The Railway Man and His Children (1891)

Mr Ferrars of Langley Ferrars loses both his fortune and his estate in financial speculations. Consequently, his daughter, Evelyn, breaks off her engagement to the popular Mr Saumarez, who feels no qualms in abandoning her. After nursing her father until his death, she moves to Calcutta with her only brother, Harry, who unexpectedly dies leaving her destitute, a genteel, middle-aged spinster with hardly any means of survival. As she has no living relatives she accepts an invitation to live in a friend’s household, acting as unpaid (and undeclared) governess to her children. Resigned to living in this dependent, undignified position, she is surprised when Mr Rowland, who has made a fortune and a considerable reputation as railway engineer, proposes to her in honest, unpretentious terms. He tells her about his humble origins. He started his successful career at a foundry in Scotland, a working-class man who married a fellow engineer’s daughter and was left a widower five years later. Heart-broken, he left his two children, a boy and a girl, under the care of his sister-in-law, and travelled to India, where he found professional success. Miss Ferrars does not fail to recognize what would be the difficulties of her position as stepmother of two children who, though always carefully provided for, have never actually met their father and might be prejudiced against a middle-class stepmother whose motives in marrying Mr Rowland cannot be wholly uninterested. She also remembers that, had his wife, poor Mary, lived, no such welcome proposal would have taken place. Grateful and honoured, she accepts to become his wife, secretly promising herself and Mary to do for the children all a natural mother would.

While staying in London before moving to their new estate in Scotland, Rosmore, Evelyn happens to meet Mr Saumarez, who has lived a rather eventful and not completely respectable life, and is now a resentful invalid with two children the age of Mr Rowland’s. He requests her to become the children’s guardian, if he should die. Evelyn, with her husband’s consent, agrees only to have the young people for a month’s visit at Rosmore, so they get to know one another. Having found his children not acquainted with the mores of the social position they will henceforth occupy, Mr Rowland thinks a visit from the Saumarez siblings might serve his purpose in educating them as middle-class heirs. His elder child, uncouth, shy, but honest and good-hearted Archie soon feels attracted to resolute Rosamond Saumarez, always anxious about her brother’s misconduct and whose candid dream is a life of independence as a working girl when she comes of age. Likewise, Eddy Saumarez, witty, idle and misled, quickly engages the spirited, egotistic Marion (May) Rowland into an innocent flirtation. Not so innocent is his behaviour towards Archie Rowland, when, having accidentally come upon his chequebook as Archie was making him a gift of money, and pressed hard by his creditors, he forges old Mr Rowland’s signature in a cheque for one thousand pounds. When Mr Rowland finds about the cheque, he decides to keep quiet about it, and accuses his own son, who, offended, renounces his family and returns to his aunt’s house. Eddy, not devoid of all moral conscience, feels pangs about having betrayed his kind host, and leaves Rosmore in the next few days. While Evelyn is convinced of her stepson’s innocence, and feels aggrieved at the heartbroken father who will not do anything to clear his son, many of the people around them (their servants, Rowland’s children and their aunt) privately believe her to be actual maker of Archie’s disgrace, in an attempt to estrange her husband from his natural heirs.

In spite of everything, and disregarding the safety of her own reputation, Evelyn takes advantage of an absence of Mr Rowland’s and leaves for London, hoping to clear Archie by appealing to Eddy’s better nature. She has been advised by Marion and the former gamekeeper of Rosmore, old Rankin (quite an eccentric, knowledgeable old man who specialises in breeding dogs) that Eddy might have an idea of who the real forger might be. Three days elapse in London while Eddy manages to evade Evelyn, but her appeal to him on the third day is successful. Eddy confesses his guilt and begs her not to prosecute against him. Evelyn rushes back to Scotland, unaware that suspicious, jealous Mr Rowland has been following her all the way. Finally, all becomes clear when they all meet at the little house Archie is staying with his aunt.

A happy family man again, Mr Rowland not only forgives Eddy Saumarez, but decides to do something to save him from the path of moral degradation he seems to have embarked on. He offers his consent to a possible engagement to Marion if he accepts working at a trade of Mr Rowland’s choice for three years. No such training takes place, but in the closing pages, we hear how Marion and Eddy marry in due time, and restore the Saumarez estate, Gilston, to its former prosperity. Nothing further is said about Rosamond and Archie, who remain single as the curtain closes upon the reader.

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