Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

. (page 7 of 15)
Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 7 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

heart of grace that heaven would make all right in time.

One never knows when an arrow strikes home. " In
the morning sow thy seed in the evening withhold not
thy hand," Such had been Susannah's principle all her
days. She did her best ; and then she rested in hope
which sometimes died most often died ! but now and
then it lived and blossomed as now.

One day after a week of most astonishing industry,
Arthur said suddenly, " Mother, you told me I was to
get education for myself. How am I to get it ? "

She was not taken by surprise ; for years she had pon-
dered over the question as she did everything that con-
cerned her boy's future. She had said truly, that to
send Arthur to a boarding-school was impossible. Even
if possible, it would scarcely have been right. Her hus-
band in his old age would need all his own money ; he
must not be stinted in anything for the sake of a son
who was not his son. Passionately as she loved her boy,
Susannah held the balance of justice even. So she
answered firmly :

" Arthur, if you are to grow up a clever man like papa
you must do as he did ; you must get to be a Winches-
ter boy and then take yourself to New College, Oxford,
with a Winchester scholarship. Mother would so like
to see you in cap and gown ! "

" Would you ? " said he, with the sudden look which
she loved to see the bright, eager, purpose-like look
"Then, I'll try."

They went into the matter at once. Mr. Trevena,


who at the mention of Winchester pricked up his ears
like an old war horse, needed little persuasion to take his
wife and son to see his old haunts and revive his old
acquaintanceships. One of the masters happened to be
a schoolfellow of fifty years back ; they fraternized joy-
fully, and wandered about together Mrs. Trevena and
Arthur following through the chapel and courts, the
schoolrooms and playgrounds, dear to all Wykehamites,
where generation after generation of boys have worked
and played and passed away. Here and there were
mementoes of some of them who had made themselves
famous in after-life, and of others Arthur's eye bright-
ened, and his mother's heart trembled, as they stood look-
ing at them who had died early, mostly on the field of
battle, only a year or two after being Winchester boys.

Susannah was an ambitious woman what mother of
a son would not be ? When Arthur whispered to her,
" I mean to be a Winchester boy," she pressed his arm
in silence as they walked together he very proud of
being fully as tall as she. They understood one another,
and were happy.

This was the bright side of things; but there was
another side, of which she had had prevision, but never
so clearly as to-day.

The master stood explaining to her various things
while Mr. Trevena went to show Arthur the picture of
the Faithful Servant. She learnt that a certificate of
baptism must be sent in, to prove the boy's age over
twelve and under thirteen and that the examination,
in which there were often nearly a hundred candidates
for fourteen scholarships, was about the middle of July.


6 My son will be thirteen next June," said Susannah
who always took care to say "my son" to strangers.

" Then he has only one chance. He will have to work
hard for it but no doubt he will. He is " glancing
carelessly at Arthur, who stood a few yards off, and
making the superficial remark that so many think proper
" he is so very like his father."

Whether the boy overheard, she could not tell if he
had, no doubt he would, in his simplicity, only have
thought it " funny " that he should resemble his gray,
stooping, elderly papa ; but Susannah felt herself grow
hot all over. She could not answer any explanation
at that moment was impossible yet she felt like a de-
ceiver acting inevitably, righteously, but yet a deceiver.
And how would her boy feel ? not now perhaps he was
too young to take it in but by and by ?

" I ought to explain ," she began, with a desperate

firmness. At that moment Mr. Trevena and Arthur
came up, rendering explanation impossible. The train
was nearly due : they were late as the good rector had
a trick of being only a minute remained for polite
adieux, and they hurried away.

But as Susannah sat silent, watching the landscape
whirl past, in that noisy peace which allows such time
for thinking a new anxiety awoke in her heart.

She had resolved to send her boy to school, for she
felt he must go ; his nature required the spur of emula-
tion to learn well ; but she had not taken in all that this
involved. Her neighbors, the simple folk of Taw ton
Magna, had long since accepted the truth, and then for-
got as the Trevenas had almost forgotten themselves


that Arthur was not their own child. Not a word to the
contrary was now ever said to him or them. But in the
wider world to which Arthur was going, and must go,
things were sure to be said cruel things, perhaps from
which his mother could no longer protect him.

Had he been a girl, it would have been different.
She could then have kept her child beside her ; no need
to go to school at all ; or to pass from the shelter of the
mother's wing, except into some honorable happy home,
where she was loved for herself married for herself.
Many a King Cophetua lives to bless the day he wooed
his "beggar-maid," and especially, if she has no blood
relations ! But a boy must face the world stand on his
own feet fight his own battles. "What if Arthur's
school-fellows came to find out his history? how they
might torment him ! there is nothing crueller than your
ordinary schoolboy. How lads with real fathers and
mothers might jeer at " Nobody's child " !

Susannah clenched her hands under her shawl. She
felt she should like to do something to hurt somebody,
who dared to hurt her child. The " wild animal " feel-
ing, which makes the tamest creatures dangerous when
their young are attacked, came into her, till she almost
laughed at herself, and then could have cried at her own
helplessness. Yet tears were idle. The thing was in-
evitable he must bear it. How could she help him to
bear it ?

" Tell the truth and shame the devil " was, as ever,
the only chance for her boy ; and after all, he was a boy
"with hands to war and fingers to fight" as old
King David had, and blessed the Lord for. Alas ! in


this our world they are only too necessary ! Arthur had
moral courage too, as had been lately proved when a
neighboring curate, hearing the boy's voice in church,
offered to teach him singing, and music too ; and, in
spite of his companions, the young millionaires at Taw-
ton Abbas, calling it "girlish," he persisted in steadily
strumming on the rectory piano, and never missing an
hour of the village choir practice. Music, in fact, was
the only thing he really worked at, with all his heart in
it. Once his mother listening to the lovely boy-voice,
and hearing from the ritualistic curate, Mr. Hardy, what
a remarkable talent he had in that direction recalled,
almost with a pang, the story of that opera-singer who
had run away from Milan who might have crossed the
St. Gothard, and stopped at Andermatt who might

have been But speculations were idle worse than

idle dangerous. She shut up all these things in her
heart, seeing that, however it came, her boy's talent for
music was there, and irrepressible. Nor did she try to
repress it; she only insisted that he should work, not
idle at it : and do his other work steadily, meantime.

He did. Mr. Hardy, the musical curate, who, like
many more, combined music and mathematics, offered
to help him in his Euclid and algebra ; the rector taught
him Latin and Greek; his mother, and the faithful
Manette, now promoted from nurse to cook, and likely
to be a fixture at the rectory, helped him in his French.
So all was in train for the Winchester examination, to
which he must go up, in July a big boy of thirteen
for those three anxious days which would probably de-
cide his lot for life.


As the time approached, Mrs. Trevena, spite of her
smooth brow and quiet smile, would thankfully " have
given worlds " as the phrase is not to put it off it
was her way always to face things but to know that it
was safe over.

Another thing which she had to face she did put off,
unintentionally, till the very last day. Then having
settled everything, and even packed her boy's box and
her own they were to stay together with Mr. Trevena's
old school-fellow during the three days of examination
she and Arthur walked up and down together along
their favorite walk, the peach-tree walk, under a high
south wall. Susannah was now growing old enough to
love the shelter of a south wall and the smooth ease of a
gravel walk. But age had no terrors, for was not her
boy's strong arm round her waist, and his bright face
beside her ? In his young life she lived anew, perhaps
even a happier life than her own.

" If you are tired, mammy, let us sit down." Arthur
always saw when his mother was tired, quicker even
than her husband did ; but then he was such a practical
boy, and not a bit of a bookworm. " You stop here in
the summer-house, and I'll help Bob Bates to gather the
peas for dinner."

"No, not yet," for she had something to say which
must be said before he went to Winchester, only it was
difficult to begin. " Bob is a big boy now, almost as tall
as his father."

" Bob is ever so much older than I am/' said Arthur, a
little aggrieved. " I'll be as tall as my papa some day."

" I hope so, dear." Then, suddenly facing the evil,


though it made her heart beat almost with the pulsations
of her youth, " Does Bob Bates ever speak to you now
about what you fought over, years ago 3 "

" What was that, mammy ? I forget. No," with a
quick blush, the sensitive blush so ready to come and go
on his fair face. "No, I think I remember. It was
about my not being papa's own boy, and yours. No, no-
body ever says a word to me now."

" That is well."

They walked on in silence, she thinking how best to
put the next thing she had to say, when he saved her
the saying of it.

" Mother, if anybody speaks to me like that at Win-
chester, what am I to do ? Shall I fight them ? "

She paused a minute. It was so hard, so hard !

"No, my dear. I see no good in fighting. Nobody
means you any harm, and nothing they say can alter
anything. It is the truth. No brave man need be afraid
of the truth. I am sure King Arthur never was."

" Did anybody ever say to him what Bob Bates used
to say to me ? "

"Very likely, for his parentage was never known.
But he was such a noble knight in himself that nobody
ever cared to ask where he sprang from. It will be the
same with you, if you grow up a good man."

" But I shall never be a king, and have Knights of the
Bound Table."

" I am afraid not. What would you like to be ? "

Now the great event in the boy's life was his having
been lately taken by his friend the High Church curate
to Exeter, where he heard an oratorio and an opera. It


should not have been a pang, and yet it was when he
answered with enthusiasm, " I should like to be an opera
singer ! " his mother started as if she had been shot.

But she answered calmly, " Well, my son, boys often
make resolves, and break them. I knew one little fellow
who was determined to be Lord Chancellor, but he
changed his mind and said he would be an omnibus-
driver. However, just now, you can only be one thing
a Winchester boy. Try for that."

" I will," said Arthur firmly, " because I know mother
would like it."

" Thank you," pressing the arm that was round her
waist. Youths often like to make love to a little mother,
no bigger than themselves. She looked at him, the boy
that any mother might be proud of that any childless
mother might have craved after with frantic longing
and that his own mother had thrown away. No matter !
he was her son now hers, Susannah's by every right
of justice and duty, if not nature ; and no power on
earth should ever snatch him from her.

She was not sorry to have to take him to Winchester
herself, and make friends for him there, whether he suc-
ceeded or failed; she had begun to feel that their shut-up
life would never do for a growing boy. He would need
companions ; and their only near neighbors, except the
villagers, were the tenants of Tawton Abbas ; families
continually changing, for the idiot heir of the Damerels
still lived on, and it was said that when he died there
would be a grand fight between two distant cousins for
the title and estate. Meanwhile, the lovely old house
was sometimes let, sometimes stood empty, and the


rectory family had the run of the park and gardens.
But of society they had almost none. This did not
matter to Austin and Susannah, but it did to Arthur,
who, now risen above the level of Bob Bates, often
wished for " somebody to play with somebody young."
And therefore, though parting with him would be like
cutting off her right hand, his mother had determined to
send him to school.

" Mr. Hardy and papa both say you can pass if you
try. You must try. Think how grand it would be to
have your name on the Roll."

" And to go and live at Winchester, where I can hear
the cathedral service every day if I like, and learn to sing
in the college chapel."

" You could learn anything, my boy, if you would
only give your mind to it you idle monkey. But you
will work now ? You'll do your very best, and if you
fail well we'll try something else

' But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail ! ' "

" Bravo, mother ! You are such a brick ! You ought
to be a boy yourself."

They laughed, thoroughly understanding one another.
Then not sorry for a brief pause of solitude, in the ner-
vous strain which was greater than she knew, she sent
Arthur off for a walk across the park, and sat down
under the acacia tree on the rectory lawn, watching idly
the swallows flying over the glebe-meadows, where the
cows were feeding, and the trees stood motionless in the
summer silence of the newly-shorn, fresh, green fields.


A peaceful, lovely picture! grown each year more
familiar and more dear. Susannah hoped to watch it year
after year until she died. For she felt sure her husband
would never leave Tawton Magna. He was not ambi-
tious had no desire of church promotion. He too was
quite content with his life. Her eyes followed him,
sauntering up and down the peach-tree walk, writing in
his head his next Sunday's sermon, She thought of all
his goodness, gentleness, and tenderness, not only to her
but to her boy ; and it seemed as if no woman ever had
a happier life than she a life to which no change could
ever come.

At that minute it is strange how often these coin-
cidences happen Arthur came running to her with a

" A boy brought it. I met him at the gate. He says
he has to wait for an answer."

" Take it to papa," she was just saying carelessly,
when something struck her as familiar in the hand-
writing terribly familiar. Many people know what it
is the heart-sinking at sight of one particular hand-
writing, which has been the curse of the family for a

" Mother, you look so white ! What is the matter ? "

" Nothing, dear boy. I will take papa his letter."

It was from Hal Trevena. He was in a small public-
house of the neighboring town, with his wife and child,
and without a halfpenny.

So he said, at least, adding that the inconvenience was
but temporary, as they were on their way to "some
wealthy friends of Mrs. Trevena's residing in Wales."


Only the said Mrs. Trevena had broken down on the
way, and lay dangerously ill, which was, the husband
added, " most inconvenient." He begged for " a small
loan," and that his brother would go and see him.

"Poor Hal poor Hal of course I must go," said
the rector, with a deprecating, distressed look. " And
you would not object to my giving him a little

" No, of course not." She took her husband's hand,
and sat down on the bench beside him, in a sort of dull
submission to fate. The roses were blooming, the bees
humming in them, over the pretty summer-house : the
swallows were darting across the high blue sky, and the
cows feeding in the meadow, just as they had done ten
minutes ago, when she had felt so happy, so thankful to
God for her happiness. And now

" Poor Hal," repeated Austin uneasily. " A sick wife>
does he say ? and he never was used to illness, any more
than I. But I suppose I ought to go to them."

Susannah thought a minute, then she said, " Shall I
go instead of you ? "

" Oh, if you would ! My dear, how kind of you ! "

Mrs. Trevena never answered. She knew it was not
kindness at all, only a desperate preventive against
danger which she foresaw, and could meet, but Austin
could not.

" So very kind," he repeated. " But you forget you
were to take the boy to Winchester to-morrow."

" Mr. Hardy would take him instead of me. And he
might perhaps be as well alone. He must learn to face
the world some time," she added, with a sad kind of


smile. " At any rate, I will go now, and come back as
soon as I can."

But she did not come back. It was only a half-hour's
walk, yet Arthur and his papa sat expecting her in vain,
hour after hour till almost for the first time in his
life the boy had to go to bed without his mother's
good-night kiss. Late, almost at midnight, a messenger
arrived, bringing two letters ; one to Arthur the first he
had ever received explaining that he must go to Win-
chester " like a man " with Mr. Hardy, and do his very
best, so that whether he succeeded or failed in getting
the scholarship, his mother might be proud of her boy.

To her husband she wrote even more briefly. " Hal's
wife is dying. Her little girl it was a girl, not a boy
is her only nurse. We must take them in. Tell Man-
ette to get ready the spare room, and as soon as Arthur
and Mr. Hardy are gone, send a fly here. There is
little luggage he has spent everything they had in the
world. She will be better dead, poor soul ! but she
ought to die peacefully in our house."

This was all Susannah wrote or said.

Next day, in the dusk of the evening, her husband
w r atched her superintend the carrying up-stairs of what
seemed little more than a bundle of clothes, with a white
ghastly face appearing out of it that dying face which,
it was plain to see, would never come down-stairs any
more. Closely following came a little girl ; a small
elfish creature, with thin, starved, withered features, and
great dark eyes she seemed all eyes watching the sick
mother with a kind of fierce jealousy, as if to protect
her from everybody else.


The husband and father did not appear.

" He will be here at supper- time did he not say so,
Nanny I " observed Mrs. Trevena, taking the child's

" He said so but we never believe what papa says,"
was the answer with the cruel candor of ten years old.

So, there they were under her roof Hal Trevena and
his family. And her own boy's room was empty ; and
throughout the house was that terrible silence which
marks the absence of a child a noisy, merry, happy

She had done her duty the duty which lay to her
hand, so plain that she could not choose but do it ; yet,
as she laid her head down for the few minutes of sleep
that she was able to snatch on the sofa, in the chamber
of the dying woman, Susannah's pillow was wet with her


THE next two days went by in quiet hopeless, pas-
sionless quiet. Life yet lingered in Halbert Trevena's
wife; but they all knew and she knew too, they
thought that nothing could save her. She was in the
last stage of consumption, or rather atrophy ; brought
on, no doubt, by misery and privation. By making
dives and guesses at truth through a mass of superin-
cumbent fiction, Susannah gained from her brother-in-
law something of the family history.

It appeared that Nanny christened Anastasia was
their only child; the "son and heir," though not quite
non-existent, having died soon after his birth. The mil-
lionaire father-in-law was also a creation of Captain
Trevena's imagination ; or, at any rate, whatever money
the old man possessed had speedily been drained from
him by his aristocratic son-in-law. During his lifetime
he had protected his daughter and grandchild as well as he
could ; when he died both fell helplessly into the hands
of that personage, to whom, unless he altogether out-
rages morality, the law persists in giving the rights
though he fulfills none of the duties of " husband and
father." The wife, a feeble creature, born to suffer and
complain, had clung to him, probably because she had


nothing else to cling to ; and so they had drifted on,
sinking or swimming, heaven knew how, or how long
it was useless to inquire till they came to England and
to Tawton Magna.

"Not that we meant to inflict ourselves upon you,
except for a short visit," said Captain Trevena, with
great dignity. " We thought of wintering at Bath we
were on our way thither when my dear invalid broke
down. But I hope she will be better soon."

" She will be better soon," repeated Susannah ; but
he either could not or would not understand her mean-
ing, and it was no use to press the fact ; or the other
one, that Tawton was not on the road to Bath at all.
But fact and fiction were inextricably mingled in Cap-
tain Trevena's conversation. Susannah's only desire
was to keep him out of his wife's sick-room which was
not difficult he so hated illness ; and let her slip quietly
into that peace of death which was far better than life.

Poor woman ! what sort of woman she was or had
been, mattered little now. Her sister-in-law inquired
nothing. She did carefully all that could be done for
" the remarkably fine woman " who never could have
been anything but a plain and rather common-looking
person ; she held with her firm soft clasp the dying hand
evidently not a lady's hand and so thin that once in
washing it, the wedding-ring slipped off".

" Don't put it on again keep it for Nanny," was all
the sick woman said ; as if relieved at dying without that'
badge of slavery.

She never asked for her husband, but only for Nanny.
And the child, who had none of the looks and ways of


childhood, scarcely ever left her bedside. Nanny was
small, dark, and plain ; exceedingly like her mother ;
" not a bit of a Trevena " her father said, apologetic-
ally. He evidently did not care for her. NOT, can-
didly speaking, did Susannah herself feel much drawn to
the little girl, except for her entire devotion to her poor

During the long night-watches for, feeling sure the
end was near, she had never taken her clothes off since
that sunny hour of ignorant peace under the acacia tree
the other mother sat and thought ; looking anxiously ahead
as, possibly because Austin never did it, she was prone
to do : weighing well the case, and considering every
claim of duty, and of that much-belauded quality, self-
sacrifice, which so seldom involves the sacrifice of only
one's self. It did not here. To take Nanny as a per-
manent inmate which seemed the most natural and
right thing would alter life entirely to the happy little
family at the rectory. True, Arthur might go to school,
and Nanny come in his place ; but could Susannah love
any child but Arthur? Certainly not Halbert Trevena's
child. And to have him, the father, coming and going,
tormenting Austin, perhaps sowing discord between him
and her or him and Arthur it would be more than
she could bear.

"But perhaps," she said to herself, " I may not have
to bear it. He may want his daughter himself or,"
she was almost ashamed of the thought yet it was true
" the house which held his daughter would be the last
place where he would care to go to."

She was in a great strait ; dreading continually that


the dying woman should speak, and perhaps exact some
death-bed promise that might burden her whole future-
yet what could she do ?

On the forenoon of the second day, seeing no change,
she snatched half an hour of fresh air in the peach-tree
walk " mother's thinking-place," Arthur called it.
There had been a letter from Arthur telling how he
had not as yet been " weeded out," as the incompetent
boys were, day by day a hopeful sign ; but the tug of
war was yet to come.

" And he is all alone by himself my darling boy ! "
she thought, with the natural mother's pang and mother's

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 7 of 15)