithfulness to her.
She turned with a sigh from the contemplation of her position to her new views of London and modern life. The poverty and ignorance of which she read had seemed hateful to her. But her impulse—always the impulse of generous souls—was not to shrink away from this newly-discovered misery, but to go down into the midst of it and help to cure the evil.
Still blindly ignorant of what was already done, or doing, she hardly knew in which way to begin a work that was so new to her. Indeed, she hardly estimated its difficulties. All the poor that she had ever seen were the blue-bloused peasants, or brown-faced crones, and quaint little maidens with pigtails, who had visited the convent at Fontainebleau. She was quite sure that English poor people were not like these. Her father knew a great deal about them, but she could not ask him. The very way in which he spoke to her—lightly always, and jestingly—made serious questioning impossible. To whom then should she apply? The answer presented itself almost immediately, and with extraordinary readiness—to Mr. Oliver Trent.
This decision was not so remarkable as it at first may seem. Lesley had run over in her mind a list of the persons whom she could not or would not ask. Her father and Miss Brooke?—impossible. Mrs. Romaine?—certainly not. Ethel?—Lesley did not believe that she knew anything about the poor. Maurice Kenyon?—not for worlds. The neighboring clergy?—Mr. Brooke had said that he did not want "the Blacks" about his house. The other men and women whom Lesley had seen were mere casual acquaintances; not friends of the family, like Oliver Trent.
At least, she supposed that Oliver was a friend of the family. He was Mrs. Romaine's brother; and Mrs. Romaine was a good deal at the house. In her own mind Lesley put him on the same footing as Mr. Kenyon—which estimate would have made Caspar Brooke exceedingly indignant, could he have known it. For though he did not exactly dislike Oliver Trent, he would never have thought of classing him with his friend, Maurice Kenyon.
But Oliver had already called twice on some pretext or other, since Lesley had come home: and on the latter of these occasions he had sat for a full hour with her in the drawing-room, talking chiefly of France and Italy—in low and softly modulated tones. Lesley was losing all her horror of interviews with young men. If the nuns had seen her now they would indeed have thought her lost to all sense of propriety. For one of Miss Brooke's chief theories was that no self-respecting young woman needs a chaperon. And she had flatly refused to chaperone Lesley except on inevitable or really desirable occasions. "The girl must learn to go about the world by herself," she had said. "And I will say this for Lesley, she is not naturally timid or helpless—it is only training that makes her so." And under this tuition Lesley soon acquired the self-possession in which she had been somewhat wanting when she came, newly-fledged, from her convent.
So when Oliver called again—it was on a message from his sister, and it had not yet recurred to Lesley to wonder at the readiness shown by English brothers to run on messages to their sisters' friends—he found Lesley alone, as usual, in the drawing-room, and she welcomed him with considerable warmth—a warmth that took him by surprise.
"I am so glad to see you, Mr. Trent: I wanted to ask you something," she said, at once.
"Ask me anything—command me in anything," he replied.
He sank into a low chair at her right hand, and looked quite devotionally into her face. Lesley felt a trifle disturbed. She could not forget that Oliver was Ethel's lover, and she did not think that he ought to look at her so—eagerly—she did not know what else to call it. It was a look that made her uncomfortable. Nobody had ever looked at her in that way before. They did not look like that in the convent.
"It is nothing very particular," she said, shrinking back a little. "Only I have nobody to ask."
"I know—I understand," said Oliver, in his softest tones. Somehow his sympathy did not offend her, as Mr. Kenyon's had done.
"It is very stupid of me," Lesley went on, trying to smile, "not to ask my father or Aunt Sophy; but I am afraid they would only laugh at me."
"I shall not laugh at you," said Oliver, marvelling inwardly.
"Won't you? You are sure? It is only a little, stupid, ordinary question. Do you know anything about Macclesfield Buildings?"
Oliver drew himself up in his chair. Was that the question? He did not believe it. But he answered her unsmilingly.
"Yes, Miss Brooke. They are the blocks of workmen's dwellings where your father has founded a Club."
"Has he?" said Lesley, her eyes dilating. "That is—very good of him, isn't it?"
"Oh, I suppose so," Oliver answered, with a little laugh. "Of course—but I must not insinuate worldly motives into his daughter's ears!"
"Oh, please, go on: I want to hear!"
"It is nothing wrong. Only if a man wants to stand well with the working-people—if he wants votes, for instance—it isn't at all a bad move to begin with a Working-Men's Club."
"Votes, Mr. Trent? What for?"
"School Board, or County Council, or Parliament," said Oliver, coolly. "Or even Board of Guardians. I don't know what your father's ambitions are, exactly. But popularity is always a good thing."
Lesley pondered a little, the color rising in her cheeks. "Then," she said, "you think my father does good things from—from what people call 'interested motives?'"
"Good heavens, no, Miss Brooke, I never said anything of the kind," declared Oliver, somewhat alarmed by her straightforwardness. "I was only thinking of the general actions of man, not of your father in particular."
Lesley nodded. "I don't quite understand," she said. "But that doesn't matter for the present. I have another question to ask you, Mr. Trent. Do you know anything about the poor?"
"I'm very poor myself," said Oliver, laughing. "Horribly poor. 'Pon my word, I don't know any one poorer."
"Oh, you are laughing at me now," said Lesley, almost petulantly. "And you said that you would not laugh."
She leaned back in her chair, with heightened color and brightening eyes: her breath came a little more quickly than usual, as if her pulses were quickened. There is nothing so catching as emotion. Oliver's sluggish pulses began to stir at the sight of her. That soft and tender face seemed more beautiful to him than the sparkle and vivacity of Ethel Kenyon's. If it had not been for Ethel's twenty thousand pounds, he did not know but what he would have preferred Lesley. Rosy had said that Lesley would suit him best.
"I am not laughing; I swear I am not," he said earnestly. "I know what you mean—you are thinking of the London poor. Your tender heart has been stirred by the sight of them in the streets—they are dreadful to look at, are they not? It is like you to feel their woes so acutely."
"I want to know," said Lesley, rather plaintively, "whether I cannot do anything for them?"
"You—do anything—for the poor?" repeated Oliver. Then he scanned her narrowly—scanned her shining hair, delicate features, Paris-made gown, and dainty shoe—and laughed a little. "You can let them look at you—that ought to be enough," he said.
Lesley frowned. "Nonsense, Mr. Trent. What does my father do for his Club?"
"Smokes with the men, sometimes, I believe. You couldn't do that, you know——"
"Although——" and then Lesley stopped short and laughed.
"Although Aunt Sophy does. It's no secret, my dear Miss Brooke. Half the women in London smoke now-a-days, I believe. Even my sister indulges now and then."
Lesley gave her head a little toss. "What else does my father do?" she asked.
"Sings to them. Sunday afternoon, that is, you know. The wives are allowed to come to the Club-room then, and he has a sort of little concert for them—good music, sacred music, even, I believe. He gets professionals to come now and then; they will do anything to oblige your father, you know—and when they don't come, he sings himself. He really has a very good bass voice."
"Ladies don't sing, I suppose," said Lesley, after a little pause.
"Oh, yes, they do. He nearly always has a lady to sing. Why don't you go down on a Sunday afternoon? The club is open to friends of the founder, if not of the members, on Sunday afternoons. Don't Mr. Brooke and Miss Brooke always go?"
"I suppose they do—I never asked where they went," said Lesley, with burning cheeks. She remembered that they always did disappear on Sunday afternoons. No, she had not asked; she had not hitherto felt any curiosity as to their doings; and they had not asked her to accompany them. She began to resent their lack of readiness to invite her to the club.
"You might go down on Sunday afternoon," said Oliver, lazily. "I'm going: they have asked me to sing. Though you mayn't know it, Miss Brooke, I have a very decent tenor voice. Ethel is going with me. Won't you come?"
"I don't know," said Lesley, nervously. She bethought herself that she could not easily propose to accompany her father, and that Ethel and Oliver Trent would not want her. She would be one too many in either party. She could not go.
But Oliver read the reason of her scruples. "If you will allow me," he said, "I will ask my sister to come too. Then we shall be a compact little party of four, and we can start off without telling Mr. Brooke anything about it."
Lesley hesitated a little, but finally consented. She had a great desire to see what was going on in Macclesfield Buildings. But Oliver, it may be feared, believed in his heart that she went because he was going. And he resolved to bestow his society on her rather than on Ethel and Mrs. Romaine on Sunday. It was decidedly more amusing to waken that still sweet face to animation than to engage in a war of wit with Ethel.
Lesley thought of Oliver very little. Once or twice he had startled her by an assumption of intimacy, a softening of his voice, and a look of tenderness in his eyes, which made her shrink into herself with an instinctive emotion of dislike. But she had then proceeded to scold herself for foolish shyness and prudery—the prudery of a French-school girl, who was not accustomed to the ways of men. She had begun to feel herself very ignorant of the world since she came to her father's house. It would never do to offend one of her father's friends by seeming afraid of him. So she tried to smile and looked pleased when Oliver drew near, and she was all the more gracious to him because she had already quarrelled with Maurice Kenyon, who was even more her father's friend than Oliver himself. But what could she do? Mr. Kenyon had insulted her—the hot blood rose to her cheeks as she thought of some of the things that he had said. Insulted her by assuming that she could not appreciate her father because she was too careless, too frivolous, too foolish to do so. That she was ignorant, Lesley was ready to acknowledge; but not that she was incapable of learning.
Oliver had no difficulty in persuading his sister to make one of the party on Sunday afternoon. Indeed, Mrs. Romaine made the expedition easier by inviting Lesley to lunch with her beforehand.
"I asked Maurice and Ethel Kenyon, too," she said to Lesley, "but they would not come. Mr. Kenyon had his patients to attend to; and Ethel would not leave him to lunch alone."
Lesley did not answer, but privately reflected that if the Kenyons had accepted the invitation she would have lunched at home.
She went to church by herself on Sunday morning, for Mr. Brooke was not up, and Doctor Sophy frequented some assembly of eclectic souls, of which Lesley had never heard before. So she went demurely to that ugliest of all Protestant temples, St. Pancras' Church, and was not very much surprised when she perceived that Oliver Trent was in the seat behind her, and that he sat so that he could see her face.
"I did not know that you went to St. Pancras'," she said, innocently, as they stood on the steps together outside when the service was over.
"Nor do I," he answered her. "It is the most hideous church I ever saw. But there was an attraction this morning."
Lesley looked as if she did not understand. And indeed she did not.
"You are coming to lunch with us, are you not? Will you let me escort you?"
"Thank you, Mr. Trent. But—do you mind?—I shall have to call at my father's house on my way. Just to leave my prayer-book. It will not take me a minute."
Oliver could not object, although he was not altogether pleased. For Mr. Brooke's house was immediately opposite the Kenyons', and Miss Ethel was as likely as not to be sitting at the drawing-room window. Her sharp eyes would espy him from afar, and she might ask Lesley if he had been to church with her. Not a very great difficulty, but Oliver had a far-seeing mind, and one question might lead to others of a more serious kind.
However, there was no help for it. He paused on the steps of number fifty, while Lesley rang the bell. She had been formally presented with a latch-key, but the use of it was so new to her, and the fear of losing it so great, that she usually left it on her dressing-table.
A maid opened the door and said something to Lesley in an under tone. Oliver was looking across the street and neither heard the words nor saw the woman's face. But Lesley turned to him hastily.
"Oh, Mr. Trent, I am so sorry to keep you waiting, but I must run up to my aunt for a moment."
She disappeared into the house, and then Oliver turned and met the eyes of Lesley's waiting-maid. And at the same moment he was aware—as one is sometimes aware of what goes on behind one's back—that Ethel, in her pretty autumn dress of fawn-color and deep brown, had come out upon the balcony of her house and was observing him.
"You, Mary?" said Oliver, in a stifled whisper.
The woman looked at him with hard, defiant eyes. "Yes, me," she said. "You ought to know that I couldn't do anything else."
He stood looking at her with a frown.
"This is the last place where you ought to have come," he said.
"Because they are friends of yours?" she asked. "I can't help that. I didn't know it when I came, but I know it now."
"Then leave," said Oliver, still in the lowest possible tone, but also with all possible intensity. "Leave as soon as you can. I'll find you another place. It is the worst thing you can do for your own interest to remain here, where you may be recognized."
"I can take care of that," said Mary Kingston, icily. "I'll think over it."
Oliver put his hand into his pocket as if in search of a coin. But Kingston suddenly shook her head. "No," she said, quickly, "I don't want it. Not from you."
And then Lesley's foot was heard upon the stairs. Oliver looked up to Ethel's balcony. Yes, she was there, her hand upon the railing, her eyes fixed on him with what was evidently a puzzled stare. Oliver smiled and raised his hat. Ethel nodded and smiled in return. But he fancied—though, of course, at that distance he could not be sure—that she still looked puzzled as she returned his bow and smile.
He walked on with Lesley. But his good-humor was gone: the usual suavity of his manner was a little ruffled. His recognition of Mary Kingston had evidently been displeasing as well as embarrassing to him.
"HOME, SWEET HOME."
Mrs. Romaine and Oliver Trent attributed Lesley's desire to see Macclesfield Buildings to a young girl's curiosity, and, perhaps, to a desire for Oliver's company. They had no conception of the new fancies and feelings, aims and interests, which were developing in her soul. Only so much of these were visible as to lead Oliver to say to his sister before they sallied forth that afternoon—
"I fancy she is getting up an enthusiasm for her father. Won't that be awkward for you?"
Mrs. Romaine was silent for a moment. Then she answered, with perfect quietness—
"I think it will be more awkward for Lady Alice. It may be rather convenient for us."
And Oliver noticed that for the rest of the afternoon she took every opportunity of indirectly and directly praising Mr. Brooke, his works and ways. But he could not see that Lesley looked pleased—perhaps Mrs. Romaine's words had rather an artificial ring.
Somehow, it seemed to Lesley as if she hated the expedition on which she came. Was it not a little too like spying upon her father's work? He had never invited her to Macclesfield Buildings. And he would never know the spirit in which she came: it would seem to him as though she had been brought in Mrs. Romaine's train, perhaps against her will, to laugh, to stare, to criticize. She would rather have crept in humbly, and tried to understand, by herself, what he was trying to do. What would he think of her when he saw her there that afternoon?
She was morbidly afraid of him and of his opinion. Caspar Brooke would have been as much hurt as astonished if he knew in what ogre-like light she regarded him.
Ethel joined them before they started for Macclesfield Buildings, and as rain was beginning to fall, Oliver insisted that they should take a cab. It was for his own sake, as Rosalind reminded him, rather than for theirs. He had a profound dislike of dirty streets, dirty people, unpleasant sights and sounds. And there were plenty of these to be encountered in the North London district to which they were bound that afternoon.
The three Londoners—for such they virtually were—could hardly refrain from laughing when they saw Lesley's horrified face as the cab drove up to the block of buildings in which the club was situated. "But this is a prison—a workhouse—a lunatic asylum!" she exclaimed. "People do not live here—do they—in this dreary place?"
Ah, me, and a dreary place it was! Three lofty blocks of building, all of the same drab hue, with iron-railed balconies outside the narrow windows, and a great court-yard in which a number of children romped and howled and shrieked in play: it was perhaps the most depressingly ugly bit of architecture that Lesley had ever seen. In vain her friends told her of the superior sanitary arrangements, the ventilation, the drainage, the pure water "laid on;" all she could do was to clasp her hand, and say, with positive tears in her bright eyes, "But why could it not all have been made more beautiful?" And indeed it is hard to say why not.
"Now we are going down into a coal hole," said Oliver, as he helped the ladies to alight. "At least it was once a coal hole. Yes, it was. These four rooms were used as storehouses for coals and vegetables until your father rented them: you will see what they look like now."
"Lesley is horrified," said Ethel, with a little laugh. "Not at the coal-hole," Lesley answered, trying also to be merry, "but at the ugliness of it all. Don't you think this kind of ugliness almost wicked?"
"Oliver thinks all ugliness wicked," said Mrs. Romaine, maliciously.
"Then we ought to be very good," said Ethel. But Oliver did not answer: he was looking at Lesley, whose face had grown pale.
"Are you tired?—are you ill?" he asked her, in the gentlest undertones. They were still picking their way over the muddy stones of the court-yards, and rough children ran up to them now and then, and clamored for a penny. "Is the sight of this place too much for you?"
"Oh, no," said Lesley, with a sudden, inexplicable flush of color: "It is not that—it is ugly, of course; but I do not mind it at all."
Oliver glanced round suspiciously, as if to discover why she had blushed. All that he could see was the tall figure of Maurice Kenyon, who was standing in a doorway talking to somebody on the stairs. Even if Lesley had seen him, she surely would not blush for that! What chance had Kenyon had of becoming acquainted with her? Oliver forgot that other sisters besides his own might send their brothers on messages.
Down a flight of stone steps, through a low doorway, and into a dark little corridor, was Lesley conducted. She noticed that Mrs. Romaine and Ethel were quite accustomed to the place. "We have often been before, you know," Ethel explained. "It's your father's hobby, you know; his doll's house, or Noah's Ark, or whatever you like to call it—his pet toy. I always call it his Noah's Ark myself. The animals walk in two by two. The men may bring their wives on Sundays. Oh, by the bye, Lesley, I hope you don't mind smoke. The men have their pipes, you know."
And then Lesley, dazzled and confounded by her surroundings, found herself in a brilliantly lighted room of considerable size—really two ordinary rooms thrown into one. Immediately the squalor and ugliness of the outer world were thrown into the background. The walls of the room were distempered—Indian red below, warm grey above; and on the grey walls were hung fine photographs of well-known foreign buildings or of celebrated paintings. In one part of the room stood a magnificent billiard-table, now neatly covered with a cloth. A neat little piano was placed at the other end of the room, near a large table covered with a scarlet cloth, strewn with magazines, papers, and books, and decorated with flowers. The chairs were of solid make, seated with red leather ornamented with brass nails. In fact, the whole place was not only comfortable, but cheery and pleasant to the eye. Lesley was told that there was also a library, beside a kitchen and pantry, whence visitors could get tea or coffee, "temperance drinks," and rolls or cakes.
A few women in their "Sunday best" were looking at the books and periodicals, or gossiping together, but they were not so numerous as the men—respectable working-men for the most part; some of them smoking, some reading or talking, without their pipes. In one little group Lesley recognized, with a start, that her father was the centre of attraction. He was sitting, as the other men were, and he was talking: the musical notes of his cultivated voice rose clearly above the hum of rougher and huskier voices. Lesley gathered that some proposition had been made which he was combating.
"No," he said, "I won't have it. Look here—did you open this club, or did I?"
"You did, guv'nor," said one of the men.
"Then I'll have my say in the management. Some of you want the women turned out, do you? It's the curse of modern life, the curse of English and all other society, that you do want the women turned out, you men, where-ever you go. And the reason is that women are better than you are. They are purer, nobler, more conscientious than you, and therefore you don't want them with you when you take your pleasures. Eh?"
There was a melodious geniality about the last monosyllable which made the men smile in spite of themselves.
"'T'ain't that," said one of them, awkwardly. "It's because they're apt to neglect their 'omes if they come out of an afternoon or an evening like we do."
"Not they!" said Mr. Brooke. "To come out now and then is to make them love their homes, man. They'll put more heart in to their work, if they have a little rest and enjoyment now and then, as you do. Besides—you've got hold of a wrong principle. The women are not your slaves and servants; they ought not to be. They are your companions, your helpers. The more they are in sympathy with you, the better they will help you. Don't keep your wives out of the brighter moments of your lives, else they will forget how to feel with you, and help you when darker moments come!"
There was a pause; and then a man, with rather a sullen face—evidently one of the malcontents—said, with a growl,
"Fine talk, gov'nor. It'll end in our wives leaving us, like they say yours done."
There was an instant hiss and groan of disapproval. So marked, indeed, that the man rose to shoulder his way to the door. Evidently he was not a popular character.
"We'll pay him out, if you like, sir," said a youth; and some of the older men half rose as if to execute the threat.
"Sit down: let him alone," said Mr. Brooke, sharply. "He's a poor fool, and he knows it. Every man's a fool that does not reverence women. And if women would try to be worthy of that reverence, the world would be better than it is."
He rose as he spoke, with apparent carelessness, but those who knew him best saw that the taunt had stung him. And as he moved, he caught Lesley's eye. He had not known that she was to be there; and by something in her expression—by her heightened color, perhaps, or her startled eye—he saw at once that she had heard the man's rude speech and his reply.
He stopped short, grasped at his beard as his manner was, especially when he was perplexed or embarrassed; then crossed over towards her, laid his hand on her arm, and spoke in a tone of unusual tenderness.
"You here, my child?"
Lesley thrilled all over with the novel pleasure of what seemed to her like commendation. But she could not answer suitably.
"Mrs. Romaine brought me," she said.
"Ah! Mrs. Romaine?"—in quite a different tone. "Very kind of Mrs. Romaine. By the bye, Maurice"—to Mr. Kenyon, who had just appeared upon the scene, and was looking with curiously anxious eyes at Lesley—"the music ought to begin now. Is Trent ready? And will Ethel recite something? That's all right—I suppose Miss Bellot will be here presently."
And leaving Lesley without another glance, he went to the piano and opened it. The audience settled itself in its place, and gave a little sigh of expectation. Mr. Brooke's Sunday afternoon "recitals," from four to five, always gave great satisfaction.
Oliver sang first, then Ethel recited something; then Mr. Brooke sang, and then Oliver played—he was a very useful young man in his way—and then there came a little pause.
"A certain Miss Bellot promised to come and sing, but she has not appeared," Ethel explained to her friend. "Lesley, you can sing: I know you can, for I saw a lot of songs in your portfolio the other day. Won't you give them something?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't!"
"It's not a critical audience," said Oliver, on her other side. "You might try. The people are growing impatient, and your father will be disappointed if things do not go well——"
Lesley flushed deeply. A week ago she would have thought—What is it to me if my father is disappointed? But she could not think so to-night.
"I have no music here. And I cannot sing properly when I play my own accompaniments."
"Tell me something you know and let me see whether I can play it," said Oliver.
She paused for a moment, then, with a smile in her eyes, she mentioned a name which made him laugh and elevate his eyebrows. "Do you know that?" she said.
"Rather! Is it not a trifle hackneyed? Ah, well, not for this audience, perhaps. Yes, I will play." And then, just as Caspar Brooke, with a slight gesture of annoyance, turned to explain to the people that a singer whom he expected had not come, Oliver touched him on the arm.
"Miss Brooke is going to sing, please," he said. "Will you announce her?"
Mr. Brooke stared hard for a moment, then bowed his head.
"My daughter will now sing to you," he said, curtly, and sat down again, grasping his brown beard with one hand.
"Can she sing?" Mrs. Romaine said in his ear, with an accent of veiled surprise.
"I do not know in the least. I hope it will be English, at any rate. These good people don't care for French and Italian things."
Mrs. Romaine saw that he looked undoubtedly nervous, and just then Oliver began the prelude to Lesley's song. It was certainly English enough. It was "Home, Sweet Home."
Every one looked up at the sound of the familiar air. "Hackneyed" as Oliver had declared it to be, it is a song which every audience loves to hear. And Lesley made a pretty picture for the eyes to rest upon while she sang. She was dressed from top to toe in a delicate shade of grey, which suited her fair skin admirably: the grey was relieved by some broad white ribbons and a vest of soft white silk folds, according to the prevailing fashion. A wide-brimmed grey hat, trimmed with drooping grey ostrich feathers, also became her extremely well. Mrs. Romaine noticed that Caspar Brooke looked at her hard for a minute or two, and then sat with his eyes fixed on the ground, his right hand forming a pillow for his left elbow, and his left hand engaged in stroking his big brown beard. What she did not notice was, that Maurice Kenyon had withdrawn himself to a post behind Mr. Brooke's chair, where he could see and not be seen; and that his eyes were riveted upon the fair singer with an expression which betokened more perplexity than admiration.
As Lesley's pure, sweet notes floated out upon the air, there was an instant stir of approbation and interest among the listeners. If the girl had been less intent upon her singing, the unmoved and unmoving stare of these men and women might have made her a little nervous. It was their way of showing attention. The men had even put down their pipes. But Lesley did not see them. She had chosen her song at haphazard, as one which these people were likely to understand; but its painful appropriateness to her own case, perhaps to her mother's case as well, only came home to her as she continued it.
"'Mid pleasures and palaces—though I may roam— Be it never so humble, there's no place like home. A charm from the heart seems to hallow it there, Which, seek through the world, is not met with elsewhere."
If Lesley's voice faltered a little while singing words with which she herself felt forced to disagree, and to which her mother had given the lie by running away from the home Caspar Brooke had provided for her, the hesitation and tremulousness were set down by the hearers as a very pretty bit of artistic skill, which they were not at all slow to appreciate. Mrs. Romaine put up her eye-glass and looked narrowly at the girl during the last few notes.
"How well she sings!" she murmured in Mr. Brooke's ear. "Positively, as if she felt it!"
Caspar Brooke gave a little start, left off handling his beard, and sat up shrugging his shoulders. "A good deal of dramatic talent, I fancy," he observed. But he could say no more, for the people were clapping their hands and stamping with their feet, in their eagerness for another song; and he was obliged to be silent until the tumult abated.
"You must sing again?" said Oliver.
"Must I? Really? But—shall I sing what English people call a sacred piece? A Sunday piece, you know? 'Angels ever bright and fair'—can you play that?"
Oliver could play that. And Lesley sang it with great applause.
But, being a keenly observant young person, and also in a very sensitive state, she noticed that her father held aloof and did not look quite well pleased. And she, remembering her refusal to take singing lessons, felt, naturally, a little guilty.
She had not time, however, to dwell upon her own feelings. The assembly began to disperse, for Mr. Brooke did not let the hours of his "meeting" encroach on church hours, and it was time to go. But almost every man, and certainly every woman, insisted on shaking hands with Lesley, most of them saying, with a friendly nod, that they hoped she'd come again.
"You're Mr. Brooke's daughter, ain't you, miss?" said a tall, broad-shouldered fellow, with honest eyes and a pleasant smile, which Lesley liked.
"Yes, I am."
"I hope you'll give us a bit of your singing another Sunday. 'Tis a treat to hear you, it is."
"Yes, I shall be glad to come again," said Lesley.
"That's like your father's daughter," said the man, heartily. "Meaning no disrespect to you, miss. But Mr. Brooke's the life and soul of this place: he's splendid—just splendid; and we can't think too high of him. So it's right and fitting that his daughter should take after him."
Lesley stood confused, but pleased. And then the man lowered his voice and spoke confidentially.
"There was a bit of a breeze this afternoon, just after you came in, I think; but you mustn't suppose that we have trouble o' that sort every Sunday, or week-day either. It was just one low, blackguardly fellow that got in and wanted to make a disturbance. But he won't do it again, for we'll have a meeting, and turn him out to-morrow. I would just like you to understand, miss, that a good few of us in this here club would pretty nigh lay down our lives for Mr. Brooke if he wanted them—for myself I wouldn't even say 'pretty nigh,' for I'd do it in a jiffy. He's helped to save some of us from worse than death, miss, and that's why."
"Come, Jim Gregson," said a cheery voice behind him, "you get along home to your tea. Time for shutting up just now. Good-bye."
And Caspar Brooke held out his hand for the workman to shake. He had only just come up, and could not therefore have heard what Gregson was saying; but Lesley preferred to turn away without meeting his eye. For in truth her own were full of tears.
She broke away from the little group, and went into the library, as if she wanted to inspect the books. But in reality she wanted a moment's silence and loneliness in which to get rid of the swelling in her throat, the tears in her eyes. These were caused partly by excitement, partly by an expression of feeling brought to her by the earnestness of Gregson's words, partly by penitence. And it was before she had well got rid of them that Maurice Kenyon put his head into the room and found her there.
"We are going now, Miss Brooke," he said. "Will you come? I—I hope I'm not disturbing you—I——"
"I am just coming," said Lesley, dashing the tears from her face. "I am quite ready."
"There is no hurry. You can let them go on first, if you like," said Maurice, partly closing the door. Then, in the short pause that followed, he advanced a little way into the room.
"Miss Brooke," he said, "I hope you will not mind my speaking to you again; but I want to say that I wish—most humbly and with all my heart—to beg your pardon. Will you forgive me?"
MAURICE KENYON'S APOLOGY.
Lesley stood irresolute. In the other room she heard the sound of voices calling her own name. "We are just going, Lesley," she heard Mrs. Romaine say. She made a hurried step towards the door.
"I can't stop," she said. "They will go without me."
"What if they do?" asked Mr. Kenyon. "I'll see you home."
Lesley looked amazed, as well she might, at this masterful way of settling the question. And while she hesitated Maurice acted, as he usually did.
He strode to the door and spoke to Miss Brooke. "I am just showing your niece some of the books: I'll follow in a minute or two with her if you'll kindly walk on. It won't take me more than a minute."
"Then we may as well wait," said Oliver's voice.
Lesley would have been very angry if she had known what happened then. Mr. Kenyon, by means of energetic pantomime, conveyed to the quick perceptions of Doctor Sophy a knowledge of the fact that Lesley was a little agitated and overcome, and that he was soothing her. And that the departure of the rest of the party would be a blessed relief.
Aunt Sophy was good-natured, and she had complete trust in Maurice Kenyon.
"Don't stay more than a minute or two," she said. "We'll just walk on then—Caspar and I. Mr. Trent is, of course, escorting your sister. Mrs. Romaine will come with us, and you'll follow?"
"I am quite ready," said Lesley.
"All right," answered Maurice, easily, "I must first show you this book." Then he returned to the library, and she heard the sounds of retreating steps and voices as her father and his party left the building.
"You have no book to show me—you had better come at once," Lesley said, severely. But Mr. Kenyon arrested her.
"I assure you I have. Look here: the men clubbed together a little while ago and presented your father's works to the library, all bound, you see, in vellum. I need not mention that he had not thought it worth while to give his own books to the club."
He showed her the volumes with pride, as if the presentation had been made to a member of his own family. Lesley touched the books with gentle fingers and reverent eyes. "I have been reading 'The Unexplored,'" she said.
"I knew you would! And I knew you would like it!—I am not wrong?"
"I like it very much. But it is all new to me—so new—I feel like Ione when she first heard of the miseries of England—I have lived in an enchanted world, where everything of that sort was kept from me; so—how could I understand?"
"I know! I know!—You make me doubly ashamed of myself. I have lived, metaphorically, in dust and ashes ever since we had that talk together. Miss Brooke, I must have seemed to you the most intolerable prig! Can you ever forgive me for what I said?"
"But," said Lesley, looking straight into his face with her clear brown eyes, "if what you said was true?——"
"I had no right to say it."
"That is true," Lesley answered, coldly; and she turned about as though she did not wish to pursue the subject.
"But can you not forgive me for it? I was unjustifiably angry I confess; but since I confess it——"
"Mr. Kenyon, we ought to be going home. I see the woman is waiting to put the lights out."
"We will go home if you like—certainly," said Maurice, in a tone of vexed disappointment. "Take care of the step—yes, here is the door. I am afraid we cannot get a cab in this neighborhood; but as soon as we reach a more civilized locality, I will do my best to find one for you."
By this time they were in the yard. Night had already fallen on the city, whether it had done so in the country or not. The lamps were lighted in the streets; a murky fog had settled like a pall upon the roads; and in the Sunday silence the church bells rang out with a mournful cadence which affected Lesley's spirits.
"London is a terrible place," she said, with a little shiver.
"Can you say that," he asked, looking at her curiously, "after seeing the good work that is being done here? If it is a terrible place, it is also a very noble and inspiring one."
"I know I am ignorant," said Lesley, heavily. "It seems terrible to me."
They were silent for a minute or two, for they were passing out of the yard belonging to the "model dwellings," as Macclesfield Buildings were called, into the squalid street beyond; and in avoiding the group of loafers smoking the pipe of idleness, and enjoying the comfortable repose of sloth, Lesley and Mr. Kenyon were so far separated that conversation became impossible.
"You had better take my arm," said Maurice, shortly, almost sternly. "You must, indeed: the place is not fit for you. I ought to have gone out and got a cab."
"Indeed, I do not need it. I can walk quite well. What other people do, I suppose I can do as well."
"Miss Brooke, you have not forgiven me."
Lesley was silent.
"What can I say? I have no justification. I simply let my tongue and my temper run away with me. I am cursed with a hot temper: I do not think before I speak; but I never intended to hurt you, Miss Brooke, I am sure of that."
"No," said Lesley, very quietly, "I understand you. If you had not thought me so stupid as not to see your meaning, or so callous as not to care if I did, you would not have spoken in that way. I don't know that your excuse makes matters much better, Mr. Kenyon. But I am not offended: you need not concern yourself."
"Then you ought to be offended," said Kenyon, doggedly. "And I don't believe you."
"You don't believe me."
"No, indeed I don't."
Lesley's offence was so great now, whatever it had been before, that it deprived her of the power of speech. Her stately head went up: her mouth set itself in straight, hard lines. Maurice saw these tokens, and interpreted them aright.
"Don't be angry with me again. I mean that you could not fail to despise me, to look down on me, for my want of tact and sense. I thought that you did not understand your father—I was vexed at that, because I have such a respect, such an admiration for him—but I know now that I was mistaken. You ought to be angry with me, for I acknowledge that I spoke impertinently; but having been angry, you can now be merciful and forgive. I apologize from the bottom of my heart."
"How do you know that I understand my father? Why have you changed your opinion?" said Lesley, coldly. "You have nothing to go upon—just as in the other case you had nothing to go upon. You rushed to one conclusion, if you will excuse me for saying so, and now you rush to another—with no better reason."
"You are very severe, Miss Brooke," said Maurice. "But you are perfectly right, and I must not complain. Only—if I may make a representation——"
"——I might point out that when I spoke to you first you had not read your father's book, you had not, I believe, even heard of it; that you knew nothing about the Macclesfield Club, and that when I spoke to you about his work amongst the poor you were very much inclined to murmur, 'Can any good come out of Nazareth?'"
"I beg your pardon, Miss Brooke, but isn't that substantially true? If you can honestly say that it is a misapprehension on my part, I won't say another word. But isn't it all true?"
He turned his eager face and bright blue eyes towards her, and read in her pale, troubled face a little of the conflict that was going on between her candor and her pride. "Now, what will she say?" he thought, with what would have seemed to Lesley incomprehensible anxiety. "On her answer depends my opinion of her, now and for ever."
And this appeared to Maurice quite an important matter, though possibly Lesley might not have thought it so.
She turned to him at last with a frank, decisive gesture.
"It is true," she said. "I knew nothing about his books or his works, and so how could I appreciate them? I had never heard of 'The Unexplored' before. You are right, and I had no business to be so angry. But how do you know that I am different now?"
"Oh, I know you are," said Maurice, confidently. "You have come to the club for one thing, you see; and you sang to the people and looked at them—well, as if you cared. And you have read 'The Unexplored' now?"
"Yes. I have," said Lesley, hesitatingly.
"And you like it?"
"Yes—I like it." The girl looked away, and went on nervously, hesitatingly. "It is very well done," she said, "It is very clever."
"Oh, if that is all you can find to say about it!"
"But isn't it a great deal?—Mr. Kenyon, I don't know what to say about it. You see I can't be sure whether it is all—true."
"True? The story? But, of course——"
"Of course the story is not true. I am not such a goose as that. But is the meaning of it true? the moral, so to speak? Is there so much wickedness in the world as my father says? So much vice and wealth and selfishness on the one side: so much misery and poverty and crime on the other? You are a doctor, and you must have seen a great deal of London life: you ought to know. Is it an exaggeration, or is it true?"
There was such intensity and such pathos in her tones that Kenyon was silent for a minute or two, startled by the vivid reality which she had attached to her father's views and ideas. He could not have answered her lightly, even if it had been in his nature to do so.
"Before God," he said, solemnly, "it is all true—every word of it."
"Then what can we do," said Lesley, gently, "but go down into the midst of it and help?"
Mr. Maurice Kenyon, being a man of ardent temperament, always vows that he lost his heart to Lesley there and then. It is possible that if she had not been a very pretty girl, the most noble of sentiments might have fallen unheeded from her lips; but as she was "so young, so sweet, so delicately fair," Kenyon could not hear his own opinions reciprocated without an answering thrill. How delightful would it be to walk through life with a woman of this kind by one's side! a woman, whose face was a picture, whose every movement a poem, whose soul was as finely touched to fine issues as that of an angel or a saint! All these reflections rushed through his mind in an instant, and it was almost a wonder that he did not blurt some of them out at once. But Lesley went on speaking in a quiet, pensive way.
"I wonder whether I can do anything—while I am here. I shall not have so very long a time, but I might try."
"Not so long a time, Miss Brooke? I thought you had come home for good."
"Only for a year," said Lesley, coloring hotly. "Then I go back to mamma."
Maurice said nothing at first. He felt the hand that rested on his arm tremble slightly, and he knew that he ought to make no more inquiries. But he could not refrain from adding, almost jealously—
"You will be glad of that?"
"Oh, yes! You do not know my mother?" said Lesley, half shyly, half boldly.
"No, I never saw her."
"It is very hard to be so long away from her. She is so sweet and good."
"But you have your father? You are learning to know him now."
"Oh, yes, but I want them both," said Lesley, with an indescribably gentle and tender intonation. And as they reached Euston Road and were obliged to leave off talking while they threaded their way through the intricacies of vehicular traffic, Mr. Kenyon was revolving in his mind a new idea, namely, the possibility of a reconciliation between Brooke and his wife. He had never thought much about Lady Alice before: she seemed to him to have passed out of Caspar Brooke's life entirely; and if it were not for this link between the two—this sweet and noble-spirited and lovely girl—she would not have been likely to come back into it. But Lesley might perhaps reunite the two, and Maurice's heart began to burn within him with fear for his hero's happiness. Why should any Lady Alice trouble the peace of a worker for mankind like Caspar Brooke?
They did not talk very much more on their way to Upper Woburn Place. They found Ethel and Oliver standing on the steps of Mr. Brooke's house, evidently waiting for the truants. It struck Lesley as she came up that Oliver Trent's brow was ominously dark, and that Ethel's pretty, saucy face wore an expression of something like anxiety or distress.
"We are almost tired of waiting for you, good people," she began merrily. "Fortunately it is fine and warm, or we should have gone and left you to your own devices, as Mr. Brooke and Rosalind have done."
"Where have they gone?" asked Maurice.
"Walked off to her house. Miss Brooke is at home. Lesley, you are an imposition! Think of having a voice like that, and keeping it dark all this time."
"We shall requisition Miss Brooke for the club very often, I know that," said Maurice.
"You'll come in with us, Lesley?" Ethel asked.
"No, thank you, Ethel. Not to-day. Thanks."
She wondered a little nervously why Oliver was looking so vexed and—yes, so miserable, too! He seemed terribly out of spirits. Had he and Ethel quarrelled? The thought gave a look of tender inquiry to her eyes as she held out her hand to him. And on meeting that sweet glance, Oliver's face brightened. He had been feeling an unreasonable annoyance with her for walking home with Maurice Kenyon, and had even in his heart called her "a little French flirt." Though why it should matter to him that she was a flirt, did not exactly appear.
They said good-bye to each other, and separated. Maurice went off to see a patient; Oliver accompanied Ethel to her own house; Lesley entered her own home.
She was alone for an hour or two, and, to tell the truth, she felt rather dull. Miss Brooke went away to her circle of select souls, and her father, as she knew, had gone to Mrs. Romaine's. She took out her much-prized volume of "The Unexplored," and began to read it again; wishing that she could talk to her mother about it, and explain to her how really great and good a man her father was. For—she had got as far as this—she was sure that her mother did not understand him. It would have been impossible for him to do a mean, a cruel, a dishonorable action. There had been a misunderstanding somewhere; and Lesley wished, with her whole soul, that she could clear it up.
The sound of the opening and closing of the front door did not arouse her from her dreams. She read on, holding the little paper-covered volume on her lap, deep in deepest thought, until the door of the drawing-room opened rather suddenly, and her father walked in.
It was an unusual hour at which to see him in the drawing-room, and Lesley looked up in surprise. Then, half unconsciously, half timidly, she drew her filmy embroidered handkerchief over the book in her lap. She had a shy dislike to letting her father see what she was reading.
He did not seem, however, to take any notice of her occupation. He walked straight to an arm-chair on the opposite side of the hearth, sat down, stretching out his long legs, and placing his elbows on the arms of the chair. The unruly lock of hair, which no hairdresser could tame, had fallen right across his broad brow, and heightened the effect of a very undeniable frown. Mr. Caspar Brooke was in anything but an amiable temper.
It was with a laudable attempt, however, to keep the displeasure out of his voice that he said at length—
"I thought I understood you to say, Lesley, that you were not musical!"
The color flushed Lesley's face to the very roots of her hair.
"I do not think I am—very musical," she said, trying to answer bravely. "I play the piano very little."
"Of course you must know that that is a quibble," said Mr. Brooke, dryly. "A talent for music does not confine itself solely to the piano. I presume that you have been told that you have a good voice?"
"Yes, I have been told so."
"And you have had lessons?"
"Yes, a few."
"Then may I ask what was your motive for declining to take lessons in London when I asked to do so? You even went so far as to make use of a subterfuge: you gave me to understand that you had no musical power at all, and that you knew nothing and could do nothing?"
He paused as if he expected a reply; but Lesley did not say a word.
"I cannot understand it," Mr. Brooke went on; "but,"—after a pause—"I suppose there is no reason why I should. I did not come to say anything much about that part of the business. I came rather to suggest that as you have a good voice, it is wrong not to cultivate it. And your lessons will give you something to do. It seems to me rather a pity, my dear, that you should do nothing but sit round and read novels—which, your aunt tells me, is your principal occupation. Suppose you try to find something more useful to do?"