Chapter XVII. 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!"

There was a noise close by. Unseen hands lifted me up, and Jack laid me on the stretcher. Half-an-hour at least must have elapsed, I felt since the first shock of the accident. I had been unconscious meanwhile. The actual crash came and went like lightning. And my memory of all else was blotted out for the moment.

Next, as I lay still, two men took the stretcher and carried me off at a slow pace, under Jack's direction. They walked single-file along the line, and turned down a rough road that led off near a river. I didn't ask where they were going: I was too weak and feeble. At last they came to a house, a small white wooden cottage, very colonial and simple, but neat and pretty. There was a garden in front, full of old-fashioned flowering shrubs; and a verandah ran round the house, about whose posts clambered sweet English creepers.

They carried me in, and laid me down on a bed, in a sweet little room, very plain but dainty. It was panelled with polished pitchpine, and roses peeped in at the open window. Everything about the cottage bore the impress of native good taste. I knew it was Jack's home. It was just such a room as I should have expected from Elsie.

The bed on which they placed me was neat and soft. I lay there dozing with pain. Elsie sat by my side, her own arm in a sling. By-and-by, an Irish maid came in and undressed me carefully under Elsie's direction. Then Elsie said to me, half shrinking:

"Now you must see the doctor."

"Not Dr. Ivor!" I cried, waking up to a full sense of this new threatened horror. "Whatever I do, dear, I won't see Dr. Ivor!"

Jack had come in while she spoke, and was standing by the bed, I saw now. The servant had gone out. He lifted my arm, and held my wrist in his hand.

"I'm a doctor myself, Miss Callingham," he said softly, with that quiet, reassuring voice of his. "Don't be alarmed at that; nobody but myself and Elsie need come near you in any way."

I smiled at his words, well pleased.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're a doctor!" I cried, much relieved at the news; "for I'm not the least little bit in the world afraid of you. I don't mind your attending me. I like to have you with me." For I had always a great fancy for doctors, somehow.

"That's well," he said, smiling at me such a sweet sympathetic smile as he felt my pulse with his finger. "Confidence is the first great requisite in a patient: it's half the battle. You're not seriously hurt, I hope, but you're very much shaken. Whether you like it or not, you'll have to stop here now for some days at least, till you're thoroughly recovered."

I'm ashamed to write it down; but I was really pleased to hear it. Nothing would have induced me to go voluntarily to their house with the intention of stopping there--for they were friends of Dr. Ivor's. But when you're carried on a stretcher to the nearest convenient house, you're not responsible for your own actions. And they were both so nice and kind, it was a pleasure to be near them. So I was almost thankful for that horrid accident, which had cut the Gordian knot of my perplexity as to a house to lodge in.

It was a fortnight before I was well enough to get out of bed and lie comfortably on the sofa. All that time Jack and Elsie tended me with unsparing devotion. Elsie had a little bed made up in my room; and Jack came to see me two or three times a day, and sat for whole hours with me. It was so nice he was a doctor! A doctor, you know, isn't a man--in some ways. And it soothed me so to have him sitting there with Elsie by my bedside.

They were "Jack" and "Elsie" to me, to their faces, before three days were out; and I was plain "Una" to them: it sounded so sweet and sisterly. Elsie slipped it out the second morning as naturally as could be.

"Una'd like a cup of tea, Jack;" then as red as fire all at once, she corrected herself, and added, "I mean, Miss Callingham."

"Oh, do call me Una!" I cried; "it's so much nicer and more natural.... But how did you come to know my name was Una at all?" For she slipped it out as glibly as if she'd always called me so.

"Why, everybody knows that." Elsie answered, amused. "The whole world speaks of you always as Una Callingham. You forget you're a celebrity. Doctors have read memoirs about you at Medical Congresses. You've been discussed in every paper in Europe and America."

I paused and sighed. This was very humiliating. It was unpleasant to rank in the public mind somewhere between Constance Kent and Laura Bridgman. But I had to put up with it.

"Very well," I said, with a deep breath, "if those I don't care for call me so behind my back, let me at least have the pleasure of hearing myself called so by those I love, like you, Elsie."

She leant over me and kissed my forehead with a burst of genuine delight.

"Then you love me, Una!" she exclaimed.

"How can I help it?" I answered. "I love you dearly already." And I might have added with truth, "And your brother also."

For Jack was really, without any exception, the most lovable man I ever met in my life--at once so strong and manly, and yet so womanly and so gentle. Every day I stopped there, I liked him better and better. I was glad when he came into my room, and sorry when he went away again to work on the farm: for he worked very hard; his hand was all horny with common agricultural labour. It was sad to think of such a man having to do such work. And yet he was so clever, and such a capital doctor. I wondered he hadn't done well and stayed in England. But Elsie told me he'd had great disappointments, and failed in his profession through no fault of his own. I could never understand that: he had such a delightful manner. Though, perhaps I was prejudiced; for, in point of fact, I began to feel I was really in love with Jack Cheriton.

And Jack was in love with me too. This was a curious result of my voyage to Canada in search of Dr. Ivor! Instead of hunting up the criminal, I had stopped to fall in love with one of his friends and neighbours. And I found it so delicious: I won't pretend to deny it. I was absolutely happy when Jack sat by my bedside and held my hand in his. I didn't know what it would lead to, or whether it would ever lead to anything at all; but I was happy meanwhile just to love and be loved by him. I think when you're really in love, that's quite enough. Jack never proposed to me: he never asked me to marry him. He just sat by my bedside and held my hand; and once, when Elsie went out to fetch my beef-tea, he stooped hastily down and kissed, me, oh, so tenderly! I don't know why, but I wasn't the least surprised. It seemed to me quite natural that Jack should kiss me.

So I went idly on for a fortnight, in a sort of lazy lotus-land, never thinking of the future, but as happy and as much at home as if I'd lived all my life with Jack and Elsie. I hated even to think I would soon be well; for then I'd have to go and look out for Courtenay Ivor.

At last one afternoon I was sufficiently strong to be lifted out of bed, and dressed in a morning robe, and laid out on the sofa in the little drawing-room. It looked out upon the verandah, which was high above the ground; and Jack came in and sat with me, alone without Elsie. My heart throbbed high at that: I liked to be alone for half-an-hour with Jack. Perhaps... But who knows? Well, at any rate, even if he didn't, it was nice to have the chance of a good long, quiet chat with him. I loved Elsie dearly; but at a moment like this, why, I liked to have Jack all to myself without even Elsie.

So I was pleased when Jack told me Elsie was going into Palmyra with the buggy to get the English letters. Then she'd be gone a good long time! Oh, how lovely! How beautiful!

"Is there anything you'd like from the town?" he asked, as Elsie drove past the window. "Anything Elsie could get for you? If so, please say so."

I hesitated a moment.

"Do you think," I asked at last, for I didn't want to be troublesome, "she could get me a lemon?"

"Oh, certainly," Jack answered; "there she goes in the buggy! Here, wait a moment, Una! I'll run after her to the gate this minute and tell her."

He sprang lightly on to the parapet of the verandah. Then, with one hand held behind him to poise himself, palm open backward, he leapt with a bound to the road, and darted after her hurriedly.

My heart stood still within me. That action revealed him. The back, the open hand, the gesture, the bend--I would have known them anywhere. With a horrible revulsion I recognised the truth. This was my father's murderer! This was Courtenay Ivor!