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- Michael's Crag - 6/19 -


Tyrrel leaned back in agony as he spoke, and looked utterly crushed. It was an awful memory. Le Neve hardly knew what to say, the man's remorse was so poignant. After all those years the boy's thoughtless act seemed to weigh like a millstone round the grown man's neck. Eustace held his peace, and felt for him. By and by Tyrrel went on again, rocking himself to and fro on his rough seat as he spoke. "For fifteen years," he said, piteously, "I've borne this burden in my heart, and never told anybody. I tell it now first of all men to you. You're the only soul on earth who shares my secret."

"Then your uncle didn't suspect it?" Eustace asked, all breathless.

Walter Tyrrel shook his head. "On the contrary," he answered, "he said to me next day, 'How glad I am Walter, my boy, I called you away from the cliff that moment! It was quite providential. For if you'd loosened a stone, and then this thing had happened, we'd both of us have believed it was YOU that did it?' I was too frightened and appalled to tell him it WAS I. I thought they'd hang me. But from that day to this--Eustace, Eustace, believe me--I've never ceased to think of it! I've never forgiven myself!"

"Yet it was an accident after all," Le Neve said, trying to comfort him.

"No, no; not quite. I should have been warned in time. I should have obeyed my uncle. But what would you have? It's the luck of the Tyrrels."

He spoke plaintively. Le Neve pulled a piece of grass and began biting it to hide his confusion. How near he might have come to doing the same thing himself. He thanked his stars it wasn't he. He thanked his stars he hadn't let that stone drop from the cliff that morning.

Tyrrel was the first to break the solemn silence. "You can understand now," he said, with an impatient gesture, "why I hate Penmorgan. I've hated it ever since. I shall always hate it. It seems like a mute reminder of that awful day. In my uncle's time I never came near it. But as soon as it was my own I felt I must live upon it; and now, this terror of meeting Trevennack some day has made life one long burden to me. Sooner or later I felt sure I should run against him. They told me how he came down here from time to time to see where his son died, and I knew I should meet him. Now you can understand, too, why I hate the top of the cliffs so much, and WILL walk at the bottom. I had two good reasons for that. One I've told you already; the other was the fear of coming across Trevennack."

Le Neve turned to him compassionately. "My dear fellow," he said, "you take it too much to heart. It was so long ago, and you were only a child. The... the accident might happen to any boy any day."

"Yes, yes," Tyrrel answered, passionately. I know all that. I try, so, to console myself. But then I've wrecked that unhappy man's life for him."

"He has his daughter still," Le Neve put in, vaguely. It was all he could think of to say by way of consolation; and to him, Cleer Trevennack would have made up for anything.

A strange shade passed over Tyrrel's face. Eustace noted it instinctively. Something within seemed to move that Cornish heart. "Yes, he has his daughter still," the Squire of Penmorgan answered, with a vacant air. "But for me, that only makes things still worse than before.... How can she pardon my act? What can she ever think of me?"

Le Neve turned sharply round upon him. There was some undercurrent in the tone in which he spoke that suggested far more than the mere words themselves might perhaps have conveyed to him. "What do you mean?" he asked, all eager, in a quick, low voice. "You've met Miss Trevennack before? You've seen her? You've spoken to her?"

For a second Tyrrel hesitated; then, with a burst, he spoke out. "I may as well tell you all," he cried, "now I've told you so much. Yes, I've met her before, I've seen her, I've spoken to her."

"But she didn't seem to recognize you," Le Neve objected, taken aback.

Tyrrel shook his head despondently. "That's the worst of it all," he answered, with a very sad sigh. "She didn't even remember me.... She was so much to me; and to her--why, to HER, Eustace--I was less than nothing."

"And you knew who she was when you saw her just now?" Le Neve asked, greatly puzzled.

"Yes and no. Not exactly. I knew she was the person I'd seen and talked with, but I'd never heard her name, nor connected her in any way with Michael Trevennack. If I had, things would be different. It's a terrible Nemesis. I'll tell you how it happened. I may as well tell all. But the worst point of the whole to me in this crushing blow is to learn that that girl is Michael Trevennack's daughter."

"Where and when did you meet her then?" Le Neve asked, growing curious.

"Quite casually, once only, some time since, in a railway carnage. It must be two years ago now, and I was going from Bath to Bournemouth. She traveled with me in the same compartment as far as Temple Combe, and I talked all the way with her; I can remember every word of it.... Eustace, it's foolish of me to acknowledge it, perhaps, but in those two short hours I fell madly in love with her. Her face has lived with me ever since; I've longed to meet her, But I was stupidly afraid to ask her name before she got out of the train; and I had no clue at all to her home or her relations. Yet, a thousand times since I've said to myself, 'If ever I marry I'll marry that girl who went in the carriage from Bath to Temple Combe with me.' I've cherished her memory from that day to this. You mayn't believe, I dare say, in love at first sight; but this I can swear to you was a genuine case of it."

"I can believe in it very well," Le Neve answered, most truthfully, "now I've seen Miss Trevennack."

Tyrrel looked at him, and smiled sadly. "Well, when I saw her again this morning," he went on, after a short pause, "my heart came up into my mouth. I said to myself, with a bound, 'It's she! It's she! At last I've found her.' And it dashed my best hopes to the ground at once to see she didn't even remember having met me."

Le Neve looked at him shyly. "Walter," he said, after a short struggle, "I'm not surprised you fell in love with her. And shall I tell you why? I fell in love with her myself, too, the moment I saw her."

Tyrrel turned to him without one word of reproach. "Well, we're no rivals now," he answered, generously. "Even if she would have me--even if she loved me well--how could I ask her to take--her brother's murderer?"

Le Neve drew a long breath. He hadn't thought of that before. But had it been other wise, he couldn't help feeling that the master of Penmorgan would have been a formidable rival for a penniless engineer just home from South America.

For already Eustace Le Neve was dimly aware, in his own sanguine mind, that he meant to woo and win that beautiful Cleer Trevennack.

CHAPTER V.

A STRANGE DELUSION.

Trevennack and his wife sat alone that night in their bare rooms at Gunwalloe. Cleer had gone out to see some girls of her acquaintance who were lodging close by in a fisherman's house; and the husband and wife were left for a few hours by themselves together.

"Michael," Mrs. Trevennack began, as soon as they were alone, rising up from her chair and coming over toward him tenderly, "I was horribly afraid you were going to break out before those two young men on the cliff to-day. I saw you were just on the very brink of it. But you resisted bravely. Thank you so much for that. You're a dear good fellow. I was so pleased with you and so proud of you."

"Break out about our poor boy?" Trevennack asked, with a dreamy air, passing his bronzed hand wearily across his high white forehead.

His wife seated herself sideways upon the arm of his chair, and bent over him as he sat, with wifely confidence. "No, no, dear," she said, taking his hand in hers and soothing it with her soft palm. "About-- YOU know--well, of course, that other thing."

At the mere hint, Trevennack leaned back and drew himself up proudly to his full height, like a soldier. He looked majestic as he sat there--every inch a St. Michael. "Well, it's hard to keep such a secret," he answered, laying his free hand on his breast, "hard to keep such a secret; and I own, when they were talking about it, I longed to tell them. But for Cleer's sake I refrained, Lucy. For Cleer's sake I always refrain. You're quite right about that. I know, of course, for Cleer's sake I must keep it locked up in my own heart forever."

The silver-haired lady bent over him again, both caressingly and proudly. "Michael, dear Michael," she said, with a soft thrill in her voice, "I love you and honor you for it. I can FEEL what it costs you. My darling, I know how hard you have to fight against it. I could see you fighting against it to-day; and I was proud of the way you struggled with it, single-handed, till you gained the victory."

Trevennack drew himself up still more haughtily than before. "And who should struggle against the devil," he said, "single-handed as you say, and gain the victory at last, if not I, myself, Lucy?"

He said it like some great one. His wife soothed his hand again and repressed a sigh. She was a great-hearted lady, that brave wife and mother, who bore her own trouble without a word spoken to anyone; but she must sigh, at least, sometimes; it was such a relief to her pent- up feelings. "Who indeed?" she said, acquiescent. "Who indeed, if not you? And I love you best when you conquer so, Michael."

Trevennack looked down upon her with a strange tender look on his face, in which gentleness and condescension were curiously mingled. "Yes," he answered, musing; "for dear Cleer's sake I will always keep my peace about it. I'll say not a word. I'll never tell anybody. And yet it's hard to keep it in; very hard, indeed. I have to bind myself round, as it were, with bonds of iron. The secret will almost out of itself at times. As this morning, for example, when that young fellow wanted to know why St. Michael always clung to such airy pinnacles.


Michael's Crag - 6/19

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