Sarah looked up from where she was sitting next to Evelyn, trying to soothe the terrified girl.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” she said. “How’ve we done that?”
“I don’t know!” exclaimed Susie. “I thought he was behind us!”
“Oh dear,” said Tristan, who was hovering anxiously beside his sister, wanting to help in some way but unable to see how. “That is unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate?!” Susie hurriedly moderated her tones, which were on the edge of shrieking. “Unfortunate? It’s a disaster! What if he’s got lost?”
“Nonsense,” returned Sarah briskly. “You must have a pretty poor belief in your brother, Susie, if you think he could get lost in a station the size of Spärtz! If we have left him behind we’re bound to find a wire waiting for us at Innsbruck station, and we can wait there for him. It’ll probably do Evelyn some good,” she added, indicating the little girl’s strained face. “She’s very worn with all of these trains, aren’t you, my love?”
Evelyn shook her head, regardless of the fact that tears still dripped down her cheeks.
“No,” she murmured. “I can manage - really I can.”
“There’s my brave chick,” said Sarah, slipping an arm around her shoulders. “Lean on me, dear, there we are. Soon be there.”
No-one contradicted the lie and they all settled down in the compartment, Susie fretting about her lost brother. She hoped throughout the journey that he would turn up, but though she glanced up expectantly every time someone passed the door of their compartment, he failed to appear. Finally she was forced to admit that he had probably been caught up in the melee at Spärtz station, had missed the train, and would follow them on a later one.
By the time they got to Innsbruck Evelyn was white and exhausted and the three remaining adults were growing anxious about her.
“Time we had a rest,” said Sarah. “Why don’t I go and see about tickets and see if there’s a wire from Matty, and you and Tristan and Evelyn can go to the restaurant and get something to eat, Susie? Tristan, can you manage the cases?”
“Indeed I can,” replied her brother and, gathering up their luggage, he and Susie made their way towards the restaurant. They were just sitting down to the table and Susie was fussing over Evelyn, when a shadow fell across them and, looking up, they were accosted by a most welcome vision.
“Matty!” exclaimed Susie in delight. “But wherever have you been? Why didn’t you join us on the train? Have you gone off our company, or something?”
“Well, it’s a little complicated,” replied her brother, taking the remaining chair and drawing it in to the table. “I got a bit tangled up in the crowd running for the Innsbruck train and lost you all. I just about got on it before it left! And then I was wandering up the train trying to find you all when, of all people, I ran into Humphrey Butterworth - did I ever tell you about him, Suze?” he asked.
“Do you mean that sub-editor in your Birmingham job? The one you could hear all the way down the corridor?”
“That’s the fellow!” Matty grinned. “Huge bloke with grey sideburns and a booming voice,” he explained for Tristan and Evelyn’s benefit. “Used to scare the living daylights out of me, but he was wonderfully witty - a real eccentric. I used to admire him from a distance, but never really spoke much with him. What he's doing in the Tyrol I do not know! Well, believe it or not, he remembered me - or at least, so it seemed at first. He hailed me heartily - ‘Ahh, my dear young man!’,” he repeated, imitating the deep, declamatory voice, “‘Here is a face from the past! An old friend from my Herald days,’ he told the others in the compartment, and fair pulled me through the door and forcibly sat me down with them, and then proceeded to deliver a lecture on my deeds and doings in those days. It wasn’t until he was about halfway through that I realised I had no idea what he was talking about. Turns out he’d mistaken me for young Jeffries, who I’ll grant looks a bit like me - although I hope I’m not quite that plain!” he added, giving Susie an appealing look. She scowled at him, rejecting the plea for a compliment.
“You have your two eyes, your nose, your mouth and your arms and legs. You just thank God for them and stop looking for compliments!” she told him pointedly and he gave her a good-natured grin and settled back in his chair.
“Fair point. Well, by that point I couldn’t extricate myself without huge embarrassment to all concerned, so I had to sit through Humphrey Butterworth chuntering on about my various achievements, none of which had anything to do with me, and I had my work cut out to bluff whenever he asked me to fill in on the details! Mercifully it wasn't too long - he got distracted by his recent trip to Italy and started banging on about that, thank heavens.” He gave a laugh and rubbed his face with his hands. “I thought it was too good to be true that he remembered me! I wasn’t any much cop at the Herald, after all - it was one of my first jobs.”
“Oh, Matty!” Susie laughed. “So we’ve been deprived of your company by someone who thought you were someone else? How absurdly wonderful! But I am glad you’re here and we don’t have to wait for you - the sooner we’re in Paris the better,” she said, with an eye on Evelyn’s tired face. “Let’s order some food and then you can see about a ticket - Sarah’s fetching ours, but I don’t know if she’s getting one for you.”
They had plenty of time before the Paris train in which to make a good meal and Evelyn managed to regain a little of her colour, sitting safely in the restaurant. They stayed for as long as they dared, then Susie, a careful eye on her watch, suggested they ought to make their way to the platform.
“After all, it would be silly to miss it after we’ve been here all this time,” she said as they gathered their things and settled the bill.
Dusk was falling, and the station was brightly lit. Susie stood on the platform and glanced about at the crowd that was awaiting the Paris train. Three men in smart business suits with briefcases stood nearby, speaking in rapid French. Beyond them was a harried-looking mother with four children plaguing her as she tried to settle a tired baby, while their bored father hid himself behind a newspaper. And standing just beside Susie was a beautiful young American woman with sharply bobbed black hair who was talking to a man in a beautiful camel overcoat, a black cigarette holder between two of her delicate fingers. Susie watched her for a moment, attracted in spite of herself. Then the woman turned slightly and Susie gasped in astonishment. Louise Brooks! The American film star! Surely she couldn’t be catching the Paris express? She found herself blushing with excitement, then Louise turned around and caught her staring. She gave a slight smile at Susie’s gaping face and Susie, in her surprise, stepped back, collided heavily with her suitcase and went over backwards, legs splaying in the air, giving Louise and the rest of the platform a delightful view up her skirt.
Susie lay on the cold platform, the breath knocked out of her, wondering if the world had really gone quiet or if she were unexpectedly starring in her own silent film. Trust mine to be a slapstick, she thought to herself as she opened her eyes and saw, as she had expected, a circle of faces peering down at her. Tristan was there, asking concernedly if she were hurt; his face was very red and she suddenly realised that from where he was standing he would likewise have had a very good view of her ‘unmentionables’. She flushed embarrassedly, and then Louise Brooks’ face was above hers, grinning in amusement and extending one of those fine hands to help her up. She seized it and hauled herself to a more dignified position and, torn between mortification and hysterical mirth, she looked at her rescuer.
“Well,” drawled the American, “You sure know how to get attention.”
“I’m so sorry!” gasped Susie, red to the roots of her hair. “It’s just that..." She froze, mind blank, and then burst out, "I love your films!”
“You coulda just told me,” Louise pointed out, waving with her cigarette. “You didn’t have to pull that stunt, you know.” She gave Susie a grin with more than a hint of friendliness in it. “Y’know,” she said in a confidential undertone, “I was told only last week that I had “knock-me-down” eyes, but I never expected anyone to take it quite so literally.”
That settled it. Susie took one look at the film star’s face and burst into giggles. Louise maintained her cool for a few moments longer before joining her, and as they shared in their mirth the Paris express came rolling in, breathing steam across the platform, and the various passengers busied themselves about preparing themselves to board the train. The young man with Louise touched her wrist.
“C’m’on, Lulu,” he said, “we gotta go get our seats.”
Louise looked at Susie, head cocked on one side.
“Coming?” she asked, indicating the first class carriages. Susie shook her head rapidly.
“Oh, no,” she said. “We’re not travelling first class!”
“Shame,” said Louise, with a lingering smile. “Well, so long…?” she gave Susie a questioning look.
“Susie,” she said. “Susie Smith.”
Louise grinned at her.
“Nice to meet you, Susie,” she said, and, giving Susie's outstretched hand a little press, she swept off on the arm of her friend. Susie turned back to the others and stared at them in fascinated awe.
“I just fell over in front of Louise Brooks!” she exclaimed, and burst out laughing again. The tone of her laughter was such that Sarah was worried about her turning hysterical, but Evelyn, who had been getting increasingly agitated on the platform and who was worn out anyway with the strain of travelling, suddenly created a diversion by fainting dead away, and they all rushed around to try to revive her - so there was no need to slap Susie after all.