- CHAPTER XXXI. A TURN IN THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
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A TURN IN THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
IT was a comfort to poor Raymond (melancholy as the subject was) to have "something to say" to his mother and sister, when he met them at breakfast that morning, that did not in the least refer to, or had any connexion with, the unfortunate, topic of his wife. As they had never been made acquainted with the episode of Mr. Tom White, or been told anything more, with regard to Martha Wilson, beyond the commonplace information that she had had "a young man," and, at | | 360 the desire of her mistress, dismissed him, it was unnecessary to inform them further, than that Raymond had met with a stranger, dangerously wounded in the manner described, and had accidentally discovered him to be their cousin Archibald Norreys, and the heir of Woolcombe Rise. They had never associated in any way, nor ever been recognised, by their Berkshire relations, as I mentioned in an early chapter of this story, and therefore the news had little effect upon Mrs. Norreys and Christine, beyond making them give vent to a great deal of surprise at the strangeness of the rencontre, and a good deal of pity for the dying young man, which they expressed by a string of ejaculatory phrases—such as, "How dreadful!" "How very shocking!" "Poor fellow!" "What a horrible idea!" "How distressing for his poor father," &c. &c. As to where Raymond had met his cousin and under what circumstances, my hero managed, by skilful fencing, perfectly to satisfy them without compromising his honour or himself; and the two women were innocent and pure, and unsuspecting of evil (as all innocent people are), and swallowed in perfect faith, anything he chose to tell them. They had been all so very sad before, that the melancholy recital had no power to increase the lowness of their spirits; indeed, it tended to work good, especially with Raymond, to whom it gave fresh ideas, and something to distract his mind from dwelling too much upon his great grief.
"I wonder by what train Sir Archibald will arrive," he said, as he prepared to leave again. "I suppose the first intimation he ever received that there is a Raymond Norreys in the world, was when he saw my name upon the telegram. It will be a sad meeting between the father and son. I dare say he will have no time even to notice me."
"I dare say not, my dear," replied his mother, and it would be little use if he did. The families have always been so very much separated. "Unless, indeed," she added, lowering her voice, "the worst happens with his son; and then you have not forgotten, Raymond, that—"
"Oh! hush, mother," he replied, as if he were pained at the allusion. "My cousin may not die after all. Doctors are often mistaken; and if he does, Sir Archibald might marry again. Don't raise my hopes for nothing."| | 361
"Perhaps it is as well not to be premature," she rejoined. "But the baronet's marrying again is scarcely likely; he is an old man now. The poor young fellow who lies wounded must be older than yourself, Raymond."
"About the same age, I should think," he replied. "Had he any sisters?"
"No; the last Miss Norreys died two years ago. I should think this would be a great blow to poor Sir Archibald. Well! well! all our troubles seem coming together."
Raymond heaved a great sigh, and left her. As soon as he arrived at the Haymarket café, he was met by Mr. Barnett, the doctor, with two pieces of news.
"I regret to say it is all over, Mr. Norreys; he died at seven o'clock this morning, and here is an answer to your telegram to Sir Archibald (or I conclude so); it arrived but this moment."
Raymond was quite unprepared for either piece of intelligence, and he looked very grave as he opened the printed official envelope.
The words were few.
"From Sir A. Norreys, Bart., Berkshire, to R. Norreys, Esq., London."
"'Your message received. Shall be up by the noon train. Send some one to meet at Waterloo Station.'"
"By noon!" exclaimed Raymond, examining his watch. "Why it is nearly that now. Will you meet Sir Archibald, and break the news to him?"
"Well, I think, Mr. Norreys," replied the practitioner, who did not like the idea of the job any more than Raymond did, "I think that my place is by the side of the corpse, until Sir Archibald gives orders for its removal—if you would not object, sir."
"I ought not to do so," replied Raymond, "for to tell you the truth, this gentleman was my cousin, although we have been so much separated as to be unknown to one another. I confess I shrink from having to carry such news to his father; but if you think it your duty to remain by the corpse——"
"Well, Mr. Norreys, it must be as you wish, of course, returned the doctor, whose opinion of Raymond had risen ten | | 362 per cent, directly he heard that he was related to a baronet, "but I should think you were the fittest person to break the news to Sir Archibald."
"Well, well! I will do so," replied Raymond, hastily, "and had better be off at once, as the time is going fast. You will allow no one into the room to inspect the remains, if you please, till we return."
"Certainly not, sir; it is locked up, and I have the key in my pocket."
And then Raymond jumped into a hansom, and went about his melancholy business. And in this place, perhaps (since her name may never again be mentioned in connexion with his), it will be as well to say that poor Martha Wilson was never informed of the real name of her lover, nor of the cruel circumstances under which her master met him. Months afterwards, indeed, the news of his death was broken gently to her by Rachel; but of all other truths concerning him she remained ignorant until her own.
Raymond Norreys did not reach the Waterloo Station till some minutes past twelve, and was afraid at first that he would miss the train; but when he got there he found that it had not yet arrived, and the porters and guards were all on the platform in a state of expectancy. Another five minutes passed, and then Raymond stopped an official to ask him the reason of the delay.
"Can't say, sir," was the answer; "it often happens so with the country trains."
A jocose porter passed them at the moment, whistling.
"Well," he cried to the guard, "don't seem as though your pet Ascot was coming to time this morning? The 'Firefly's' bust—told you she would." And then the guard, who did not appear to relish a joke against his favourite engine, spoke to Raymond again, passing over the vulgarity of the porter with silent contempt.
"She's been very likely detained, sir, by some of the cross trains. That line's a regular bit of network. She can't be long now though."
A quarter of an hour—twenty minutes—were gone; and still the Ascot train was due. A dozen trains had rushed panting into the terminus since Raymond had patrolled the platform, and yet the one he looked for came not.| | 363
"It was lucky," he thought at first, "as it gave him time to think over the approaching interview with the bereaved father; but as the minutes went on, other expectant friends became impatient, and he caught the infection. Two or three husbands who had come to meet their wives or families an anxious mother who was expecting a little child from the country whom she had not seen for long, and others who were pressed for time, and annoyed at being obliged thus to waste it.
"Hang it!" exclaimed Raymond at last, "is the train coming this morning, or is she not? People cannot be hanging about all day in this manner."
The face of the guard whom he addressed had grown graver since he last saw it.
"We are afraid there must have been a stoppage somewhere, sir," he replied; "she's not used to be but a few minutes behind her time, but we shall hear presently, no doubt."
"I hope, there's nothing wrong," said Raymond, and he thought at the same time what an aggravation it would be to poor Sir Archibald's distress to be compelled to delay upon the road.
"Wrong! bless you, no, sir!" replied the guard, in a tone of the extremest cheerfulness. "How should there be? We shall see her directly."
"If she don't make haste," observed another guard, "she'll run into the down train."
"She's been delayed," said the first speaker, with an air of certainty, "and is waiting for the down train to pass—that's it, to my mind."
And the various watchers, male and female, looked very much relieved by the tone of decision with which he pronounced these words.
Thirty minutes—forty minutes—past the hour of twelve. By this time there were more officials on the platform than those ordinarily seen there—men in plain clothes, and evidently of higher authority, kept passing on and off it, and communicating with the lower servants of the company. And at last a messenger came for the principal there, and he went into the telegraph office, and somebody in the anxious crowd conjectured that news of the missing train had arrived. Raymond's curiosity and something more, had been raised by this time, and he appeared as eager as the rest for intelli- | | 364 gence of some sort. They all pushed forward, pursuing the man to the door of the office, and he followed in their train-all, excepting, indeed, the mother who had come to meet the little child she had not seen for so long, and whose limbs, refusing to bear her up any further, only allowed her to sink down, white as death, and trembling like an aspen leaf, upon the nearest bench. The little crowd would have pushed itself right into the telegraph office if the guards had not prevented it.
"There's a message come," one of them said, in order to restrain its eagerness, "and you'll hear all about it in a minute, if you'll be quiet."
One moment of unspeakable anxiety, and then the man intrusted with the deliverance of the message reappeared. He was the same to whom Raymond had twice before spoken. He had by nature a round and jovial face, but just now, as he stood before them with the written message in his hand, he seemed to have shrunk somehow, and grown suddenly pale. Yet still he attempted an air of great courage, if not cheerfulness.
"There's no denying there's been a slight accident," he said, "but we hope it wont prove of much consequence. The twelve o'clock train being after time, was run into by one of the down trains a little this side Ascot, and some damage done. A few parties have been hurt, and those parties are on their way here now by another train, together with them who haven't been hurt at all. So we hope in a few minutes that all here will meet their friends again safe and sound."
"Any killed?" demanded a faint voice in the crowd—faint though belonging to a man, for he had come to meet his one-year wife returning from a visit to her mother in the country.
"Well, the stoker is gone, poor fellow, and the driver, and a better man never drove engine," was the reply, "and one or two more, perhaps; but we've had very few particulars, and no names, and must wait for the next message. But I feel confident there's none gone belonging to any here," continued the guard, with more benevolence than reason, perhaps, as he tried to smile away the ghastly fear he saw depicted in almost every face before him. The truth was that the telegram had merely said, in reference to the loss of life. Thirty killed and wounded—latter sent by a slow train; but, as the guard remarked to Raymond Norreys, when, having explained | | 365 that he had no great personal interest in the loss, he extracted the facts from him, "It's as well to make the best of it to them at first, sir—they'll know it soon enough, poor creatures."
There was a dead hush in the crowd after the delivery of the telegraphic message. The men turned away, sick at heart, and some of them showing it in their whitened features, but all silent except they had women with them to support and comfort; but the wives and mothers became clamorous in their demand for more particulars, in their desire to know the worst—the very worst at once. The woman who had sunk upon a bench and yet heard all, now dragged her trembling limbs up again, and staggered to the office door.
"Oh, sir!" she said, to the good-humoured guard, with dry white lips that could scarcely form the words—"about a child—a little child!"
He took her by the shoulders and gently forced her down again upon the seat.
"Now you just stay quiet there," he said, "until I fetch you a glass of water. The child's safe enough, depend upon it—you'll have him in your arms in another minute."
But as he turned away to fetch her the refreshment that he promised, she sank quietly down upon her side, and fainted away.
One o'clock—twenty minutes past one—and still the eyes of the expectant crowd are turned eagerly in the direction by which the train with the survivors of the accident must arrive. There it is at last, slowly puffing its way towards the terminus, as though loth to be the carrier of such bad intelligence.
"Is it the very train?" "Are you sure?" "Might it not be from somewhere else?" "Is there another due?" were amongst the eager questions which burst from such lips as were not too excited to speak at all, or do anything but silently pray for strength, as the engine passed the platform, and dragged the line of carriages after it. It was not a long line; the passengers that could be moved had been sent on just as they were, without baggage or any other encumbrance, and the passengers that could be moved, alas! were few. Medical men were on the spot, and had been for some time, and the first thought, and the first rush, were for the carriages in which the wounded had been conveyed.
"There ain't many of them, sir," was the remark of the | | 366 guard in attendance upon it; "and there's a doctor from Ascot along with them as it is."
He was a young guard, and new to the service, and his face was very pale as he said the words, and remembered how few were able to be moved, and how many more would never move again. As the railway carriages were emptied of their contents, the scene upon the platform was one of harrowing interest; for those who waited there, and happened to receive their friends intact, were as much overcome as those whose keen eyes took in at a glance that theirs were left behind. Indeed, Raymond observed, that of the two the former were far the most demonstrative, and many kisses, tears, hysterics, and faintings took place liberally on both sides, between the restored friends and relatives, whilst those whose hearts had sickened, as one stranger after another stepped out of the carriages, and were recognised, and still theirs, their own—perhaps their one—came not—either staggered off the platform, as though suddenly struck blind, or else sunk down, dumb and senseless, to be trampled on, as might be, beneath the feet of the embracing and embraced. But amongst the passengers who left the train by themselves, Raymond Norreys could see no one who answered to the description of the man he came to meet. He looked eagerly for a bent form and a grey head, but there seemed no old men amongst them. He had liberally tipped the officials on first hearing that there was likely to be a crush and a confusion, and they were all anxious to help him in the search.
"An old gentleman, sir—named Sir Archibald Norreys? Come this way, sir; perhaps some of the passengers may know him by sight."
But the passengers were all too much occupied with their own concerns to answer questions, and no Sir Archibald appeared.
"Afraid the old gentleman's not in the safety carriages, sir. This is the way to the wounded carriages;" and Raymond followed the friendly guard, with a shudder, to the fore part of the train.
But as he neared it, he was startled at hearing a familiar voice saying—
"By Jove, sir, I shouldn't know I was hurt, except you | | 367 told me so; I feel a little pain certainly when I am moved but nothing to signify. I believe I could walk if I was to try—I do, indeed."
"You must not attempt it, sir; indeed, you must not" said the doctor's voice, raised in expostulation; and then, as Raymond rushed forward to confront the first speaker, he added to his brother practitioner, "He's fainted again, Mr. Stevens; we had better move him now into the waiting-room;" and Raymond saw the senseless form of Mr. Northland borne past him as in a dream.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, as he peeped forward to gain a better view—"Mr. Northland!"
"Is this passenger a friend of yours, sir?" demanded one of the doctors, who was assisting to carry poor "cousin Gus" into the waiting-room.
"Yes, I know him; but he is not the friend I came to meet. By-the-bye, are you from Ascot?" he continued, turning round to a face he had not seen upon the platform before.
"I am," was the reply.
"Can you tell me if an old gentleman, Sir Archibald Norreys, is amongst the wounded?"
"He is killed,'' was the sudden reply. "I know Sir Archibald well, I have attended the family. He was amongst the first who were extricated from the débris of the broken carriages. It has been a terrible smash, sir. I was very much shocked to see the poor old gentleman's body. I know it to be a fact, for I examined it myself." But here one of the other doctors touched the speaker on the arm and said—
"Be careful what you say; perhaps it's a relation."
And, indeed, Raymond Norreys had turned so very pale, that no one could help seeing that the news had in some manner powerfully affected him. He grasped at the door-lintel for support, as the Ascot doctor piled the assurances of the truth of his assertion one upon another, and appeared at first as if he had no words wherewith to answer him. The suddenness of the news, the extraordinary revolution which the confirmation of it would make in his fortunes, was too much for him. He had been shocked at the awful death of his cousin; he was still more shocked at the double tragedy | | 368 of which he was now informed; but through and above all feelings of the kind, he could not forget that the two accidents, dreadful as they were, must result in his becoming Sir Raymond Norreys—that he was (even whilst he grasped that door-lintel), in fact, a Baronet. It was not in mortal man to forget it, particularly as his affections were not interested on behalf of the deceased; however much his humanity might prompt him to feel for the untimely sacrifices which had made him so.
"I am a relation of Sir Archibald's," he said, as he recovered his tongue and his self-command together, "and I am very much shocked to hear of his death, particularly as I had come to announce sad news to him. His son also died in London this morning."
"What, that scamp!" exclaimed the young Ascot doctor. "I beg your pardon, though, I am forgetting myself; but you have really interested me very much. So young Norreys is dead, is he? Who's the next heir?"
They had by this time deposited the form of Mr. Northland upon the waiting-room table, and the Ascot doctor appeared very anxious to discuss all particulars of the Norreys' succession with Raymond; and the latter, although he had no intention of gratifying his curiosity with respect to himself, thought he might give him some useful information, and to that end drew him on one side.
"Sir Archibald Norreys was a cousin of mine," he said hurriedly, in explanation of his own want of advice; "and I came here this morning to break the news of the loss of his son to him. Mr. Norreys also came to his death by an accident, and his body must await an inquest here. What ought I to do?"
"Your time is your own?" demanded the young surgeon.
"Entirely so," replied Raymond.
"Then I should first depute some one to stay with the remains of Mr. Norreys, and then cut down to Ascot, and make arrangements for Sir Archibald's body being moved to Woolcombe Rise, as soon as the inquest there is over. You can't do better than that. There is a butler in the house who has been there for years, and will arrange everything as well as you could do it yourself, and—hang it, what luck!—you'll | | 369 find Sir Archibald's men of business there too; I know you will. Packer and Mitbury their names are; they have been there shooting for the last month. You should set them to work at once to look up the heir. Who is the next heir? I believe you are," said the Ascot doctor, who was young and facetious, and not to be put down. "Then you must cut back here and superintend the removal of the poor young fellow's body to Berkshire. Fancy both of them gone in one day. Sad thing, isn't it? But I'm wanted again, and I must be off." And the young doctor ran away as he spoke. Raymond felt he had given him good advice, but it was one of those moments in a man's life when he feels utterly confused and senseless, and hardly knows how to act for the best. So many events had crowded lately one upon another, and above them all was hovering the great and unexpected knowledge of the change in his prospects, that he felt quite giddy when he tried to think. However, the first thing was certainly to return to the Haymarket café, and have an interview with Mr. Barnett, and with that intention, and forgetting all else, Raymond was about to leave the station, when another of the doctors touched his shoulder in passing, and said—
"I expect your friend there is more hurt than he thinks for, sir."
"Who? what friend?" demanded Raymond, waking from a reverie.
"The gentleman we first carried into the waiting-room. But the injuries are internal, and it is difficult to say."
Then Raymond remembered poor Gus Northland, and asked if he was sensible.
"Yes, quite so, and very anxious to be moved from here."
"I will go to him," said Raymond, hastily, and when he entered his presence, and was recognised, the pleasure of Cousin Gus was extreme.
"My dear fellow," he exclaimed, "I am so delighted to see you. You'll have me moved from this abominable place, wont you? I want to get down to Brighton to join Mrs. Craven—Brighton always sets me up, it's the healthiest place in England, and my own doctor is there into the bargain."
"But are you fit to be moved, sir?" asked Raymond.
"Fit to be moved—of course I am. I've hardly any pain | | 370 —except when I'm shaken. I fell under one of the carriages—such a smash. You should have been there, Norreys."
Raymond did not exactly coincide with this last opinion of Cousin Gus', but his friend the Ascot doctor now appearing in the room again, he asked him his opinion about Mr. Northland's case.
"Who is he?" first demanded that lively practitioner, and then added, "He's as obstinate as a mule, anyway. No! of course, he oughtn't to be moved further than necessary, but he's just the kind of man who will suffer if thwarted. What's the matter with him? We can't tell yet; haven't had time to examine; but he was crushed under the carriage, and I think, the numbness he boasts of, is incipient paralysis. However, I don't give it as a settled opinion, mind. Move him to the nearest hotel for the present, and when there, you must act, of course, under further advice. I can't wait a minute;" and the young doctor; who was a very clever fellow, and lived eventually to become a physician, all through his own energy and promptitude, disappeared in the crowd, to the aid of some other sufferer by the accident.
"What does he say?" demanded Gus Northland, who had guessed the import of Raymond's conference with the doctor.
"He says you must not be moved further than the nearest hotel, until we have more advice about you," replied Raymond.
"He's a fool," said Cousin Gus, unscrupulously; "why, I am scarcely hurt at all—bruised a bit, I dare say; and I shall feel it more to-morrow, and that's why I want to get on as soon as I can. Norreys, will you go down with me to Brighton?"
The proposition took Raymond very much by surprise; but high above the trouble and inconvenience of the arrangement (when he had so much business on his hands) rose the thought (and which would not be crushed even by the question of its use) that he should see Rachel again.
"Say you will," urged the wounded man; "it's only a couple of hours' journey."
"Let me get you safely to an hotel first," argued Raymond.
"Not till you've promised to do as I wish," rejoined Gus Northland; "'tisn't much."| | 371
It wasn't much, after all, and Raymond promised as the sick man required him.
"But you must give me a few hours' grace first," he pleaded, "for I have business to do which cannot be delayed."
And on these conditions, Mr. Northland consented to be removed to the nearest hotel; and a stretcher was procured in consequence. As he was being carried away on it, Raymond walking by his side, the latter saw the friendly guard advancing to him, with an air of mystery.
"It's true, sir, I am sorry to say; some of the names have come on, and the old gentleman's is among them. This is he, isn't it, sir?" and he displayed the official communication in which the name of Sir Archibald Norreys, of Woolcombe Rise, was plainly transcribed.
"He's well known about those parts, sir, so there ain't a shadow of doubt about the truth of it," was the man's final remark as he refolded the paper.
"Thank you," replied Raymond; "I shall run down there in a few hours myself," and then followed in the wake of Mr. Northland's stretcher.
Having seen him comfortably settled at the hotel, and sent for the best medical advice, Raymond left him to return to the Haymarket café. There he arranged with Mr. Barnett to have proper persons left in attendance upon his cousin's corpse, until such time as the coroner's inquest, having sat upon it, he should be at liberty to have it enclosed in a receptacle fitting the dust of the heir of Woolcombe Rise, the orders for the preparation of which, Mr. Barnett promised to see given and carried out at once.
And then Raymond Norreys returned to the Waterloo Station, and flew down to Ascot, to which there were many extra trains running that day, in consequence of the accident, to inform the servants at Woolcombe Rise that they had lost their young master, and the late baronet's solicitors, Messrs. Packer and Mitbury, that the rightful heir would never come home to claim his father's acres. He found the grand old place in great confusion, the news of the baronet's sudden death having of course reached there; and the intelligence he brought himself was scarcely less unexpected, as Sir Archibald | | 372 had left them in the morning with the simple knowledge that his son was ill, and his presence in town required.
The occasion of meeting, therefore, was a very awful one; and the two gentlemen of business had scarcely less inclination to offer congratulations to their new client (who they knew well enough to be such) than Raymond had to receive them, for he could not yet contemplate, without the greatest horror, the means by which he found himself a baronet, and the owner of the noble property he now looked upon. So conscious was he of this feeling, that he scarcely liked to look round the sumptuously furnished rooms of Woolcombe Rise, or to admire the property itself, for fear lest the servants and friends of the deceased should imagine that he was already congratulating himself upon being the master of so fair a domain, and forgetting in its possession, the bloody means by which it had become his. So his visit to Woolcombe Rise was very short and very subdued; and having ascertained that the lawyers, being on the spot, would see everything done that was necessary, he pleaded unavoidable business in London as a reason for his hasty departure.
"Of course, Sir Raymond, you will be down for the funerals," observed Mr. Packer, as he prepared to leave them.
Raymond started as his new honours were thus thrust upon him, but the gesture was not noticed by the solicitor.
"Of course," he answered: "in the meanwhile, Mr. Packer, you will oblige me by sending notices of these sad events to all whom it may concern to know them. I have been so much at sea, and our branch of the family has been so much separated from that of Sir Archibald, that I know none of his immediate friends, and the male relations of the name, I am aware, must be few and distant. But I should wish everything to be conducted on the most liberal scale, and in a style correspondent to the rank of the deceased."
"Certainly, Sir Raymond, certainly; your wishes shall in every respect be attended to. Good-morning, Sir Raymond, good-morning.''
And "Sir Raymond," echoed from the lips of gentle and simple, were the last words that greeted our hero as he left Woolcombe Rise to return to the side of his poor, but troublesome friend Gus Northland.
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