Michael's Crag by Grant Allen
Chapter XV. St. Michael Does Battle.
The wedding breakfast went off pleasantly, without a hitch of any sort. Trevennack, always dignified and always a grand seigneur, rose to the occasion with his happiest spirit. The silver-haired wife, gazing up at him, felt proud of him as of old, and was for once quite at her ease. For all was over now, thank heaven, and dear Cleer was married!
That same afternoon the bride and bridegroom started off for their honeymoon to the Tyrol and Italy. When Mrs. Trevennack was left alone with her husband it was with a thankful heart. She turned to him, flowing over in soul with joy. "Oh, Michael," she cried, melting, "I'm so happy, so happy, so happy."
Trevennack stooped down and kissed her forehead tenderly. He had always been a good husband, and he loved her with all his heart. "That's well, Lucy," he answered. "Thank God, it's all over. For I can't hold out much longer. The strain's too much for me." He paused a moment, and looked at her. "Lucy," he said, once more, clasping his forehead with one hand, "I've fought against it hard. I'm fighting against it still. But at times it almost gets the better of me. Do you know who I saw in the church this morning, skulking behind a pillar?-- that man Walter Tyrrel."
Mrs. Trevennack gazed at him all aghast. This was surely a delusion, a fixed idea, an insane hallucination. "Oh, no, dear," she cried, prying deep into his eyes. "It couldn't be he, it couldn't. You must be mistaken, Michael. I'm sure he's not in London."
"No more mistaken than I am this minute," Trevennack answered, rushing over to the window, and pointing with one hand eagerly. "See, see! there he is, Lucy--the man that killed our poor, dear Michael!"
Mrs. Trevennack uttered a little cry, half sob, half wail, as she looked out of the window and, under the gas-lamps opposite, recognized through the mist the form of Walter Tyrrel.
But Trevennack didn't rush out at him as she feared and believed he would. He only stood still in his place and glared at his enemy. "Not now," he said, slowly; "not now, on Cleer's wedding day. But some other time--more suitable. I hear it in my ears; I hear the voice still ringing: 'Go, Michael, of celestial armies prince!' I can't disobey. I shall go in due time. I shall fight the enemy."
And he sank back in his chair, with his eyes staring wildly.
For the next week or two, while Cleer wrote home happy letters from Paris, Innsbruck, Milan, Venice, Florence, poor Mrs. Trevennack was tortured inwardly with another terrible doubt; had Michael's state become so dangerous at last that he must be put under restraint as a measure of public security? For Walter Tyrrel's sake, ought she to make his condition known to the world at large--and spoil Cleer's honeymoon? She shrank from that final necessity with a deadly shrinking. Day after day she put the discovery off, and solaced her soul with the best intentions--as what true woman would not?
But we know where good intentions go. On the morning of the twenty- ninth, which is Michaelmas Day, the poor mother rose in fear and trembling. Michael, to all outward appearance, was as sane as usual. He breakfasted and went down to the office, as was his wont.
When he arrived there, however, he found letters from Falmouth awaiting him with bad news. His presence was needed at once. He must miss his projected visit to St. Michael's, Cornhill. He must go down to Cornwall.
Hailing a cab at the door he hastened back to Paddington just in time for the Cornish express. This was surely a call. The words rang in his ears louder and clearer than ever, "Go, Michael, of celestial armies prince!" He would go and obey them. He would trample under foot this foul fiend that masqueraded in human shape as his dear boy's murderer. He would wield once more that huge two-handed sword, brandished aloft, wide-wasting, in unearthly warfare. He would come out in his true shape before heaven and earth as the chief of the archangels.
Stepping into a first-class compartment he found himself, unluckily for his present mood, alone. All the way down to Exeter the fit was on him. He stood up in the carriage, swaying his unseen blade, celestial temper fine, and rolling forth in a loud voice Miltonic verses of his old encounters in heaven with the powers of darkness.
"Now waved their fiery swords, and in the air Made horrid circles; two broad suns their shields Blazed opposite, while expectation stood In horror."
He mouthed out the lines in a perfect ecstasy of madness. It was delightful to be alone. He could give his soul full vent. He knew he was mad. He knew he was an archangel.
And all the way down he repeated to himself, many times over, that he would trample under foot that base fiend Walter Tyrrel. Satan has many disguises; squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve, he sat in Paradise; for
"...spirits as they please Can limb themselves, and color, or size assume As likes them best, condense or rare."
If he himself, Michael, prince of celestial hosts, could fit his angelic majesty to the likeness of a man, Trevennack--could not Satan meet him on his own ground, and try to thwart him as of old in the likeness of a man, Walter Tyrrel--his dear boy's murderer.
As far as Exeter this was his one train of thought. But from there to Plymouth new passengers got in. They turned the current. Trevennack changed his mind rapidly. Another mood came over him. His wife's words struck him vaguely in some tenderer place. "Fight the devil within you, Michael. Fight him there, and conquer him." That surely was fitter far for an angelic nature. That foeman was worthier his celestial steel. "Turn homeward, angel, now, and melt with ruth!" Not his to do vengeance on the man Walter Tyrrel. Not his to play the divine part of vindicator. In his madness even Trevennack was magnanimous. Leave the creature to the torment of his own guilty soul. Do angels care for thrusts of such as he? Tantaene animis coelestibus irae?
At Ivybridge station the train slowed, and then stopped. Trevennack, accustomed to the Cornish express, noted the stoppage with surprise. "We're not down to pull up here!" he said, quickly, to the guard.
"No sir," the guard answered, touching his hat with marked respect, for he knew the Admiralty official well. "Signals are against us. Line's blocked as far as Plymouth."
"I'll get out here, then," Trevennack said, in haste; and the guard opened the door. A new idea had rushed suddenly into the madman's head. This was St. Michael's Day--his own day; and there was St. Michael's Tor--his own tor--full in sight before him. He would go up there this very evening, and before the eyes of all the world, in his celestial armor, taking Lucy's advice, do battle with and quell this fierce devil within him.
No sooner thought than done. Fiery hot within, he turned out of the gate, and as the shades of autumn evening began to fall, walked swiftly up the moor toward the tor and the uplands.
As he walked his heart beat to a lilting rhythm within him. "Go, Michael, of celestial armies prince!--Go, Michael!--Go, Michael! Go, Michael, of celestial armies prince--Go, Michael!--Go, Michael!"
The moor was draped in fog. It was a still, damp evening. Swirling clouds rose slowly up, and lifted at times and disclosed the peaty hollows, the high tors, the dusky heather. But Trevennack stumbled on, o'er bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare, as chance might lead him, clambering ever toward his goal, now seen, now invisible--the great stack of wild rock that crowned the gray undulating moor to northward. Often he missed his way; often he floundered for awhile in deep ochreous bottoms, up to his knees in soft slush, but with some strange mad instinct he wandered on nevertheless, and slowly drew near the high point he was aiming at.
By this time it was pitch dark. The sun had set and fog obscured the starlight. But Trevennack, all on fire, wandered madly forward and scaled the rocky tor by the well-known path, guided not by sight, but by pure instinctive groping. In his present exalted state, indeed, he had no need of eyes. What matters earthly darkness to angelic feet? He could pick his own way through the gloom, though all the fiends from hell in serried phalanx broke loose to thwart him. He would reach the top at last; reach the top; reach the top, and there fight that old serpent who lay in wait to destroy him. At last he gained the peak, and stood with feet firmly planted on the little rocky platform. Now, Satan, come on! Ha, traitor, come, if you dare! Your antagonist is ready for you!
Cr'r'r'k! as he stood there, waiting, a terrible shock brought him to himself all at once with startling suddenness. Trevennack drew back aghast and appalled. Even in his mad exaltation this strange assault astonished him. He had expected a struggle, indeed; he had expected a conflict, but with a spiritual foe; to meet his adversary in so bodily a form as this, wholly startled and surprised him. For it was a fierce earthly shock he received upon his right leg as he mounted the rocky platform. Satan had been lying in wait for him then, expecting him, waylaying him, and in corporeal presence too. For this was a spear of good steel! This was a solid Thing that assaulted him as he rose-- assaulted him with frantic rage and uncontrollable fury!
For a moment Trevennack was stunned--the sharpness of the pain and the suddenness of the attack took both breath and sense away from him. He stood there one instant, irresolute, before he knew how to comport himself. But before he could make up his mind--cr'r'k, a second time-- the Presence had assailed him again, fighting with deadly force, and in a white heat of frenzy. Trevennack had no leisure to think what this portent might mean. Man or fiend, it was a life-and-death struggle now between them. He stood face to face at last in mortal conflict with his materialized enemy. What form the Evil Thing had assumed to suit his present purpose Trevennack knew not, nor did he even care. Stung with pain and terror he rushed forward blindly upon his enraged assailant, and closed with him at once, tooth and nail, in a deadly grapple.
A more terrible battle man and brute never fought. Trevennack had no sword, no celestial panoply. But he could wrestle like a Cornishman. He must trample his foe under foot, then, in this final struggle, by sheer force of strong thews and strained muscles alone. He fought the Creature as it stood, flinging his arms round it wildly. The Thing seemed to rear itself as if on cloven hoofs. Trevennack seized it round the waist, and grasping it hard in an iron grip, clung to it with all the wild energy of madness. Yield, Satan, yield! But still the Creature eluded him. Once more it drew back a pace--he felt its hot breath, he smelt its hateful smell--and prepared to rush again at him. Trevennack bent down to receive its attack, crouching. The Creature burst full tilt on him--it almost threw him over. Trevennack caught it in his horror and awe--caught it bodily by the horns--for horned it seemed to be, as well as cloven-footed--and by sheer force of arm held it off from him an elbow's length one minute. The Thing struggled and reared again. Yes, yes, it was Satan--he felt him all over now--a devil undisguised--but Satan rather in medieval than in Miltonic fashion. His skin was rough and hairy as a satyr's; his odor was foul; his feet were cleft; his horns sharp and terrible. He flung him from him horrified.
Quick as lightning the demon rose again, and tilted fiercely at him once more. It was a death fight between those two for that rocky platform. Should Satan thus usurp St. Michael's Tor? Ten thousand times, no! Yield, yield! No surrender! Each knew the ground well, and even in the dark and in the mad heat of the conflict, each carefully avoided the steep edge of the precipice. But the fiend knew it best, apparently. He had been lying in a snug nook, under lee of a big rock, sharpening his sword on its side, before Trevennack came up there. Against this rock he took his stand, firm as a rock himself, and seemed to defy his enemy's arms to dislodge him from his position.
Trevennack's hands and legs were streaming now with blood. His left arm was sorely wounded. His thumb hung useless. But with the strange energy of madness he continued the desperate conflict against his unseen foe. Never should Michael turn and yield to the deadly assaults of the Evil One! He rushed on blindly once more, and the Adversary stooped to oppose him. Again, a terrible shock, it almost broke both his knees; but by sheer strength of nerve he withstood it, still struggling. Then they closed in a final grapple. It was a tooth-and- nail conflict. They fought one another with every weapon they possessed; each hugged each in their fury; they tilted, and tore, and wrestled, and bit, and butted.
Trevennack's coat was in ribbons, his arm was ripped and bleeding; but he grasped the Adversary still, he fought blindly to the end. Down, Satan, I defy thee!
It was a long, fierce fight! At last, bit by bit, the Enemy began to yield. Trevennack had dashed him against the crag time after time like a log, till he too was torn and hurt and bleeding. His flesh was like pulp. He could endure the unequal fight no longer. He staggered and gave way. A great joy rose up tremulous in Trevennack's heart. Even without his celestial sword, then, he had vanquished his enemy. He seized the Creature round the middle, dragged it, a dead weight, in his weary arms, to the edge of the precipice, and dropped it, feebly resisting, on to the bare rock beneath him.
Victory! Victory! Once more, a great victory!
He stood on the brink of the tor, and poised himself, as if for flight, in his accustomed attitude. But he was faint from loss of blood, and his limbs shook under him.
A light seemed to break before his blinded eyes. Victory! Victory! It was the light from heaven! He stared forward to welcome it. The brink of the precipice? What was that to such as he? He would spread his wings--for once--at last--thus! thus! and fly forward on full pinions to his expected triumph!
He raised both arms above his head, and spread them out as if for flight. His knees trembled fearfully. His fingers quivered. Then he launched himself on the air and fell. His eyes closed half-way. He lost consciousness. He fainted. Before he had reached the bottom he was wholly insensible.
Next day it was known before noon in London that a strange and inexplicable accident had befallen Mr. Michael Trevennack C.M.G., the well-known Admiralty official, on the moor near Ivybridge. Mr. Trevennack, it seemed, had started by the Cornish express for Falmouth, on official business; but the line being blocked between Ivybridge and Plymouth, he had changed his plans and set out to walk, as was conjectured, by a devious path across the moor to Tavistock. Deceased knew the neighborhood well, and was an enthusiastic admirer of its tors and uplands. But fog coming on, the unfortunate gentleman, it was believed, had lost his way, and tried to shelter himself for a time behind a tall peak of rock which he used frequently to visit during his summer holidays. There he was apparently attacked by a savage moorland ram--one of that wild breed of mountain sheep peculiar to Dartmoor, and famous for the strength and ferocity often displayed by the fathers of the flock. Mr. Trevennack was unarmed, and a terrible fight appeared to have taken place between these ill-matched antagonists on the summit of the rocks, full details of which, the Telegram said in its curt business-like way, were too ghastly for publication. After a long and exhausting struggle, however, the combatants must either have slipped on the wet surface and tumbled over the edge of the rocks together in a deadly grapple, or else, as seemed more probable from the positions in which the bodies were found, the unhappy gentleman had just succeeded in flinging his assailant over, and then, faint from loss of blood, had missed his footing and fallen beside his dead antagonist. At any rate, when the corpse was discovered life had been extinct for several hours; and it was the opinion of the medical authorities who conducted the post- mortem that death was due not so much to the injuries themselves as to asphyxiation in the act of falling.
* * *
The jury found it "Death from accidental circumstances." Cleer never knew more than that her father had met his end by walking over the edge of a cliff on Dartmoor.
* * *
But when the body came home for burial, Dr. Yate-Westbury looked in by Mrs. Trevennack's special request, and performed an informal and private examination of the brain and nervous system. At the close of the autopsy he came down to the drawing-room where the silver-haired lady sat pale and tearful, but courageous. "It is just as I thought," he said; "a clot of blood, due to external injury, has pressed for years above the left frontal region, causing hallucinations and irregularities of a functional character only. You needn't have the slightest fear of its proving hereditary. It's as purely accidental as a sprain or a wound. Your daughter, Mrs. Le Neve, couldn't possibly suffer for it."
And neither Cleer nor Le Neve nor anyone else ever shared that secret of Trevennack's delusions with his wife and the doctor.