Michael's Crag by Grant Allen
Chapter IV. Tyrrel's Remorse.
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."
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.