Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

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with rheumatism, to the stranger.

" Glad to see you glad to see you and so will my
wife be. Lady Damerel is an American."

" Eh ! why didn't she say so ? " muttered the doctor ;
and, after a few words of civil conversation, went back
to the drawing-room and watched her again. She sang
no more, but stood talking, or rather listening, the cen-
tre of a group of talkers, with a polite absent smile,


melting gradually into the weary dissatisfaction which
was the permanent expression of her face whenever she
ceased speaking.

" That isn't a happy woman, or a good woman," said
the doctor to Mrs. Trevena.

" Perhaps if she were happy she might be good."

" I don't believe it. People make their own bed
nearly always and as they make it they have to lie
upon it. What a life she must have led that poor old
fellow ! Is she his second wife, do you think ? "

" No. He once told my husband they had been mar-
ried over thirty years, and had had four children two
boys first, and then two girls all of whom are dead.
She never cared for them, he said ; but the poor old man
seemed to have been fond of his children."

" I've seen her before I'm certain I have," said Dr.
Franklin meditatively, as he leant against the window
outside ; watching everybody and everything, but him-
self unobserved. " There, she has taken off her gloves.
I always notice hands ; they are as characteristic as faces.
And what a diamond ring ! "

The Kentuckian was beginning a whistle a long,
loud whistle of intense astonishment but stopped him-

" Good Lord ! Yes. I was right. I have seen her
before. It's the very woman."

" What woman ? " asked Susannah innocently. She
had drifted away from the subject, and become absorbed
in weak contemplation of her boy, of course ! his grace-
ful figure, his happy, handsome, interested face, as he
stood talking to the tenor singer. In looking at him and


thinking of his future how soon he would be a man
and what a good, clever, noble man he was likely to
be a common delusion of mothers! she had entirely
forgotten Lady Damerel.

" What woman, Mrs. Trevena ? " echoed Dr. Franklin
in a sharp whisper. ""Why that woman at Ander-


THEEE is an old comedy entitled The Wonder! A
Woman keeps a Secret ! Its author could have known
very little of human nature. How many secrets, not
always their own, do women keep every day out of
love, or a sense of honor, or even pure pity ! What won-
derful strength they possess in hiding what they wish to
hide ! able to smile with a breaking heart to wrap their
robes smoothly and even gracefully over the beast that
is gnawing their vitals. Men may be very good at con-
cealment on some affairs especially their own ; but for
absolute silence years long life long, if necessary
there is, in spite of the old dramatist, no secret-keeper
like a woman.

When Dr. Franklin made the discovery of " the woman
at Andermatt " who, by the bye, must have kept her
secret pretty well Mrs. Trevena, startled as she was,
had strength to whisper "Hush!" for her husband
was close behind them, and Arthur in front: and the
good doctor had the sense to take the hint, and also to
suggest that she was looking tired, and they had better
go home.

" Make my excuses to Lady Damerel. She won't
miss me very much," said he to the unconscious rector,


and, tucking Mrs. Trevena under his arm, lie walked

Not too soon. Susannah tottered blindly almost
without speaking a word along the path which led to
the rectory. But as soon as she got home she fainted

However, it was too serious a crisis for any outward
betrayal. Dr. Franklin brought her to herself without
telling the servants, and by the time Mr. Trevena and
Arthur came back, he and she had talked the whole
thing calmly over, and made up their minds to keep it
at present entirely between their two selves.

That the boy was Lady DamerePs son her legitimate
son was more than possible probable : but how was
this to be proved? Not by herself she dared not.
Having concealed his birth so long for Sir Charles, in
speaking of his four children, was evidently quite igno-
rant that he had had a fifth child to confess her folly,
or wickedness, to the world and her husband, would
entail an amount of scandal that few women could dare
to brave. Born in wedlock the boy undoubtedly was ;
but what wife's fair fame could come out quite unspotted
after such a disclosure ?

" To run away from her husband whether or not she
went alone to hide for months from him to conceal
her baby's birth and then sell it for twenty pounds
Phew ! " said the doctor with his low, long whistle, which
meant so much. " You are quite safe, ma'am. She'll
never own her son she dare not."

Susannah looked up. She had at first been utterly

stunned now there came upon her a sort of despair, or



rather desperation the blind fury which poets describe
as that of " a lioness robbed of her whelps."

" He is my son mine ! No one has any right to him
but me."

" That's true," answered Dr. Franklin soothingly.
" And I doubt if Arthur would wish to have any mother
but you. As for that woman there, she has tied up her
own hands, cut her own throat, as one may say. He'd
never care twopence for her. As for herself, it isn't a
son she wants, it's an heir to the baronetcy. Let her be.
It serves her right."

Such were the good doctor's arguments. Susannah's
brain whirled so, that for a wonder she let another lead
her, and did not attempt to think out the question for
herself. "When, two hours after, Arthur came in, bright
and gay, having been exceedingly amused, especially by
"that dreadful Lady Damerel who is one big sham
from top to toe though she does sing so splendidly "
the whole thing seemed a ghastly nightmare, out of
which she should wake soon and find it nothing.

Yet when she did wake next morning after lying
awake half the night ah ! well she understood those
pathetic lines :

" The tears o' my heart fa' in showers frae my ee'
While my gudeman sleeps soun' by me."

then, Susannah found that yesterday had been not
quite nothing. The mental agony, the perpetual self-
restraint which it imposed, were so hard to bear that she
was almost relieved when Dr. Franklin, who was obliged
to leave next day, proposed taking his godson with him ;


and Arthur, with a boy's natural delight at the idea of
seeing London, was eager to go.

" But not if you want me, mother. I'll not go any-
where, or do anything, that you don't wish."

" I only wish what is for your good, my darling ! "
She had of late given up all pet names, knowing how
schoolboys dislike them ; but to-day she felt he was her
darling the very core of her heart, and the delight of
her eyes in whose future she had re-embarked many a
ship-wrecked hope, many a broken dream. With diffi-
culty she restrained herself from falling on Arthur's neck
in a burst of bitter tears.

" It is for his good," said Dr. Franklin, with emphasis,
and yet with a compassionate look in his kind eyes.
" Give him a bit of pleasure with me, and then let him
set to work. It's the best thing in the world for a lad
to be obliged to work. Far better for him " this was
said with meaning and djecision " far better than if he
were heir to a title and several thousands a year."

" Thank you God bless you ! " murmured Mrs.
Trevena, as she wrung her friend's hand at parting;
feeling that under his rough speech and queer un-
English ways there lay hidden a heart of gold.

After a while, her agony of apprehension, her feeling
that the whole world was slipping away from under her
feet, slowly subsided. Life at the rectory went on as
usual nothing happened nobody came. She did not
see Lady Damerel at church, for Sir Charles had caught
cold at the garden-party : an attack of rheumatism
severer than ordinary had supervened ; and the village
heard, with little interest, that he and " my lady " had


gone to Bath for several months. Tawton Abbas was
shut up, and the rector and his wife wandered at ease
about the lovely park she with the strangest of feel-
ings, and sometimes, in spite of what Dr. Franklin had
said, with a doubt whether she were right or wrong in
accepting the position of things, and letting all drift on
in silence, as heretofore.

It may seem almost incredible, even in this simple-
minded and unworldly woman but the last thing she
thought of was the worldly benefits the title and estate
to which her Arthur might be the lawful heir. Had he
been proved the legitimate son of worthy parents, she
could have given him up, she thought, though it broke
her heart but to give him up to such as Lady Dam-
erel never !

Better that he should begin life simply as an adopted
son work his own way in the world, and win a name for
himself, for which he was indebted to nobody. Un-
worthy parents are worse than none.

Three months had gone by, and Arthur was just
coming home for Christmas, after having worked "like
a brick," he wrote, and being in cheerful hope of the
scholarship before Mrs. Trevena found herself again
face to face with the woman whom she believed to be
her boy's mother.

It happened in this wise apparently by accident.
Lady Damerel suddenly appeared at church; having
come to Tawton Abbas for three days, to order the dis-
tribution of coals, blankets, and Christmas beef she
never omitted those external duties by which many
people square accounts with heaven, and keep up a good


character on earth. Consequently she always went to
church, rain or fair and this day there fell a heavy
storm of December rain. The rector and his wife found
her lingering near the chancel door.

" Will you give me shelter for a few minutes ? " she
asked, in her sweetest and most condescending manner ;
and Mr. Trevena courteously escorted her under his um-
brella to the rectory.

She had seldom been there; only for one or two
formal calls ; but now she sat down in the little drawing-
room as if she meant friendliness rather than formality.
After some courteous small-talk about Sir Charles's ill-
ness, and the cause of it, chiefly directed to Mr. Tre-
vena Lady Damerel was always charming to gentle-
men she said carelessly

" You went away from my garden-party quite early,
Mrs. Trevena, before I had time to speak to that tall

friend of yours Mr. what was his name ? An

American, did you say? I rather like Americans."

Susannah was not a coward her husband sometimes
said of her, with his tender jesting, that she " would go
up to a cannon's mouth " if necessary. She felt some-
thing like it now. Looking full in Lady Damerel's face,
she replied:

" He is not Mr. but Dr. Franklin, a countryman of
yours (Sir Charles said you are American) and a phy-
sician in New York."

"Ah! New York. But I am Southern. I was born
in Baltimore."

" He said you reminded him of the Baltimore belles,"
innocently observed the rector. " He thought he had


met you somewhere. He is an excellent man. We made
acquaintance with him long ago, when traveling abroad ;
where he once did my wife, and me too, what has turned
out to be a great service. Our son, whom of course you
know all about, is his godson."

"Oh, indeed," carelessly answered Lady Damerel,
with the air of a person not much interested in other
people's affairs. "Has your friend gone back to
America ? "

" He sailed yesterday Arthur went to Liverpool to
see him off."

" How kind ! By the way, that son of yours I must
secure him as our accompanist next time I have musical
people in the house. He plays extremely well. Is he to
be a professional ? "

" Oh no ! " said the rector with something more than
distaste. " He is trying for a scholarship at New Col-
lege, Oxford, which his Winchester masters think he is
sure to get. He is a very clever, as well as a diligent

And the good, unobservant, unreticent, Austin went
into details about Arthur's future university career,
without noticing the absent smile with which Lady
Damerel listened ; most people even parents are
indifferent enough to other people's children.

"Ah, yes Mr. Arthur's success must be a great
pleasure to his father and mother. My children were
never clever, nor handsome either, poor little things !
Your son is your only one, I conclude ? Born late in
life, and of course his parents' darling ? "

All this while Susannah had sat silently observant


also, not a little amazed. First, at the extraordinary
self-command of the woman, supposing she really was
the woman that Dr. Franklin believed her to be ; and
next, that she should be so ignorant of her neighbors'
affairs as never to have heard about Arthur. And yet
this was not impossible. In eighteen years the story had
died out ; people had accepted him so completely as the
rector's son at least in the village ; and beyond it the
Trevenas knew almost nobody. With a sudden desperate
resolve Susannah determined to put Lady Damerel to
the test to tell her the facts, which she must hear ere
long, and which it was astonishing she had never heard
before. " Tell the truth and shame the devil " but it
was equally to exorcise the devil that evil spirit which
prompted her, the gentle Mrs. Trevena, to fly at Lady
Damerel's throat and strangle her.

Looking her full in the face she said distinctly, "I
think you do not understand though it is surprising
you should never have heard that Arthur is not our
own son; we have no living children. Dr. Franklin
found him for us, and advised us to adopt him. "We do
not know who were his parents, but he was born at
Andermatt, in Switzerland."

Human nature cannot altogether suppress itself.
Whatever Lady Damerel had come to seek, she had
evidently found something she neither sought nor de-
sired. Her cheek grew ghastly under its paint. She
clutched the arm of the chair as if to save herself from
falling. Even the unobservant Austin could not help
seeing something was amiss, and, courteously observing
that the room was very hot, went to open the window.


" Thank you but I am not ill only fatigued worn
out with nursing my husband." And then, turning
round to Susannah with that mechanical smile which
people learn to use in society as well as on the stage, she
said " It is kind of you to give me this confidence. I
did not know the boy was not your own. He is a fine
Jx>y and does you great credit."

And again that ghastly pallor was it emotion or only
fear? came over her face, till Mr. Trevena offered to
fetch her a glass of wine, and looked towards his wife for
sympathy and assistance.

But there was no pity not a jot! in Susannah's
eyes, or in her hard, cold voice.

" Lady Damerel should have ordered her carriage. I
am sorry I have no servant here to send. And my son
is not at home."

" My son." There was no mistaking the word or
its meaning its intentional meaning. Lady Damerel
removed her hand from her eyes, and the two women
steadily regarded one another. In that moment both
recognized, without need of words, that each was in pos-
session of the other's secret, and that between them
there was war to the knife. All the more deadly because
it was a silent war confined entirely to their two selves.
The two mothers between whom King Solomon judged
could not hate one another with a more deadly hatred
than these the fiesh-and-blood mother who had thrown
her blessing away ; the real mother who had found it,
and kept it yes, and would keep it, in defiance of the
whole world.

Susannah, just and tender woman as she was, could


on occasion be a stern woman too. She had no belief
in parental rights, or any rights at all, without their
corresponding duties. Years ago she carried off little
Nanny, and would have hidden her from her father,
separated them entirely, by fair means or foul, until the
child was old enough not to be harmed by the man to
whom she owed nothing but the mere accident of
paternity. What Mrs. Trevena then did and w r ould
have persisted in doing had not fate made it unnecessary
from pure pity, without any personal love for Nanny
would she not be ready now to do for her own
Arthur ?

Had Lady Damerel confessed all, and begged for the
boy perhaps even then Mrs. Trevena might have had
no mercy. She might have said, with Dr. Franklin
" As you made your bed you must lie on it " and
dared the unworthy mother to win one atom of either
duty or affection from the son she had cast away. But
if any struggle as to the right course was in Susannah's
mind, she soon saw it was wholly unnecessary.

" Self-preservation is the first law of nature," says the
philosopher ; and though sometimes experience has con-
tradicted this especially in the case of mothers it
exists still.

After a minute or two Lady Damerel rose, her usual
stately self, and addressed the rector.

" The rain has abated now, and I must not trouble
you any longer. I will walk home, for I never like to
use the carriage on Sundays, except for Sir Charles. "We
think of trying the German spas immediately so this

must be a farewell visit. Make my compliments to your



son I mean your adopted son and say I congratulate
him and his parents."

Evidently the so-called maternal instinct was not in
the woman. Whether from conscious guilt or cowardice,
she had apparently not the slightest intention of acknowl-
edging her child. A few words of polite adieu, and she
had made her escape, having betrayed absolutely nothing.

Susannah was thankful that she too had betrayed
nothing that she had had strength all these months to
bear her own burden and trouble no one. The crisis
had come, and passed. Now she could breathe again.

Many more weeks and months went by: and un-
troubled peace. Arthur was at Winchester Sir Charles
and Lady Damerel were traveling abroad. Nothing had
happened: and she began to feel that nothing would
happen: that she might live and die dying did not
seem so far off at nearly sixty with her secret unre-
vealed, keeping Arthur as her son till death.

He seemed more than ever her son, when coming back
for summer holidays triumphant too, for he had gained
his scholarship, and was going up to Oxford next term
he found his " dear little mother " a good deal
changed. Her pretty brown hair had grown silver-
white ; her bright cheerfulness the gayety of sound
pure health, though she was never robust had greatly
departed. He could not understand it. She said she
was " quite well " " quite happy " but she seemed so
quiet, so suddenly changed from a middle-aged into an
old woman. He wondered nobody saw it not even
her husband.

"Papa," he said, "I think mother wants a little


nursing and companionship. "When I am gone to
Oxford, suppose you send for Nanny ? Let her come a
day or two before I leave, and I'll teach her how to take
care of mother ; only she is such a child still perhaps
she might not understand."

But in spite of Arthur's gentle patronizing, and firm
conviction that nobody could take care of his mother
except himself it was found that Nanny did under-
stand ; that Miss Grogan had made a little woman of her
already, and a capital nurse. Neat, accurate, practical :
chary of words, but prompt in deeds ; and doing every-
thing necessary without making any unnecessary fuss
about it, Nanny, though at first not exactly welcome to
her aunt, soon became so, as well as to her uncle. And
though still small, dark, and plain, there was a sweet-
ness in her brown eyes, a fairy lightness in her dainty
figure, which made her decidedly not ugly. Youth never
is ugly, unless it has got an ugly soul.

" She's not so bad, is she, mother ? " said Arthur, after
the first two days. " She isn't a beauty certainly she
doesn't sweep about the room like Lady Damerel ; but I
hate tall women ! No woman should ever be bigger
than my little mother. Nanny will never be pretty
like you but she's a nice little thing."

What mother could resist such tender flattery from a
big son, not twenty yet, but fully six feet high ? What
mother could look into that boyish face knowing the
heart was as innocent as the face and not feel that
whatever he said was true, and whatever he did was
right ?

As for the "nice little thing " was it surprising that


she adored Arthur? as she had done ever since she was
a small child ; though she had ceased to show it now
at least, not very much but Mrs. Trevena saw it in her
eyes, and sometimes felt a little sorry for Nanny. Still,
the child was only a child ; and Arthur could not be ex-
pected to take much notice of her such a man as he
was grown and just going up to Oxford. Nor did he
notice her at first ; being absorbed by his matriculation

But all young creatures like one another's company :
and when of summer evenings " the children " went off
a walk together, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Trevena sitting
quietly in the arbor, Susannah said to herself that it
was quite natural.

She herself could not take long walks now nor could
she see to read and sew as she once did. She had made
over her work-box to the busy useful fingers of Nanny.
And instead of reading of evenings, she sat with her
hands folded, and thought we often like thinking as we
grow old. Only it is not of ourselves we think ; our day
is all done it is of other people.

Strange it was and yet perhaps not strange that the
last subject which entered Mrs. Trevena's mind should
have been that which was most probable, most natural ;
the story even now beginning to act itself out under her
very eyes. The old story, ever new, and which will be
new until the end of the world.

She had enacted it herself more than forty years ago,
for she was very young when she first met Austin Tre-
vena ; and yet it never struck her to think of her boy
as anything but a boy, or of Nanny except his small


girl-satellite circling round him with untiring and per-
fectly natural devotion, but of no importance to him
whatever. That one was nearly a man, and the other
a l as ! perhaps quite a woman, did not occur to Susan-

Nor, for a good while, to the young people themselves.
Their relations from childhood upwards had been com-
pletely " Vun qui aime, Vautre que se laisse etre aime"-
rather liked it indeed, in an innocent way, for Arthur
was neither selfish nor conceited. He had never had a
sister, and honestly accepted Nanny as such : teased her,
petted her, and took counsel of her by turns : ruled her,
yet was led by her for the little quiet girl had a strong
will of her own ; and the winning power that many
plain-looking but sweet-natured woman have, even over
the other sex. And neither he nor any one else suspected
that he was gradually slipping into what worldly mothers
would call an " entanglement " but of which the knots
are often woven by a kindly Providence to be a man's
protection throughout life. Especially such an one as
Arthur, who, out of his very simplicity, affectionateness,
and lack of personal vanity, was likely to attract every
woman he came near.

It was not an ordinary " falling in love " that head-
long tumble which parents and guardians so dread : but
a gradual gliding into love ; love awaking so early that
the young people understood neither its nature nor its
name. For instance, the caress begun when, the child's
poor mother lying dead in the next room, Susannah had
said, " Arthur, kiss Nanny/' was continued quite nat-
urally, at meetings and partings, until the very day that


Arthur left for Oxford ; when his mother noticed, with
some momentary surprise, that they merely shook hands.
But she soon forgot it her own heart was so full. And
when the little Nanny, who found her wandering for-
lornly about the empty house so very empty now Ar-
thur was gone took her hand and kissed it, Mrs. Tre-
vena embraced her with a burst of feeling, as being the
one other person who missed Arthur nearly as much as
his mother did.

Shortly afterwards, Nanny was summoned back to
Miss Grogan, who was seriously ill, and needed her
sorely. Both her uncle and aunt missed her too a
good deal. Likewise at Christmas, when she had prom-
ised to return, but did not, and the rectory household
had to make the best of the busy time without her. Mr.
Trevena distributed his coals and blankets alone ; and
Arthur wandered aimlessly about the deserted park for
the Damerels were still away. Both father and son

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Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 11 of 15)