Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

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" My niece ; I have no daughter. It is my son you
see at church, Lady Damerel."

" Oh yes, I remember now. A tall young fellow
rather good-looking. You must bring him to see me
some day. But we have no young people here, Miss
Trevena. Your mother I mean your aunt is more
fortunate than I. All my children are dead."

She said this, not with any tone of regret, but simply
as stating a fact ; then proceeded to discuss a new book
and a new opera ; talking miles above the head of poor
innocent Nanny, who thought that cousin Arthur
whom she seemed to miss extremely from the rectory in
spite of his ignoring of her was right in considering


Lady Damerel the finest of fine ladies, and the most

Nanny was now getting old enough for her future to
require consideration. Not from her uncle, who never
looked a day ahead : but she and her aunt sometimes
talked it over. Nanny was an independent little soul.
She knew she had not a penny in the world ; except the
value of that diamond ring ; nor a friend, save Miss
Grogan, who was growing old and frail. Perhaps her
mother's sore experience still lingered in her little soul
for she was not a bit of a Trevena, nor seemed much
drawn to the Trevenas. She said calmly, " I shall be a
governess ; " and though very grateful to her uncle for
all his goodness, made it clear enough that as soon as
she could earn her own bread, she would never eat the
bread of dependence. Her aunt saw, not without thank-
fulness, that Halbert Trevena's daughter was, as often
happens, the very opposite of himself. But though she
was very kind to Nanny, and liked her sincerely, she
scarcely loved her one cannot make oneself love even a
child. And then all her heart was bound up in her own
boy. "When Nanny went away, and Arthur came home
for the holidays, Susannah felt the difference.

"King " Arthur was much altered much improved.
He was in his last year at Winchester, and looked quite
the young man. There had never been much of the
" hobbledehoy " in him, probably because he was not
shy he did not think enough about himself for shyness.
Reserved he was, in a sense ; but that painful bashful-
ness, which as often springs from egotism as modesty,
never troubled him much. By nature and also by wise


upbringing he was a complete altruist always inter-
ested in other people, and " bothering " himself very-
little about himself and his own affairs.

But just now he could hardly help it. He had come
home greatly excited by an incident a coincidence such
as happens in real life oftener than we think, and yet
when put into books everybody cries out, " How unnat-
ural ! "

One day a little " commoner" he knew was visited by a
hitherto unknown grandfather, whom all the boys were
inclined to laugh at, for his strong American accent
and queer American ways, till they found out what a
kindly old fellow he was, and what funny stories he told.

" He tipped us all round and asked our names, and
when he heard mine, he started as if I'd hit him. Who
do you think he was mother ? Guess now guess ? "

It needed no guessing. " Dr. Franklin ! I am so
glad he is alive."

" Very much alive, indeed ! " cried Arthur. " He's as
sharp and clever as ever he can be ; and so kind all the
fellows liked him, though he was a foreigner and an
American. I'm not a bit ashamed of my godfather;
and I like him very much."

" You have need to," said Susannah gravely. And
when a few days after Dr. Franklin appeared at the
rectory (" as large as life and twice as natural," said he,
with his queer internal chuckle), the welcome he received
was almost pathetic in its earnestness. When Susannah
sat talking to him, and found him scarcely changed as
gaunt and lanky, quaint and kind, as ever it seemed as
if eighteen years were rolled away like a cloud, and she


were once more the woman who sat beneath the snow-
wall above Andermatt gazing on the snow-mountains,
and trying not to be broken-hearted, but to accept God's
will whatever it was, and make for herself a happy life
unconscious how even then that Holy Will was pre-
paring for her a happiness she never dreamt of.

" Look at him," she said, as Arthur just then crossed
the lawn with his two big dogs, whistling to them, and
then breaking out into a stave of " Dulce domum," in a
voice which promised to be a fine tenor some day.
" Who would have thought my baby your baby,
doctor, you saved him for me ! would have grown up to

" It's a trick they have, ma'am. My ten are all men
and women now uncommonly good-looking too, some
of them."

And then he explained that his eldest daughter
" fine girl very fine took after her mother, not me" -
had married a rich English baronet, which accounted for
the fact of himself being grandfather to a Winchester

" Your boy might be a baronet's son too, ma'am, if
there's anything in blood. Mrs. Franklin says there
isn't ; that it's all upbringing. But in that case even,
Arthur does you the greatest credit."

" Thank you," said Susannah ; and then tacitly fol-
lowing the young fellow for it seemed such a pleasure to
look at him they passed through the churchyard into
the park of Tawton Abbas ; still talking like old friends.
and regretting that a very natural incident Dr. Frank-
lin's losing their address, and therefore being unable to


give them his own had made them strangers for so
many years.

" Which have been happy years, by your looks, Mrs.
Trevena ? No anxiety over your boy ? you have never
heard anything about that woman ? " Dr. Franklin did
not say that " mother " who had no right to the name.

" Never. Have you ? "

Dr. Franklin looked uncomfortable. " I did not
mean to tell you unless you asked me the direct ques-
tion ; but she has bothered me a little. At least I sup-
pose it was she."

And then he explained that a year or two ago there
had appeared in a New York paper an advertisement for
a Dr. Franklin, who would " hear of something to his
advantage," which his wife had insisted on his answer-
ing ; and then had come a letter, in an evidently feigned
hand, requesting particulars about a child that was born
at Andermatt whether "it" was alive and where
"it" was?

" Perhaps she had forgotten whether ' it' was a boy or
a girl. ' Can a mother forget her sucking child ? '
Well some mothers do."

"And what did you reply?" Mrs. Trevena could
scarcely speak for agitation.

" Least said, soonest mended I never answered one
single word."

" Thank you thank you ! Did you keep the letter ?
What address was given ? "

" Mrs. Franklin has it. Some milliner or dressmaker,
I think, in London."

" In London ! " A shudder of repulsion and dread


passed over Susannah ; and then that stern sense of
justice, so strong in her, conquered it. "Perhaps she
was a dressmaker some poor working-woman who was
almost starving, and did not wish her baby to starve

" Pshaw ! Does that boy look like the son of a work-
ing-woman ? And it was herself she wanted to save
from starvation, not her baby. No, no, ma'am ; I saw
her you never did. She used always to rave about
being a woman of genius ' very likely an actress or
singer that very singer who ran away from Milan."

" I have sometimes thought so. And the musical
faculty descends. Just listen to that boy."

Arthur was singing " Dulce domum " at the top of
his voice a rather cracked voice now ; but it was not
ignorant singing he evidently knew what he was

"Music is his passion, as it is with many a boy, till
the work of the world knocks it out of him. But this
letter Stop, there is the Tawton Abbas carriage let
us step aside."

For Mrs. Trevena felt that to interchange polite
nothings with the great lady would, at this moment, be
beyond her power. She and Dr. Franklin passed under
a group of trees, so that Lady Damerel never saw them.

Arthur, however, did not step aside. He ceased his
gay school-song, and standing on the grass, lifted his hat,
as the carriage drove by, with a gesture so carelessly
graceful, so unlike country youths in general, that Lady
Damerel turned to look after him.

He was, in truth, worth looking at, in his rough gray


clothes, with a gray cap set on the top of his crisp fair
curls it was before the time when the fashion made
young men crop themselves like returned convicts.
Lithe and slender as a young David, and in manner
neither shy nor forward, because thinking more of other
people than himself Arthur never came to, and had
now quite passed, that awkward stage when a boy does
not know what to do with himself, and especially with
his legs and arms.

It was no wonder, Mrs. Trevena thought, that Lady
Damerel, indifferent as she was to her neighbors, should
turn and glance after him.

"Poor woman!" said she, explaining to Dr. Franklin
a little of the domestic history of Tawton Abbas. " I
dare say she would give the world to have a son like

" Maybe. But there are mothers and mothers, like
the woman we were talking about. Shall I tell Mrs.
Franklin to send you her letter? if she hasn't burnt it,
which perhaps may have been the best thing."

" Perhaps," echoed Susannah, wishing in her heart
though her conscience reproached her that it might be
burnt, and forgotten. " It could do no good to Arthur."

"No, for the lad doesn't care a straw about his

"I am his mother," said Susannah, with a certain
grave dignity.

" You're right, ma'am. May he never have any other
as long as he lives ! "

But mothers, even the happiest mothers of the best of
sons, have their anxieties.


Some days after this, Dr. Franklin, with the practical
common sense of a man of the world, asked his godson,
very naturally, what he was going to be ?

Arthur hesitated, and looked uncomfortable. His
mother, thinking this arose from diffidence or modesty,
answered for him.

" My son's career is already cut out for him. There
are six New College scholarships given at Winchester
every year. Arthur is so good at mathematics, the head-
master tells us, that he is quite sure of one. He will go
in for it next year and take himself to college as he did to
school. Then a boy who has earned his own education
can generally earn his own living ; especially at Oxford."

" But, mother," said Arthur slowly, " I may not go to
Oxford at all. I mean to be a musician."

" A what ? " cried Dr. Franklin, bursting into laughter.
" A street-singer, or an organ-grinder, going about the
country with a monkey and a couple of white mice ! "

Ridicule is the sharpest of weapons with the young.
Arthur turned white with anger, but controlled himself,
and explained that a friend of his, just returned from a
German Conservatoire, had advised him to go there and
study music as a profession.

" At whose expense, my boy ? " asked Dr. Franklin,

Arthur colored. "I don't know. I have never

" But you ought to think you are old enough. How

"Eighteen past. Next year I should go in for the
scholarship, if I go in at all. Mother ? "


She did not answer. It was the first time she had
heard of this idea ; the first time her boy had kept back
anything from her, or that his will had run counter to
hers, never an arbitrary will. From his very childhood,
as soon as he could reason at all, she had taught him to
use his reason, and had never from him exacted blind
obedience. Explanation, whenever possible, she gave ;
and her argument was never " Do it because I command
it," but " Do it because it is right."

This fancy of Arthur's struck her with sharp pain.

No wonder she looked sad and grave and even the
second anxious appeal " What do you say, mother ? "
brought no response. Just then Mr. Tre vena was heard
calling all over the house, " Susannah Susannah ! " as
he usually did if he missed her for five minutes, and she
hurried away without having said a word.

"Well, young man ? You are a nice young man, to
make your mother look like that ! Still nicer to expect
your father to maintain you in expensive study for the
next five or ten years."

Arthur flushed crimson. He liked his godfather sin-
cerely; still, Dr. Franklin often "rubbed him up the
wrong way." It was the contrast between the practical
and the artistic temperament; the born democrat, and
well, heaven only knew what Arthur's birth was, but
he looked the young " aristocrat," every inch of him.

" I don't know what you mean," he said. " I had no
idea of vexing my mother ; and I wish to stand on my
own feet as soon as ever I can."

" That's right, lad. I did it, before I was your age.
I was message-boy at a chemist's store. But I soon


went ahead we all go ahead in the States. Our motto
is ' Every man for himself, and ' taking off his cap rev-
erently < God for us all.' That's what I said to my six
sons," continued he. " I gave them a good education,
and then I left them to shift for themselves. And they
have done it uncommonly well, too. There isn't one
of them now that ever wants a cent from his father."

" I hope I shall not from mine at least, not for very
long," said Arthur, proudly.

" That's right, my boy ; for Mr. Trevena isn't as young
as he has been, and he has another encumbrance besides
yourself that little girl your mother told me of. What's
her name ? "

" Nanny."

" I hear she's a plucky little thing, and means to go
out as a governess which is quite right. A woman
should earn her own bread as well as a man. But if her
uncle helped anybody, he ought to help her ; because,
you see, she is his own flesh and blood, and you "

" I understand ! " And again came that violent blush,
which showed what keen sensitiveness lurked under
Arthur's merry and manly outside. Then, speaking
with evident effort. " Godfather, you are right to remind
me of that. Tell me for I believe you were present at
my birth who were my father and mother ? "

" My poor lad, I declare to you I haven't the slightest

They had gone outside the drawing-room window,
and were lying on the grassy slope the Kentuckian
puffing at his pipe, and Arthur sitting beside him, his
arms round his knees, gazing straight forward, \vith a


graver expression than his wont. Dr. Franklin scanned
him sharply.

"It was an awkward business, Arthur. If I were
you, I'd think about it as little as possible."

" So I do. As mother often says, a man is responsible
for himself and his children, but certainly not for his
parents. Still, I should like to know all I can."

" How much has your mother told you ? "

" Only that you found me you and she somewhere
in the Alps. I suppose I had a father and a mother, but
she never speaks of them at all."

"Bravo!" muttered Dr. Franklin. But he himself
felt no inclination for such generous reticence; he
thought it fairer on all sides that the boy should know
everything ; so he then and there told him everything.

Arthur listened, his cap drawn over his eyes, his
hands such long, slender, beautiful hands clasped
together round his knees.

" Thank you," he said at last. " I am glad I know.
The the lady was, you suppose, an opera-singer ? "

" I don't say that, but it's possible."

" And she sold me, you say sold me for twenty
pounds ? "

" Yes." He was just on the point of adding, " and
she'd like to buy you back again now," when he remem-
bered Mrs. Trevena's caution, that until they heard
from America they should say nothing about the letter.
It would not benefit Arthur perhaps only unsettle
him. And they had the dressmaker's address ; while
the unmotherly mother her brief note, if hers, was,
Dr. Franklin declared, "as cold as a stone "had to


them no clue whatever. " All the better ! " thought he.
And Mr. and Mrs. Trevena just then appearing, he
ended the conversation.

It was not renewed ; though he stayed some days
longer at the rectory. The annual garden-party at
Tawton Abbas was coming off, and the old Ken-
tuckian said he should like to " study life " in an
English country-house. So in addition to the invita-
tion for "Mr. and Mrs. Trevena, and Mr. Trevena,
junior" ("you see, mother" laughed Arthur "your
fine lady doesn't even take the trouble to discover my
Christian name") a note was sent to Tawton Abbas
for permission to bring " a friend from America " to
join the party.

" Then you'll not want me," said Arthur, very reluc-
tant to go. But his mother wished it. He had been
unlike himself, she thought, the last day or two; and
though she had carefully abstained from reviving the
Oxford question till Dr. Franklin was gone, still she
saw that something was on his mind. He followed her
about with extra tenderness, divining all she wanted,
and doing everything for her more like a girl than a boy.
But he said nothing until they were walking together
across the park to the garden-party ; only they two, for
Dr. Franklin had home letters to write by the mail, and
he and Mr. Trevena could not appear till late.

So Susannah had her boy all to herself; and very nice
he looked, and very proud she was of him. He was
proud of her too, he said, after eying her over with the
sharp criticism of youth approving her new dress, and
wishing she would wear it every day.


" But I can't afford silk every day," said she, laughing.
" I am not Lady Damerel."

" No, thank goodness ! I wouldn't change my little
mother for a dozen Lady Damerels."

" Well, then, I'll try to dress a little better and talk a
little more, just to please you and papa. I am glad my
son is not ashamed of me."

" I hope my mother is not ashamed of me," said
Arthur gravely. And then he told her in a few words
so few that it w r as easy to see how deeply he felt of
the conversation between his godfather and himself;
and how he had made up his mind to go in for mathe-
matics and give up music entirely.

Susannah breathed a sigh of thankfulness, and then
replied, "Not entirely, my son. Music may still be
your pleasure your staff, if not your crutch."

" Not at present. I love it so that I must give it up,
if I mean to be anything. And I do mean to be some-
thing, some day," added he, tossing his head and plant-
ing his foot firmly on the ground.

The young think the old were never young. It did
not occur to Arthur that his quiet little mother felt her
heart throb while he spoke. She too had had her
dreams of fame, ambition, love had written verses by
the yard and stories by the dozen ; yet she had earned
her bread as a daily governess, and finally would end
her days as the old wife of a country parson. But she
had eaten cheerfully the dry bread of existence, and
made it sweet by thankfulness. Though tears were in
her eyes now, they were not regretful tears.

" I think, Arthur, you are right. The secret of life is


not to do what one likes, but to try to like that which
one has to do. And one does come to like it in time."

" Yes, mother. And if I turn out a great Oxford don
shall you be pleased ? Would you like me to make a-
name for myself? the only name I've got," added he
with a slight bitterness of tone, which went to Susan-
nah's heart. " So I'll go in for the scholarship at New
College, and papa need not spend a halfpenny upon me
at Oxford. Then poor little Nanny need not be a

" "What made you think of Nanny ? " asked Mrs.
Trevena with some surprise. For the children had
scarcely met for years, until last week, and then only for
a few hours; since Arthur came home at night, and
Nanny left next morning. She had been very shy with
him, and he had treated her with the majestic bearing of
a big boy towards a very little girl.

" My godfather said papa ought to help Nanny and
not me. He is right ; she is a girl and she is papa's

" And you are my own ! " answered Susannah, with
the passionate tenderness that she so seldom expressed.
But she said no more. The wisdom of parents some-
times lies in accepting rather than in making sacri-

Arther found himself less miserable than he had ex-
pected to be at the garden-party, even though it was, as
some one graphically described, "a penn'orth of all
sorts," through which the hostess moved like a con-
descending queen. She had various out-door amuse-
ments for the inferior folk performing dogs, hand-bell


ringers, etc. and for her choicer guests there was very
good music in the drawing-room. She looked politely
surprised when she saw the Trevenas eagerly listening.

" Do you play or sing, Mrs. Trevena ? "

" No, but iny son does."

" Oh, indeed."

Here Mr. Hardy, the High Church curate, said a word
or two, which caused the great lady to put up \LQY pince-
nez (she was old enough to wear spectacles, but never
would) and scan Arthur sharply.

Most elderly women mothers or not like to look at
a graceful handsome boy. As this childless woman did
so, a vexed expression passed over her face not regret
or pain, but a sort of irritation. An outcry against
Providence, Mrs. Trevena thought it was, and felt sorry
for her, till Lady Damerel broke into the most gracious
of careless smiles.

" Perhaps Mr. , I forget his Christian name,

Mr. Trevena will come to our rescue in accompanying a
trio ? Our own pianist has not come. And our soprano
says she is too hoarse to sing. "We are very unfortunate."

"Not if we can induce you to take her place," said
some one near. "You know you have sung, Lady

" Oh yes a little when I was a girl," said she care-
lessly, listening to the touch of Arthur's long lingers on
the keys the magic touch which all musicians recognize.
It was a magnificent piano, and the artist's delight over-
came the boy's shyness.

" Play something," she said ; and Arthur played
exceedingly well. " Do you read at sight ? " and she


placed the trio before him. It was one of those dashing
operatic seen as of the last generation, full of show and
difficulty, and embellished with fioriture. Arthur
dashed into it so did the tenor and bass and finally,
as if she could not help it, the soprano.

Lady Damerel must have had a fine voice once ; and
even now had the brilliant remains of it : a thoroughly
cultivated voice not tender, not pathetic, but high and
flexible as a musical instrument, and capable of ex-
ecuting those wonderful tours deforce which "bring the
house down." She did it now ; seeming quite to forget
herself in the pleasure of her own performance : so much
so that she thought necessary to apologize.

" I am almost too old to sing but I used to like it
once. Now in my position with my many social
duties of course a lady is different from a professional."

" You might have been a professional, ma'am : you
sing so splendidly. I never heard anything better, even
in America."

The honest Kentuckian had been standing outside the
open French window, and now walked in in his enthu-
siasm not waiting to be introduced. When Mr. Trevena
mentioned "Dr. Franklin," Lady Damerel suddenly
turned round.

" I guess you never saw an American before. And
perhaps, ma'am, in my compliments to your singing, I
was more honest than polite. But when we like a thing
we also like to say so."

Lady Damerel bowed. She looked white possibly
with the exertion of singing.

"America's a fine country, ma'am, and we've some


uncommonly fine singers there fine women too, espe-
cially in the South. You remind me of my country-
women exceedingly."

Again Lady Damerel bowed, rather haughtily ; and
sat down, almost hiding her face with her large fan.
But no blush, came to her cheek except the permanent
one which it owed to art : and she had the stereotyped
smile of a person well used to flattery.

Mrs. Trevena, rather annoyed at her good friend's
bluntness, took the first opportunity of getting him away
much to his amusement.

" I wanted to talk to Lady Damerel. She's an un-
commonly handsome woman still, and very like an
American. I wonder where she was raised. I'm sure
I've seen her somewhere or somebody very like her.
Has she got a sister, do you know ? And what sort of a
fellow is the husband \ "

Poor Sir Charles was meekly seated outside in his
self-propelled chair; speaking to few people, and appar-
ently very much afraid of everybody, especially his
wife ; for he kept out of her way as much as possible.
Wreck as he was, he had a refined, amiable face and
stretched out a long feeble hand, knotted and distorted

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Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 10 of 15)