So, journeying on all morning, we reached Sharbot Lake, still with nothing decided. At the little junction station, Jack got me my ticket. That was the turning point in my career. The die was cast. There I lost my identity. A crowd lounged around the platform, and surged about the Pullman car, calling to see “Una Callingham.” But no Una Callingham appeared on the scene. I went, on in the same train, without a word to anyone, all unknown save to the two Cheritons, and as an unrecognised unit of common humanity. I had cast that horrid identity clean behind me.
The afternoon was pleasant. In spite of my uncertainty, it gave me a sense of pleased confidence to be in the Cheritons’ company. I had taken to them at once: and the more I talked with them, the better I liked them. Especially Jack, that nice brotherly Jack, who seemed almost like an old friend to me. You get to know people so well on a long railway journey. I was quite sorry to think that by five o’clock that afternoon we should reach Adolphus Town, and so part company.
About ten minutes to five, we were collecting our scattered things, and putting our front-hair straight by the mirror in the ladies’ compartment.
“Well, Miss Cheriton,” I said warmly, longing to kiss her as I spoke, “I shall never forget how kind you two have been to me. I do wish so much I hadn’t to leave you like this. But it’s quite inevitable. I don’t see really how I could ever endure—”
I said no more, for just at that moment, as the words trembled on my lips, a terrible jar thrilled suddenly through the length and breadth of the carriage. Something in front seemed to rush into us with a deep thud. There was a crash, a fierce grating, a dull hiss, a clatter. Broken glass was flying about. The very earth beneath the wheels seemed to give way under us. Next instant, all was blank. I just knew I was lying, bruised and stunned and bleeding, on a bare dry bank, with my limbs aching painfully.
I guessed what it all meant. A collision, no doubt. But I lay faint and ill, and knew nothing for the moment as to what had become of my fellow-passengers.
A STRANGE RECOGNITION
Gradually I was aware of somebody moistening my temples. A soft palm held my hand. Elsie was leaning over me. I opened my eyes with a start.
“Oh, Elsie,” I cried, “how kind of you!”
It seemed to me quite natural to call her Elsie.
Even as I spoke, somebody else raised my head and poured something down my throat. I swallowed it with a gulp. Then I opened my eyes again.
“And Jack, too,” I murmured.
It seemed as if he’d been “Jack” to me for years and years already.
“She knows us!” Elsie cried, clasping her hands. “She’s much better—much better. Quick, Jack, more brandy! And make haste there—a stretcher!”