Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

. (page 8 of 15)
Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 8 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

yearning ; then remembered that other mother who was
about to leave her child "all alone by itself " nay
worse than alone for ever.

The soft sleepy summer day seemed quite dreadful in
its calm. And she could speak to no one least of all
to her husband, who looked so worried and weary, who
tried to smile, while his brother smoked in his study and
drank his wine, and conversed with him from morning
till night ; loud talk boasting talk, in which it was a
severe brain-exercise to distinguish what was truth and
what were in plain English lies.

Doubtless .he was at it now for she could smell a
cigar in the summer-house ; but the second voice there
was not the rector's it was the low whimpering of a

She had meant to avoid the spot ; but now she walked
right towards it. Susannah had one great weakness
she never could hear a child cry without going to see
what was amiss.


There stood Captain Trevena, with his little girl be-
fore him. He held her by the shoulders and was shaking
her as a big dog shakes a hare. And not unlike a hunted
hare's was the look of those frightened pathetic eyes.

" I'll teach you to hide things from your father," he
was saying in a voice very different from his bland con-
versation-tone. " Wait till your mother is dead and
then Once more where does she keep that dia-
mond ring ? "

" Mother made me promise not to tell anybody and
I won't tell," sobbed the child.

" You won't ? Then, take that and that and that."

With each word came a blow what the advocates of
corporal punishment for children would call "just a box
on the ear." But blows they were; and they rang
loudly on either side of the poor little head the head
with the delicate brain.

Susannah darted forward " Brute ! " she muttered
beneath her breath : and snatched Nanny out of reach
of the father's hand the hand nominally that of a
man and a gentleman lifted against a child. Taking
the little girl in her arms though ten years old Nanny
was piteously small and light Mrs. Trevena faced her
brother-in-law with flashing eyes.

Brutes are almost always cowards. Captain Trevena's
rage evaporated in the mildest politeness.

" I am sorry you should have come at such an inop-
portune moment. A little wholesome chastisement
all parents must have the pain of administering it some-
times. But perhaps your boy is so perfect that he never
requires whipping ? "


"I should scorn to whip him. I should feel that
every blow I gave to him was a degradation to myself.
And for your child touch her again if you dare ! "

Then the superficial gloss melted off, and the " brute "
nature harsh word, but true ! re-asserted itself.

" You had better not interfere between me and Nanny.
I'll do as I like with my own."

''You will not," said Susannah resolutely. "No
man's child is his own to do as he likes with. He must
be a true parent or he has no parental rights at all.
Nanny ! little Nanny ! "

But the child heard nothing. She had fainted.

" You see ? " said Susannah, showing the white little
face which lay on her shoulder. " Now go. It is the
best thing you can do."

She said not another word her scorn was too great.
Under it he slunk away to the other end of the garden :
where half an hour afterwards, "when Nanny was quite
recovered, having made no word of complaint or expla-
nation except " Don't tell mother," he was seen walking
and smoking with leisurely grace, just as if nothing had

From that moment Mrs. Trevena's mind was made
up. She did not feel particularly drawn to Nanny, who
was not an interesting child ; but she was a child, and
every womanly and motherly feeling in Susannah's nat-
ure revolted from the thought of her being left helpless,
motherless, in the hands of such a father.

" I don't want to do it I would prefer not to
do it," she said to her husband in the few minutes'
talk they had together that night. "But there is no


alternative. "When Nanny's mother dies we must take
the child."

"I suppose we must," said Austin with a troubled air.
" But she is not the least bit of a Trevena."

" No, thank God ! " Susannah was on the point of
saying, but stopped, and leaning down kissed the
wrinkled brow that she had loved ever since it was
smooth and young. "You are the best man I ever
knew in all my life. You do your duty whatever
comes. Do it still, Austin, and so shall I."

Before settling again to her nightly watch, she tucked
up little Nanny in her sofa-bed, and kissed her kindly,
rather than tenderly. She felt kindly to every child,
but she had no heart of love for any but Arthur. Then
seeing Nanny's mother was watching her apparently
wide awake, and wishing to talk she came and sat
down by the bedside, prepared for whatever might

" Nanny is fast asleep she was rather tired. She is a
good little girl."

The gentle whisper was answered by a faint pressure
of Susannah's hand. " Yes very good. I want to speak
to you about Nanny."

It was not an hour for disguising, or delaying, the
truth. Still, Mrs. Trevena could not help saying, " By
and by, when you are better."

" I shall never be better. I don't want to be better
I want to die except for Nanny." And as she spoke,
very feebly and faintly, two great tears stole from the
dying eyes, and rolled down the wasted cheeks.

All the mother in Susannah's heart yearned over this


other mother, obliged to go and leave her child alone in
a cruel world. She paused a minute, and then said,
though feeling keenly all that the promise involved, and
how hard a sacrifice it was to make it, " Be content about
ISTanny. "We my husband and I will always take
care of her."

To her astonishment, the sick woman, instead of show-
ing gratitude, fell into an agony of distress.

" No no no. It is the last thing I should wish. Let
her be taken right away brought up anyhow, anywhere
but not with the Trevenas. ISTo Trevenas no
Trevenas," she kept muttering; while shudder after
shudder passed over her.

Mrs. Trevena felt neither anger nor pain not even
surprise. In her sister-in-law's place she knew she should
have said the same. There have been mothers she
could understand it who would rather see their chil-
dren die than leave them in the hands of their father.

" I am not a Trevena," she said soothingly. " Can you
not trust me ? "

The dying eyes opened; and the two women both
mothers looked fixedly at each other. What different
faces ! what different lives ! But was it entirely Fate
that had done it ? Do we not constantly see some women
who conquer Fate, and make peace out of misery ? while
others throw away the happiest lot and convert it into
woe ? However, this is a mystery which none can un-
ravel : Susannah never attempted to do so.

She took her sister-in-law's hand, and by degrees suc-
ceeded in winning from her enough confidence to get

some light on the dark future.


It seemed, the woman's one hope in coming to Eng-
land had been that she might live long enough to place
her child with her own former governess a Miss Grogan
who kept a small school at Bath, and would educate
Nanny, whether paid or not paid, until she could earn
her own living ; and also protect her from the one person
in the world against whom she required protection her

" Miss Grogan knows everything ; she was with us in
Australia she is altogether faithful. Take Nanny to
her take her yourself, and don't tell him the address
Nanny knows it only Nanny. Hide the child from him
hide her ! If I could only hide her with me in the
grave ! she would be safe there."

" She shall be safe I will see to that. Be satisfied."

Susannah's low firm voice and reassuring clasp, seemed
to bring some comfort to the miserable woman, whose
misery would soon be past. For such as she there is no
refuge except death ; and her sister-in-law knew it.

" Yes, I think I may trust you as you said, you are
not a Trevena. Look here ! "

Opening her night-dress, she showed, suspended round
her neck, a valuable ring. In the dim candlelight the
stone one huge diamond glittered with a ghastly
brightness on the poor withered breast, little more than
skin and bone.

" When I am dead, take care of this. My father found
it at Ballarat, and left it to Nanny. It is all she has.
Don't let him see it don't let him get it. You
promise ? "

" I promise."


And for the first time Susannah kissed her sister-in-
law. When her lips touched the brow she felt the
death-damp already gathering there. A violent fit of
coughing came on, and after that there was quiet.

Should she disturb this last hour of peace ? Susannah
decided not. Should she call the household or fetch
the husband who was such only in name, and in reality
a torment and a terror, to trouble the dying woman ?
The poor soul wished. for nobody, asked for nobody;
except that towards dawn, when there was a faint twit-
ter of sparrows under the eaves outside, she opened her
eyes and looked wistfully round.

" Where's Nanny ?"

" Asleep on her sofa there ; but I can lift her and put
her beside you."

" Please, yes. Thank you. God bless you." Many
a year after Susannah remembered that benediction.

She lifted the little girl, who half waked up, and then
with a contented murmur put her arm round her
mother's neck, and went to sleep again. Susannah would
have moved it the little soft arm, heavy with sleep
but the mother refused.

" No no. Don't disturb the child."

They were her last words.

Mrs. Trevena had watched by many a death-bed, but
this one was so peaceful that she hardly recognized it
was such. Mother and child dropped asleep together
so quietly and naturally that she thought the end might
not come for a good while yet. She sat, watching the
daybreak grow, little by little, full of many and anxious
thoughts, that wandered far away into the dim future,


making her forget the present. At last, hearing the
church clock strike five, she rose softly to undraw the
curtain, and returning to the bed, looked at the sleepers.

He had come the great Divider. The child was
breathing softly, in the deepest, happiest slumber; the
mother yes! she slept too: she would never wake to
sorrow any more.

Susannah lifted Nanny in her arms, covering her face
with a shawl : and carried her, still fast asleep, into the
next room, where she laid her down in Arthur's bed.
Then she came back ; closed the eyes and straightened
the limbs of the dead ; and kneeling by the bedside wept,
as she never thought she should have wept for Halbert
Trevena's wife ; scarcely with grief but with a tender-
ness, the memory of which never departed from her

When Captain Trevena descended to his usual late
and solitary breakfast, he received the news of his wife's
death, which he took so easily as quite to relieve Mrs.
Trevena's conscience for not having* summoned him

" Poor dear girl ! "Well it was to be expected. I
hope she did not suffer at the last ? "

But whether or not she had suffered, or how and when
she died, he did not stay to hear. His brother was a
great deal more moved than he. Still, neither of them
asked to enter the room, where, sweeter far in death
than in life, the dead wife and mother lay.

It was not till nearly mid-day that Mrs. Trevena, who
had left Nanny still sound asleep in Arthur's bed, heard
through the silent house a wild cry, and found the child


standing, lialf-dressed as she was, battering frantically
against the locked door, and screaming aloud for

How Susannah got through the next half-hour, she
hardly knew ; how she managed to tell the child the
truth, and gradually to quiet her despair. But in such
crises words often come which seem like inspirations ;
and there was in Susannah's very silence in the touch
of her hand and her kiss, something so essentially
motherly, that the motherless child at last sobbed her-
self to sleep on her bosom, and was again laid in Arthur's

Then Mrs. Trevena went to her own ; and overcome
with sheer exhaustion, she too fell asleep.

"When she woke up tight, rough, boyish arms were
round her neck, and she was almost smothered in kisses.

" Mammy, mammy. I've come back, and I'm on the
Roll fifth on the Roll. I've beaten ninety boys, though
I never went to school. Next term I shall be a Win-
chester boy and in five years more an Oxford man
for I'll try to get to New College. I will, mother ! How
glad you'll be ! "

And Arthur was very much astonished to find his
mother weeping on his neck as he had never seen her
weep in all his life before. His had been such a happy
young life ; so entirely free from the shadow of death
from every shadow of every kind that no wonder he
was startled.

He had rushed in with his joyful news, to find the
house empty and silent ; for the two brothers were in
the churchyard choosing a grave ; and the servants were


all in the kitchen " talking things over." No one had
seen him arrive, or told him anything.

" I ran into the dining-room, and the parlor, and then
up to my room there's a queer little girl fast asleep in
my bed and then I ran in here. Mother, what is the
matter? Why do you cry? Who has been vexing

Mrs. Trevena made her son sit down by her happy
living child and living mother ! and explained all that
had happened.

Some men, and boys too, have that be^t characteristic
of true manhood tenderness over the weak and the suf-
fering. Mrs. Trevena had seen it in Arthur before now,
but never so plainly as when he went with her of his
own accord " to comfort poor little Nanny."

Nanny was awake, crying quietly, but not troubling
anybody ; it seemed to have been the law of her young
life that she was not to trouble anybody.

" I have brought my son to see you, Nanny. Kiss
her, Arthur." And the two children, with the wonder-
ful freemasonry of childhood, kissed one another, and
made friends immediately.

They were a great contrast ; one so big and tall and
strong ; handsome too bright-looking as bright-hearted ;
the other puny, dark, and plain nothing at all attract-
ive about her except large pitiful brown eyes, as pathetic
as a hunted deer's. She looked up in the big boy's face,
as if wondering if he too were going to hurt her and
then she began to smile.

Arthur took hold of the child's hand he evidently
thought her the merest baby; and proposed that she


should go with him to see his big Newfoundland, Nero,
and his pretty pigeons. And Nanny went.

Thankfully Mrs. Trevena saw that Arthur comforted
the poor little girl twenty times better than she could
have done. And it gladdened her to notice that during
the next dreary three days he did not forsake the shut-up
house, or get weary of the heartbroken and often fretful
child. That deep pity which is always deepest in the
strongest hearts, had been awakened in the boy. He was
chivalrous, tender, and patient too, with poor Nanny, to
a degree that his mother had hardly thought possible in a
lively active lad of thirteen. But she rejoiced as she did
in every new development of character which foretold
what sort of man her " King" Arthur would become.

He seemed to have quite forgotten his own success,
which Mr. Hardy said had been most remarkable. Not
a word was spoken about Winchester until the days of
busy quiet " with death in the house " were ended, and
Nanny's mother had been laid to rest in the churchyard
close by.

Nanny was not at the funeral nor Arthur. Mrs.
Trevena sent the children away for a long walk across
country, and when they came back the blinds were all
drawn up and the liouse looking as usual. So Nanny's
last remembrance of her mother was as Mrs. Trevena
had determined it should be that peaceful falling asleep
with her arm round her neck, as seemed to have been
the habit of years.

Captain Trevena followed his wife to the grave with
due decorum, and in a new suit of best black clothes,
provided by his brother. Outsiders might have thought


he mourned sincerely the wife whose life he had made
utterly miserable. Perhaps he did regret her for a day.

All that evening he was rather subdued and grave ;
spoke kindly to his daughter, and approved of her
mourning-dress arranged like everything else, by her
" kindest of aunts " to whom he left every responsibil-
ity. Except a passing remark about " a little ring a
sort of crystal, of no particular value," which, if she
found, he should like to have, " to wear in remembrance
of my late dear wife" except this observation, which
Mrs. Trevena never answered, he asked no question about
anything. In truth there was nothing to inquire about.
Save the clothes they had on, mother and child seemed
to have possessed scarcely a rag in the world.

Captain Trevena was better off. And when at sup-
per-time he announced that he should want Bob Bates
to carry his portmanteau to the nearest station, as he
thought of going to London " for a few days' rest and
change" nobody attempted to hinder him.

He went, and it was a relief when he was gone. To
see Nanny, whom he had forgotten to say good-bye to,
break into a broad smile of happiness when told her
father had departed, was the most piteous condemnation
that any father could have earned.

" Mother, I hate that man ! He is no more like my
papa than than " words failed to Arthur's youth-
ful indignation. "I'll never call him c Uncle' as long
as I live."

" You need not," answered the mother, gravely. " He
is not your uncle, and Nanny is not your cousin ; but
you can always call her so."


" I will ! and I'll protect her to the end of my
days." And Arthur looked as if he knew how much
she needed protection which, very likely, he did know,
though with the not uncommon reticence of childhood
the two young creatures kept their own counsel. It had
been one of the chivalrous teachings of " King " Arthur's
mother to her boy " Never complain ! "

No one was much surprised, or very sorry, when a
whole week passed, and Captain Trevena did not reap-
pear. Meantime, Mrs. Trevena, who never let grass
grow under her feet when there was anything to be
done, had written to the address which Nanny gave her
the child was a curious mixture of babyishness and
sad precocity and had received a neatly written and
kindly worded letter, signed " Anastasia Grogan," saying
the writer would be glad to receive her goddaughter im-
mediately, in her quiet home at Bath.

"I will take Nanny there myself," said Susannah,
explaining to her husband the dead mother's wish, and
obeying it by not even telling him Miss Grogan's ad-
dress : Austin was too tender-hearted to be trusted with
a secret that concerned his clever brother. "And I
think I will take her at once."

For she felt that with the then existing English law,
which even yet maintains the fiction of mediaeval and
ancient days, that a man's wife and children are his
mere goods and chattels to deal with as he chooses, it
would not be safe to wait Captain Trevena's return.

Susannah was not a coward. She was determined, by
fair means or foul, to snatch this poor innocent a girl

too out of her father's hands ; to circumvent him, and


the law too, if necessary, by all possible means. She
had no conscience-stings no scruple about parental
rights there can be no rights where duties are left un-

" God gave me no children," she sighed to herself, as
she watched Arthur and Nanny at play in the garden
Nanny had blossomed out like a flower in that one
week's peace and love. " But I have saved one child :
perhaps it may be His will that I shall help to save an-

So, one fine morning leaving a line for Austin, who
had gone to a diocesan meeting she started with the
two, for she dared not leave Arthur behind, and, be-
sides, he was company for Nanny. Her heart melted as
she wrote the brief note, almost the first since her mar-
riage, to her " beloved husband," from whom she had
never been parted for a day. She knew her departure
would vex and grieve him, but he would be glad after-
wards. For sometimes, in the relief and peace of his
brother's absence, the rector had begun to notice his
little niece, and once had even taken her on his knee,
and remarked that she had " the Trevena hands."

" She is, after all, the last of the Trevenas his own
flesh and blood : if I can save her, Austin will be glad."

So thought the faithful wife faithful, though stern
as the train whirled her away to Bath, she sitting silent,
and her two " children " opposite chattering like a couple
of magpies. Two children neither of them her own,
yet God seemed to have given them to her, and she ac-
cepted the trust. If she could only make them His chil-
dren, her life would not have been in vain.


Had Miss Grogan proved unsatisfactory, she had de-
termined, at all risk and cost, to bring Nanny back to
the rectory; but it was needless. She found a bright
little house, on the top of one of the pleasant Bath hills,
and in it a bright little woman Irish, certainly, but of
that type of Irishwoman which English folk are so slow
to believe in. Tidy, accurate, methodical ; keeping her
house " in apple-pie order," and herself " as neat as a
new pin;" to these proverbially un-Irish qualities Miss
Grogan added others, which even enemies allow to the
children of the Emerald Isle a warm heart, a blithe
spirit, quick sympathy, and ready generosity. Withal,
that most desirable thing in man or woman courage.
Elderly as she was, there was a sparkle in Miss Grogan's
soft Irish eyes which showed that she knew how to de-
fend a friend and to face a foe. Susannah felt instinct-
ively that the poor feeble dead woman had judged
rightly. Here was the right person to bring up, and, if
necessary, to protect, the w r orse than orphan child.

" Yes, I know him," was all Miss Grogan said of Hal-
bert Trevena. " I agree with you ; the best thing we
can do for Nanny is never to mention her father's name,
' Non ragionam de lor, ma guarda e passa,' " added
she, with a little innocent pedantry she was evidently
a well-educated woman. And so the subject ended.

For a long time the godmother refused to accept any
money for Nanny, but finally her Irish pride had to sub-
mit to her evidently narrow means, and the practical
common sense of Mrs. Trevena; and it was agreed that
a fair annual payment should be guaranteed by Nanny's
uncle and aunt, if they both lived.


" And if we die," said Susannah, " there is still this
diamond ring."

"I know it of old."

" He says it is ' of no particular value.' "

" Let us find out," was the answer, with a smile, that
might have been called sarcastic, had not Miss Grogan
been such a very pleasant old lady.

So the two elders went the two children following
down into the pleasant streets of Bath, to a jeweler's
there, and found that the diamond, though roughly set,
was of great value probably worth three or four hun-
dred pounds.

Susannah breathed with new relief and thankfulness.

" Then, in any case, the child will not be destitute.
Should we die before she is grown up, it will suffice to
educate her. Do you hear, Nanny ? " for she felt it bet-
ter that the child, who knew so much, should know
everything. " This ring is yours, your grandfather's
gift : it is worth several hundred pounds, and you shall
have it when you are twenty-one, or when you marry."

" I don't mean to marry mamma told me not it
would only make me miserable," said the child, her tears
beginning to flow, as they always did when she spoke of
her mother ; but the consoler was at hand. She turned
to him gratefully " Yes, I think I will marry I'll
marry you, Cousin Arthur and then you will get the
diamond ring."

Arthur blushed schoolboy fashion ; and Miss Gro-
gan said primly, " My dear, you are too young to talk
about such things." Mrs. Trevena said nothing, but
was conscious of a queer sensation, scarcely an arrow


more like a pin-prick at her heart, for which she
laughed at herself, but did not get rid of it not for

She left Nanny quite content, for her godmother was
evidently well remembered by her ; and there had ap-
peared at tea-time two little girls, Australian-born, who
had been confided to Miss Grogan for education. These
young companions lessened the grief of parting with
Arthur : and Arthur himself seemed to feel he had done
his utmost duty to " only a girl," and might now plunge

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 8 of 15)