Michael's Crag by Grant Allen
Chapter X. A Bold Attempt.
During the next ten or eleven months poor Mrs. Trevennack had but one abiding terror--that a sudden access of irrepressible insanity might attack her husband before Cleer and Eustace could manage to get married. Trevennack, however, with unvarying tenderness, did his best in every way to calm her fears. Though no word on the subject passed between them directly, he let her feel with singular tact that he meant to keep himself under proper control. Whenever a dangerous topic cropped up in conversation, he would look across at her affectionately, with a reassuring smile. "For Cleer's sake," he murmured often, if she was close by his side; "for Cleer's sake, dearest!" and his wife, mutely grateful, knew at once what he meant, and smiled approval sadly.
Her heart was very full; her part was a hard one to play with fitting cheerfulness; but in his very madness itself she couldn't help loving, admiring, and respecting that strong, grave husband who fought so hard against his own profound convictions.
Ten months passed away, however, and Eustace Le Neve didn't seem to get much nearer any permanent appointment than ever. He began to tire at last of applying unsuccessfully for every passing vacancy. Now and then he got odd jobs, to be sure; but odd jobs won't do for a man to marry upon; and serious work seemed always to elude him. Walter Tyrrel did his best, no doubt, to hunt up all the directors of all the companies he knew; but no posts fell vacant on any line they were connected with. It grieved Walter to the heart, for he had always had the sincerest friendship for Eustace Le Neve; and now that Eustace was going to marry Cleer Trevennack, Walter felt himself doubly bound in honor to assist him. It was he who had ruined the Trevennacks' hopes in life by his unintentional injury to their only son; the least he could do in return, he thought, and felt, was to make things as easy as possible for their daughter and her intended husband.
By July, however, things were looking so black for the engineer's prospects that Tyrrel made up his mind to run up to town and talk things over seriously with Eustace Le Neve himself in person. He hated going up there, for he hardly knew how he could see much of Eustace without running some risk of knocking up accidentally against Michael Trevennack; and there was nothing on earth that sensitive young squire dreaded so much as an unexpected meeting with the man he had so deeply, though no doubt so unintentionally and unwittingly, injured. But he went, all the same. He felt it was his duty. And duty to Walter Tyrrel spoke in an imperative mood which he dared not disobey, however much he might be minded to turn a deaf ear to it.
Le Neve had little to suggest of any practical value. It wasn't his fault, Tyrrel knew; engineering was slack, and many good men were looking out for appointments. In these crowded days, it's a foolish mistake to suppose that energy, industry, ability, and integrity are necessarily successful. To insure success you must have influence, opportunity, and good luck as well, to back them. Without these, not even the invaluable quality of unscrupulousness itself is secure from failure.
If only Walter Tyrrel could have got his friend to accept such terms, indeed, he would gladly, for Cleer's sake, have asked Le Neve to marry on an allowance of half the Penmorgan rent-roll. But in this commercial age, such quixotic arrangements are simply impossible. So Tyrrel set to work with fiery zeal to find out what openings were just then to be had; and first of all for that purpose he went to call on a parliamentary friend of his, Sir Edward Jones, the fat and good- natured chairman of the Great North Midland Railway. Tyrrel was a shareholder whose vote was worth considering, and he supported the Board with unwavering loyalty.
Sir Edward was therefore all attention, and listened with sympathy to Tyrrel's glowing account of his friend's engineering energy and talent. When he'd finished his eulogy, however, the practical railway magnate crossed his fat hands and put in, with very common-sense dryness, "If he's so clever as all that, why doesn't he have a shot at this Wharfedale Viaduct?"
Walter Tyrrel drew back a little surprised. The Wharfedale Viaduct was a question just then in everybody's mouth. But what a question! Why, it was one of the great engineering works of the age; and it was informally understood that the company were prepared to receive plans and designs from any competent person. There came the rub, though. Would Eustace have a chance in such a competition as that? Much as he believed in his old school-fellow, Tyrrel hesitated and reflected. "My friend's young, of course," he said, after a pause. "He's had very little experience--comparatively, I mean--to the greatness of the undertaking."
Sir Edward pursed his fat lips. It's a trick with your railway kings. "Well, young men are often more inventive than old ones," he answered, slowly. "Youth has ideas; middle age has experience. In a matter like this, my own belief is, the ideas count for most. Yes, if I were you, Tyrrel, I'd ask your friend to consider it."
"You would?" Walter cried, brightening up.
"Aye, that I would," the great railway-man answered, still more confidently than before, rubbing his fat hands reflectively. "It's a capital opening. Erasmus Walker'll be in for it, of course; and Erasmus Walker'll get it. But don't you tell your fellow that. It'll only discourage him. You just send him down to Yorkshire to reconnoiter the ground; and if he's good for anything, when he's seen the spot he'll make a plan of his own, a great deal better than Walker's. Not that that'll matter, don't you know, as far as this viaduct goes. The company'll take Walker's, no matter how good any other fellow's may be, and how bad Walker's--because Walker has a great name, and because they think they can't go far wrong if they follow Walker. But still, if your friend's design is a good one, it'll attract attention--which is always something; and after they've accepted Walker's, and flaws begin to be found in it--as experts can always find flaws in anything, no matter how well planned--your friend can come forward and make a fuss in the papers (or what's better still, you can come forward and make it for him) to say these flaws were strikingly absent from his very superior and scientific conception. There'll be flaws in your friend's as well, of course, but they won't be the same ones, and nobody'll have the same interest in finding them out and exposing them. And that'll get your man talked about in the papers and the profession. It's better, anyhow, than wasting his time doing nothing in London here."
"He shall do it!" Walter cried, all on fire. "I'll take care he shall do it. And Sir Edward, I tell you, I'd give five thousand pounds down if only he could get the job away from Walker."
"Got a grudge against Walker, then?" Sir Edward cried quickly, puckering up his small eyes.
"Oh, no," Tyrrel answered, smiling; that was not much in his line. "But I've got strong reasons of my own, on the other hand, for wishing to do a good turn to Le Neve in this business."
And he went home, reflecting in his own soul on the way that many thousands would be as dross in the pan to him if only he could make Cleer Trevennack happy.
But that very same evening Trevennack came home from the Admiralty in a most excited condition.
"Lucy!" he cried to his wife, as soon as he was alone in the room with her, "who do you think I saw to-day--there, alive in the flesh, standing smiling on the steps of Sir Edward Jones' house?--that brute Walter Tyrrel, who killed our poor boy for us!" "Hush! hush, Michael!" his wife cried in answer. "It's so long ago now, and he was such a boy at the time; and he repents it bitterly--I'm sure he repents it. You promised you'd try to forgive him. For Cleer's sake, dear heart, you must keep your promise."
Trevennack knit his brows. "What does he mean, then, by dogging my steps?" he cried. "What does he mean by coming after me up to London like this? What does he mean by tempting me? I can't stand the sight of him. I won't be challenged, Lucy; I don't know whether it's the devil or not, but when I saw the fellow to-day I had hard work to keep my hands off him. I wanted to spring at his throat. I would have liked to throttle him!"
The silver-haired lady drew still closer to the excited creature, and held his hands with a gentle pressure. "Michael," she said, earnestly, "this is the devil. This is the greatest temptation of all. This is what I dread most for you. Remember, it's Satan himself that suggests such thoughts to you. Fight the devil within, dearest. Fight him within, like a man. That's the surest place, after all, to conquer him."
Trevennack drew himself up proudly, and held his peace for a time. Then he went on in another tone: "I shall get leave," said he quietly, becoming pure human once more. "I shall get leave of absence. I can't stop in town while this creature's about. I'd have to spring at him if I saw him again. I can't keep my hands off him. I'll fly from temptation. I must go down into the country."
"Not to Cornwall!" Mrs. Trevennack cried, in deep distress; for she dreaded the effect of those harrowing associations for him.
Trevennack shook his head gravely. "No, not to Cornwall," he answered. "I've another plan this time. I want to go to Dartmoor. It's lonely enough there. Not a soul to distract me. You know, Lucy, when one means to fight the devil, there's nothing for it like the wilderness; and Dartmoor's wilderness enough for me. I shall go to Ivybridge, for the tors and the beacons."
Mrs. Trevennack assented gladly. If he wanted to fight the devil, it was best at any rate he should be out of reach of Walter Tyrrel while he did it. And it was a good thing to get him away, too, from St. Michael's Mount, and St. Michael's Crag, and St. Michael's Chair, and all the other reminders of his archangelic dignity in the Penzance neighborhood. Why, she remembered with a wan smile--the dead ghost of a smile rather--he couldn't even pass the Angel Inn at Helston without explaining to his companions that the parish church was dedicated to St. Michael, and that the swinging sign of the old coaching house once bore a picture of the winged saint himself in mortal conflict with his Satanic enemy. It was something, at any rate, to get Trevennack away from a district so replete with memories of his past greatness, to say nothing of the spot where their poor boy had died. But Mrs. Trevennack didn't know that one thing which led her husband to select Dartmoor this time for his summer holiday was the existence, on the wild hills a little behind Ivybridge, of a clatter-crowned peak, known to all the country-side as St. Michael's Tor, and crowned in earlier days by a medieval chapel. It was on this sacred site of his antique cult that Trevennack wished to fight the internal devil. And he would fight it with a will, on that he was resolved; fight and, as became his angelic reputation, conquer.