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- Michael's Crag - 5/19 -
as I told you, once owned St. Michael's Mount; so, for that and various other reasons, I've made a special study of St. Michael the Archangel, and all that pertains to him." And then he went on to give a long and learned disquisition, which Le Neve and Walter Tyrrel only partially followed, about the connection between St. Michael and the Celtic race, as well as about the archangel's peculiar love for high and airy situations. Most of the time, indeed, Le Neve was more concerned in watching Cleer Trevennack's eyes, as her father spoke, than in listening to the civil servant's profound dissertation. He gathered, however, from the part he caught, that St. Michael the Archangel had been from early days a very important and powerful Cornish personage, and that he clung to high places on the tors and rocks because he had to fight and subdue the Prince of the Air, whom he always destroyed at last on some pointed pinnacle. And now that he came to think of it, Eustace vaguely recollected he had always seen St. Michael, in pictures or stained glass windows, delineated just so --with drawn sword and warrior's mien--in the act of triumphing over his dragon-like enemy on the airy summit of some tall jagged crag or rock-bound precipice.
As for Mrs. Trevennack, she watched her husband every moment he spoke with a close and watchful care, which Le Neve hardly noticed, but which didn't for a minute escape Walter Tyrrel's more piercing and observant scrutiny.
At last, as the amateur lecturer was beginning to grow somewhat prolix, a cormorant below created a slight diversion for awhile by settling in his flight on the very highest point of Michael's Crag, and proceeding to preen his glittering feathers in the full golden flood of that bright August sunlight.
With irrepressible boyish instinct Le Neve took up a stone, and was just on the point of aiming it (quite without reason) at the bird on the pinnacle.
But before he could let it go, the two other men, moved as if by a single impulse, had sprung forward with a bound, and in the self-same tone and in the self-same words cried out with one accord, in a wildly excited voice, "For God's sake, don't throw! You don't know how dangerous it is!"
Le Neve let his hand drop flat, and allowed the stone to fall from it. As he did so the two others stood back a pace, as if guarding him, but kept their hands still ready to seize the engineer's arm if he made the slightest attempt at motion. Eustace felt they were watching him as one might watch a madman. For a moment they were silent. Trevennack was the first to speak. His voice had an earnest and solemn ring in it, like a reproving angel's. "How can you tell what precious life may be passing below?" he said, with stern emphasis, fixing Le Neve with his reproachful eye. "The stone might fall short. It might drop out of sight. You might kill whomsoever it struck, unseen. And then"--he drank in a deep breath, gasping--"you would know you were a murderer."
Walter Tyrrel drew himself up at the words like one stung. "No, no! not a murderer!" he cried; "not quite as bad as a murderer! It wouldn't be murder, surely. It would be accidental homicide-- unintentional, unwilled--a terrible result of most culpable carelessness, of course; but it wouldn't be quite murder; don't call it murder. I can't allow that. Not that name by any means. . . .Though to the end of your life, Eustace, if you were to kill a man so, you'd never cease to regret it and mourn over it daily; you'd never cease to repent your guilty carelessness in sackcloth and ashes."
He spoke so seriously, so earnestly, with such depth of personal feeling, that Trevennack, starting back, stood and gazed at him slowly with those terrible eyes, like one who awakens by degrees from a painful dream to some awful reality. Tyrrel winced before his scrutiny. For a moment the elder man just looked at him and stared. Then he took one step forward. "Sir," he said, in a very low voice, half broken with emotion, "I had a dear son of my own once; a very dear, dear son. He was killed by such an ACCIDENT on this very spot. No wonder I remember it."
Mrs. Trevennack and Cleer both gave a start of surprise. The man's words astonished them; for never before, during fifteen long years, had that unhappy father alluded in any way in overt words to his son's tragic end. He had brooded and mused over it in his crushed and wounded spirit; he had revisited the scene of his loss whenever opportunity permitted him; he had made of his sorrow a cherished and petted daily companion; but he had stored it up deep in his own inmost heart, never uttering a word of it even to his wife or daughter. The two women knew Michael Trevennack must be profoundly moved, indeed, so to tear open the half-healed wound in his tortured bosom before two casual strangers.
But Tyrrel, too, gave a start as he spoke, and looked hard at the careworn face of that unhappy man. "Then you're Mr. Trevennack!" he exclaimed, all aghast. "Mr. Trevennack of the Admiralty!"
And the dignified stranger answered, bowing his head very low, "Yes, you've guessed me right. I'm Michael Trevennack."
With scarcely a word of reply Walter Tyrrel turned and strode away from the spot. "I must go now," he muttered faintly, looking at his watch with some feigned surprise, as a feeble excuse. "I've an appointment at home." He hadn't the courage to stay. His heart misgave him. Once fairly round the corner he fled like a wounded creature, too deeply hurt even to cry. Eustace Le Neve, raising his hat, hastened after him, all mute wonder. For several hundred yards they walked on side by side across the open heathy moor. Then, as they passed the first wall, Tyrrel paused for a moment and spoke. "NOT a murderer!" he cried in his anguish; "oh, no, not quite as bad as a murderer, surely, Eustace; but still, a culpable homicide. Oh, God, how terrible."
And even as he disappeared across the moor to eastward, Trevennack, far behind, seized his wife's arm spasmodically, and clutching it tight in his iron grip, murmured low in a voice of supreme conviction, "Do you see what that means, Lucy? I can read it all now. It was HE who rolled down that cursed stone. It was HE who killed our boy. And I can guess who he is. He must be Tyrrel of Penmorgan."
Cleer didn't hear the words. She was below, gazing after them.
The two young men walked back, without interchanging another word, to the gate of the manor-house. Tyrrel opened it with a swing. Then, once within his own grounds, and free from prying eyes, he sat down forthwith upon a little craggy cliff that overhung the carriage-drive, buried his face in his hands, and, to Le Neve's intense astonishment, cried long and silently. He let himself go with a rush; that's the Cornish nature. Eustace Le Neve sat by his side, not daring to speak, but in mute sympathy with his sorrow. For many minutes neither uttered a sound. At last Tyrrel looked up, and in an agony of remorse, turned round to his companion. "Of course you understand," he said.
And Eustace answered reverently, "Yes, I think I understand. Having come so near doing the same thing myself, I sympathize with you."
Tyrrel paused a moment again. His face was like marble. Then he added, in a tone of the profoundest anguish, "Till this minute, Eustace, I've never told anybody. And if it hadn't been forced out of me by that poor man's tortured and broken-hearted face, I wouldn't have told you now. But could I look at him to-day and not break down before him?"
"How did it all happen?" Le Neve asked, leaning forward and clasping his friend's arm with a brotherly gesture.
Tyrrel answered with a deep sigh, "Like this. I'll make a clean breast of it all at last. I've bottled it up too long. I'll tell you now, Eustace.
"Nearly sixteen years ago I was staying down here at Penmorgan with my uncle. The Trevennacks, as I learned afterward, were in lodgings at Gunwalloe. But, so far as I can remember at present, I never even saw them. To the best of my belief I never set eyes on Michael Trevennack himself before this very morning. If I'd known who he was, you may be pretty sure I'd have cut off my right hand before I'd allowed myself to speak to him.
"Well, one day that year I was strolling along the top of the cliff by Michael's Crag, with my uncle beside me, who owned Penmorgan. I was but a boy then, and I walked by the edge more than once, very carelessly. My uncle knew the cliffs, though, and how dangerous they were; he knew men might any time be walking below, digging launces in the sand, or getting lobworms for their lines, or hunting serpentine to polish, or looking for sea-bird's eggs among the half-way ledges. Time after time he called out to me, 'Walter, my boy, take care; don't go so near the edge, you'll tumble over presently.' And time after time I answered him back, like a boy that I was, 'Oh, I'm all right, uncle. No fear about me. I can take care of myself. These cliffs don't crumble. They're a deal too solid.'
"At last, when he saw it was no good warning me that way any longer, he turned round to me rather sharply--he was a Tyrrel, you see, and conscientious, as we all of us are--it runs in the blood somehow--'If you don't mind for yourself, at least mind for others. Who can say who may be walking underneath those rocks? If you let a loose stone fall you may commit manslaughter.'
"I laughed, and thought ill of him. He was such a fidget! I was only a boy. I considered him absurdly and unnecessarily particular. He had stalked on a yard or two in front. I loitered behind, and out of pure boyish deviltry, as I was just above Michael's Crag, I loosened some stones with my foot and showered them over deliberately. Oh, heavens, I feel it yet; how they rattled and rumbled!
"My uncle wasn't looking. He walked on and left me behind. He didn't see me push them. He didn't see them fall. He didn't hear them rattle. But as they reached the bottom I heard myself--or thought I heard--a vague cry below. A cry as of some one wounded. I was frightened at that; I didn't dare to look down, but ran on to my uncle. Not till some hours after did I know the whole truth, for we walked along the cliffs all the way to Kynance, and then returned inland by the road to the Lizard.
"That afternoon, late, there was commotion at Penmorgan. The servants brought us word how a bit of the cliff near Michael's Crag had foundered unawares, and struck two people who were walking below--a Mr. Trevennack, in lodgings at Gunwalloe, and his boy Michael. The father wasn't much hurt, they said; but the son--oh, Eustace! the son was dangerously wounded. ... I listened in terror.... He lived out the night, and died next morning."
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