Chapter XIV. At Arm's Length.
 

For three or four weeks Walter Tyrrel remained in town, awaiting the result of the Wharfedale Viaduct competition. With some difficulty he raised and paid over meanwhile to Erasmus Walker the ten thousand pounds of blackmail--for it was little else--agreed upon between them. The great engineer accepted the money with as little compunction as men who earn large incomes always display in taking payment for doing nothing. It is an enviable state of mind, unattainable by most of us who work hard for our living. He pocketed his check with a smile, as if it were quite in the nature of things that ten thousand pounds should drop upon him from the clouds without rhyme or reason. To Tyrrel, on the other hand, with his sensitive conscience, the man's greed and callousness seemed simply incomprehensible. He stood aghast at such sharp practice. But for Cleer's sake, and to ease his own soul, he paid it all over without a single murmur.

And then the question came up in his mind, "Would it be effectual after all? Would Walker play him false? Would he throw the weight of his influence into somebody else's scale? Would the directors submit as tamely as he thought to his direction or dictation?" It would be hard on Tyrrel if, after his spending ten thousand pounds without security of any sort, Eustace were to miss the chance, and Cleer to go unmarried.

At the end of a month, however, as Tyrrel sat one morning in his own room at the Metropole, which he mostly frequented, Eustace Le Neve rushed in, full of intense excitement. Tyrrel's heart rose in his mouth. He grew pale with agitation. The question had been decided one way or the other he saw.

"Well; which is it?" he gasped out. "Hit or miss? Have you got it?"

"Yes; I've got it!" Eustace answered, half beside himself with delight. "I've got it! I've got it! The chairman and Walker have just been round to call on me, and congratulate me on my success. Walker says my fortune's made. It's a magnificent design. And in any case it'll mean work for me for the next four years; after which I'll not want for occupation elsewhere. So now, of course, I can marry almost immediately."

"Thank God!" Tyrrel murmured, falling back into his chair as he spoke, and turning deadly white.

He was glad of it, oh, so glad; and yet, in his own heart, it would cost him many pangs to see Cleer really married in good earnest to Eustace.

He had worked for it with all his might to be sure; he had worked for it and paid for it! and now he saw his wishes on the very eve of fulfillment, the natural man within him rose up in revolt against the complete success of his own unselfish action.

As for Mrs. Trevennack, when she heard the good news, she almost fainted with joy. It might yet be in time. Cleer might be married now before poor Michael broke forth in that inevitable paroxysm.

For inevitable she felt it was at last. As each day went by it grew harder and harder for the man to contain himself. Fighting desperately against it every hour, immersing himself as much as he could in the petty fiddling details of the office and the Victualing Yard so as to keep the fierce impulse under due control, Michael Trevennack yet found the mad mood within him more and more ungovernable with each week that went by. As he put it to his own mind he could feel his wings growing as if they must burst through the skin; he could feel it harder and ever harder as time went on to conceal the truth, to pretend he was a mere man, when he knew himself to be really the Prince of the Archangels, to busy himself about contracts for pork, and cheese, and biscuits, when he could wing his way n boldly over sea and land, or stand forth before the world in gorgeous gear, armed as of yore in the adamant and gold of his celestial panoply!

So Michael Trevennack thought in his own seething soul. But that strong, brave woman, his wife, bearing her burden unaided, and watching him closely day and night with a keen eye of mingled love and fear, could see that the madness was gaining on him gradually. Oftener and oftener now did he lose himself in his imagined world; less and less did he tread the solid earth beneath us. Mrs. Trevennack had by this time but one anxious care left in life--to push on as fast as possible Cleer and Eustace's marriage.

But difficulties intervened, as they always will intervene in this work-a-day world of ours. First of all there were formalities about the appointment itself. Then, even when all was arranged, Eustace found he had to go north in person, shortly after Christmas, and set to work with a will at putting his plan into practical shape for contractor and workmen. And as soon as he got there he saw at once he must stick at it for six months at least before he could venture to take a short holiday for the sake of getting married. Engineering is a very absorbing trade; it keeps a man day and night at the scene of his labors.

Storm or flood at any moment may ruin everything. It would be prudent too, Eustace thought, to have laid by a little more for household expenses, before plunging into the unknown sea of matrimony; and though Mrs. Trevennack, flying full in the face of all matronly respect for foresight in young people, urged him constantly to marry, money or no money, and never mind about a honeymoon, Eustace stuck to his point and determined to take no decisive step till he saw how the work was turning out in Wharfedale. It was thus full August of the succeeding year before he could fix a date definitely; and then, to Cleer's great joy, he named a day at last, about the beginning of September.

It was an immense relief to Mrs. Trevennack's mind when, after one or two alterations, she knew the third was finally fixed upon. She had good reasons of her own for wishing it to be early; for the twenty- ninth is Michaelmas Day, and it was always with difficulty that her husband could be prevented from breaking out before the eyes of the world on that namesake feast of St. Michael and All Angels. For, on that sacred day, when in every Church in Christendom his importance as the generalissimo of the angelic host was remembered and commemorated, it seemed hard indeed to the seraph in disguise that he must still guard his incognito, still go on as usual with his petty higgling over corned beef and biscuits and the price of jute sacking. "There was war in heaven," said the gospel for the day--that sonorous gospel Mrs. Trevennack so cordially dreaded--for her husband would always go to church at morning service, and hold himself more erect than was his wont, to hear it--"There was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not." And should he, who could thus battle against all the powers of evil, be held in check any longer, as with a leash of straw, by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty? No, no, he would stand forth in his true angelic shape, and show these martinets what form they had ignorantly taken for mere Michael Trevennack of the Victualing Department!

One thing alone eased Mrs. Trevennack's mind through all those weary months of waiting and watching: Walter Tyrrel had long since gone back again to Penmorgan. Her husband had been free from that greatest of all temptations, to a mad paroxysm of rage--the sight of the man who, as he truly believed, had killed their Michael. And now, if only Tyrrel would keep away from town till Cleer was married and all was settled--Mrs. Trevennack sighed deep--she would almost count herself a happy woman!

On the day of Cleer's wedding, however, Walter Tyrrel came to town. He came on purpose. He couldn't resist the temptation of seeing with his own eyes the final success of his general plan, even though it cost him the pang of watching the marriage of the one girl he ever truly loved to another man by his own deliberate contrivance. But he didn't forget Eustace Le Neve's earnest warning, that he should keep out of the way of Michael Trevennack. Even without Eustace, his own conscience would have urged that upon him. The constant burden of his remorse for that boyish crime weighed hard upon him every hour of every day that he lived. He didn't dare on such a morning to face the father of the boy he had unwittingly and half-innocently murdered.

So, very early, as soon as the church was opened, he stole in unobserved, and took a place by himself in the farthest corner of the gallery. A pillar concealed him from view; for further security he held his handkerchief constantly in front of his face, or shielded himself behind one of the big free-seat prayer-books. Cleer came in looking beautiful in her wedding dress; Mrs. Trevennack's pathetic face glowed radiant for once in this final realization of her dearest wishes. A single second only, near the end of the ceremony, Tyrrel leaned forward incautiously, anxious to see Cleer at an important point of the proceedings. At the very same instant Trevennack raised his face. Their eyes met in a flash. Tyrrel drew back, horrorstruck, and penitent at his own intrusion at such a critical moment. But, strange to say, Trevennack took no overt notice. Had his wife only known she would have sunk in her seat in her agony of fear. But happily she didn't know. Trevennack went through the ceremony, all outwardly calm; he gave no sign of what he had seen, even to his wife herself. He buried it deep in his own heart. That made it all the more dangerous.