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. How jauntily he talked about it, as if the reason for the selection were a matter of no moment! How little he seemed to think of the Prince of the Archangels!"

"But for Cleer's sake, darling, you kept it in," Mrs. Trevennack said, coaxingly; "and for Cleer's sake you'll keep it in still--I know you will; now won't you?"

Trevennack looked the picture of embodied self-restraint. His back was rigid. "For Cleer's sake I'll keep it in," he said, firmly. "I know how important it is for her. Never in this world have I breathed a word of it to any living soul but you; and never in this world I will. The rest wouldn't understand. They'd say it was madness."

"They would," his wife assented very gravely and earnestly. "And that would be so bad for Cleer's future prospects. People would think you were out of your mind; and you know how chary young men are nowadays of marrying a girl when they believe or even suspect there's insanity in the family. You can talk of it as much and as often as you like to me, dear Michael. I think that does you good. It acts as a safety- valve. It keeps you from bottling your secret up in your own heart too long, and brooding over it, and worrying yourself. I like you to talk to me of it whenever you feel inclined. But for heaven's sake, darling, to nobody else. Not a hint of it for worlds. The consequences might be terrible."

Trevennack rose and stood at his full height, with his heels on the edge of the low cottage fender. "You can trust me, Lucy," he said, in a very soft tone, with grave and conscious dignity. "You can trust me to hold my tongue. I know how much depends upon it."

The beautiful lady with the silvery hair sat and gazed on him admiringly. She knew she could trust him; she knew he would keep it in. But she knew at the same time how desperate a struggle the effort cost him; and visionary though he was, she loved and admired him for it.

There was an eloquent silence. Then, after a while, Trevennack spoke again, more tenderly and regretfully. "That man did it!" he said, with slow emphasis. "I saw by his face at once he did it. He killed our poor boy. I could read it in his look. I'm sure it was he. And besides, I have news of it, certain news--from elsewhere," and he looked up significantly.

"Michael!" Mrs. Trevennack said, drawing close to him with an appealing gesture, and gazing hard into his eyes; "it's a long time since. He was a boy at the time. He did it carelessly, no doubt; but not guiltily, culpably. For Cleer's sake, there, too--oh, forgive him, forgive him!" She clasped her hands tight; she looked up at him tearfully.

"It was the devil's work," her husband answered, with a faint frown on his high forehead, "and my task in life, Lucy, is to fight down the devil."

"Fight him down in your own heart, then, dear," Mrs. Trevennack said, gently. "Remember, we all may fall. Lucifer did--and he was once an archangel. Fight him down in your own heart when he suggests hateful thoughts to you. For I know what you felt when it came over you instinctively that that young man had done it. You wanted to fly straight at his throat, dear Michael--you wanted to fly at his throat, and fling him over the precipice."

"I did," Trevennack answered, making no pretense of denial. "But for Cleer's sake I refrained. And for Cleer's sake, if you wish it, I'll try to forgive him."

Mrs. Trevennack pressed his hand. Tears stood in her dim eyes. She, too, had a terrible battle to fight all the days of her life, and she fought it valiantly. "Michael," she said, with an effort, "try to avoid that young man. Try to avoid him, I implore you. Don't go near him in the future. If you see him too often, I'm afraid what the result for you both may be. You control yourself wonderfully, dear; you control yourself, I know; and I'm grateful to you for it. But if you see too much of him, I dread an outbreak. It may get the better of you. And then--think of Cleer! Avoid him! Avoid him!"

For only that silver-headed woman of all people on earth knew the terrible truth, that Michael Trevennack's was a hopeless case of suppressed insanity. Well suppressed, indeed, and kept firmly in check for his daughter's sake, and by his brave wife's aid; but insanity, none the less, of the profoundest monomaniacal pattern, for all that. All day long, and every day, in his dealings with the outer world, he kept down his monomania. An able and trusted government servant, he never allowed it for one moment to interfere with his public duties. To his wife alone he let out what he thought the inmost and deepest secret of his real existence--that he was the Archangel Michael. To no one else did he ever allow a glimpse of the truth, as he thought it, to appear. He knew the world would call it madness; and he didn't wish the stigma of inherited insanity to cling to his Cleer.

Not even Cleer herself for a moment suspected it.

Trevennack was wise enough and cunning enough, as madmen often are, to keep his own counsel, for good and sufficient reason.