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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSunrise - Chapter 30. Some Treasures
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Sunrise - Chapter 30. Some Treasures Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :799

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Sunrise - Chapter 30. Some Treasures

CHAPTER XXX. SOME TREASURES

The next morning Natalie was sitting alone in the little dining-room, dressed ready to go out. Perhaps she had been crying a little by herself; but at all events, when she heard the sound of some one being admitted at the front-door and coming into the passage, she rose, with a flush of pleasure and relief appearing on her pale and saddened face. It was Madame Potecki.

"Ah, it is so good of you to come early," said Natalie to her friend, with a kind of forced cheerfulness. "Shall we start at once? I have been thinking and thinking myself into a state of misery; and what is the use of that?"

"Let me look at you," said the prompt little music mistress, taking both her hands, and regarding her with her clear, shrewd blue eyes. "No; you are not looking well. The walk will do you good, my dear. Come away, then."

But Natalie paused in the passage, with some appearance of embarrassment. Anneli was standing by the door.

"Remember this, Anneli; if any one calls and wishes to see me--and particularly wishes to see me--you will not say, 'My mistress is gone out;' you will say, 'My mistress is gone to the South Kensington Museum with Madame Potecki.' Do you understand that, Anneli?"

"Yes, Fraulein; certainly."

Then they left, going by way of the Park. And the morning was fresh and bright; the energetic little Polish lady was more talkative and cheerful than ever; the girl with her had only to listen, with as much appearance of interest as was possible, considering that her thoughts were so apt to wonder away elsewhither.

"My dear, what a lovely morning for us to go and look at my treasures! The other day I was saying to myself, 'There is my adopted daughter Natalie, and I have not a farthing to leave her. What is the use of adopting a child if you have nothing to leave her? Then I said to myself, 'Never mind; I will teach her my theory of living; that will make her richer than a hundred legacies will do.' Dear, dear! that was all the legacy my poor husband left to me."

She passed her hand over her eyes.

"Don't you ever marry a man who has anything to do with politics, my child. Many a time my poor Potecki used to say to me, 'My angel, cultivate contentment; you may have to live on it some day.'"

"And you have taken his advice, madame; you are very content."

"Why? Because I have my theory. They think that I am poor. It is poor Madame Potecki, who earns her solitary supper by 'One, two, three, four; one, two, three, four;' who has not a treasure in the world--except a young Hungarian lady, who is almost a daughter to her. Well, well; but you know my way of thinking, my dear, you laugh at it; I know you do. You say, 'That mad little Madame Potecki.' But some day I will convince you."

"I am willing to be taught now, madame--seriously. Is it not wise to be content?"

"I am more than content, my dear; I am proud, I am vain. When I think of all the treasures that belong to the public, and to me as one of the public--the Turner landscapes in the National Gallery; the books and statues in the British Museum; the bronzes and china and jewellery at South Kensington--do you not think, my dear, that I am thankful I have no paltry little collection in my own house that I should be ashamed of? Then look at the care that is taken of them. I have no risk. I am not disheartened for a day because a servant has broken my best piece of Nankin blue. I have no trouble and no thought; it is only when I have a little holiday that I say to myself, 'Well, shall I go and see my Rembrandts? Or shall I look over my cases of Etruscan rings? Or shall I go and feast my eyes on the _bleu de roi of a piece of jewelled Sevres?' Oh, my love!"

She clasped her hands in ecstasy. Her volubility had outrun itself and got choked.

"I will show you three vases," said she, presently, in almost a solemn way--"I will show you three vases, in white and brown crackle, and put all the color in the whole of my collection to shame. My dear, I have never seen in the world anything so lovely--the soft cream-white ground, the rich brown decoration--the beautiful, bold, graceful shape; and they only cost sixty pounds!--sixty pounds for three, and they are worth a kingdom! Why--But really, my dear Natalie, you walk too fast. I feel as if I were being marched off to prison!"

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" said the girl, laughing. "I am always forgetting; and papa scolds me often enough for it."

"Have you heard what I told you about those priceless vases in the South Kensington?"

"I am most anxious to see them, I assure you."

"My blue-and-white," Madame Potecki continued, seriously, "I am afraid is not always of the best. There are plenty of good pieces, it is true; but they are not the finest feature of the collection. Oh! the Benares brocades--I had forgotten them. Ah, my dear, these will make you open your eyes!"

"But don't you get bewildered, madame, with having to think of so many possessions?" said Natalie, respectfully.

"No," said the other, in a matter-of-fact way; "I take them one by one. I pay a morning call here, a morning call there, when I have no appointments, just to see that everything is going on well."

Presently she said,

"Ah, well, my dear, we are poor weak creatures. Here and there, in my wanderings I have met things that I almost coveted; but see what an impossible, monstrous collection they would make! Let me think, now. The Raphael at Dresden; two Titian portraits in the Louvre; the Venus of Milo--not the Medici one at all; I would not take it; I swear I would not accept it, that trivial little creature with the yellow skin!"

"My dear friend, the heavens will fall on you!" her companion exclaimed.

"Wait a moment," said the little music-mistress, reflectively. "I have not completed my collection. There is a Holy Family of Botticelli's--I forget where I saw it. And the bust of the Empress Messalina in the Uffizi: did you ever notice it, Natalie?"

"No."

"Do not forget it when you are in Florence again. You won't believe any of the stories about her when you see the beautiful refined face; only don't forget to remark how flat the top of her head is. Well, where are we, my dear? The bronze head of the goddess in the Castellani collection: I would have that; and the fighting Temeraire. Will these do? But then, my dear, even if one had all these things, see what a monstrous collection they would make. What should I do with them in my lodgings, even if I had room? No; I must be content with what I have."

By this time they had got down into South Kensington and were drawing near one of Madame Potecki's great treasure houses.

"Then, you see, my dear Natalie," she continued, "my ownership of these beautiful things we are going to see is not selfish. It can be multiplied indefinitely. You may have it too; any one may have it, and all without the least anxiety!"

"That is very pleasant also," said the girl, who was paying less heed now. The forced cheerfulness that had marked her manner at starting had in great measure left her. Her look was absent; she blindly followed her guide through the little wicket, and into the hushed large hall.

The silence was grateful to her; there was scarcely any one in the place. While Madame Potecki busied herself with some catalogue or other, the girl turned aside into a recess, to look at a cast of the effigy on the tomb of Queen Eleanor of Castile. A tombstone stills the air around it. Even this gilt plaster figure was impressive; it had the repose of the dead.

But she had not been standing there for a couple of seconds when she heard a well-known voice behind her.

"Natalie!"

She knew. There was neither surprise nor shamefacedness in her look when she turned and saw George Brand before her. Her eyes were as fearless as ever when they met his; and they were glad, too, with a sudden joy; and she said, quickly,

"Ah, I thought you would come. I told Anneli."

"It was kind of you--and brave--to let me come to see you."

"Kind?" she said. "How could I do otherwise?"

"But you are looking tired, Natalie."

"I did not sleep much last night. I was thinking."

The tears started to her eyes; she impatiently brushed them aside.

"I know what you were thinking. That is why I came so early to see you. You were blaming yourself for what has happened. That is not right. You are not to blame at all. Do you think I gave you that promise for nothing?"

"You were always like that," she said in a low voice. "Very generous and unselfish. Yes, I--I--was miserable; I thought if you had never known me--"

"If I had never known you! You think that would be a desirable thing for me!--"

But at this moment the hurried, anxious, half-whispered conversation had to cease, for Madame Potecki came up. Nor was she surprised to find Mr. Brand there. On the contrary, she said that her time was limited, and that she could not expect other people to care for old porcelain as much as she did; and if Mr. Brand would take her dear daughter Natalie to see some pictures in the rooms up-stairs, she would come and find her out by-and-by.

"Not at all, dear madame," said Natalie, with some slight flush. "No. We will go with you to see the three wonderful vases."

So they went, and saw the three crackle vases, and many another piece of porcelain and enamel and bronze; but always the clever little Polish woman took care that she should be at some other case, so that she could not overhear what these two had to say to each other. And they had plenty to say.

"Why, Natalie, where is your courage? What is the going to America? It cannot be for ever and ever."

"But even then," she said, in a low, hesitating voice. "If you were never to see me again, you would blame me for it all. You would regret."

"How can I regret that my life was made beautiful to me, if only for a time? It was worth nothing to me before. And you are forgetting all about the ring, and my promise to you."

This light way of talking did not at all deceive her. What had been torturing her all the night long was the fancy, the suspicion, that her father was sending her lover to America, not solely with a view to the work he should have to undertake there, but to insure a permanent separation between herself and him. That was the cruel bit of it. And she more than ever admired the manliness of this man, because he would make no complaint to her. He had uttered no word of protest, for fear of wounding her. He did not mention her father to her at all; but merely treated this project of going to America as if it were a part of his duty that had to be cheerfully accepted.

"After I have once said good-bye to you Natalie" said he, "it will not be so bad for me. I shall have my work."

"When do you go?" she asked, with rather a white face.

"I don't know yet. It may be a matter of days. You will let me see you again, my darling--soon?"

"I shall be here every morning, if you wish it" she answered.

"To-morrow, then?"

"To-morrow, at eleven. Anneli will come with me. I should have waited in on the hope of seeing you this morning; but it was an old engagement with Madame Potecki. Ah, how good she is! Do you see how she pretends to be interested in those things?"

"I will send her a present of some old china before I leave England," said Brand.

"No, no," said Natalie, with a faint smile appearing on the sad face. "It would destroy her theory. She does not care for anything at home so long as she possesses these public treasures. She is very content. Indeed, she earns enough to be charitable. She has many poor dependents."

By-and-by Madame Potecki, with great evident reluctance, confessed that she had to return, as one of her pupils would be at her house by half-past twelve. But would not Mr. Brand take her dear adopted child to see some of the pictures? It was a pity that she should be dragged away, and so forth.

But Natalie promptly put an end to these suggestions by saying that she would prefer to return with Madame Potecki; and, it being now past twelve, as soon as they got outside she engaged a cab. George Brand saw them off, and then returned into the building. He wished to look again at the objects she had looked at, to recollect every word she had uttered; to recall the very tones in which she had spoken. And this place was so hushed and quiet.

Meanwhile, as the occupants of the cab were journeying northward, Natalie took occasion to say to her companion, with something of a heightened color,

"You must not imagine, dear madame, that I expected to see Mr. Brand at the Museum when I promised to go with you."

"But what if you had expected, my child?" said the good-natured music-mistress. "What harm is there?"

"But this morning I did expect him to come, and that is why I left the message with Anneli," continued the girl. "Because, do you know, madame, he is going to America; and when he goes I may not see him for many years."

"My child!" the demonstrative little woman exclaimed, catching hold of the girl's hand.

But Natalie was not inclined to be sympathetic at this moment.

"Now I wish you, dear Madame Potecki," she continued in a firm voice, "to do me a favor. I would rather not speak to my father about Mr. Brand. I wish you to tell him for me that so long as Mr. Brand remains in England I shall continue to see him; and that as I do not choose he should come to my father's house, I shall see him as I saw him this morning."

"My love, my love, what a frightful duty! Is it necessary?"

"It is necessary that my father should know, certainly."

"But what responsibility!"

"You have no responsibility whatever. Anneli will go with me. All that I ask of you, dear Madame Potecki, is to take the message to my father. You will; will you not?"

"More than that I will do for you," said the little woman, boldly. "I see there is unhappiness; you are suffering, my child. Well, I will plunge into it; I will see your father: this cannot be allowed. It is a dangerous thing to interfere--who knows better than I? But to sit near you is to be inspired; to touch your hand is to gain the courage of a giant. Yes, I will speak to your father; all shall be put right."

The girl scarcely heard her.

"There is another thing I would ask of you," she said, slowly and wistfully, "but not here. May I come to you when the lesson is over?"

"At two: yes."

So it was that Natalie called on her friend shortly after two o'clock and was shown into the little parlor. She was rather pale. She sat down at one side of the table.

"I wished to ask your advice, dear Madame Potecki," she said, in a low voice, and with her eyes down. "Now you must suppose a case. You must suppose that--that two people love each other--better--better than anything else in the world, and that they are ready to sacrifice a great deal for each other. Well, the man is ordered away! it is a banishment from his own country, perhaps forever; and he is very brave about it, and will not complain. Now you must suppose that the girl is very miserable about his going away, and blames herself; and perhaps--perhaps wishes--to do something to show she understands his nobleness--his devotion; and she would do anything in the world, Madame Potecki--to prove her love to him--"

"But, child, child, why do you tremble so?"

"I wish you to tell me, Madame Potecki--I wish you to tell me--whether--you would consider it unwomanly--unmaidenly--for her to go and say to him, 'You are too brave and unselfish to ask me to go with you. Now I offer myself to you. If you must go, why not I--your wife?"

Madame Potecki started up in great alarm.

"Natalie, what do you mean?"

"I only--wished to--to ask--what you would think."

She was very pale, and her lips were tremulous; but she did not break down. Madame Potecki was apparently far more agitated than she was.

"My child, my child, I am afraid you are on the brink of some wild thing!"

"Is that that I have repeated to you what a girl ought to do?" Natalie said, almost calmly. "Do you think it is what my mother would have done, Madame Potecki? They have told me she was a brave woman."

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