Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 30

Stopped Upon the Way.

Mr. Dunbar leant back in the corner of his comfortable seat, with his eyes closed. But he was not asleep, he was only thinking; and every now and then he bent forward, and looked out of the window into the darkness of the night. He could only distinguish the faint outline of the landscape as the train swept on upon its way, past low meadows, where the snow lay white and stainless, unsullied by a passing footfall; and scanty patches of woodland, where the hardy firs looked black against the glittering whiteness of the ground.

The country was all so much alike under its thick shroud of snow, that Mr. Dunbar tried in vain to distinguish any landmarks upon the way.

The train by which he travelled stopped at every station; and, though the journey between Shorncliffe and Rugby was only to last an hour, it seemed almost interminable to this impatient traveller, who was eager to stand upon the deck of Messrs. ——‘s electric steamers, to feel the icy spray dashing into his face, and to see the town of Dover, shining like a flaming crescent against the darkness of the night, and the Calais lights in the distance rising up behind the black edge of the sea.

The banker looked at his watch, and made a calculation about the time. It was now a quarter past five; the train was to reach Rugby at ten minutes to six; at six the London express left Rugby; at a quarter to eight it reached London; at half-past eight the Dover mail would leave London Bridge station; and at half-past seven, or thereabouts, next morning, Henry Dunbar would be rattling through the streets of Paris.

And then? Was his journey to end in that brilliant city, or was he to go farther? That was a question whose answer was hidden in the traveller’s own breast. He had not shown himself a communicative man at the best of times, and to-night he looked like a man whose soul is weighed down by the burden of a purpose which must he achieved at any cost of personal sacrifice.

He could not hear the names of the stations. He only heard those guttural and inarticulate sounds which railway officials roar out upon the darkness of the night, to the bewilderment of helpless travellers. His inability to distinguish the names of the stations annoyed him. The delay attendant upon every fresh stoppage worried him, as if the pause had been the weary interval of an hour. He sat with his watch in his hand; for every now and then he was seized with a sudden terror that the train had fallen out of its regular pace, and was crawling slowly along the rails.

What if it should not reach Rugby until after the London express had left the station?

Mr. Dunbar asked one of his fellow-travellers if this train was always punctual.

“Yes,” the gentleman answered, coolly; “I believe it is generally pretty regular. But I don’t know how the snow may affect the engine. There have been accidents in some parts of the country.”

“In consequence of the depth of snow?”

“Yes. I understand so.”

It was about ten minutes after this brief conversation, and within a quarter of an hour of the time at which the train was due at Rugby, when the carriage, which had rocked a good deal from the first, began to oscillate very violently. One meagre little elderly traveller turned rather pale, and looked nervously at his fellow-passengers; but the young man who had spoken to Henry Dunbar, and a bald-headed commercial-looking gentleman opposite to him, went on reading their newspapers as coolly as if the rocking of the carriage had been no more perilous than the lullaby motion of an infant’s cradle, guided by a mother’s gentle foot.

Mr. Dunbar never took his eyes from the dial of his watch. So the nervous traveller found no response to his look of terror.

He sat quietly for a minute or so, and then lowered the window near him, and let in a rush of icy wind, whereat the bald-headed commercial gentleman turned upon him rather fiercely, and asked him what he was about, and if he wanted to give them all inflammation of the lungs, by letting in an atmosphere that was two degrees below zero. But the little elderly gentleman scarcely heard this remonstrance; his head was out of the window, and he was looking eagerly Rugby-wards along the line.

“I’m afraid there’s something wrong,” he said, drawing in his head for a moment, and looking with a scared white face at his fellow-passengers; “I’m really afraid there’s something wrong. We’re eight minutes behind our time, and I see the danger-signal up yonder, and the line seems blocked up with snow, and I really fear ——”

He looked out again, and then drew in his head very suddenly.

“There’s something coming!” he cried; “there’s an engine coming ——”

He never finished his sentence. There was a horrible smashing, tearing, grinding noise, that was louder than thunder, and more hideous than the crashing of cannon against the wooden walls of a brave ship.

That horrible sound was followed by a yell almost as horrible; and then there was nothing but death, and terror, and darkness, and anguish, and bewilderment; masses of shattered woodwork and iron heaped in direful confusion upon the blood-stained snow; human groans, stifled under the wrecks of shivered carriages: the cries of mothers whose children had been flung out of their arms into the very jaws of death; the piteous wail of children, who clung, warm and living, to the breasts of dead mothers, martyred in that moment of destruction; husbands parted from their wives; wives shrieking for their husbands; and, amidst all, brave men, with white faces, hurrying here and there, with lamps in their hands, half-maimed and wounded some of them, but forgetful of themselves in their care for the helpless wretches round them.

The express going northwards had run into the train from Shorncliffe, which had come upon the main line just nine minutes too late.

One by one the dead and wounded were earned away from the great heap of ruins; one by one the prostrate forms were borne away by quiet bearers, who did their duty calmly and fearlessly in that hideous scene of havoc and confusion. The great object to be achieved was the immediate clearance of the line; and the sound of pickaxes and shovels almost drowned those other dreadful sounds, the piteous moans of sufferers who were so little hurt as to be conscious of their sufferings.

The train from Shorncliffe had been completely smashed. The northern express had suffered much less; but the engine-driver had been killed, and several of the passengers severely injured.

Henry Dunbar was amongst those who were carried away helpless, and, to all appearance, lifeless from the ruin of the Shorncliffe train.

One of the banker’s legs was broken, and he had received A blow upon the head, which had rendered him immediately unconscious.

But there were cases much worse than that of the banker; the surgeon who examined the sufferers said that Mr. Dunbar might recover from his injuries in two or three months, if he was carefully treated. The fracture of the leg was very simple; and if the limb was skilfully set, there would not be the least fear of contraction.

Half-a-dozen surgeons were busy in one of the waiting-rooms at the Rugby station, whither the sufferers had been conveyed, and one of them took possession of the banker.

Mr. Dunbar’s card-case had been found in the breast-pocket of his overcoat, and a great many people in the waiting-room knew that the gentleman with the white lace and grey moustache, lying so quietly upon one of the broad sofas, was no less a personage than Henry Dunbar, of Maudesley Abbey and St. Gundolph Lane. The surgeon knew it, and thought his good angel had sent this particular patient across his pathway.

He made immediate arrangements for bearing off Mr. Dunbar to the nearest hotel; he sent for his assistant; and in a quarter of an hour’s time the millionaire was restored to consciousness, and opened his eyes upon the eager faces of two medical gentlemen, and upon a room that was strange to him.

The banker looked about him with an expression of perplexity, and then asked where he was. He knew nothing of the accident itself, and he had quite lost the recollection of all that had occurred immediately before the accident, or, indeed, from the time of his leaving Maudesley Abbey.

It was only little by little that the memory of the events of that day returned to him. He had wanted to leave Maudesley; he had wanted to go abroad — to go upon a journey — that was no new purpose in his mind. Had he actually set out upon that journey? Yes, surely, he must have started upon it; but what had happened, then?

He asked the surgeon what had happened, and why it was that he found himself in that strange place.

Mr. Daphney, the Rugby surgeon, told his patient all about the accident, in such a bland, pleasant way, that anybody might have thought the collision of a couple of engines rather an agreeable little episode in a man’s life.

“But we are doing admirably, sir,” Mr. Daphney concluded; “nothing could be more desirable than the way in which we are going on; and when our leg has been set, and we’ve taken a cooling draught, we shall be, quite comfortable for the night. I really never saw a cleaner fracture — never, I can assure you.”

But Mr. Dunbar raised himself into a sitting position, in spite of the remonstrances of his medical attendant, and looked anxiously about him.

“You say this place is Rugby?” he asked, moodily.

“Yes, this is Rugby,” answered the surgeon, smiling, and rubbing his hands, almost as if he would have said, “Now, isn’t that delightful?” “Yes, this is the Queen’s Hotel, Rugby; and I’m sure that every attention which the proprietor, Mr. ——”

“I must get away from this place to-night,” said Mr. Dunbar, interrupting the surgeon rather unceremoniously.

“To-night, my dear sir!” cried Mr. Daphney; “impossible — utterly impossible — suicide on your part, my dear sir, if you attempted it, and murder upon mine, if I allowed you to carry out such an idea. You will be a prisoner here for a month or so, sir, I regret to say; but we shall do all in our power to make your sojourn agreeable.”

The surgeon could not help looking cheerful as he made this announcement; but seeing a very black and ominous expression upon the face of his patient, he contrived to modify the radiance of his own countenance.

“Our first proceeding, sir, must be to straighten this poor leg,” he said, soothingly. “We shall place the leg in a cradle, from the thigh downwards: but I won’t trouble you with technical details. I doubt if we shall be justified in setting the leg to-night; we must reduce the swelling before we can venture upon any important step. A cooling lotion, applied with linen cloths, must be kept on all night. I have made arrangements for a nurse, and my assistant will also remain here all night to supervise her movements.”

The banker groaned aloud.

“I want to get to London,” he said. “I must get to London!”

The surgeon and his assistant removed Mr. Dunbar’s clothes. His trousers had to be cut away from his broken leg before anything could be done. Mr. Daphney removed his patient’s coat and waistcoat; but the linen shirt was left, and the chamois-leather belt worn by the banker was under this shirt, next to and over a waistcoat of scarlet flannel.

“I wear a leather belt next my flannel waistcoat,” Mr. Dunbar said, as the two men were undressing him; “I don’t wish it to be removed.”

He fainted away presently, for his leg was very painful; and on reviving from his fainting fit, he looked very suspiciously at his attendants, and put his hand to the buckle of his belt, in order to make himself sure that it had not been tampered with.

All through the long, feverish, restless night he lay pondering over this miserable interruption of his journey, while the sick-nurse and the surgeon’s assistant alternately slopped cooling lotions about his wretched broken leg.

“To think that this should happen,” he muttered to himself every now and then. “Amongst all the things I’ve ever dreaded, I never thought of this.”

His leg was set in the course of the next day, and in the evening he had a long conversation with the surgeon.

This time Henry Dunbar did not speak so much of his anxiety to get away upon the second stage of his continental journey. His servant Jeffreys arrived at Rugby in the course of the day; for the news of the accident had reached Maudesley Abbey, and it was known that Mr. Dunbar had been a sufferer.

To-night Henry Dunbar only spoke of the misery of being in a strange house.

“I want to get back to Maudesley,” he said. “If you can manage to take me there, Mr. Daphney, and look after me until I’ve got over the effects of this accident, I shall be very happy to make you any compensation you please for whatever loss your absence from Rugby might entail upon you.”

This was a very diplomatic speech: Mr. Dunbar knew that the surgeon would not care to let so rich a patient out of his hands; but he fancied that Mr. Daphney would have no objection to carrying his patient in triumph to Maudesley Abbey, to the admiration of the unprofessional public, and to the aggravation of rival medical men.

He was not mistaken in his estimate of human nature. At the end of the week he had succeeded in persuading the surgeon to agree to his removal; and upon the second Monday after the railway accident, Henry Dunbar was placed in a compartment which was specially prepared for him in the Shorncliffe train, and was conveyed from Shorncliffe station to Maudesley Abbey, without undergoing any change of position upon the road, and very carefully tended throughout the journey by Mr. Daphney and Jeffreys the valet.

They wheeled Mr. Dunbar’s bed into his favourite tapestried chamber, and laid him there, to drag out long dreary days and nights, waiting till his broken bones should unite, and he should be free to go whither he pleased. He was not a very patient sufferer; he bore the pain well enough, but he chafed perpetually against the delay; and every morning he asked the surgeon the same question —

“When shall I be strong enough to walk about?”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31