The evening sun cast long shadows on the canvas tents, lined up across the field as far as the eye could see. From here and there the tinkle of mandolins and guitars mingled with the sound of cooking pots clanging in the makeshift kitchens. There was the sound of conversation and laughter and children playing. For in spite of the devastation and heartbreak of the past weeks, there was a spirit of community, strength and determination amongst the people.
Emily hurried to the edge of the field where she and Will had planned to meet. They’d had so little time to talk in those miraculous moments that morning. Each had a job to do, and their overseers had limited patience for time taken over reunions.
She reached the meeting place under the trees, and catching her breath, she closed her eyes, remembering the morning and the sight of Will standing in the sunshine. He’d leaped down from the truck he’d been unloading, and had nearly choked on his words.
“Em! Oh, Em, it’s really you!”
She’d stood stunned, unable to speak, and after a long moment he’d slowly taken her by the shoulders and looked with wonder into her face.
“Thank God you’re all right.”
Tears of relief had welled up in Emily’s eyes and her voice had been barely a whisper.
“I can’t believe you’re here!”
Her mind had raced. Had he come to find her, or was it an extraordinary coincidence? She hadn’t known how to begin to unravel it, and her questions tumbled out on top of each other.
“My family, do they know I’m safe? The Farringtons, I don’t know where they are. I’ve been so frightened! Why are you here? How did . . .”
He’d cut her off.
“It happened all at once, Em. I’ve been working for the railroad, and we’d stopped off in Chicago. The news had just come through about the earthquake, and then the steward told me there was a telegram for me. It was from Mr Allbright. He told me you were here. Em, I was so scared.”
Just then Will’s foreman had shouted to get a move on, and there hadn’t been time for more explanation.
Now, a wave of panic began to course through her. Had he decided it had been a mistake to come, and was now chugging his way back across the country?
He reached her side, breathless from running, his hair tumbling over his forehead, and her heart skipped a beat.
“I don’t know where to begin,” she said.
“It’s been two years.” He grinned. “I worked that out all by myself!”
They laughed, remembering Will’s troubles with arithmetic. Emily had done his homework for him more than once.
“Tell me about the fair. Did you get a chance to fly in an airship? I hoped you would, but I was so worried about you sailing through the sky!”
“The thrill only lasted a few minutes, and I ended up losing my money as well as my pride. But it could have been worse. I got away with a sprained ankle for a souvenir.”
She shuddered, thinking of what might have happened.
“But I did get up in the air. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll fly again.”
“I was puzzled when you didn’t come back with Lord Witney and the countess.” The pain of that memory returned and she lowered her eyes. “I was surprised that you’d give up such a good job.”
He shrugged, a little sheepishly.
“I couldn’t resist the chance for adventure. Working for the railroad took some getting used to, but it’s been great. This is such an exciting country! What about you, Em? I expect you’ve had some adventures yourself, and met some interesting people.”