Michael's Crag by Grant Allen
Chapter IX. Medical Opinion.
From that day forth, by some unspoken compact, it was "Eustace" and "Cleer," wherever they met, between them. Le Neve began it, by coming round in the afternoon of that self-same day, as soon as he'd slept off the first effects of his fatigue and chill, to inquire of Mrs. Trevennack "how Cleer was getting on" after her night's exposure. And Mrs. Trevennack accepted the frank usurpation in very good part, as indeed was no wonder, for Cleer had wanted to know half an hour before whether "Eustace" had yet been round to ask after her. The form of speech told all. There was no formal engagement, and none of the party knew exactly how or when they began to take it for granted; but from that evening on Michael's Crag it was a tacitly accepted fact between Le Neve and the Trevennacks that Eustace was to marry Cleer as soon as he could get a permanent appointment anywhere.
Engineering, however, is an overstocked profession. In that particular it closely resembles most other callings.
The holidays passed away, and Walter Tyrrel recovered, and the Trevennacks returned to town for the head of the house to take up his new position in the Admiralty service; but Eustace Le Neve heard of no opening anywhere for an energetic young man with South American experience. Those three years he had passed out of England, indeed, had made him lose touch with other members of his craft. People shrugged their shoulders when they heard of him, and opined, with a chilly smile, he was the sort of young man who ought to go to the colonies. That's the easiest way of shelving all similar questions. The colonies are popularly regarded in England as the predestined dumping-ground for all the fools and failures of the mother-country. So Eustace settled down in lodgings in London, not far from the Trevennacks, and spent more of his time, it must be confessed, in going round to see Cleer than in perfecting himself in the knowledge of his chosen art. Not that he failed to try every chance that lay open to him--he had far too much energy to sit idle in his chair and let the stream of promotion flow by unattempted; but chances were few and applicants were many, and month after month passed away to his chagrin without the clever young engineer finding an appointment anywhere. Meanwhile, his little nest-egg of South-American savings was rapidly disappearing; and though Tyrrel, who had influence with railway men, exerted himself to the utmost on his friend's behalf-- partly for Cleer's sake, and partly for Eustace's own--Le Neve saw his balance growing daily smaller, and began to be seriously alarmed at last, not merely for his future prospects of employment and marriage, but even for his immediate chance of a modest livelihood.
Nor was Mrs. Trevennack, for her part, entirely free from sundry qualms of conscience as to her husband's condition and the rightfulness of concealing it altogether from Cleer's accepted lover. Trevennack himself was so perfectly sane in every ordinary relation of life, so able a business head, so dignified and courtly an English gentleman, that Eustace never even for a moment suspected any undercurrent of madness in that sound practical intelligence. Indeed, no man could talk with more absolute common sense about his daughter's future, or the duties and functions of an Admiralty official, than Michael Trevennack. It was only to his wife in his most confidential moments that he ever admitted the truth as to his archangelic character; to all others whom he met he was simply a distinguished English civil servant of blameless life and very solid judgment. The heads of his department placed the most implicit trust in Trevennack's opinion; there was no man about the place who could decide a knotty point of detail off-hand like Michael Trevennack. What was his poor wife to do, then? Was it her place to warn Eustace that Cleer's father might at any moment unexpectedly develop symptoms of dangerous insanity? Was she bound thus to wreck her own daughter's happiness? Was she bound to speak out the very secret of her heart which she had spent her whole life in inducing Trevennack himself to bottle up with ceaseless care in his distracted bosom?
And yet ... she saw the other point of view as well--alas, all too plainly. She was a martyr to conscience, like Walter Tyrrel himself; was it right of her, then, to tie Eustace for life to a girl who was really a madman's daughter? This hateful question was up before her often in the dead dark night, as she lay awake on her bed, tossing and turning feverishly; it tortured her in addition to her one lifelong trouble. For the silver-haired lady had borne the burden of that unknown sorrow locked up in her own bosom for fifteen years; and it had left on her face such a beauty of holiness as a great trouble often leaves indelibly stamped on women of the same brave, loving temperament.
One day, about three months later, in their drawing-room at Bayswater, Eustace Le Neve happened to let drop a casual remark which cut poor Mrs. Trevennack to the quick, like a knife at her heart. He was talking of some friend of his who had lately got engaged. "It's a terrible thing," he said, seriously. "There's insanity in the family. I wouldn't marry into such a family as that--no, not if I loved a girl to distraction, Mrs. Trevennack. The father's in a mad-house, you know; and the girl's very nice now, but one never can tell when the tendency may break out. And then--just think! what an inheritance to hand on to one's innocent children!"
Trevennack took no open notice of what he said. But Mrs. Trevennack winced, grew suddenly pale, and stammered out some conventional none- committing platitude. His words entered her very soul. They stung and galled her. That night she lay awake and thought more bitterly to herself about the matter than ever. Next morning early, as soon as Trevennack had set off to catch the fast train from Waterloo to Portsmouth direct (he was frequently down there on Admiralty business), she put on her cloak and bonnet, without a word to Cleer, and set out in a hansom all alone to Harley Street.
The house to which she drove was serious-looking and professional--in point of fact, it was Dr. Yate-Westbury's, the well-known specialist on mental diseases. She sent up no card and gave no name. On the contrary, she kept her veil down--and it was a very thick one. But Dr. Yate-Westbury made no comment on this reticence; it was a familiar occurrence with him--people are often ashamed to have it known they consult a mad-doctor.
"I want to ask you about my husband's case," Mrs. Trevennack began, trembling. And the great specialist, all attention, leaned forward and listened to her.
Mrs. Trevennack summoned up courage, and started from the very beginning. She described how her husband, who was a government servant, had been walking below a cliff on the seashore with their only son, some fifteen years earlier, and how a shower of stones from the top had fallen on their heads and killed their poor boy, whose injuries were the more serious. She could mention it all now with comparatively little emotion; great sorrows since had half obliterated that first and greatest one. But she laid stress upon the point that her husband had been struck, too, and was very gravely hurt--so gravely, indeed, that it was weeks before he recovered physically.
"On what part of the head?" Yate-Westbury asked, with quick medical insight.
And Mrs. Trevennack answered, "Here," laying her small gloved hand on the center of the left temple.
The great specialist nodded. "Go on," he said, quietly. "Fourth frontal convolution! And it was a month or two, I have no doubt, before you noticed any serious symptoms supervening?"
"Exactly so," Mrs. Trevennack made answer, very much relieved. "It was all of a month or two. But from that day forth--from the very beginning, I mean--he had a natural horror of going beneath a cliff, and he liked to get as high up as he could, so as to be perfectly sure there was nobody at all anywhere above to hurt him." And then she went on to describe in short but graphic phrase how he loved to return to the place of his son's accident, and to stand for hours on lonely sites overlooking the spot, and especially on a crag which was dedicated to St. Michael.
The specialist caught at what was coming with the quickness, she thought, of long experience. "Till he fancied himself the archangel?" he said, promptly and curiously.
Mrs. Trevennack drew a deep breath of satisfaction and relief. "Yes," she answered, flushing hot. "Till he fancied himself the archangel. There--there were extenuating circumstances, you see. His own name's Michael; and his family--well, his family have a special connection with St. Michael's Mount; their crest's a castled crag with 'Stand fast, St. Michael's!' and he knew he had to fight against this mad impulse of his own--which he felt was like a devil within him--for his daughter's sake; and he was always standing alone on these rocky high places, dedicated to St. Michael, till the fancy took full hold upon him; and now, though he knows in a sort of a way he's mad, he believes quite firmly he's St. Michael the Archangel."
Yate-Westbury nodded once more. "Precisely the development I should expect to occur," he said, "after such an accident."
Mrs. Trevennack almost bounded from her seat in her relief. "Then you attribute it to the accident first of all?" she asked, eagerly.
"Not a doubt about it," the specialist answered. "The region you indicate is just the one where similar illusory ideas are apt to arise from external injuries. The bruise gave the cause, and circumstances the form. Besides, the case is normal--quite normal altogether. Does he have frequent outbreaks?"
Mrs. Trevennack explained that he never had any. Except to herself, and that but seldom, he never alluded to the subject in any way.
Yate-Westbury bit his lip. "He must have great self-control," he answered, less confidently. "In a case like that, I'm bound to admit, my prognosis--for the final result--would be most unfavorable. The longer he bottles it up the more terrible is the outburst likely to be when it arrives. You must expect that some day he will break out irrepressibly."
Mrs. Trevennack bowed her head with the solemn placidity of despair. "I'm quite prepared for that," she said, quietly; "though I try hard to delay it, for a specific reason. That wasn't the question I came to consult you about to-day. I feel sure my poor husband's case is perfectly hopeless, as far as any possibility of cure is concerned; what I want to know is about another aspect of the case." She leaned forward appealingly. "Oh, doctor," she cried, clasping her hands, "I have a dear daughter at home--the one thing yet left me. She's engaged to be married to a young man whom she loves--a young man who loves her. Am I bound to tell him she's a madman's child? Is there any chance of its affecting her? Is the taint hereditary?"
She spoke with deep earnestness. She rushed out with it without reserve. Yate-Westbury gazed at her compassionately. He was a kind- hearted man. "No; certainly not," he answered, with emphasis. "Not the very slightest reason in any way to fear it. The sanest man, coming from the very sanest and healthiest stock on earth, would almost certainly be subject to delusions under such circumstances. This is accident, not disease--circumstance, not temperament. The injury to the brain is the result of a special blow. Grief for the loss of his son, and brooding over the event, no doubt contributed to the particular shape the delusion has assumed. But the injury's the main thing. I don't doubt there's a clot of blood formed just here on the brain, obstructing its functions in part, and disturbing its due relations. In every other way, you say, he's a good man of business. The very apparent rationality of the delusion--the way it's been led up to by his habit of standing on cliffs, his name, his associations, his family, everything--is itself a good sign that the partial insanity is due to a local and purely accidental cause. It simulates reason as closely as possible. Dismiss the question altogether from your mind, as far as your daughter's future is concerned. Its no more likely to be inherited than a broken leg or an amputated arm is."
Mrs. Trevennack burst into a flood of joyous tears. "Then all I have to do," she sobbed out, "is to keep him from an outbreak until after my daughter's married."
Dr. Yate-Westbury nodded. "That's all you have to do," he answered, sympathetically. "And I'm sure Mrs. Trevennack---" he paused with a start and checked himself.
"Why, how do you know my name?" the astonished mother cried, drawing back with a little shudder of half superstitious alarm at such surprising prescience.
Dr. Yate-Westbury made a clean breast of it. "Well, to tell the truth," he said, "Mr. Trevennack himself called round here yesterday, in the afternoon, and stated the whole case to me from his own point of view, giving his name in full--as a man would naturally do--but never describing to me the nature of his delusion. He said it was too sacred a thing for him to so much as touch upon; that he knew he wasn't mad, but that the world would think him so; and he wanted to know, from something he'd heard said, whether madness caused by an injury of the sort would or would not be considered by medical men as inheritable. And I told him at once, as I've told you to-day, there was not the faintest danger of it. But I never made such a slip in my life before as blurting out the name. I could only have done it to you. Trust me, your secret is safe in my keeping. I have hundreds in my head." He took her hand in his own as he spoke. "Dear madam," he said, gently," I understand; I feel for you."
"Thank you," Mrs. Trevennack answered low, with tears standing in her eyes. "I'm--I'm so glad you've seen him. It makes your opinion so much more valuable to me. But you thought his delusion wholly due to the accident, then?"
"Wholly due to the accident, dear lady. Yes, wholly, wholly due to it. You may go home quite relieved. Your doubts and fears are groundless. Miss Trevennack may marry with a clear conscience."