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Sunrise - Chapter 35. The Mother Post by :sbeard Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :2235

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Sunrise - Chapter 35. The Mother


This beautiful, pale, trembling mother: she stood there, dark against the light of the window; but even in the shadow how singularly like she was to Natalie, in the tall, slender, elegant figure, the proud set of the head, the calm, intellectual brows, and the large, tender, dark eyes, as soft and pathetic as those of a doe--only this woman's face was worn and sad, and her hair was silver-gray.

She was greatly agitated, and for a second or two incapable of speech. But when he began in French to apologize for his intrusion, she eagerly interrupted him.

"Ah, no, no!" she said, in the same tongue. "Do not waste words in apology. You have come to tell me about my child, my Natalie: Heaven bless you for it; it is a great kindness. To-day I saw you walking with her--listening to her voice--ah, how I envied you!--and once or twice I thought of going to her and taking her hand, and saying only one word--'Natalushka!'"

"That would have been a great imprudence," said he gravely. "If you wish to speak to your daughter--"

"If I wish to speak to her!--if I wish to speak to her!" she exclaimed; and there were tears in her voice, if there were none in the sad eyes.

"You forget, madame, that your daughter has been brought up in the belief that you died when she was a mere infant. Consider the effect of any sudden disclosure."

"But has she never suspected? I have passed her; she has seen me. I gave her a locket: what did she think?"

"She was puzzled, yes; but how would it occur to the girl that any one could be so cruel as to conceal from her all those years the fact that her mother was alive?"

"Then you yourself, monsieur--"

"I knew it from Calabressa."

"Ah, my old friend Calabressa! And he was here, in London, and he saw my Natalie. Perhaps--"

She paused for a second.

"Perhaps it was he who sent the message. I heard--it was only a word or two--that my daughter had found a lover."

She regarded him. She had the same calm fearlessness of look that dwelt in Natalie's eyes.

"You will pardon me, monsieur. Do I guess right? It is to you that my child has given her love?"

"That is my happiness," said he. "I wish I were better worthy of it."

She still regarded him very earnestly, and in silence.

"When I heard," she said, at length, in a low voice, "that my Natalie had given her love to a stranger, my heart sunk. I said, 'More than ever is she away from me now;' and I wondered what the stranger might be like, and whether he would be kind to her. Now that I see you, I am not so sad. There is something in your voice, in your look, that tells me to have confidence in you: you will be kind to Natalie."

She seemed to be thinking aloud: and yet he was not embarrassed by this confession, nor yet by her earnest look; he perceived how all her thoughts were really concentrated on her daughter.

"Her father approves?" said this sad-faced, gray-haired woman.

"Oh no; quite the contrary."

"But he is kind to her?" she said, quickly, and anxiously.

"Oh yes," he answered. "No doubt he is kind to her. Who could be otherwise?"

She had been so agitated at the beginning of this interview that she had allowed her visitor to remain standing. She now asked him to be seated, and took a chair opposite to him. Her nervousness had in a measure disappeared; though at times she clasped the fingers of both hands together, as if to force herself to be composed.

"You will tell me all about it, monsieur; that I may know what to say when I speak to my child at last. Ah, heavens, if you could understand how full my heart is: sixteen years of silence! Think what a mother has to say to her only child after that time! It was cruel--cruel--cruel!"

A little convulsive sob was the only sign of her emotion, and the lingers were clasped together.

"Pardon me, madame," said he, with some hesitation; "but, you see, I do not know the circumstances--"

"You do not know why I dared not speak to my own daughter?" she said, looking up in surprise. "Calabressa did not tell you?"

"No. There were some hints I did not understand."

"Nor of the reasons that forced me to comply with such an inhuman demand? Alas! these reasons exist no longer. I have done my duty to one whose life was sacred to me; now his death has released me from fear; I come to my daughter now. Ah, when I fold her to my heart, what shall I say to her--what but this?--'Natalushka, if your mother has remained away from you all these years, it was not because she did not love you.'"

He drew his chair nearer, and took her hand.

"I perceive that you have suffered, and deeply. But your daughter will make amends to you. She loves you now; you are a saint to her; your portrait is her dearest possession--"

"My portrait?" she said, looking rather bewildered. "Her father has not forbidden her that, then?"

"It was Calabressa who gave it to her quite recently."

She gently withdrew her hand, and glanced at the table, on which two books lay, and sighed.

"The English tongue is so difficult," she said. "And I have so much--so much--to say! I have written out many things that I wish to tell her; and have repeated them, and repeated them; but the sound is not right--the sound is not like what my heart wishes to say to her."

"Reassure yourself, madame, on that point," said he, cheerfully: "I should imagine there is scarcely any language in Europe that your daughter does not know something of. You will not have to speak English to her at all."

She looked up with bright eagerness in her eyes.

"But not Magyar?"

"I do not know for certain," he said, "for I don't know Magyar myself; but I am almost convinced she must know it. She has told me so much about her countrymen that used to come about the house; yes, surely they would speak Magyar."

A strange happy light came into the woman's face; she was communing with herself--perhaps going over mentally some tender phrases, full of the soft vowel sounds of the Magyar tongue.

"That," said she, presently, and in a low voice, "would be my crowning joy. I have thought of what I should say to her in many languages; but always 'My daughter, I love you,' did not have the right sound. In our own tongue it goes to the heart. I am no longer afraid: my girl will understand me."

"I should think," said he, "you will not have to speak much to assure her of your love."

She seemed to become a great deal more cheerful; this matter had evidently been weighing on her mind.

"Meanwhile," she said, "you promised to tell me all about Natalie and yourself. Her father does not approve of your marrying. Well, his reasons?"

"If he has any, he is careful to keep them to himself," he said. "But I can guess at some of them. No doubt he would rather not have Natalie marry; it would deprive him of an excellent house-keeper. Then again--and this is the only reason he does give--he seems to consider it would be inexpedient as regards the work we are all engaged in--"

"You!" she said, with a sudden start. "Are you in the Society also?"

"Certainly, madame."

"What grade?"

He told her.

"Then you are helpless if he forbids your marriage."

"On the contrary, madame, my marriage or non-marriage has nothing whatever to do with my obedience to the Society."

"He has control over Natalie--"

"Until she is twenty-one," he answered promptly.

"But," she said, regarding him with some apprehension in her eyes, "you do not say--you do not suggest--that the child is opposed to her father--that she thinks of marrying you, when she may legally do so, against his wish?"

"My dear madame," said he, "it will be difficult for you to understand how all this affair rests until you get to know something more about Natalie herself. She is not like other girls. She has courage; she has opinions of her own: when she thinks that such and such a thing is right, she is not afraid to do it, whatever it may be. Now, she believes her father's opposition to be unjust; and--and perhaps there is something else that has influenced her: well, the fact is, I am ordered off to America, and--and the girl has a quick and generous nature, and she at once offered to share what she calls my banishment."

"To leave her father's house!" said the mother, with increasing alarm.

Brand looked at her. He could not understand this expression of anxious concern. If, as he was beginning to assure himself, Lind was the cause of that long and cruel separation between mother and daughter, why should this woman be aghast at the notion of Natalie leaving such a guardian? Or was it merely a superstitious fear of him, similar to that which seemed to possess Calabressa?

"In dealing with your daughter, madame," he continued, "one has to be careful not to take advantage of her forgetfulness of herself. She is too willing to sacrifice herself for others. Now to-day we were talking--as she is not free to marry until she is twenty-one--about her perhaps going over to America under the guardianship of Madame Potecki--"

"Madame Potecki."

"She is a friend of your daughter's--almost a mother to her; and I am not sure but that Natalie would willingly do that--more especially under your guardianship, in preference to that of Madame Potecki--"

"Oh no, no!" she exclaimed, instantly. "She must not dare her father like that. Oh, it would be terrible! I hope you will not allow her."

"It is not a question of daring; the girl has courage enough for anything," he said coolly. "The thing is that it would involve too great a sacrifice on her part; and I was exceedingly selfish to think of it for a moment. No; let her remain in her father's house until she is free to act as her own mistress; then, if she will come to me, I shall take care that a proper home is provided for her. She must not be a wanderer and a stranger."

"But even then, when she is free to act, you will not ask her to disobey her father? Oh, it will be too terrible!"

Again he regarded her with amazement.

"What do you mean, madame? What is terrible? Or is it that you are afraid of him? Calabressa spoke like that."

"You do not know of what he is capable," she said, with a sigh.

"All the more reason," he said, directly, "why she should be removed from his guardianship. But permit me to say, madame, that I do not quite share your apprehensions. I have seen nothing of the bogey kind about your husband. Of course, he is a man of strong will, and he does not like to be thwarted: without that strength of character he could not have done what he has done. But he also knows that his daughter is no longer a child, and when the proper time comes you will find that his common sense will lead him to withdraw an opposition which would otherwise be futile. Do I explain myself clearly? My dear madame, have no anxiety about the future of your daughter. When you see herself, when you speak to her, you will find that she is one who is not given to fear."

For a moment the apprehensive look left her face. She remained silent, a happier light coming into her eyes.

"She is not sad and sorrowful, then?" she said, presently.

"Oh no; she is too brave."

"What beautiful hair she has!" said this worn-faced woman with the sad eyes. "Ah, many a time I have said to myself that when I take her to my heart I will feel the beautiful soft hair; I will stroke it; her head will lie on my bosom, and I will gather courage from her eyes: when she laughs my heart will rejoice! I have lived many years in solitude--in secret, with many apprehensions; perhaps I have grown timid and fearful; once I was not so. But I have been troubling myself with fears; I have said, 'Ah, if she looks coldly on me, if she turns away from me, then my heart will break!'"

"I do not think you have much to fear," said he, regarding the beautiful, sad face.

"I have tried to catch the sound of her voice," she continued, absently, and her eyes were filled with tears, "but I could not do that. But I have watched her, and wondered. She does not seem proud and cold."

"She will not be proud or cold to you," he said, "when she is kindness and gentleness to all the world."

"And--and when shall you see her again?" she asked, timidly.

"Now," he said. "If you will permit me, I will go to her at once. I will bring her to you."

"Oh no!" she exclaimed hastily drying her eyes. "Oh no! She must not find a sad mother, who has been crying. She will be repelled. She will think, 'I have enough of sadness.' Oh no, you must let me collect myself: I must be very brave and cheerful when my Natalie comes to me. I must make her laugh, not cry."

"Madame," said he, gravely, "I may have but a few days longer in England: do you think it is wise to put off the opportunity? You see, she must be prepared; it would be a terrible shock if she were to know suddenly. And how can one tell what may happen to-morrow or next day? At the present moment I know she is at home; I could bring her to you directly."

"Just now?" she said; and she began to tremble again. She rose and went to a mirror.

"She could not recognize herself in me. She would not believe me. And I should frighten her with my mourning and my sadness."

"I do not think you need fear, madame."

She turned to him eagerly.

"Perhaps you would explain to her? Ah, would you be so kind! Tell her I have seen much trouble of late. My father has just died, after years of illness; and we were kept in perpetual terror. You will tell her why I dared not go to her before: oh no! not that--not that!"

"You forget, madame, that I myself do not know."

"It is better she should not know--better she should not know!" she said, rapidly. "No, let the girl have confidence in her father while she remains in his house. Perhaps some time she may know; perhaps some one who is a fairer judge than I will tell her the story and make excuses: it must be that there is some excuse."

"She will not want to know; she will only want to come to you."

"But half an hour, give me half an hour," she said, and she glanced round the room. "It is so poor a chamber."

"She will not think of the chamber."

"And the little girl with her--she will remain down-stairs, will she not? I wish to be alone, quite alone, with my child." Her breath came and went quickly, and she clasped her fingers tight. "Oh, monsieur, my heart will break if my child is cold to me!"

"That is the last thing you have to fear," said he, and he rose. "Now calm yourself, madame. Recollect, you must not frighten your daughter. And it will be more than half an hour before I bring her to you; it will take more than that for me to break it to her."

She rose also; but she was obviously so excited that she did not know well what she was doing. All her thoughts were about the forth-coming interview.

"You are sure she understands the Magyar?" she said again.

"No, I do not know. But why not speak in French to her?"

"It does not sound the same--it does not sound the same: and a mother--can only--talk to her child--"

"You must calm yourself, dear madame. Do you know that your daughter believes you to have been a miracle of courage and self-reliance? What Calabressa used to say to her was this: 'Natalushka, when you are in trouble you will be brave; you will show yourself the daughter of Natalie Berezolyi.'"

"Yes, yes," she said, quickly, as she again dried her eyes, and drew herself up. "I beg you to pardon me. I have thought so much of this meeting, through all these years, that my hearts beats too quickly now. But I will have no fear. She will come to me; I am not afraid: she will not turn away from me. And how am I to thank you for your great kindness?" she added, as he moved to the door.

"By being kind to Natalie when I am away in America," said he. "You will not find it a difficult task."

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