Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

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felt compelled by that sense of absolute right, quite irre-
spective of worldly wisdom or personal feeling, that
stern law " Fais ce que tu dois, advienne que pourra ! "
which strengthens some people women especially to
do by impulse that which in cold blood they would per-
haps have shrunk from doing.

" Thank you, my own good boy ! " she said, with a
sob. " You know how I have loved you. But I am
not your mother. Your real mother the woman who
bore you is that woman there ! "

Arthur sprang up as if he had been shot. " She my
mother! the mother who deserted me sold me? oh
no, mother darling ! it can't be true it isn't true ! "

" It is true. She does not deny it. Look at her."

Lady Damerel sat bolt upright in her chair as white
and as hard as marble. Arthur took one step towards
her, and then drew back.


"Thank you, mother, for telling me. I am glad I
know this. It was right I should be told."

" I did not wish him to be told. No good can come
of it, for his father never knew of his existence. I shall
be glad to help him with the half of my fortune if he
wishes after Sir Charles's death. But I never can
acknowledge him publicly. It would ruin me."

Lady Damerel spoke in a slow, cold, impersonal voice,
never looking at her sou. Nor did her son look at her.
Rather he turned away his eyes, as if the mere sight of
her were painful to him. At last he said, very quietly
and with a strange absence of emotion which made
him for the moment almost resemble her

" You need not fear : I shall never intrude upon you.
I think it would almost kill me to have to do my duty
to you as your son. Good-morning, Lady Damerel.
Come, mother, let us go home."

He placed Mrs. Trevena's hand within his arm, and,
with a distant, stately bow a bow worthy of the heir of
all the Damerels he quitted without another word
" the woman that bore him " who had been to him
merely that and nothing more.

Lady Damerel sat, in her unshared splendor, childless
and alone. Her sin had found her out. It was a just
and a righteous retribution.


FOE several days after Arthur discovered the truth
about his parentage, he and his " mother " never spoke
on the subject. He had whispered to her on their way
home from Tawton Abbas " Please don't say a word to
me I can't bear it " and indeed she was utterly unable
to say a word. The long strain being ended, a reac-
tion came. Ere nightfall she was so ill that Arthur
silently put off his departure for Oxford ; and for many
days neither he nor any one at the rectory thought of
aught but her the centre of all their love and care.

When she revived, she found that Arthur had told
both the rector and !N"anny what had happened the bare
fact no more " to save mother the pain of telling it "
but that he had requested of them total silence on the
subject, since this discovery " made no difference in any-

He repeated the same to herself in the few words that
passed between them before he started for Oxford : she
had thought it right to speak, and explain to him that
even though he were the lawful heir of Tawton Abbas,
unless Lady Damerel acknowledged this, it would be
most difficult to prove his rights.

"It does not matter, mother," he said calmly. "I


have thought it all over, and perhaps "Tis better as it
is J as your friend Shakspere says. I will make my own
way in the world, and be indebted to nobody. Except
you except you ! "

He stooped and kissed the silver hair whiter even
within the last few weeks. Then, holding his head
high, though he too looked older and graver much, he
bade her and them all a cheerful good-bye, and went back
to his work.

From that time Arthur's letters came regularly, even
more regularly than usual. But they were only to his
mother not to Nanny, who had once shared them. And
they were wholly about his work or his play, for he was
equally good at both ; as noted on the river as he was in
the schools. But he never in the least alluded to what
had occurred, or implied that he himself was in any way
different from the Arthur Trevena who had been the Tre-
venas' only son, dearly beloved, for the last twenty years.

And Lady Damerel made no sign. She still stayed on
at Tawton Abbas which, it was clear, poor Sir Charles
was never likely to leave again ; but she filled it with
company, as usual, and lived her usual lively life there.
Her sole appearance in the village was at church, where
she sat, erect as ever, in her arm-chair ; her cold, hand-
some, painted face, under the thin gauze veil which she
always wore, contrasting strangely with the background
of marble monuments the old Damerels to whom her
husband would soon be gathered. Sir Charles, it wa
rumored, would be the last of the name, though not of
the race ; for the next heir being by the female line, the

baronetcy would become extinct. Though she was little


known, and less liked, one or two of the more thoughtful
of the congregation, looking at her, and recognizing
what a downcome must follow her husband's death,
sometimes said " Poor Lady Damerel ! "

Not Mrs. Trevena. Under all her gentleness Susan-
nah could, if need required, be as hard as stone, and as
silent. She never, in or out of the house, except upon
compulsion, mentioned the name of Lady Damerel. She
rose up from her illness, and went about her duties as
heretofore not even allowing Nanny to share them ;
Nanny, who still lived at the rectory, nominally, but was
rarely at home, having obtained teaching in a neighbor-
ing town. She was cheerfully earning her honest bread,
and evidently making up her mind to do this all her
days, as if there had been no such person as Mr. Hardy
in existence. She worked hard, poor little thing ! as
her aunt had done before her ; and her aunt appreciated
this, as well as the tenderness which made Nanny,
whenever she was at home, as good as any daughter.

But Susannah did not want a daughter. All her heart
was bound up in her son ; and it was a great pang to
her, even though she acknowledged it might be " all for
the best " when Arthur announced his intention of
spending the long vacation with a reading party in
"Wales. He could afford it, having earned some extra
money by accidental "coaching." It was good for his
health, his mother argued to herself; and would be more
cheerful to him than home which he must find rather
dull now he was a grown-up young man. So she said
to Nanny, who listened and said nothing; Nanny never
did speak much at any time.


Therefore it befell that for a whole year Arthur ap-
peared at the rectory only on very short visits ; between
terms, or after having passed successfully all his exam-
inations. He would never " set the Thames on fire " as
he one day bade Nanny impress upon his mother ; but
he had no fears of failing in his university career. Indeed
he hoped to get through it in such a way as to secure
afterwards his daily bread, at least, probably as an Ox-
ford " coach." Of music, or the musical career, he now
never spoke a word.

Indeed, in many ways the boy was much changed
a boy no longer, but a man. In one thing, however,
there was no change, but rather a growth his tender
devotion to his mother. Ay, even though life, which
with him was pouring on towards flood-tide, with her
was at its quiet ebb. Though she could not share in his
pleasures, could never be to him the sympathetic com-
panion that young and active mothers often are to their
boys and a lovely sight it is ! still, to see Arthur with
his little old mother, as careful as a girl, as devoted as a
lover, as tender as a son was also a sight never to be

Lady Damerel never saw it nor they her. Once,
when walking in the park, they came across Sir Charles's
wheeled chair ; Arthur, taking off his hat, stood aside to
let it pass, with its melancholy occupant, behind whom
walked the valet, or keeper, always his sole companion.

"It is no use speaking to Sir Charles; he doesn't
know anybody now," said the servant carelessly ; and
they walked on. But, in the blank white face of the old
man, and the strongly-marked profile of the young one,


Susannah saw again that unmistakable likeness fate's
confirmatory evidence against the cruel bar-sinister
which the world would be sure to impute to a deserted
child. And though to judge a man by this, to lay to his
charge his parents' sin, is wholly unjust and unchristian ;
still, since the world is neither christianized nor just, it
will be always so.

She watched her boy as he walked on beside her, with
a grave fixed look on his face, but showing no other

" Sir Charles will not live long," she said, " and no-
body could wish it."

" !Nb ; but I am glad to remember he was always kind
to me."

This was all. Intercourse between Tawton Abbas
and the rectory had now stopped entirely. The rector
wished it to be so. Austin Trevena did not often take
the law into his own hands. His own instincts had
been so pure, and his life so blameless, that he did not
understand sinners, and was apt to be only too lenient
to them. But in this case he was very firm.

" The church-door is open to any one," he said, " and
I cannot refuse her the sacrament, for I know nothing
against her moral character but there it ends. I hope,
Susannah, that Lady Damerel will never darken our
doors again."

She did not. For a whole year no trouble entered those
quiet doors ; where old age was now beginning to claim
its Sabbath of peace, which ought to be so welcome and
so blessed. For what energetic action is to youth, so is
mere rest to declining years. After sixty sometimes,


alas ! before then we learn to say, " There is no joy
but calm ; " and to be thankful for it if we get it.

So, when month after month slid by, and nothing
happened, nothing broke the monotony of the peaceful
household, except Arthur's flying visits, and his con-
stant, comfortable letters Susannah's worn face gradu-
ally recovered its look of sweet content, justifying her
boy in telling her, as he did sometimes, that she was
" the prettiest old lady that ever was seen." Or would
be, one day for he refused to allow that she was " old "
yet ; and often proposed the most unheard-of feats for
her in the way of picnics, and other expeditions with
himself and Nanny. At which she smilingly shook her
head, and sent " the children " away by themselves.

Arthur, come home now for the long vacation, seemed
again his merry boyish self. He had got triumphantly
through his " schools " and seemed determined to enjoy
himself. He went singing about the house as when he
was ten years old ; though now just past one-and-twenty ;
he walked, he fished, he bicycled ; he " tramped " the
parish for the rector, and visited the old women with
Nanny, who was also at home for her holidays.

Nanny had changed very little within the last few
years. She was still the same plain little thing, except
for her great dark eyes, and her exceedingly sweet-toned
voice a pleasant voice is better to live with than even
a pretty face. But she had an atmosphere of prettiness
about her too exceeding neatness of dress, and grace
of movement ; so that, though not a beauty, she could
never be called decidedly ugly. Some day, perhaps,
some other man probably, her aunt thought, an elderly


man might find in her the same nameless charm that
Mr. Hardy had done. Poor Mr. Hardy ! He still came
to the rectory sometimes, but he never said a word more to
Miss Trevena. Once, when talking to Arthur about the
future of " poor little Nanny," his mother suggested that
perhaps she might be an old maid after all. At which
the boy laughed which Susannah thought rather un- -
brotherly and unkind but he made her no answer

It was August, and he had been two weeks at home ;
going about everywhere, except in the direction of
Tawton Abbas. It was emptied of guests at last, they
heard ; for Sir Charles was slowly dying. Lady Dam-
erel seldom appeared at church now ; but one day a
stranger gentleman was seen there, in the Damerel pew.
He was stout, pompous, and common-looking. Report
said he w r as the heir, come to pay a duty visit, and inves-
tigate the state of affairs ; which made the village talk
him over rather curiously, and say again " Poor Lady

But nobody ever said " Poor Mrs. Trevena 1 " There
was little need. Though feeble and elderly now, she
looked so content and at rest so proud even, when
walking into church on her tall son's arm that no one
would ever have thought of pitying her. Nor did she
pity herself. Her life's storms seemed to have sunk into
peace. Her boy knew everything about himself; and
yet was satisfied to be still her boy. Accounts reached
her on all sides of his well-doing at Oxford ; where, his
university curriculum being gone through, a fellowship,
and possibly a tutorship, were almost sure to follow;


one of the many proofs that a boy with a fair amount of
brains, and the determination to use them, can make his
way in the world without any extraneous help, either of
friends or fortune if he so choose. " Where there's a
will there's a way," Arthur used to say, as a boy; and
as a man he bade fair to carry out his creed.

His mother thought of him now with that restfulness
of perfect trust, not so much in his fortunes as in him-
self a safer stronghold which, God help them ! not all
mothers have, or deserve to have. But He had given
her that blessing, and she was thankful. No doubt,
Arthur was not quite as perfect as she thought him ; but
he was a very good fellow, and a favorite with every-
body including all the young ladies of the neighbor-
hood. For he and Nanny together had gradually
brought young life about the rectory ; where there were
occasionally garden-parties, lawn-tennis meetings, and
such-like mild country amusements. Susannah shared
them, and was amused by them ; sometimes speculating
upon how much her boy was admired, and wandering
who would fall in love with him ; and who, in some far
future day, he would fall in love with himself, and
marry. She would be very fond of his wife, she thought ;
and oh ! it would be delightful to see his children.

" Only fancy ! me a grandmother ! " she thought, and
laughed to herself at the oddness of the idea.

She was sitting, after one of these parties, in the warm
August darkness, lit with stars, and fragrant with deli-
cious scents. It was about nine o'clock; Arthur and
Nanny had walked a little way down the road with their
friends, and the rector was in his study. Susannah sat


in the summer-house, all alone. But she did not mind
solitude ; she rather enjoyed it. She liked to sit and
think as now; for the scent of clematis and jasmine
always brought back the August nights of her youth
when Austin came back from Oxford, and they used to
walk in his father's garden together for hours. Then,
life was all before them; now it was behind. What
matter? It had not been all she expected; a ship or
two had gone down, but much had been saved enough
to make the old scents always sweet to her, and the old
days dear.

She was looking back upon them, dreamily ; and for-
ward, into the days to come not so many now ! when
she heard steps upon the gravel, and there passed two
figures a man and a girl. She thought at first it was
her house-maid, who she knew had a "lad" for the
man's arm was round the girl's waist, and she was
sobbing on his shoulder ; which kept Mrs. Trevena from
speaking to them. Shortly they passed again, and then,
to her utter bewilderment, she saw it was Arthur and
Nanny whom she still sometimes called "the chil-

She was so accustomed to think of them as such, that
at first her only feeling was a slight vexation that Nanny
should be " bothering " Arthur with her troubles. She
had heard him say, " Don't cry, poor little Nanny
please don't." But Nanny was a little too old to be
soothed and caressed like a baby, and should be careful
as to how such caresses looked outside Arthur not
being her real brother. As to anything else, Mrs.
Trevena dismissed the idea as simply ridiculous. Her


Arthur such a fine young fellow, everybody's favorite ;
and Nanny such an ordinary little creature whom he
had played with, petted, tyrannized over all his life for
them to be anything but brother and sister was perfect
nonsense ! She would not speak to Arthur, or put such
a notion into his head ; but she would speak to Nanny,
who was a sensible girl, and would understand.

However, when she went in-doors, she found Nanny
had gone to bed ; " very tired," Arthur explained ; and
that he himself, after supper and prayers, was evidently
waiting for a talk with his mother as he often did of
Saturday nights when the rector was busy over his

" I have rather a serious word or two to say to you,
mother darling," he whispered, as he took her hand and
sat down beside her.

"Not very serious," smiled she for his eyes were
shining and his manner cheerful and happy, though a
trifle nervous. At which she hardly wondered, when he
came out suddenly with a startling idea.

" Mother, I want to leave you for a little. I am think-
ing of going to Switzerland to Andermatt."

"To Andermatt? "Why? Oh, my boy, what good
would it do?"

Arthur soothed her momentary distress he had un-
limited power of soothing his mother ; and then told her
that in consequence of a letter from his godfather, " and
for other reasons," he had lately thought it advisable to
tell his whole history to a friend he had, the son of an
eminent London barrister who had taken counsel's
opinion. This was, that if he ever meant to claim the


estate and the baronetcy, lie ought immediately to take
steps to obtain what is called "perpetuation of testi-
mony," that is, the affidavits of all those witnesses who
could prove his birth and his identity ; which evidence
could be laid up, and would be sufficient, in case of the
death of any of them before the time came for the heir
to assert his rights.

a I will never do this in Sir Charles's lifetime ; but
afterwards, I may, if I can afford the money. One's
birthright is one's birthright, and w r orth fighting for.
No man could be expected not to fight, if he has the
right on his side, both for his own sake and those belong-
ing to him."

" But that is only papa and me ; and we would rather
keep you as our son than have you the heir of all the

~No sooner had she said this than she felt how selfish
it was, and how natural, how right, that Arthur should
feel as he did, and should have done what he had done
as any young man would have done though it hurt
her a little that he had done it without consulting her.
But he was so tender, so thoughtful, and withal so pru-
dent, that the feeling soon passed. If her son did what
was right and wise, it mattered little whether he did it
with her or without her.

So they went into the details of his proposed journey
with their usual mutual confidence. He had saved
enough to defray all expenses, he thought, if he traveled
very economically ; and when she offered him money,
he refused it. He preferred being " on his own hook."

" You see, I am not doing badly, mother, for a fellow


of twenty-one. It's odd but I am really twenty-one
now. I could be sued for my own debts or for breach
of promise, if I had asked any one to marry me."

He said this with a laugh and a blush but also with
an anxious look out of the corners of his bright honest
eyes. His mother laughed too, in unsuspicious content.

" All in good time, my dear. I hope you will marry
some day, when you find anybody you care for which
you have not found yet, you know."

Arthur looked grave and answered, very gently, " I
am not sure."

A sudden wild apprehension flitted across the mother's
mind. Could her boy have fallen in love ? The girls
of the neighborhood she counted them over swift as
thought. Not one seemed possible, probable, or desira-
ble. " Arthur ? " she cried, in an almost agonized

Arthur hung his head a little. " Yes, mother, it's
quite true. I did really ask her this evening. I think
I must have loved her all my life though I didn't find
it out till Mr. Hardy wanted her, and couldn't get her."

" Nanny ! Oh Arthur, it isn't surely Nanny ! Im-
possible ! "

" Why impossible? " said Arthur, drawing himself up.

" Such a " " such a plain little thing," the mother

was going to say, but stopped herself" a different kind
of person from you. And she has been your cousin
almost your sister ever since you were children to-

u But she is not my cousin, and not my sister, and I
don't want her as either. I want her for my wife."


The young man he was a man now spoke firmly
the strange new word. It went through his mother like
a shaft of steel yet she had the sense not to show it.

" You asked Nanny, you say, this evening ? And she
answered "

" She would not give me any answer at all till I
had told you and her uncle. But I think, indeed I

know " And Arthur lifted his head prouder than

ever with the honest pride of a young man who knows
that the girl he loves loves him. " She is such a good
girl," he added. " Nobody in the world could ever say
a word against my little Nanny."

"Jfy" little Nanny! the sense of possession the
passionate protection of his own against all the world
it touched the mother in spite of herself. So many
lovers are such cowards so ardent to seize, so feeble to
defend. Here was the true chivalric lover, who, it was
clear, meant to hold to his " little Nanny " through thick
and thin.

What could Susannah say ? It was the very kind of
love she most admired the ideal of faithful tenderness
which she herself had taught him ; though it broke her
heart she could not but respect it. And yet and yet

Arthur saw her evident distress, but did not attempt
to console her. There is a time God forgive them,
poor lambs ! when all young people think of them-
selves only. Happy for them if their elders have self-
control enough to recognize this to remember the time
when they also went through the same phase of pas-
sionate egotism or dual egotism. It cannot last long.
If lovers are proverbially selfish, except to the object


beloved, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, must
inevitably soon learn that self-abnegation which is the
very soul of marriage and parenthood, which often
makes even the most thoughtless boy or girl into a noble
man and woman.

There is much to be said for and against what the
worldly-minded call " calf-love." It may not always
endure perhaps best not for a man's last love is some-
times deeper than his first. But sometimes it does en-
dure ; and then it is the strongest thing in life ; I have
known people who loved one another in their teens, and
loved on for sixty years.

By a sort of inspiration, Susannah's mind leaped at
this truth, or at least this possibility ; and it strengthened
her to bear what to no mother can be a joy, and may be
a sharp pang the discovery that she has ceased to be
her child's first object that another, perhaps a total
stranger, has suddenly become far closer, far dearer, far
more important than she.

Kestraining a sob, and compelling herself into some-
thing like a smile, Mrs. Trevena held out both her hands
to her boy. He seized them, and, flinging himself on
his knees before her, put both his arms round her waist
and kissed her again and again.

" My good mother my kind mother ! " was all he
could say, almost with a sob.

She stroked his hair, and patted his shoulder.

" You silly boy such a mere boy still ! And she such a
baby little Nanny, whom you have known all your life."

" It is because I have known her all my life because
I am quite sure of her, that I love her so. She would


never despise me. She is willing to marry a man with-
out a name and therefore for her sake I will try to get
one. I'll do nothing just yet as I told you ; I will
stand on my own feet and make myself respected as I
am. But, by and by, I will move heaven and earth to
obtain my own. For Nanny's sake for Nanny's sake !
And, if I fail, I shall still have her and you."

" Her " first " you " afterwards. Well ! it was right
it was natural ; the law of nature and of God. Arthur
was unconscious of having said it nor did his mother
betray that she had heard it. It was the final love-sac-

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Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 13 of 15)