Let me, at the very least, be most particular about the order of events, for time may have clouded my memory of some of the details. I had been summoned at short notice to the bedside of an aged uncle from whom I had expectations, and as the telegram informed me that he could not survive this latest battle against the scourges of old age I thought it best to visit and, so, one unseasonably warm day in March, 1911, I embarked on a journey to Killigarth, a little, out-of -the-way, Cornish hamlet, where the old gentleman lived. There were few passengers on the train, and I had the benefit of a carriage all to myself. The landscape was somehow familiar to me, yet I could not recall visiting this part of the country.
“It is just like a fresh canvas painting,” I said to myself as I gazed out of the window and observed the rear of the long corridor carriage, at the end of the train, speeding on its way. I had travelled for much of my life, including eight years’ sojourn on the Continent, but the scenery that met my eyes that day took my breath away. First you would catch a glimpse of the sea, blue and still, and then a sharp turn of the line would alter the scene to a view of the green hills with perhaps a few sheep or horses grazing on the skyline. Then the sea would come into view again, and this time not merely a glimpse between two hills, but a big expanse of blue stretched as far as the eye could see, and the white sails of a yacht gradually fading away, as its course took it farther from land. Closer in, a trawler, dropping anchor and right out where the sea and sky met, the just discernible smoke of an inbound liner. Then the sea was shut out again for a time, and the train rushed along between fields of green wheat, weaving its way across lands speckled by small settlements, churches and the occasional ruin.
It was then that the whistle sounded, and the brakes were put together sharply in the driver’s effort to stop. Presently the guard came rushing along the train, and asked: “Who pulled that cord?” I shook my head and sat watching as he continued to sweep his way through the carriages.
Turning to the window, I noticed that the train had come to a stop at an unnamed way-station, one that was in a considerable state of disrepair. I was examining the station from afar when the carriage was suddenly plunged into darkness. When the lights returned, I was most surprised to learn that I now had a companion, a gentleman who was seated directly opposite.
The man was notably tall and thin, and his skin that of someone in middle-age, with a face sharp and withered like a bad apple. His apparel was close fitting and faded; all in all, he looked to be a man who had lost all interest in his appearance, which perhaps accounted for the unkempt nature of his hair and beard. Studying his clothes, a layer of damp mist rising from the material, I became aware that the air in the carriage had become cold and heavy.
“Quite a sharp change in the weather from this morning,” I remarked. “It is particularly cold now, is it not?”
“Don’t feel the cold myself,” said the stranger. “Perhaps you would like to exchange places with me; there is, as far as one can tell, no draft here.”
I replied that I would appreciate this if it did not inconvenience him, and accordingly we swapped seats.
The temperature was dropping at quite a rate, and no mistake. I must have taken a chill, for the hairs on my arm began to rise, and the cold crept over me in a most unaccountable manner. Looking at the stranger occupying the seat opposite , on whom the lamplight now shone brightly, I saw that his face was not so gaunt nor his features so shrunken as I first supposed; and I must have made a mistake as to his age, for he was by no means as elderly as I had previously judged. How cold it was, to be sure! As I looked at him, I noticed that his countenance change momently — that he was becoming younger; that the creases in his face were filling out and smoothing down, and that he was, by degrees, becoming like someone I had seen before. As his once sallow cheeks grew round and ruddy, and his hair changed from silver to brown before my very eyes, I became nervous, and wanted to cry out, but could not. I was struck dumb with the biting cold— cold that hammered into my limbs and benumbed my vitals, for I was now aware that the man sitting before me was no longer a stranger— no more friend or travelling companion— he had become me! Continue reading