Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

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understand ? Who can tell ?

There comes to us all a time when we begin to say,
silently of course, our Nunc dimittis. We are tired



230 KING AKTHUR.

so tired ! Perhaps we ought not to be, and many good
people would reprove us for being so, but we are tired

" We have had all the joys that the world could bestow,
"We have lived, we have loved."

Or else, we have had no joys, and have long since given
up the hope of any. Which was scarcely Susannah's
case, and yet she was tired.

When they left her alone though they never did it
for long she would lean her head back against her
pillows, with the weary look of one who waits for bed-
time. All about her was so busy and bustling. One day
she had watched her husband, hale and hearty, march
down the garden to inquire about the first brood of
chickens, and a February lamb.

"It will soon be spring," she said to herself, and
listened to what seemed like a thrush's note in the
garden ; soon drowned by Arthur's piano below stairs,
where he sat playing, with his " little Nanny " beside
him the girl who was almost as good as a wife to him
already ; taking care of him, guiding him, and adoring
him by turns. " How happy he is that boy ! " and a
tear or two dropped from Susannah's eyes : human tears !
"I should like to have seen his children just one little
baby, like himself my little baby that I loved so.
It would have been the old days over again ; when I sat
in the rocking-chair he in his night-gown, sucking his
thumb, with his eyes fixed on my face, and his two little
feet in one of my hands. Wasn't he a pretty baby ? "

The last sentence was said aloud, and in French, to
Manette now grown stout and middle-aged, but with



NOT A LOVE STORY. 231

hsr faithful Swiss heart still devoted to her mistress,
creeping up on e\ 7 ery excuse from her cooking to see if
Madame wanted anything.

No; Susannah's wants were few as they always had
been. She was an invalid who gave no trouble to any-
body. The coming Angel came so stealthily, so peace-
fully, that no one ever heard his step.

" Stop a minute, Manette," she said, after a few
minutes' cheerful chat. " I wish you would bring the
rocking-chair out of the nursery I mean Miss Nanny's
room dear me, how stupid I am growing ! I should
like to have it here."

Manette brought it : and when the young people came
up-stairs which they did very soon, for they were not
selfish lovers Arthur greeted it with a shout of delight,
and declared it made him feel " like a little baby " once
more. All that evening he insisted on sitting down on
the floor at his mother's feet ; and let her play with his
curls, or what remained of them, for he was a fashion-
able young man now, and had his hair cut like other
"golden youths." He told Nanny ridiculous stories of
his childhood, making himself out to be twice as naughty
as he ever had been ; forcing even his mother to laugh,
and laughing himself till the tears ran down his cheeks.
In fact, cheerful and content as they always were at the
rectory, they had seldom spent so merry an evening ; the
rector included who came up from his Saturday night's
sermon, put off as usual till the last minute and begged
to have tea in his wife's room.

"Everything seems so out of order down-stairs when
you are not there, Susannah," said he restlessly. " You



232 KING ARTHUR.

really must try to come down to-morrow. Now, pour
out my tea, Nanny."

" No not Nanny this time," her aunt said gently, and
bidding Arthur move the table closer, she poured out her
husband's tea, and gave it to him with her own hand a
rather shaky hand; as they remembered afterwards, and
wondered they had never noticed it, nor how white and
quiet she sat, long after the meal was over.

When Arthur had kissed his mother and bade her
good-night, and Nanny came back, extra rosy, from the
other rather lengthy good-night which always took place
at the hall-door she thought her aunt looked more tired
than usual, and said so, offering to stay beside her for a
while.

" Oh no ! " Mrs. Trevena answered. " Let everybody
go to bed, except Manette. She can sit with me till
your uncle comes out of his study. Nanny/' holding
the girl's hand, and looking hard into her face " you'll
take care of your uncle ? And no, I need not tell you
to take care of Arthur. Kiss me, my dear. Good-
night."

That was all.

An hour later, Nanny was startled out of her happy
sleep, as sound as a child's, to see Manette standing,
white with terror, at her bedside. That had happened
which nobody feared or expected except, perhaps, the
sufferer herself. A sudden and violent fit of coughing
had produced hemorrhage of the lungs, and Mrs. Tre-
vena was dying.

Nanny sprang out of her bed she had had long expe-
rience in sick-nursing, enough to know that this was a



NOT A LOVE STORY. 233

question not of days or hours, but of minutes that there
was no time to summon anybody, that what help could
be given must be given at once, by herself and Manette
alone, for there was nobody to aid them, and no time to
call anybody.

Susannah let them do all they could. She was quite
conscious smiled her thanks several times, but she
never attempted to speak a word. Except once, when
she heard Manette proposing to fetch Mr. Trevena, and
motioned a feeble but decided negative.

" No, no ! Save him from from anything painful.
Don't let him see me till afterwards."

And so it befell that the breast upon which the parting
soul relied was, not her husband's, not Arthur's, both
so tenderly beloved, but Nanny's, whom she had always
been kind to, and liked much without actually loving
Nanny, the blameless daughter of her lifelong foe.

There, just before midnight, while the rector was still
busy over his sermon, and Arthur at Tawton Abbas was
sleeping the sleep of healthy, happy youth, Susannah
gradually lost all memory even of them, all consciousness
of the world about her, and passed peacefully away into
the world unknown.

When the two who to her had been so infinitely dear
came to look at her, there was, as she had wished,
" nothing painful " only a beautiful image of eternal
rest. Did she love them still ? Who knows ? Let us
pray that it may be so.

None can mourn for ever : it is not right they should.
But it was a whole year before Arthur recovered from



234 KING ARTHUR.

the blow which, to him, had fallen like a thunderbolt
out of a clear sky. The young seldom realize death
unless it comes quite close to them. It had never en-
tered his mind that his mother would die until she
died. He could not imagine existence without her.
The shock was so great, and the change it wrought in
him so piteous, that Nanny was for a time absolutely
terrified. Both the young people seemed to grow sud-
denly old. They spoke of love and marriage no more,
but devoted themselves like a real son and daughter to
the desolate man who had lost even more than they.

The rector was very quiet from first to last. Whether
he grieved or not, no one could tell ; from the day of her
funeral he rarely mentioned his wife's name. But he
often went wandering mournfully about the house as if
in search of her, and then went silently back to his books ;
taking very little interest in anything else. He seemed
to have suddenly turned into an old man quite patient
and quite helpless. It was not without cause that
Nanny always answered when questioned about the date
of her marriage, u I couldn't leave him ; she told me to
take care of him." In truth, for a long time all that the
forlorn three appeared to think of was to do exactly as
she had said, or would have wished.

And they were doing it, they felt sure, when, as the
primroses of the second spring began to blossom over
her grave, Arthur took courage and again asked for
Nanny. The birds were singing, the little lambs bleat-
ing, the chickens chirping all her young " family," as
Susannah used to call them the creatures whom she
had so liked to see happy about her.



NOT A LOVE STORY. 235

" She would like us to be happy, I know," Arthur
said, when he urged the question, and insisted to Nanny
that Manette was quite able to take charge of the rector
now, and that she herself would not be more than a few
minutes' walk from her uncle. When Mr. Trevena was
told all this he assented without hesitation to the mar-
riage. It did not much matter to him who took care of
him now. He might live many years yet the book-
worm's placid self-absorbed life ; but the half of himself
was missing for ever.

So, one bright spring day, Arthur led his bride past
his mother's grave. His mother would not have grieved :
she would have been glad as is the instinct of all un-
selfish souls.

" On that grave drop not a tear . . .
Kather smile there, blessed one,
Thinking of me in the sun ;
Or forget me, smiling on."

But she was not forgotten she never could be. She
had lived, long enough to make her boy all that he was ;
to form his mind and character, heart and soul : to fit
him for the aims and duties of life; high aims and
serious duties; for Sir Arthur Damerel is not the sort of
man to hide himself, or submit to be hidden, under a
bushel. His position must inevitably bring him many a
responsibility, many a trouble and care ; but he will fight
through all, with his wife beside him little Nanny, who
has given the neighborhood an entirely new and revised
edition of the Lady Damerel s of Tawton Abbas. Active,
energetic, kindly, benevolent she is so well-loved both



236 KING ARTHUR.

by rich and poor that no one stops to consider whether
or not she is beautiful. Nor does her husband. To him
she is simply " little Nanny."

One of their duties not always a pleasant one is
their yearly visit of a day or two to the Dowager Lady
Damerel, who has turned very religious, and is made
much of in a select circle who have taken the title of
" Believers," one of their points of belief being that no-
body can be saved, except themselves. Such a creed is
the natural outcome of that pleasure-loving egoism
which had characterized her earlier days. The greater
the sinner, the greater the saint if such sainthood is
worth anything. She takes very little interest in her
son or his belongings; except perhaps in one very hand-
some baby grand-daughter, who she declares is just like
herself; but they are on terms of the utmost politeness.
Only he never calls her anything but " Lady Damerel."
He feels that his real mother "ray mother," as he
always speaks of her, and scarcely a day passes that he
does not speak of her was she who sleeps in that quiet
grave within sight of the dining-room window of the
dear old rectory.

And Susannah, had she known this, and seen how her
influence will descend though Arthur to his children's
children, would have died content, feeling that those
one-and-twenty years had not been thrown away that
she had not only made her own life and her husband's
happy but, as good Dr. Franklin once said, she had
" saved a soul alive."



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A DAUGHTER OF HETH.

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AFTER DARK, AND OTHER STORIES.

ANTONINA.

ARMADALE.

BASIL.

HIDE-AND SEEK.

" I SAY NO," AND OTHER STORIES.

MAN AND WIFE.

MY MISCELLANIES.

NO NAME.



POOR MISS FINCH.
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THE LAW AND THE LADY.
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THE QUEEN OF HEARTS.
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THE WOMAN IN WHITE.



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