Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

King Arthur. Not a love story online

. (page 9 of 15)
Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 9 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


back into boy-life, and tell his mother all about the
delight of Winchester.

No tongue can tell the relief it was when Susannah
found herself sitting in the rectory parlor alone with
her very own two, her husband and son, and nobody
else ! The storm had come and gone ; she had borne it,
had done her duty through it her utmost duty and
now the sky was clear, at least for a time.

Alas, no ! "When Arthur went to bed she told her
husband as much as it seemed desirable to tell about lit-
tle Nanny's affairs, to which Mr. Trevena listened with
his usual absent-mindedness. The worried look gradually
returned to his face ; till at last, when Susannah asked
the natural question, " Any letters ? " he drew one out
of his pocket. It was the long-familiar handwriting that
always foreboded trouble.

" This came yesterday, but I would not answer it till
you returned home. Read it, and tell me what you
think."

It was one of those lucky chances which few men's
lives are quite without ; which had come again and again



134: KING ARTHUR.

to Halbert Trevena, and been thrown away. An old
friend of the family, whom he had just met accidentally,
after having lost sight of for years, had offered him a situ-
ation abroad, at a tea-garden in Ceylon ; a lonafide offer,
for he inclosed the letter in which it was made a most
kind letter from an old man, who knew scarcely any-
thing of him, except that he was a Trevena. It seemed
to have touched that callous heart. Though there would
be hard work and little pay, Hal wished to accept the
situation, and asked his brother " for really the last
time " to assist him ; to pay his passage and give him a
small outfit to begin " a new life in a new land."

" He may prosper there, he is so clever," said Austin.
" And not very old only a year older than I." Indeed
he looked much younger, having such a splendid phy-
sique, and what some cynical physician has called the
secret of long life " a good digestion, and no heart to
speak of." " Who knows, Susannah, but that poor Hal
might do well yet ? "

Susannah, loath to wound this pathetic, lingering, fra-
ternal love, replied that it was "just possible." At any
rate, she felt that some sacrifice was worth making, if
only to get rid of him.

So the money was sent, though not in coin, the pas-
sage being paid to the ship's agent, and the outfitter's
bill ordered to be forwarded to the rectory : precautions
not unnecessary. Hal did not resent them ; he never
resented anything, and always accepted everything.
About his daughter he asked not a single question ; nor
even named her, until his farewell letter, when, apolo-
gizing for having no time to come to Tawton, he said



NOT A LOVE STORY. 135

that he left her " with entire confidence " to the care of
her uncle and aunt.

u Poor fellow ! Perhaps I may never set eyes on him
again the climate of Ceylon is very bad, they say.
Would there be any chance of seeing him off from
Southampton ? "

There was a pathos in Mr. Tre vena's look which his
wife could not resist. Much as it often irritated her, she
could not but see, with a tenderness approaching to rev-
erence, how deep in this good man's heart lay that divine
charity which " believeth all things hopeth all things."
The journey would be a trouble and expense, and the
family finances were already sorely strained would be
more so by the payment for Nanny. Not for Arthur :
oh ! with what glad pride did she reflect that Arthur's
education would cost Mr. Trevena almost nothing. She
calculated a little, and then said :

" If you like, Austin, we will go to Southampton at
once."

" You too ? " he said joyfully. And they started :
their first journey together for many a long year. It
felt almost like a honeymoon.

Susannah had almost expected not to see her brother-
in-law but he was there. He seemed really to have
" turned over a new leaf" as people say though alas !
the new leaf often gets as blurred and blotted as the old
one ! He met them with even more than his customary
empressement, and the trio had a peaceful and pleasant
dinner together at the hotel before joining that company,
sad and strange which goes on board every P. and O.
steamer with last farewells.



136 KING ARTHUR.

Their adieux were, however, no heart-break to any
one. Captain Trevena was in exuberant spirits. The
newly-made widower might have been a gay young
bachelor beginning the world, free as air, with not a
cloud of regret or remorse upon his heart.

" How is Nanny ? " he did once ask ; but he never
waited for the answer; and soon after said quite care-
lessly as it seemed : " By the bye, have you brought the
little ring I wished for ? not that it is worth much, but
I should like to wear it in memory of my late dear wife."

For an instant Susannah was silent with indignant
contempt ; then she said, in a manner that he could not
mistake :

" I know exactly what the ring is worth, for I have
had it valued by a jeweler. But it is not yours it is
Nanny's left her by her grandfather. I shall keep it
for her till she is twenty-one."

" The devil you will ! " And truly the devil himself
glared out of the angry eyes, and spoke in the muttered
execration which followed. But Captain Trevena had
been checkmated or rather he had checkmated himself:
and it was too late now, except for furious looks and
words, which fell harmless upon the little woman before
him. He might as well have stormed against a stone
and he knew it.

However, he thought it wiser to let all pass. His
handsome face recovered its usual bland smile, and by
the time that " All on shore " was called out, he was
ready with a cheery good-bye.

" It really was most kind of you, Austin, to come and
see me off. Give my love to Nanny. Say, I leave her



NOT A LOVE STORY. 137

in charge of the best of uncles and aunts " (with a bow
in which it was difficult to say whether politeness or
sarcasm predominated). u Good-bye to you both good-
bye."

They left him kissing his hand to them as he leant
over the ship's side; but almost before Susannah ven-
tured to speak to her husband, who had turned aside,
the tears running down his cheeks, she saw Halbert
laughing and talking with some ladies : he had already
made acquaintance with several of the passengers, and
before reaching Suez would doubtless be the most popu-
lar man on board.

" No need to grieve for him," she thought, biit said
nothing. Nor did her husband. All the under tragedies
of life are often acted and perhaps best in total silence.

" Hal may do well yet," Mr. Trevena said, as a sort
of remorseful balance-weight against the deep sense of
relief that they both felt in coming back, they two alone,
to their peaceful home. Except for that grave, equally
peaceful, in the churchyard hard by, all the last weeks
might have been a painful dream. Once more the rector
and his wife sauntered leisurely up and down the peach-
tree walk, and Arthur went back to his lessons, and was
for ever asking his papa about old Winchester days
which the old Wykehamite recalled with utmost enthu-
siasm the days " when Hal and I were boys together ; "
only one was an idler and the other a worker. Still
Austin often ended with the sigh u But Hal may do
well yet."

He might have done though it is seldom that at the
eleventh hour the Ethiopian changes his skin and the



138 KING ARTHUR.

leopard his spots but fate cruel or merciful, who dare
say ! ordained it otherwise.

Three days after he sailed the daily newspaper brought
to the rectory, and to many another English home,
tidings of one of those disasters at sea, which not sel-
dom happen to outward-bound ships a collision in the
channel. The emigrant ship a miserable unseaworthy
craft went down immediately, but the passengers and
crew of the large steamer did their best to save all the
lives they could, launching boats, and helping the drown-
ing wretches to climb on board. One passenger in par-
ticular, it was said, had assisted many, holding on at the
ship's side, and throwing out from thence ropes and life-
preservers. But the vessel gave a lurch he fell over-
board and never rose again. The name of this brave
passenger, it was ascertained, was Halbert Trevena.

So all "was over. No more hope nor fear. His
death, more honorable than ever his life had been, cov-
ered over its many shortcomings or sins. " Captain
Trevena's heroic conduct " was mentioned in the news-
papers : and for months after, letters- of condolence,
admiration, and gratitude, reached the rectory from
friends and strangers. ISTo one could have desired a
more lauded or lamented end.

Scarcely a melancholy end, Susannah sometimes
thought. For his last act had been perhaps the noblest
in his life. Better he should die as he did, and when he
did, and be spoken of with praise and remembered with
tenderness. She thought, with untold thankfulness, of
that journey to Southampton, and how the brothers had
parted in peace, with kindly good wishes, hopes and



NOT A LOVE STORY. 139

prayers which perhaps Heaven had answered in its
own way.

There was no need to go and console Nanny for the
death of a parent who had never been such to her except
in name ; but Mrs. Trevena collected carefully all that
the newspapers had said in his praise, and every letter
which reached the rectory concerning him, asking Miss
Grogan to keep them for Nanny, and teach the child to
forget everything about her father except his blameless
and heroic end.



CHAPTER VI

YOUNG lovers are a sweet and pleasant sight: and so
are young married people, absorbed in their present
bliss, with the future stretching out before them, all in a
golden haze. But the sweetest and sacredest sight of
all is an elderly couple to whom hope has become cer-
tainty : whose future has narrowed down to a quiet
present yet who love one another still, and by the
strength and perfectness of that love are able to enjoy
JSTow, without regretting Then.

Thus it was with Mr. and Mrs. Trevena. Though
married late in life, their real union had begun so early,
that neither had a past or desired a future in which the
other had no share. Of course, their felicity had not
been unclouded : what human happiness is ? But " the
little rift within the lute " which happens in almost all
marriages, and has power in many to " make the music
mute " had been closed by wise hands ; partly the
hand of Providence, and partly let it be honestly said !
their own. There is no marriage which cannot be made
unhappy there are few marriages which cannot be
made less unhappy if the parties concerned so choose.

Austin and Susannah had not grown less happy as
they grew older rather the contrary. He no longer



NOT A LOVE STORY.

sacrificed everything, his wife included, on the shrine
of what is called " family duty " a religion which,
begun in the noblest faith, sometimes degenerates into
a mere fetish-worship of what is essentially mean and
base. And Susannah, when, also out of duty, she let
her boy become a schoolboy, and contented herself with
only seeing him in the holidays was saved from that
passion of maternal idolatry which might have proved
equally fatal for him, for her, and for her husband.
Gradually she learnt the inevitable lesson of all
mothers to sit still and see their children happy on
their own account. Not ceasing to make them happy,
but ceasing to feel wounded because the new generation
has a happiness apart from the old.

When Arthur's letters came, brimful of enjoyment,
Greek and football, cricket, music, and mathematics
being inextricably muddled up together for the young
u King " verified the adage of " good at work, good at
play " ; full too of Winchester slang, which Mr. Trevena
recalled with delight, and protested was not vulgar at
all, but only archaic and historical the unexacting
mother read the brief postscript " How are you all at
home ? " and did not expect more. She knew her dar-
ling loved her in his heart ; and that the thirteen years
during which she had had him all to herself, to train
both mind and body in the right way, would never be
lost, but bear fruit in time to come.

Yet when he returned, after a few months, a regular
Winchester boy, at first he seemed something new and
strange. He had grown very tall; and, it could not
be denied, promised to be extremely handsome : even



142 KING ARTHUR.

though he had cropped his curly hair in the cruellest
way, and scarred his long slender hands with knife-cuts ;
nay, as he told his mother with great pride, had been
within an inch of breaking his beautiful Roman nose.
Still, despite these drawbacks, when he went to church
with her the first Sunday, he was a boy that most people
would have turned round to look at, and whom any
mother would be proud to have standing by her side,
and singing away " like a cherubim " one old woman
in the congregation said with the waning beauty of his
boyish voice, which had made him already notable in
the Winchester choir.

" Whether or not Arthur will turn out handsome, he
certainly looks every inch a gentleman," she said to her
husband as they took their peaceful stroll between ser-
vices, up and down the peach-tree walk.

" All Wykehamites are gentlemen," the rector an-
swered with pardonable prejudice.

But she had meant something more than that.
" What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh "
is a truth which there is no gainsaying. All the educa-
tion in the world would never have put into Arthur
what did not inherently exist there. There must have
been good material, natural or hereditary, to work upon.
E"ow, far more than when he was a baby her own inno-
cent, helpless baby did Susannah speculate about him,
noticing every new development, and contrasting him
with other children. Especially with Nanny, who
shortly after also came home for the holidays.

The "last of the Trevenas," as her uncle sometimes
pathetically called her, was, Mrs. Trevena thought, very



NOT A LOVE STORY. 143

inferior to her own Arthur. Nanny was a good little
girl; but she was prim and quiet, taciturn and plain.
She could not compare at all with the big schoolboy
full of life, health, and activity. Not that Arthur was
ever unkind to her ; but he just ignored her, as school-
boys do ignore little girls, unless specially attractive. He
tried to be civil and polite brought her flowers and con-
descendingly took her a walk now and then ; but he told
his mother confidentially that li Nanny was a big baby "
and escaped from her society whenever he politely
could. At which poor Nanny used to look so miserable,
that Mrs. Trevena considered seriously whether it would
not be better in future to arrange the child's home-com-
ing at a different time from Arthur's.

But next year Fate took the decision out of her hands ;
for Miss Grogan had a severe illness, and Nanny, with a
resolution which her uncle and aunt had not expected in
so small a child, absolutely refused to leave her.

"Nanny always was a devoted little creature," said
Mrs. Trevena, remembering those few days in the sick-
room the room of death. But still she was not sorry
to have her boy all to herself for those brief, too brief
holiday weeks ; when she could watch him growing up
to manhood the delight of her heart the desire of
her eyes.

He was in truth a very fine young fellow. At sixteen
he was little short of six feet high. Slender and stipple
as a willow-wand, yet not lanky; very muscular and
strong for his age. He was good at all athletic sports,
and made as much use of his body as he did of his
brains. His mother's maxim, " Better to wear out than



144 KING ARTHUR.

rust out," seemed exemplified in "King" Arthur
though he did not seem likely to wear out for the next
threescore years at least ; for the wholesome upbringing
of his childhood had resulted in a healthy youth, and
bade fair to develop into a splendid manhood.

Often when she looked at him, she wondered whence
all this came this wealth of physical and mental power;
much as Merlin must have wondered, when he saw grow
up under his eyes the " little naked child ; " naked of
every hereditary blessing ; owing fortune nothing not
even a name.

" The boys always call you Trevena ? " she once said
to him anxiously. " They they ask no questions ? "

Arthur blushed, as he had done more than once lately
when strangers made unconscious ignorant remarks;
such as noticing his height, and saying he " took after
his papa."

" They did chaff me at first, mother just a little.
And one fellow called me Nemo but I thrashed him to
within an inch of his life. And then I told the other
fellows the plain truth about myself, as you advised me.
Nobody ever said an ill word to me afterwards."

So, already had begun for Arthur that battle with the
world, from which his mother could not defend him she
could only give him strength for the conflict.

" That was well," she answered gently. " Indeed, I
think only a ( sneak ' or a t cad,' as you call them, would
have been unkind to you. A name and even a family
are not worth much sometimes were not to poor little
Sir Eustace Damerel, who died last Christmas. We shall
see what the new Damerels will be like. They came to



NOT A LOVE STORY.

Tawton Abbas last week, and will likely be at church
next Sunday."

Thus said she, to turn away her boy's thoughts from
himself. But she need not have feared Arthur's nature
was too wholesome, and his youth too full of hope and
brightness, to have any morbid or sentimental feelings
about either his origin or his future lot. And Win-
chester had not made him oblivious of Tawton Magna.
He took the vividest interest in hearing about the Dam-
erels Sir Charles and his lady ; who had inherited the
title and estates, and come to reside at the great house
which, being the only house except farm-houses for miles
round, was a matter of some importance to the rectory.

" Do you mean to call there, mother ? You ought,"
said Arthur who was a little given to laying down the
law as is not uncommon at sixteen. " Are they young
folks or old ? Have they got any children ? "

"I believe they are rather elderly people; distant
cousins, whom nobody ever heard about till lately. And
I think, but I am not sure they have no children."

At which Arthur's interest died down he said he
didn't care for "old fogies." And next Sunday he
scarcely glanced in the direction of the Tawton Abbas
pew, where, in the two arm-chairs which had stood there
for generations back, sat the new Baronet and Lady
Damerel. They sat, with dead Damerels underfoot and
monuments to the same overhead the last representa-
tives of the race. Only their two selves ; though report
declared they had had several children all dead now.
Susannah wondered how a childless couple should ever
have cared to claim either title or property.
7



146 KING ABTHUB.

Of course they were stared at eagerly by the whole
congregation. A curious pair she, a fine-looking, fash-
ionable woman, with a complexion much too fair and
hair much too dark for her age ; but the simple villagers
suspected nothing, and set her down as being younger
than her husband, who was a feeble-looking, melancholy
little man, nigh upon seventy. Two footmen had helped
him into church, and set him in his chair, whence he
never moved, for his feet and hands were all knotted
and distorted with rheumatism. But he had a mild and
not unpleasing face aristocratic aquiline "as big a
nose as mine," Arthur said, in commenting upon them
after church. " But oh ! I wouldn't be Sir Charles
Damerel for the world ! "

" Nor I Lady Damerel," said Mrs. Trevena. " Poor
woman what an unhappy face ! No wonder, if she has
lost all her children."

And Susannah almost regretted having stopped to
speak to them at the church door, introducing herself as
the rector's wife, and Arthur as " my son." " How she
must envy me ! " thought the tender-hearted soul, and
blamed herself for flaunting before the childless woman
her own superior bliss.

" I don't think Lady Damerel's children could have
been very fond of her," remarked Arthur sententiously.
" She may be good-looking, but she has the hardest and
most unpleasant face I ever saw. My little mammy is
worth a hundred of her," added he, putting his arm
round his mother's waist as of old ; he was now growing
past the age when boys are ashamed of their mothers,
and he petted and patronized her to her heart's content.



NOT A LOVE STORY. 14:7

Still, he was too much of the schoolboy to care to " go
about visiting/' and absolutely declined unless she par-
ticularly wished it to accompany her to Tawton Abbas,
or make acquaintance with that " horrid old couple ; "
over whom she had such unnecessary compassion that
even the rector smiled.

"My dear Susannah, I can't see that Lady Damerel
needs the least pity or desires it. I hear she is a most
accomplished woman ; will fill the house with brilliant
society, and be popular everywhere. The rector's wife
will be nobody the squire's wife will take the shine out
of you completely."

" I'd like to see it ! " cried Arthur, blazing up ; " I'd
like to find the lady who was fit to hold a candle to
my mother ! " he continued, dragging forward the easiest
arm-chair and putting her into it, and waiting upon her
unremittingly during their pleasant Sunday supper,
when all the servants were out, and Arthur did every-
thing. He had that happy knack of true gentleman-
hood, never to be ashamed of doing everything or any-
thing : always ready to notice every one's need, and sup-
ply it especially his mother's.

" You are my eyes, my hands, and my feet," she
sometimes said to the boy ; and gave herself up, more
and more every holidays, to the delight of being depend-
ent of leaning on her big son, with a sort of triumphant
weakness that was utmost joy.

But he was an obstinate young monkey for all his good
qualities ; possessing strongly the violent likes and dis-
likes of youth. And so it happened that for two whole
years he never crossed the threshold of Tawton Abbas.
K



148 KING AETHUR.

Nor did the rector and his wife very often not oftener
than politeness and their position demanded. Susannah
had few interests in common with the fashionable woman
of the world, who was afraid of growing old, and who
seemed to have no youth to remember ; at least she never
mentioned it. Austin, too, had little sympathy with Sir
Charles, who, though gentle and gentlemanly, did not
seem to have two ideas in his head read no books, took
no special interest in anything, and seemed mortally in
fear of his clever wife. She on her part noticed him
very little, and led a regular society-life at least as gay
a one as she could accomplish going to London when-
ever she could, and bringing London people down with
her on every possible occasion. But she mixed very lit-
tle with the neighboring families, who, being unable to
discover her antecedents (Sir Charles's, of course, were
patent he was a Damerel and that was enough), con-
cluded there was " something odd " about her. Perhaps,
as she had some slight accent, not quite English, and
spoke several continental tongues, she was a foreigner
never much approved of in provincial society. Still, she
was very handsome very lady-like ; all the gentlemen
admired her, but the ladies thought her " not domestic,"
and wondered that at her age she should care for con-
certs, private theatricals, and the like.

However, to their opinion of her Lady Damerel
seemed wholly indifferent. She gave a tenants' ball at
Christmas, and a garden-party, to all classes not lower
than doctors and lawyers, every summer. But beyond
that the village and the rectory saw almost nothing of
her, except at church, which she attended regularly, and



NOT A LOVE STORY. 149

where Mrs. Trevena, tender-hearted still, often compas-
sionated the discontented look and restless manner of
the rich, clever, prosperous woman, who had neither son
nor daughter not even niece or nephew at her empty
fireside.

" How very empty it must be when the visitors go,
and Sir Charles and she are left alone," Susannah said
one day. " I think I will really pluck up heart ; go
and call at Tawton Abbas, and take Nanny with me."
Nanny happened to be staying for a fortnight at the
rectory, and her uncle and aunt had found her so harm-
less, even pleasant in the house, that they had kept her
for a month. But the call resulted in nothing not
even an invitation to tea for the quiet unimpressive little
maiden, who was stared at from the piercing black eyes,
through a double pince-nez.

" Miss Trevena did you say ? Your daughter, I


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikKing Arthur. Not a love story → online text (page 9 of 15)