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Sunrise - Chapter 39. A New Home Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3478

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Sunrise - Chapter 39. A New Home


George Brand set out house-hunting with two exceptional circumstances in his favor: he knew precisely what he wanted, and he was prepared to pay for it. Moreover, he undertook the task willingly and cheerfully. It was something to do. It would fill in a portion of that period of suspense. It would prevent his harassing himself with speculations as to his own future--speculations which were obviously useless until he should learn what was required of him by the Council.

But none the less was he doomed to the house-hunter's inevitable disappointment. He found, in the course of his devious wanderings through all sorts of out-of-the way thoroughfares within a certain radius from Brompton Church, that the houses which came nearest to his ideal cottage in a walled garden were either too far away from Hyde Park, or they were not to be let, or they were to be let unfurnished. So, like a prudent person, he moderated his desires, and began to cast about for any furnished house of fairly cheerful aspect, with a garden behind. But here again he found that the large furnished houses were out of the question, because they were unnecessarily expensive, and that the smaller ones were mostly to be found in slummy streets; while in both cases there was a difficulty about servants. The end of it was that he took the first floor of an old-fashioned house in Hans Place, being induced to do so partly because the landlady was a bright, pleasant-looking little Frenchwoman, and partly because the rooms were furnished and decorated in a fashion not common to lodging-houses.

Then came the question of terms, references, and what not; and on all of these points Mr. Brand showed himself remarkably complaisant. But when all this was done he sat down, and said,

"Now I wish you to understand me clearly, madame. This lady I have told you about has come through much trouble; you are to be kind to her, and I will see you do not lose by it. Her daughter will come to see her frequently, perhaps every day; I suppose the young lady's maid can remain down-stairs somewhere."

"Oh yes, sir."

"Very well. Now if you will be so good as to get me pen and ink I will give you a check for fifty-two pounds--that is, a pound a week for a year. You see, there are a number of little kindnesses you could show this poor lady that would be all the more appreciated if they were not put down in a book and charged for: you understand? You could find out, perhaps, from time to time some little delicacy she is fond of. Then flowers: there is a good florist's shop in Sloane Street is there not?"

"Oh yes, sir."

She brought the ink, and he drew out the check.

"Then when the young lady comes to see her mother you will be very attentive and kind to her too. You must not wait for them to ask for this or that; you must come up to the door and say 'Will not the young lady have a cup of chocolate?' or whatever you can suggest--fruit, biscuits, wine, or what not. And as these little extras will cost you something, I cannot allow you to be out of pocket; so here is a fund for you to draw from; and, of course, not a word to either of the ladies. I think you understand?"

"Perfectly, sir," said madame.

"Then, if I hear that you have been very kind and obliging, I suppose one might be allowed from time to time to send you a little present--something to beautify your house with? You have pretty rooms; you have shown great taste in decorating them."

"Oh, not I, sir," said the little Frenchwoman; "I took the house as it stands from Mr. ----."

"The architect," said Brand. "Ah, that explains. But I am surprised he should have used gas."

"That _was my doing," said the landlady, with some pride. "It is a great improvement. It is so convenient, is it not?"

"My dear madame," said Brand, seriously, "it cannot be convenient to have one's lungs poisoned with the smoke of London gas. You must on no account allow this lady who is coming to your house to sit through the long evenings with gas blazing over her head all the time; why, she would have continual headache. No, no, you must get a couple of lamps--one for the piano there, and a smaller reading-one fox this little table by the fire. Then these sconces, you will get candles for them, of course; red ones look pretty--not pink, but red."

The French landlady seemed rather dismayed. She had been all smiles and courtesy so far; but now the bargain did not promise to be so profitable if this was the way she was to begin. But Brand pulled out his watch.

"If you will allow me," said he, "I will go and get a few things to make the room look homely. You see this lady must be made as comfortable as possible, for she will see no one but her daughter, and all the evenings she will be alone. Now will you be so good as to have the fire lit? And these little things I am about to get for you, of course they will become your property; only you need not say who presented them to you, you perceive?"

The little woman's face grew happy again, and she assured him fervently and repeatedly that he might trust her to do her best for this lady about whom he seemed so anxious.

It was almost dusk when he went out; most of the shops in Sloane Street had their windows lit. He set about this further task of his with an eager delight. For although it was ostensibly for Natalie's mother that he was buying this and buying that, there was an underlying consciousness that Natalie herself would be pleased--that many and many a time she would occupy that pretty little sitting-room, that perhaps she might guess who it was who had been so thoughtful about her mother and herself. Fortunately Sloane Street is an excellent shopping thoroughfare; he got everything he wanted--even wax candles of the proper tint of red. He first of all went to the florist's and got fruit and flowers enough to decorate a hall. Then from shop to shop he wandered, buying books here, a couple of lamps there, a low, softly-cushioned easy-chair, a fire-screen, pastils, tins of sweet biscuits, a dozen or two of Hungarian wine, a tea-making apparatus, a box of various games, some white rose scent, and he was very near adding a sewing-machine, but thought he would wait to see whether she understood the use of that instrument. All these and many other articles were purchased on the explicit condition that they were to be delivered in Hans Place within the following half-hour.

Then he went back to the lodging-house, carrying in his hand the red candles. These he placed himself in the sconces, and lit them; the effect was good, now that the fire was blazing cheerfully. One by one the things arrived; and gradually the lodging-house sitting-room grew more and more like a home. He put the flowers here and there about the place, the little Frenchwoman having brought him such, small jars and vases as were in her possession--these fortunately including a couple of bits of modern Venetian glass. The reading-lamp was lit and put on the small table; the newly imported easy-chair was drawn to the fire; some books and the evening papers scattered about. He lit one of the pastils, put the fire-screen in its place, and had a last look round.

Then he got into a hansom and drove up to the house in the Edgware Road. He was immediately admitted and shown up-stairs. Natalie's mother rose to receive him; he fancied she had been crying.

"I am come to take you to your new rooms," he said, cheerfully. "They are better than these."

"Ah, that is kind of you," she said, also speaking in French; "but in truth what do I care where I am? My heart is full of joy. It is enough for me to sit quiet and say to myself, 'My child loves me. She has not turned away from me. She is more beautiful even than I had believed; and she has a good heart. I have no longer any fear.'"

"Yes, madame," said he, "but you must not sit quiet and think like that, or you will become ill, and then how are you to go out walking with Natalie? You have many things to do, and many things to decide on. For example, you will have to explain to her how it is you may not go to her father's house. At this moment what other thing than that do you imagine she is thinking about? She will ask you."

"I would rather not tell her," said the mother, absently; "it is better she should not know."

He hesitated for a second or two.

"Then it is impossible that a reconciliation between your husband and yourself--"

"Oh no, no!" she said, somewhat sadly; "that is impossible, now."

"And you are anxious he should not know that you and your daughter see each other."

"I am not so anxious," she said. "I have faith in Natalushka: I can perceive her courage. But perhaps it would be better."

"Very well. Then come to these other rooms I have got for you; they are in a more secluded neighborhood."

"Very well, monsieur. I have but few things with me. I will be ready soon."

In less than half an hour after that the French landlady was receiving her new guest; and so eager was she to show to the English gentleman her gratitude for his substantial presents, that her officious kindness was almost burdensome.

"I thank you," said the new-comer, with a smile, as the landlady brought her a cushion for her back the moment she sat down in the easy chair, "but I am not yet an invalid."

Then would madame have some tea? Or perhaps madame had not dined? There was little in the house; but something could be prepared at once; from to-morrow morning madame's instructions would be fulfilled to the letter. To get rid of her, Brand informed her that madame had not dined, and would be glad to have anything that happened to be in the house. Then she left, and he was about to leave also.

"No," said the beautiful mother to him, with a smile on the pale face. "Sit down; I have something to say to you."

He sat down, his hat still in his hand.

"I have not thanked you," she said. "I see who has done all this: do you think a stranger would know to have the white-rose scent for me that Natalie uses? She was right: you are kind--you think of others."

"It is nothing--it is nothing," he said, hastily, and with all an Englishman's embarrassment.

"My dear friend," said his companion, with a grave kindness in her tone, and a look of affectionate interest in her eyes, "I am going to prove my gratitude to you. I am going to prevent--what do you call it?--a lover's quarrel."

He started.

"Yesterday," she continued, still regarding him in that kindly way, "before we left your rooms, Natalushka was very reserved toward you; was it not so? I perceived it; and you?"

"I--I thought she was tired," he stammered.

"To-morrow you are to fetch her here; and what if you find her still more reserved--even cold toward you? You will be pained, perhaps alarmed. Ah, my dear friend, life is made very bitter sometimes by mistakes; so it is that I must tell you the reason. The child loves you; be sure of that. Yes; but she thinks that she has been too frank in saying so--in time of trouble and anxiety; and now--now that you are perhaps not going to America--now that perhaps all the trouble is over--now she is beginning to think she ought to be a little more discreet, as other young ladies are. The child means no harm, but you and she must not quarrel."

He took her hand to bid her good-bye.

"Natalie and I are not likely to quarrel," said he, cheerfully. "Now I am going away. If I stayed, you would do nothing but talk about her, whereas it is necessary that you should have some dinner, then read one of these books for an hour or so, then go to bed and have a long, sound night's rest. You must be looking your brightest when she comes to see you to-morrow."

And indeed, as it turned out subsequently, this warning; of the mother's was not wholly unnecessary. Next day at eleven o'clock, as had previously been arranged, Brand met Natalie at the corner of Great Stanhope Street to escort her to the house to which her mother had removed. He had not even got into the park with her when he perceived that her manner was distinctly reserved. Anneli was with her, and she kept talking from time to time to the little maid, who was thus obliged, greatly against her will, to walk close to her mistress. At last Brand said,

"Natalie, have I offended you?"

"Oh no!" she said, in a hurried, low voice.

"Natalie," said he, very gently, "I once heard of a wicked creature who was determined to play the hypocrite, and might have done a great deal of mischief, only she had a most amiable mother, who stepped in and gave somebody else a warning. Did you ever hear of such a wicked person?"

The blood mounted to her face. By this time Anneli had taken leave to fall behind.

"Then," said the girl, with some hesitation, and yet with firmness, "you will not misunderstand me. If all the circumstances are to be altered, then--then you must forget what I have said to you in moments of trouble. I have a right to ask it. You must forget the past altogether."

"But it is impossible!"

"It is necessary."

For some minutes they walked on in silence. Then he felt a timid touch on his arm; her hand had been laid there, deprecatingly, for a moment.

"Are you angry with me?"

"No, I am not," said he, frankly, "for the very reason that what you ask is impossible, unnecessary, absurd. You might as well ask me to forget that I am alive. In any case, isn't it rather too soon? Are you so sure that all the trouble is past? Wait till the storm is well over, and we are going into port, then we will put on our Sunday manners to go ashore."

"I am afraid you are angry with me," she said again, timidly.

"You could not make me, if you tried," he said, simply; "but I am proud of you, Natalie--proud of the courage and clearness and frankness of your character, and I don't like to see you fall away from that, and begin to consider what a school-mistress would think of you."

"It is not what any one may think of me that I consider; it is what I think of myself," she answered, in the same low voice.

They reached Hans Place. The mother was at the door of the room to welcome them. She took her daughter by the hand and led her in.

"Look round, Natalushka," she said. "Can you guess who has arranged all this for me--for me and for you?"

The girl almost instantly turned--her eyes cast down--and took her lover's hand, and kissed it in silence. That was all.

Then said he, lightly, as he shoved the low easy-chair nearer the fire,

"Come, madame, and sit down here; and you, Natalushka, here is a stool for you, that you will be able to lean your head on your mother's knee. There; it is a very pretty group: do you know why I make you into a picture? Well, you see, these are troubled times; and one has one's work to do; and who can tell what may happen? But don't you see that, whatever may happen, I can carry away with me this picture; and always, wherever I may be, I can say to myself that Natalie and her mother are together in the quiet little room, and that they are happy. Now I must bid you good-bye; I have a great deal of business to-day with my solicitor. And the landlady, madame: how does she serve you?"

"She overwhelms me with kindness."

"That is excellent," said he, as he shook hands with them and, against both their protests, took his leave.

He carried away that picture in his mind. He had left these two together, and they were happy. What mattered it to him what became of himself?

It was on the evening of that day that he had to obey the summons of the Council.

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