All that seemed a long time ago. Will smoothed back his hair and knocked on the door of the Terminal Office, hoping his second meeting with the man behind the door would be more encouraging than yesterday’s had been.
“Come in. Oh, it’s you.”
Through clouds of cigar smoke, Will met the distracted face of the stationmaster. He squared his broad shoulders.
“You said I should come back, sir.”
“I did. Well, it seems that note you gave me from Charlie Allbright’s daughter was legit. I’ve got orders from the top to give you a job as steward’s assistant.” He shook his head, stubbing out his cigar. “If that don’t beat all. How’d you meet up with folks like that? Mr Allbright owns a good chunk of this railway and you sure don’t look his style.”
“I told you yesterday, sir. I was working for Miss Allbright’s fianc. When I decided to move on she gave me the note.”
“It all sounds pretty grand, and that accent of yours is a hoot. So what was it you were doing for this . . . who’d you say he was?”
“The Earl of Witney, sir, the son of the Marquess of Farrington. I was his valet.”
The stationmaster whistled through his teeth.
“You and your English royalty! Bet he fired you, and Charlie Allbright’s daughter felt sorry for you.”
“Not at all, sir. It was because of the aeronautics contest. I got interested in it, you see. I got to talking to a couple of men who’d entered.”
“Don’t suppose they won anything, did they?” The stationmaster shook his head. “Thousands of dollars just for going up in the air and coming down!”
“One of the men wanted to build another plane. He thought he’d figured out what had gone wrong the first time. But his friend decided to go back home, so he and I teamed up.”
Will still wondered why the man had taken him on that day. Was it because he worked for an English lord? That certainly impressed the Americans he met.
“If we’d been meant to fly we’d have wings,” the stationmaster went on. “The railroad gets us where we need to go. Why would anybody risk his neck in one of those air machines?”
Will was silent. How could he explain that he’d lived and breathed that plane he’d helped to build, imagining himself soaring over the land like some huge bird.
He’d been lucky to get away with a sprained ankle when the plane with which they’d hoped to make their fortunes had crashed on its maiden flight. It had broken in pieces along with his dreams.
He’d gone through all the money he’d earned doing odd jobs ever since. His last resort had been Miss Allbright’s note.
Will felt his jaw tighten as he thought of her standing there, blinding him with her dazzling smile. His life was in tatters, and it was all her fault for egging him on the way she had!
“We’d better get you a uniform.” The stationmaster eyed Will again and shook his head. “You’ll be on the six-twenty tomorrow morning to Chicago. Steward’s name is Otis Grant, and he doesn’t stand for any nonsense.”
Will felt his limbs grow heavy. Was he destined to spend the rest of his life in a railway car, rattling back and forth across this vast country?
On no account would he try to contact Lord Witney, not after all his big ideas about becoming a pilot. It seemed a lifetime ago that he’d sailed across the ocean, so far away from everything he’d ever known – the gentle, rolling countryside, his best friend Davey, and Emily.
Emily, who’d felt like his own little sister. He wondered how she was getting on, and what things were like now that her dad had married Sarah.
Into the sea of confusion and uncertainty that flooded his mind came an image clear and true. Of Emily’s face in the glow of the single candle that lit the Callows’ kitchen table in the evenings. He felt a surge of strength begin to build in his heart. Tomorrow morning he’d be off on another adventure. One, he was determined, which would some day take him home again.