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- The Flyers - 6/15 -
him in his flight with the governess. "Damn your impudence!"
"Stand aside, Windomshire," exclaimed Joe, white with anger and dread. "I'm going to find her. What have you done with her?"
"You sha'n't interfere, Dauntless," cried Windomshire, squaring himself. "She's going to be my wife, and---"
"I guess NOT! Get out of my way, or---"
"She's on that train, confound you, and I'm going away with her whether you like it or not--or anybody else, for that matter," said Windomshire, refusing to budge an inch.
"Well, you'll have a damned hard time getting rid of me," roared Joe, trying to break past his rival. A baggage-man leaped between them in time to prevent blows. He held the angry, mistaken rivals apart,-- rivals no longer, if they only knew. "Let go of me! Hold this fellow and I'll give you a hundred dollars--hold him till the train goes!"
"Hold me, will you? My word! What is this? A highway robbery!"
Both men broke away from the baggage-man and rushed frantically down the line of cars, each trying to hold the other back. Joe succeeded in grasping the handrail of the first sleeping-car, but his adversary pulled him away. An instant later they were struggling across the station platform, clasped in savage and hysterical combat. The station employees were rushing up to separate them when the train began to move slowly away.
[Illustration: Eleanor was still sitting ... stiff and silent]
They came to their senses a moment later to find themselves held firmly by brawny peacemakers, the black cars rushing swiftly by without them.
Forgetting the battle so inopportunely begun, they started off madly in pursuit, shouting, yelling, commanding. But the flyer was deaf to their cries, callous against their tears. It whistled off into the north, carrying two trusting, nervous young women, who were secure in the belief that their liege lords to be were aboard, utterly unconscious of the true state of affairs. In the drawing-room of Car 5 Eleanor was still sitting, with her veil down, her raincoat saturating the couch on which she sat stiff and silent. Anne Courtenay in Car 7 was philosophically preparing for bed, absolutely confident that the Englishman she had loved for years was not going to fail her.
Windomshire, alas, came to grief in his useless pursuit. He fell off the end of the platform and rolled in the mud, half stunned. When he painfully picked himself up, he saw Dauntless sitting on the edge of the walk, his haggard, staring face lighted by the glare of a sympathetic lantern. The station agent was offering vain but well- intended commiseration.
"Good God!" he heard Joe groan, but he did not catch the words, "she's gone without me!"
The next instant the distracted eloper was on his feet demanding a special engine.
"I've got to have it!" he shouted.
Windomshire's wits returned. Why not have a special too? It was the only way.
"You can order one for me, too," he exclaimed. "At once. It's imperative."
THE MORNING AFTER
The sun was peeping over the hilltops and shooting his merry glance across the rain-soaked lowlands when Eleanor Thursdale awoke from her final snatch of slumber. A hundred feverish lapses into restless subconsciousness had marked the passage of nearly as many miles of clatter and turmoil. Never before had she known a train to be so noisy; never before had she lain awake long enough to make the natural discovery. It seemed hours before she dropped off in the first surrender to sleep; it seemed hours between the succeeding falls. Her brain and heart were waging the most relentless battle against peace and security. She KNEW Joe Dauntless was but two cars ahead, and yet she wondered if were really there; she wondered and was troubled--oh, so troubled.
Daylight was creeping in beneath the curtain of the window. She stretched her fine, tired young body, and for the first time really felt like going to sleep. The perversity of early morning! Gradually it dawned upon her that the train was not moving; as far back as she could recall in her now wakeful spell it occurred to her that the cars had been standing still and that everything was as quiet as death. She looked at her watch; it was six o'clock.
"Goodness!" she thought, sitting up suddenly, "what is the matter?" The curtain flew up and her startled eyes blinked out upon the glaring world.
There was not a house in sight as far as her eyes could range forward and behind. Instead, a wide sweep of farm lands partially submerged by the flood water of many rains. Far away there were brown hills and a long army of tall trees standing at attention,--a bleak prospect despite the cheery intentions of the sun, which lurked behind the hills. Despondent cornstalks of last year's growth stood guard over the soggy fields; drenched, unhappy tufts of grass, and forlorn but triumphant reeds arose here and there from the watery wastes, asserting their victory over a dismantled winter. It was not a glorious view that met the gaze of the bride on her wedding morn.
Strangest of all, the train was so quiet, so utterly inactive, that an absurd feeling of loneliness grew upon her, gradually developing into the alarming certainty that she was the only living person in the world. Then she heard men's voices outside of the window; her relief was almost hysterical. Scrambling out of the berth, she began a hasty, nervous toilet. Three sharp pushes on the button brought the company's ladies' maid--advertised as a part of the luxury and refinement which made the flyer "the finest train in the world."
"What has happened? Where are we?" she demanded, upon the entrance of the sleepy young coloured woman.
"The Pride River bridge is washed away, ma'am," said the maid. "We can't go on no furder."
"Dear me," sighed Eleanor, turning to be buttoned at the back. "And where is Pride River bridge--or where was it, I mean?"
"'Bout twenty mile south of Omegon, ma'am--miss. The river's a sight-- highest 'at it's ever been known. It's all over the bottoms. This here train came mighty nigh running into it, too. A boy flagged it just in time, 'bout five o'clock."
"Have we been standing here a whole hour?"
"Yes, miss; right here. They say we can't go back till the section boss has examined the track in Baxter's Cut. Seems as though there's some danger of a washout back yander."
"Do you mean to say we are likely to stay here indefinitely?" gasped Eleanor. "Ouch! Be careful, please!"
"Oh, it won't be long. The porter says they've sent back over the line to telegraft for the section men."
"Good Heavens, is there no station here?"
"No, ma'am; five miles back. They's one jest across the river, but it might as well be in Africa."
"Be quick, please, and then send the conductor to me--and the porter too," urged Eleanor, in distress.
The porter was the first to arrive.
"Porter, will you go to Car 7 and see if the occupant of lower 4 is awake? I am quite sure that is right, but if it should happen to be wrong, please let me know at once."
"Yes, miss; and what shall I tell her?"
"Ahem! It's a--a gentleman. Ask him to--to come to the rear end of the train. That's all. Oh, conductor, how soon will we be on the track again?" The conductor was standing in the door, evidently impressed by the summons from the drawing-room.
"We're not off the track, madam. There is no danger--just a little delay. I have telegraphed to see if I can have a relief train come down from Omegon and pick us up after we've been ferried across the river."
"This is the very worst road I've ever travelled over--the very worst," was Eleanor's natural complaint. "When will that get us to Omegon?"
"We should be there in an hour after leaving here."
"And when did you say we'd leave here?"
"I didn't say. I don't know."
"Who does know, if you don't?" demanded Eleanor.
"God, I presume," observed the harassed conductor, turning away with the realisation that he had erred in coming to her in the first place. The porter returned at that moment.
"Nobody in that section, ma'am. It was sold, but the party didn't show up."
"Good Heavens, you--but he DID show up. I--I know he did. Look again. Try--but wait! Ask for Mr. Dauntless. Ask quietly, please."
Her nerves at highest tension, Miss Thursdale made her way toward the rear platform of the train. She passed down the curtained aisles of two coaches, wondering how people could sleep so soundly in a crisis
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