Chapter 146808552

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter TitleA CURIOUS RECEPTION.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146808552
Full Date1897-12-24
Page Number1
Corrections0
Word Count2717
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Narracoorte Herald (SA : 1875 - 1954)
Trove TitleBy False Pretences; or, The Dilemma of Norman Lennox. A Christmas Story
article text

CHAPTER II.

A CURIOUS RECEPTION.

The Orient Company's1 steamer Chim borazo was ploughingits waythrough the

waters of the Indian Ocean before Nor man Lennox began to breathe freely. Albany was a hundred and fifty miles in the wake of the vessel, and 'Norman, as he remembered this, gave a sigh of relief. The- morning was clear and bracing, and he felt' the invigorating influence of air and sea lend a budyanoy to his feelings to which he had been a stranger since that horrible night at Yanooc. As he sat on deck, watching the ceaseless roll .of the

restless waters, he mentally reviewed the himii raMnmubnmw of his past life.

He recalled his earliest impressions of the home in Queensland.where he was, born—of his mother who died so early in his career that she was but a shadowy memory. He recalled the personality of his father, the absolutely affectionless old man who had the reputation of being - next to Jimmy Tyson—the hardest man in Queensland to drive a bargain with. Baring the years of his son's boyhood,

Norman's father had allowed him to run

wild in the company of boundary riders, rabbit - trappers, and rough and ready .selectors, a neglect which bad worked for: the lad's good, in providing, him - with.< a stock of vigorous health, and

saving , him from imbibing the polite meannesses and vices of polished society.

' When old <Jordon Lennox did manifest

a special interest in Iub son, and order him to repair to an educational institu tion, in Sydney to study, it was an un pleasant command for the youth, but he swallowed hiB distaste for the change, and his educational attainments satisfied his father, who, although he never be-: stowed , upon his son an affectionate

word, left him all he had amassed in the j twenty-five years of hard, toil and privation: since landing, a poor man, in the colony, i Norman was amy .twenty-one when his! father died, and although he felt the loss! of the only relative he knew in the world;, yet the tie -had never been .one which was calculated, if broken, to lacerate the

hearts of those whose lives it bound to- j

gather. Norman recalled the fact with a feeling akin to self-reproach, which was' deepened as he recolleoted how, during ] the past two years, he had done his best | to dissipate, in foolisb or dubious pur-i suits, the fortune his father had left to 1 him. That it was seriously diminished he knew. . Whatever real estate

his- father had left he hadj converted. into cash, having a de termination not to be bothered by business matters while having his fling.! This, he mused, was just as well, after all, j for it had enabled him to leave Australia! without dislocating a lot of business

afiairs.

Then he fell to thinking of Dr. Martin Shaw. He recalled his first meeting with

him in an adventure where the doctor's

part in the performance impressed Nor man with a high admiration of his cool . self-possession and splendid nerve. He

was a mysterious feUow. Norman had heard queer things about him, but these were libels, undoubtedly. Shaw had proved himself a priceless-friend to him. Then Norman -fell to wondering what the - doctor had done to hide the horrible

result of that unlucky blow. Bay after day, on his arrival in Melbourne, Nor man had opened the morning paper in fear and trembling, expecting to see, in staring headlines, " Terrible Tragedy at Yanooe. A Saloon Keeper Murdered !"

But not a line had appeared. Normani could only suppose that the doctor had j certified that Caron had met his death by j ? accidentally falling, and, if Caron's em

ploy^ had proved over-curious, that Shaw had made it worth his while to be silent.

But suppose this was not so. Suppose the tragedy was only hidden for the time being—clumsily hidden, may be—and that its details should leak out. If sus picion was aroused, it might fall on the doctor, and, although Norman had full faith in Shaw's willingness to screen him, he could not conceive of the doctor risk - ing his life and reputation to save a friend who was guilty. Norman shuddered as he thought of the word " guilty." He did not feel himself morally guilty. It was an accident, but who would believe that 'i His very flight, he reflected with an uncomfortable feeling, would belie his avowal that he was innocent of murder. Then the old dread came back that he

had felt while in Melbourne, and again j

wlien the steamer touched at Adelaide— the fear that he would be confronted by

a minion of the law with a warrant for

his arrest. Still, he could banish the fear for a while. The steamer called only at Capetown—but one stoppage before reaching England; he had chosen this

route in order to avoid the numerous

ports of call by the Suez Canal route.

During the few days he had been in Melbourne, awaiting the departure of the steamer, he had remained quietly at his hotel, not desiring to meet any of his ac quantances. He had met none of these, but he was somewhat perturbed when booking his passage at the shipping office, by a gentleman who claimed him as an acquaintance.

He had just given his name to the clerk, when a gentleman standing near

turned and held out Ids hand.

- " How are you, Mr Lennox 1 Going away already. You've had a very short stay in the colonies."

?' You have the advantage of me," Norman had said, coldly declining the proffered hand.

" I beg your pardon," said the other, frigidly, but regarding Norman with a curious expression, which, in the then state of his nerves,, made him shiver.

When the gentleman went out of the

office into Flinders-lane, Norman asked i

the clerk if he knew him.

" No," said he ; " he's a new arrival from India, I think. Came last week by the British India Company's Rangoon. I forget his name."

Norman recalled this incident now, and found himself wondering who the man was, but speculation was futile. Still the episode jarred on his nGrves as it had at the moment of its occurrence.

Norman recalled, too, the fact that this was Christmas Eve. It was going to be a wretched Christmas for him, he thought.

He had hlood upon his hands, and, for; aught he kuew, a price upon his head, j and he was an exile—a fugitive. The | thought embittered his mind, and caused1 bim to hold aloof from the sociable com bination of the other passengers in their preparations to make their Christmas at

sea reminiscent of the festive occasion in thehome life on shore, an attitude which he maintained to a considerable extent all through the voyage.

On arriving at Capetown, and finding

no communication had been received from Australia to intercept him as " wanted," Norman's spirits rose. During the long and quiet hours of the night, as he lay listening to the ceaseless throb, throb, of the mighty engines, and the monotonous swish of the water, as the huge vessel drove through the billows, he *conld not escape from the melancholy recollection of the fatal result of his folly ; and the ghastly face of the dying Frenchman became visible again to

him in the darkness. It was often the central feature of fearful dreams, crowded with horror. But in the daylight, with its bustle and activity, its panorama of sea and sky, the glorious sense of free, unrestricted motion, as the steamer rode onward through the waves, these morbid fancies vanished, and his youth and strength asserted their power, and made his pulses beat with renewed hopefulness. And, passing from " the summer of the world " into cooler latitudes, he braced his nerves yet more tensely, and the wretched past seemed as far distant as the shores

whence he had come.

But, with the first sight of English soil - the pisturesque Cornish headlands —his depression returned. What if, after all, he bad come this far only to have the hand of the law clapped on his shoulder, and to learn his first experience of England in a felon's cell.

So strongly did this feeling actuate him, that in spite of a longing to leave the ship at Plymouth, he refrained from going ashore No, he would go on to

London, he reasoned. There he would! be safer if he did land without interfer ence, and even if the news of Caron's death had been telegraphed to Scotland Yard, he would still have a few days liberty on board the vessel ere she reached Gravesend.

When at length the steamer reached Loudon, and the exodus of passengers began, Norman lingered in his cabin, not because he was undesirous of losing him self in the labyrinth of the modern Babylon, but because he instinctively avoided the many strangers who had come on board. Nor had he any heart to witness the cordial greetings of those who were welcoming Mends and relatives after their sojourn in, lands on the other side of the world. He felt his pwn sense of loneliness sharply accentuated by these demonstrations of welcome, and they recalled the fact that at neither end of the world could he expect a welcome ; for, although he had the means to do as

he pleased, he had no claim to the interest or affection of a solitary being, and the disaster which had overtaken him two months before had even cut him off from

his Mends and acquaintances.

When the confusion.on deck had some what abated, Norman came from below, and leaning over the rail took an in terested glance at the shore. It was a clear day, a sharp frost had crisped the face of the snow lying upon the ground, and the wintry sun made the hulks lying in the river and the distant bank of the Thames glisten as with a million diamonds. A little steamer was being loaded with pas sengers and their luggage for conveyance to Blackwall, and he watched thiB with, an absent-minded curiosity.

H e was startled out of his reverie by hearing a strange voice at his elbow :

" Mr Norman Lennox, I believe.'1

He felt himself turning icy cold, a sen sation of faintness made him dizzy, and he clutched the rail for support. This, then, was the end of it all 1 Nemesis had

overtaken him'.

He had not turned his head, but as he heard his name spoken a second time, he steadied himself by an effort, and turned to face the speaker.

He saw a stout, well-preserved man of fifty or thereabouts a man evidently on good terms with himself dressed with great care, from the patent-leather boots on his feet to the, faultlessly glossy tall hat, which he raised in acknowledgment of Norman's mechanical salute. He

looked like the proverbial English mer chant or banker, with iron-grey whiskers, cot in the orthodox mutton-chop style. His lips had a pleasant smile which, somehow, was discounted by a foxy look in his cold-grey eyes.

But Norman was not looking at him

now. The man was not alone. Imme

diately behind him was a lady, appa rently about twenty years old, and prettier than any girl Norman remem bered to have ever seen before. - She was richly attired, her dainty figure set off to advantage by the stylish fur cloak she wore, and. the coquettish Alpine hat poised upon her shapely head. ' Her deep blue eyes were fixed upon Norman with a look of anxious curiosity.

At the sight of her a revulsion of feeling set in, and Lennox felt the warm blood, which a moment since had surged to his heart, coursing again through his (veins. He felt bewildered. This, surely,

was not wbat he had dreaded.

'• I see we have startled you," said the gentleman. " You did not expect anyone to meet you, I know. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Carter —Robert Carter, financier—an old Mend of your father's; and this is my daughter,

Miss-Alice Carter."

Norman mentally shook himself He feared he was dreaming ; but the charm ing smile of the lady, and the pressure of the 3mall hand withdrawn from the muff

she was carrying, convinced him that he was talking to real flesh and blood.. .

But," jjaid he, recovering himself a little. " How did you know I was coming to England ? I was unaware anyone

knew."

"Ah," said the other smiling, ''that is my little secret. But that .must not lessen in your mind the fact that we are delighted to see you. And your present want of knowledge of us must not pre vent you accepting: our hospitality. Tou have no very definite plans as yet, I presume?'

"Indeed, I have not," said Norman, more puzzled than ever. " But surely

there is some mistake 1"

" None whatever, I assure you," said Mr Carter. " But see, the steamer is nearly ready, and I have my carriage waiting at Blackw&lL We will talk as we go."

For a moment Lennox stood irresolute, but as he looked from father to daughter, he felt that he might as well yield to this extraordinary request. Whatever might transpire, he could not improve matters by declining.

In a few minutes he had made the necessary arrangements respecting his luggage, and half an hour more saw him Beated beside Miss Carter, her father occupying the opposite seat in a finely appointed closed carriage drawn by a pair of high-Btepping horses.

While on the crowded steamer there had been merely an interchange of com mon-place remarks, but Norman was now

anxious to learn more of the situation in which he found himself.

Mr Carter readily acquiesced

"This, of course, is your first visit to England, Mr Lennox-. I am a very old friend of your fatheris, and owe him a debt of gratitude. It,may not be known to you, and you will pardon me for re ferring to it, but he married against the advice .of his friends, and his own happi ness was not enhanced thereby- I do not wish to pain you by reference to thi3, and having now spoken of it, I will never again refer to it. But now that both your parents are dead, I, knowing precisely what your father's desires were, am anxious that you should reciprocate the interest I feel in you as the son of Gordon Lennox, and do me the honor of considering me your friend."

" I am sure," replied his perplexed listener, courteously, " that I shall esteem the privilege."

"I am gratified," said Mr Carter,

urbanely, " and now, if you don't mind, . we will leave reference to family affairs for the present."

Norman bowed, but he could not re frain from asking again:

" But how did you know I was coming to England ?"

" Well,'* said Mr Carter, reflectively, " I may say this much. I learned from a friend of mine, who iB interested in your welfare, that you had left Australia in the CMmborazo, and we came to claim you as our guest."

Instantly Norman's mind reverted to Br. Shaw, and for a moment he flushed at the recollection of that awful night at Yanooc. But the next minute the musi cal voice of his fair companion, addressing him, diverted his thoughts.

The carriage drew up before a stately mansion in Cadogan Square, and a few ininuteB later Norman found himself in a sumptuously furnished room, evidently prepared for his use. As the door closed behind his host, he sat down in an easy chair, and pressing his hands to his temples, tried to think the curious prob

lem out.

It was no use. After an hour's quiet reflection, he gave it up. He felt that come what may, he must drift with the fresh current that had. set in in his affairs. And throughout all his delibera tions the sweet face of Alice Carter dwelt

with gentle insistence before his mental

vision.