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Sunrise - Chapter 37. Santa Claus Post by :add2it Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1534

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Sunrise - Chapter 37. Santa Claus


To save time Brand jumped into a hansom and drove down to Curzon Street. He was too much preoccupied to remember that Natalie had wished him not to come to the house. Anneli admitted him, and showed him up-stairs into the drawing-room. In a couple of seconds or so Natalie herself appeared.

"Well," said she lightly, "you have come to tell me about Santa Claus? You have discovered the mysterious messenger?"

She shut the door and went forward to him.

"What is the matter?" she said, quickly: there was something in his look that alarmed her.

He caught both her hands in his, and held them tight.

"Nothing to frighten you, at all events," said he: "no, Natalie I have good news for you. Only--only--you must be brave."

It was he who was afraid; he did not know how to begin.

"That locket there," said he, regarding the little silver trinket. "Have you ever thought about it?--why do you wear it?"

"Why do I wear it?" she said, simply. "Because one day that Calabressa was talking to me it occurred to me that the locket might have belonged to my mother, and that some one had wished to give it to me. He did not say it was impossible. It was his talk of Natalie and Natalushka that put it in my head; perhaps it was a stupid fancy."

"Natalie, the locket did belong to your mother."

"Ah, you know, then?" she said, quickly, but with nothing beyond a bright and eager interest. "You have seen that lady? Well, what does she say?--was she angry that you followed her? Did you thank her for me for all those presents of flowers?"

"Natalie," said he almost in despair, "have you never thought about it--about the locket? Have you never thought of what might be possible?"

"I do not understand you," she said, with a bewildered air. "What is it? why do you not speak?"

"Because I am afraid. See, I hold your hands tight because I am afraid. And yet it is good news: your heart will be filled with joy; your life will be quite different from to-day ever after. Natalie, cannot you imagine for yourself--something beautiful happening to you--something you may have dreamed of--"

She became a little pale, but she maintained her calmness.

"Dearest," said she, "why are you afraid to tell me. You hold my hands: do they tremble?"

"But, Natalie, think!" he said. "Think of the locket; it was given you by one who loved you--who has loved you all these years--and been kept away from you--and now she is waiting for you."

He studied her face intently: there was nothing there but a vague bewilderment. He grew more and more to fear the effect of the shock.

"Yes, yes. Can you not think, now, if it were possible that one whom you have always thought to be dead--whom you have loved all through your life--if it were she herself--"

She withdrew her hands from his, and caught the back of a chair. She was ghastly pale; for a second she did not speak.

"You will kill me--if it is not true," she said, in a low voice, and still staring at him with frightened, bewildered eyes.

"Natalie, it is true," said he, stepping forward to catch her by the arm, for he thought she was going to fall.

She sunk into a chair, and covered her face with her hands--not to cry, but to think. She had to reverse the belief of a lifetime in a second.

But suddenly she started up, her face still white, her lips firm.

"Take me to her; I must see her; I will go at once."

"You shall not," he said, promptly; but he himself was beginning to breathe more freely. "I will not allow you to see her until you are perfectly calm."

He put his hand on her arm gently.

"Natalie," said he, "you must calm yourself--for her sake. She has been suffering; she is weak; any wild scene would do her harm. You must calm yourself, my darling; you must be the braver of the two; you must show yourself very strong--for her sake."

"I am quite calm," she said, with pale lips. She put her left hand over her heart. "It is only my heart that beats so."

"Well, in a little while--"

"Now--now!" she pleaded, almost wildly. "I must see her. When I try to think of it, it is like to drive me mad; I cannot think at all. Let us go!"

"You must think," he said firmly; "you must think of what you are going to say; and your dress, too. Natalie, you must take that piece of scarlet ribbon away; one who is nearly related to you has just died."

She tore it off instantly.

"And you know Magyar, don't you, Natalie?"

"Oh yes, yes."

"Because your mother has been learning English in order to be able to speak to you."

Again she placed her hand over her heart, and there was a look of pain on her face.

"My dearest, let us go! I can bear no more: my heart will break! See, am I not calm enough? Do I tremble?"

"No, you are very courageous," he said, looking at her doubtfully.

"Let us go!--let us go!"

Her entreaties overcame his scruples. The things she had thrown aside on coming in from her morning walk still lay there; she hastily put them on; and she herself led the way down-stairs. He put her into the hansom, and followed; the man drove off. She held her lover's hand tight, as a sign of her gratitude.

"Mind, I depend on you, Natalie," he said.

"Oh, do not fear," she said, rather wildly; "why should one fear? It seems to me all a strange sort of dream; and I shall waken out of it by-and-by, and go back to the house. Why should I be surprised to see her, when she is my constant companion? And do you think I shall not know what to say?--I have talked to her all my life."

But when they had reached the house, and were admitted, this half-hysterical courage had fled.

"One moment, dearest; give me one moment," she said, at the foot of the stairs, as if her breath failed her, and she put her hand on his arm.

"Now, Natalie," he whispered, "you must think of your mother as an invalid--not to be excited, you understand; there is to be no scene."

"Yes, yes," she said, but she scarcely heard him.

"Now go," he said, "and I will wait here."

"No, I wish you to come," she said.

"You ought to be alone with her."

"I wish you to come," she repeated; and she took his hand.

They went up-stairs; the door was wide open; a figure stood in the middle of the room. Natalie entered first; she was very white, that was all. It was the other woman who was trembling--trembling with anxious fears, and forgetful of every one of the English phrases she had learned.

The girl at the door hesitated but for a moment. Breathless, wondering, she beheld this vision--worn as the face was, she recognized in it the features she had learned to love; and there were the dark and tender eyes she had so often held commune with when she was alone. It was only because she was so startled that she thus hesitated; the next instant she was in her mother's arms held tight there, her head against her bosom.

Then the mother began, in her despair,

"My--my daughter--you--do--know me?"

But the girl, not looking up, murmured some few words in a language Brand did not understand; and at the sound of them the mother uttered a wild cry of joy, and drew her daughter closer to her, and laid her streaming, worn, sad face on the beautiful hair. They spoke together in that tongue; the sounds were soft and tender to the ear; perhaps it was the yearning of love that made them so.

Then Natalie remembered her promise. She gently released herself; she led her mother to a sofa, and made her sit down; she threw herself on her knees beside her, and kissed her hand; then she buried her head in her mother's lap. She sobbed once or twice; she was determined not to give way to tears. And the mother stroked the soft hair of the girl, which she could hardly see, for her eyes were full; and from time to time she spoke to her in those gentle, trembling tones, bending over her and speaking close to her ear. The girl was silent; perhaps afraid to awake from a dream.

"Natalie," said George Brand.

She sprung to her feet.

"Oh, I beg your pardon--I beg your pardon!" she said, hurriedly. "I had forgotten--"

"No, you have not forgotten," he said, with a smile. "You have remembered; you have behaved well. Now that I have seen you through it, I am going; you ought to be by yourselves."

"Oh no!" she said, in a bewildered way. "Without you I am useless: I cannot think. I should go on talking and talking to my mother all day, all night--because--because my heart is full. But--but one must do something. Why is she here? She will come home with me--now!"

"Natalie," said he, gravely, "you must not even mention such a thing to her: it would pain her. Can you not see that there are sufficient reasons why she should not go, when she has not been under your father's roof for sixteen years?"

"And why has my father never told me?" the girl said, breathlessly.

"I cannot say."

She thought for a moment; but she was too excited to follow out any train of thinking.

"Ah," she said, "what matter? I have found a great treasure. And you, you shall not go: it will be we three together now. Come!"

She took his hand; she turned to her mother; her face flushed with shyness. She said something, her eyes turned to the ground, in that soft musical language he did not understand.

"I know, my child," the mother answered in French, and she laughed lightly despite her wet eyes. "Do you think one cannot see?--and I have been following you like a spy!"

"Ah, then," said the girl, in the same tongue, "do you see what lies they tell? They say when the mother comes near her child, the heart of the child knows and recognizes her. It is not true! it is not true!--or perhaps one has a colder heart than the others. You have been near to me, mother; I have watched, as you went away crying, and all I said was, 'Ah, the poor lady, I am sorry for her!' I had no more pity for you than Anneli had. Anneli used to say, 'Perhaps, fraulein, she has lost some one who resembles you.'"

"I had lost you--I had lost you," the mother said, drawing the girl toward her again. "But now I have found you again, Natalushka. I thank God for his goodness to me. I said to myself, 'If my child turns away from me, I will die!' and I thought that if you had any portrait of me, it would be taken when I was young, and you would not care for an old woman grown haggard and plain--"

"Oh, do you think it is for smooth portraits that I care?" the girl said, impetuously. She drew out from some concealed pocket a small case, and opened it. "Do you think it is for smooth faces one cares? There--I will never look at it again!"

She threw it on to the table with a proud gesture.

"But you had it next your heart, Natalushka," said her mother, smiling.

"But I have you in my heart, mother: what do I want with a portrait?" said the girl.

She drew her daughter down to her again, and put her arm once more round her neck.

"I once had hair like yours, Natalushka, but not so beautiful as yours, I think. And you wore the locket, too? Did not that make you guess? Had you no suspicion?"

"How could I--how could I?" she asked. "Even when I showed it to Calabressa--"

Here she stopped suddenly.

"Did he know, mother?"

"Oh yes."

"Then why did he not tell me? Oh, it was cruel!" she said, indignantly.

"He told me, Natalie," George Brand said.

"You knew?" the girl said, turning to him with wide eyes.

"Yes; and Calabressa, when he told me, implored me never to tell you. Well, perhaps he thought it would give you needless pain. But I was thinking, within the last few days, that I ought to tell you before I left for America."

"Do you hear, mother?" the girl said, in a low voice. "He is going away to America--and alone. I wished to go; he refuses."

"Now I am going away much more contented, Natalie, since you will have a constant companion with you. I presume, madame, you will remain in England?"

The elder woman looked up with rather a frightened air.

"Alas, monsieur, I do not know! When at last I found myself free--when I knew I could come and speak to my child--that was all I thought of."

"But you wish to remain in England: is it not so?"

"What have I in the world now but this beautiful child--whose heart is not cold, though her mother comes so late to claim her?"

"Then be satisfied, madame. It is simple. No one can interfere with you. But I will provide you, if you will allow me, with better lodgings than these. I have a few days' idleness still before me."

"That is his way, mother," Natalie said, in a still lower voice. "It is always about others he is thinking--how to do one a kindness."

"I presume," he said, in quite a matter-of-fact way, "that you do not wish your being in London to become known?"

She looked up timidly, but in truth she could hardly take her attention away from this newly-found daughter of hers for a single second. She still continued stroking the soft hair and rounded cheek as she said,

"If that is possible."

"It would not be long possible in an open thoroughfare like this," he said; "But I think I could find you a small old-fashioned house down about Brompton, with a garden and a high wall. I have passed such places occasionally. There Natalie could come to see you, and walk with you. There is another thing," he said, in a matter-of-fact way, taking out his watch. "It is now nearly two o'clock. Now, dear madame, Natalie is in the habit of having luncheon at one. You would not like to see your child starve before your eyes?"

The elder woman rose instantly; then she colored somewhat.

"No doubt you did not expect visitors," George Brand said, quickly. "Well, what do you say to this? Let us get into a four-wheeled cab, and drive down to my chambers. I have an indefatigable fellow, who could get something for us in the desert of Saharra."

"What do you say, child?"

Natalie had risen too: she was regarding her mother with earnest eyes, and not thinking much about luncheon.

"I will do whatever you wish," she was saying: but suddenly she cried, "Oh, I am indeed so happy!" and flung her arms round her mother's neck, and burst into a flood of tears for the first time. She had struggled long; but she had broken down at last.

"Natalie," said George Brand, pretending to be very anxious about the time, "could you get your mother's things for her? I think we shall be down there by a quarter past two."

She turned to him with her streaming eyes.

"Yes, we will go with you. Do not let us be separated."

"Then look sharp," said he, severely.

Natalie took her mother into the adjoining room. Brand, standing at the window, succeeded in catching the eye of a cab-man, whom he signaled to come to the door below. Presently the two women appeared.

"Now," he said, "Miss Natalie, there is to be no more crying."

"Oh no!" she said, smiling quite radiantly. "And I am so anxious to see the rooms--I have heard so much of them from Lord Evelyn."

She said nothing further then, for she was passing before him on her way out. In doing so, she managed, unseen, to pick up the miniature she had thrown on the table. She had made believe to despise that portrait very much; but all the same, as they went down the dark staircase, she conveyed it back to the secret little pocket she had made for it--next her heart.

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