An Eye for an Eye, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 23.

On the Cliffs.

No attempt at escape was made. The Earl breakfasted by himself at about nine, and then lighting a cigar, roamed about for a while round the Inn, thinking of the work that was now before him. He saw nothing of Father Marty though he knew that the priest was still in Ennistimon. And he felt that he was watched. They might have saved themselves that trouble, for he certainly had no intention of breaking his word to them. So he told himself, thinking as he did so, that people such as these could not understand that an Earl of Scroope would not be untrue to his word. And yet since he had been back in County Clare he had almost regretted that he had not broken his faith to them and remained in England. At half-past ten he started on a car, having promised to be at the cottage at noon, and he told his servant that he should certainly leave Ennistimon that day at three. The horse and gig were to be ready for him exactly at that hour.

On this occasion he did not go through Liscannor, but took the other road to the burial ground. There he left his car and slowly walked along the cliffs till he came to the path leading down from them to the cottage. In doing this he went somewhat out of his way, but he had time on his hands and he did not desire to be at the cottage before the hour he had named. It was a hot midsummer day, and there seemed to be hardly a ripple on the waves. The tide was full in, and he sat for a while looking down upon the blue waters. What an ass had he made himself, coming thither in quest of adventures! He began to see now the meaning of such idleness of purpose as that to which he had looked for pleasure and excitement. Even the ocean itself and the very rocks had lost their charm for him. It was all one blaze of blue light, the sky above and the water below, in which there was neither beauty nor variety. How poor had been the life he had chosen! He had spent hour after hour in a comfortless dirty boat, in company with a wretched ignorant creature, in order that he might shoot a few birds and possibly a seal. All the world had been open to him, and yet how miserable had been his ambition! And now he could see no way out of the ruin he had brought upon himself.

When the time had come he rose from his seat and took the path down to the cottage. At the corner of the little patch of garden ground attached to it he met Mrs. O’Hara. Her hat was on her head, and a light shawl was on her shoulders as though she had prepared herself for walking. He immediately asked after Kate. She told him that Kate was within and should see him presently. Would it not be better that they two should go up on the cliffs together, and then say what might be necessary for the mutual understanding of their purposes? “There should be no talking of all this before Kate,” said Mrs. O’Hara.

“That is true.”

“You can imagine what she must feel if she is told to doubt. Lord Scroope, will you not say at once that there shall be no doubt? You must not ruin my child in return for her love!”

“If there must be ruin I would sooner bear it myself,” said he. And then they walked on without further speech till they had reached a point somewhat to the right, and higher than that on which he had sat before. It had ever been a favourite spot with her, and he had often sat there between the mother and daughter. It was almost the summit of the cliff, but there was yet a higher pitch which screened it from the north, so that the force of the wind was broken. The fall from it was almost precipitous to the ocean, so that the face of the rocks immediately below was not in view; but there was a curve here in the line of the shore, and a little bay in the coast, which exposed to view the whole side of the opposite cliff, so that the varying colours of the rocks might be seen. The two ladies had made a seat upon the turf, by moving the loose stones and levelling the earth around, so that they could sit securely on the very edge. Many many hours had Mrs. O’Hara passed upon the spot, both summer and winter, watching the sunset in the west, and listening to the screams of the birds. “There are no gulls now,” she said as she seated herself — as though for a moment she had forgotten the great subject which filled her mind.

“No; — they never show themselves in weather like this. They only come when the wind blows. I wonder where they go when the sun shines.”

“They are just the opposite to men and women who only come around you in fine weather. How hot it is!” and she threw her shawl back from her shoulders.

“Yes, indeed. I walked up from the burial ground and I found that it was very hot. Have you seen Father Marty this morning?”

“No. Have you?” she asked the question turning upon him very shortly.

“Not today. He was with me till late last night.”

“Well.” He did not answer her. He had nothing to say to her. In fact everything had been said yesterday. If she had questions to ask he would answer them. “What did you settle last night? When he went from me an hour after you were gone, he said that it was impossible that you should mean to destroy her.”

“God forbid that I should destroy her.”

“He said that — that you were afraid of her father.”

“I am.”

“And of me.”

“No; — not of you, Mrs. O’Hara.”

“Listen to me. He said that such a one as you cannot endure the presence of an uneducated and ill-mannered mother-in-law. Do not interrupt me, Lord Scroope. If you will marry her, my girl shall never see my face again; and I will cling to that man and will not leave him for a moment, so that he shall never put his foot near your door. Our name shall never be spoken in your hearing. She shall never even write to me if you think it better that we shall be so separated.”

“It is not that,” he said.

“What is it, then?”

“Oh, Mrs. O’Hara, you do not understand. You — you I could love dearly.”

“I would have you keep all your love for her.”

“I do love her. She is good enough for me. She is too good; and so are you. It is for the family, and not for myself.”

“How will she harm the family?”

“I swore to my uncle that I would not make her Countess of Scroope.”

“And have you not sworn to her again and again that she should be your wife? Do you think that she would have done for you what she has done, had you not so sworn? Lord Scroope, I cannot think that you really mean it.” She put both her hands softly upon his arm and looked up to him imploring his mercy.

He got up from his seat and roamed along the cliff, and she followed him, still imploring. Her tones were soft, and her words were the words of a suppliant. Would he not relent and save her child from wretchedness, from ruin and from death. “I will keep her with me till I die,” he said.

“But not as your wife?”

“She shall have all attention from me — everything that a woman’s heart can desire. You two shall be never separated.”

“But not as your wife?”

“I will live where she and you may please. She shall want nothing that my wife would possess.”

“But not as your wife?”

“Not as Countess of Scroope.”

“You would have her as your mistress, then?” As she asked this question the tone of her voice was altogether altered, and the threatening lion-look had returned to her eyes. They were now near the seat, confronted to each other; and the fury of her bosom, which for a while had been dominated by the tenderness of the love for her daughter, was again raging within her. Was it possible that he should be able to treat them thus — that he should break his word and go from them scathless, happy, joyous, with all the delights of the world before him, leaving them crushed into dust beneath his feet. She had been called upon from her youth upwards to bear injustice — but of all injustice surely this would be the worst. “As your mistress,” she repeated — “and I her mother, am to stand by and see it, and know that my girl is dishonoured! Would your mother have borne that for your sister? How would it be if your sister were as that girl is now?”

“I have no sister.”

“And therefore you are thus hard-hearted. She shall never be your harlot; — never. I would myself sooner take from her the life I gave her. You have destroyed her, but she shall never be a thing so low as that.”

“I will marry her — in a foreign land.”

“And why not here? She is as good as you. Why should she not bear the name you are so proud of dinning into our ears? Why should she not be a Countess? Has she ever disgraced herself? If she is disgraced in your eyes you must be a Devil.”

“It is not that,” he said hoarsely.

“What is it? What has she done that she should be thus punished? Tell me, man, that she shall be your lawful wife.” As she said this she caught him roughly by the collar of his coat and shook him with her arm.

“It cannot be so,” said the Earl Of Scroope.

“It cannot be so! But I say it shall — or — or —! What are you, that she should be in your hands like this? Say that she shall be your wife, or you shall never live to speak to another woman.” The peril of his position on the top of the cliff had not occurred to him; — nor did it occur to him now. He had been there so often that the place gave him no sense of danger. Nor had that peril — as it was thought afterwards by those who most closely made inquiry on the matter — ever occurred to her. She had not brought him there that she might frighten him with that danger, or that she might avenge herself by the power which it gave her. But now the idea flashed across her maddened mind. “Miscreant,” she said. And she bore him back to the very edge of the precipice.

“You’ll have me over the cliff,” he exclaimed hardly even yet putting out his strength against her.

“And so I will, by the help of God. Now think of her! Now think of her!” And as she spoke she pressed him backwards towards his fall. He had power enough to bend his knee, and to crouch beneath her grasp on to the loose crumbling soil of the margin of the rocks. He still held her by her cuff and it seemed for a moment as though she must go with him. But, on a sudden, she spurned him with her foot on the breast, the rag of cloth parted in his hand, and the poor wretch tumbled forth alone into eternity.

That was the end of Frederic Neville, Earl of Scroope, and the end, too, of all that poor girl’s hopes in this world. When you stretch yourself on the edge of those cliffs and look down over the abyss on the sea below it seems as though the rocks were so absolutely perpendicular, that a stone dropped with an extended hand would fall amidst the waves. But in such measurement the eye deceives itself, for the rocks in truth slant down; and the young man, as he fell, struck them again and again; and at last it was a broken mangled corpse that reached the blue waters below.

Her Kate was at last avenged. The woman stood there in her solitude for some minutes thinking of the thing she had done. The man had injured her — sorely — and she had punished him. He had richly deserved the death which he had received from her hands. In these minutes, as regarded him, there was no remorse. But how should she tell the news to her child? The blow which had thrust him over would, too probably, destroy other life than his. Would it not be better that her girl should so die? What could prolonged life give her that would be worth her having? As for herself — in these first moments of her awe she took no thought of her own danger. It did not occur to her that she might tell how the man had ventured too near the edge and had fallen by mischance. As regarded herself she was proud of the thing she had accomplished; but how should she tell her child that it was done?

She slowly took the path, not to the cottage, but down towards the burial ground and Liscannor, passing the car which was waiting in vain for the young lord. On she walked with rapid step, indifferent to the heat, still proud of what she had done — raging with a maddened pride. How little had they two asked of the world! And then this man had come to them and robbed them of all that little, had spoiled them ruthlessly, cheating them with lies, and then excusing himself by the grandeur of his blood! During that walk it was that she first repeated to herself the words that were ever afterwards on her tongue; An Eye for an Eye. Was not that justice? And, had she not taken the eye herself, would any Court in the world have given it to her? Yes; — an eye for an eye! Death in return for ruin! One destruction for another! The punishment had been just. An eye for an eye! Let the Courts of the world now say what they pleased, they could not return to his earldom the man who had plundered and spoiled her child. He had sworn that he would not make her Kate Countess of Scroope! Nor should he make any other woman a Countess!

Rapidly she went down by the burying ground, and into the priest’s house. Father Marty was there, and she stalked at once into his presence. “Ha; — Mrs. O’Hara! And where is Lord Scroope?”

“There,” she said, pointing out towards the ocean. “Under the rocks!”

“He has fallen!”

“I thrust him down with my hands and with my feet.” As she said this, she used her hand and her foot as though she were now using her strength to push the man over the edge. “Yes, I thrust him down, and he fell splashing into the waves. I heard it as his body struck the water. He will shoot no more of the sea-gulls now.”

“You do not mean that you have murdered him?”

“You may call it murder if you please, Father Marty. An eye for an eye, Father Marty! It is justice, and I have done it. An Eye for an Eye!”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43