The strains of the brass band soared through the sweeping archways and up to the vaulted ceiling of Union Station.
“Meet me in St Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the fair . . .”
The song had lifted everyone’s hearts since the opening of the fair, but now the lilting melody sounded wistful. Here and there in the crowded station people sang along. But Will was barely aware of the music.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about the last night of the world’s greatest fair!” a newsboy shouted over the crowds, and Will looked to see which attraction from last night’s ceremony had been chosen for the front page. It had seemed to him that, along with the hordes of tourists, the entire population of St Louis had congregated to bid farewell to what had been part of their lives for the last seven months.
The illumination of thousands of glittering lights had given everyone a last, magical picture to remember. The long waterfall called the Cascades had splashed down a sweeping hill into the Grand Basin.
“I am about to perform a heart-rending duty,” the president of the exposition announced, flipping the switch that turned off the fair’s lights for the last time. The pulsation of the huge engines that drove the Cascades faded, and the lights dimmed until only a faint glow was perceptible.
Will watched fireworks explode over the fairgrounds, spelling out the melancholy message Farewell, Goodbye. But he had already said goodbye to much more than the fair.
He would never, ever forget the beautiful day last May, the most exciting day of his life. They had all watched; Will, and Lord Witney and Miss Allbright. They had watched and cheered with the thousands of spectators as the California Arrow had sailed up and up over 1,000 feet into the summer sky. Its pilot manoeuvred it into an S, then brought it down smoothly into the exposition airfield without injury either to himself or the magnificent airship. Will had been scarcely able to breathe for the thrill of it all. And then it had been as if his life itself had gone beyond his dreams, for it seemed that Miss Allbright had read his mind. She’d been all for his following those dreams . . .
“Why, I can’t think of anything more exciting than flying planes! Of course I love my motor car, but a bright boy like Will should be reaching for the stars. Don’t you think so, Bert?”
“Well . . . I,” Lord Witney had stammered, shifting his feet. “I don’t know, Thea, dear. I do need a man to look after me, after all . . .”
“Oh, you stuffy old thing!” she’d teased. “We can find you a manservant anywhere! But just look at the boy, Bert. He’s longing to have an adventure, and that’s just what he must have!”
She had stuffed a bundle of dollars into Will’s hand, along with a note and an address which she’d scribbled on to the back of a souvenir programme.
“Just in case things don’t work out, and I’ll let Daddy know all about it, so don’t worry.”