Cornelius Lawrence Fortinberry IV placed his ticket in the upper pocket of his suit coat and used the change to purchase a newspaper. He climbed into the train and slipped into the gap between two stout businessmen. He opened the newspaper and held it in front of his face, and no one paid him any attention. Corny breathed a sigh of relief as the wheels began to roll. He'd had a busy morning.
Just yesterday he'd seen his parents off on the Queen Mary. In all the pre-travel flurry, they seemed to have quite forgotten their young son. Still he stood on the pier and waved obediently when Nanny told him it was time.
"Don't you wish you could go with them?" she asked, a wistful look in her eyes. "To see the opera? Maybe even the Queen?"
Corny shrugged. Opera held no allure for an eleven-year-old.
Nanny gave his shoulders a squeeze. "You'd rather stay here, nice and safe with Nanny, wouldn't you? Come along."
Corny wrinkled his nose. Who needed Europe when the Wild West was only a train ride away? He kept his mouth shut and reviewed his scheme.
This morning, he dressed himself while Nanny drank her tea. He did not wince when she pulled his necktie too tight. None of his shoes could strictly be called comfortable, but he chose the pair that pinched least. When she had finished making up his bed, they walked down the long staircase to breakfast. Two steps above the marble entryway, Nanny halted. She pressed a hand to her ample bosom.
“Are you all right, Nanny?”
“I'm fine, dear. Just a trifle woozy.” She closed her eyes and slumped forward.
Corny ran to the kitchen. “Help! Nanny has collapsed!”
The servants froze.
Corny wrung his hands. “Nanny! Come help!”
The cook set down her tray, the chauffer dropped his mug, and the housekeeper followed them out of the kitchen. Corny watched them go. It was the work of a moment for him to steal the stack of cash from the housekeeper's accounts drawer, pick up the satchel he'd stashed in the pantry, and leave by the back door.
On the train, Corny tried to read the newspaper he'd bought. He knew his father read it from cover to cover daily, but he couldn't imagine why. The financial news was duller than his Latin text, and even less comprehensible. He folded the paper and reached into his satchel. He had only packed a few essentials. It had been difficult to leave his chemistry set behind, but it had served his purpose. He made sure his pop-gun and pocket knife were safe, then pulled out his travel guide: Wild West Weekly. He balanced it behind the newspaper. The stuffy old men still ignored him. Pleased with his covert arrangement, Corny read his hero's latest venture until his stomach issued an audible groan. He folded the newspaper into a neat square, in case he needed any tinder, and made his way to the dining car.
Charles watched the boy stare at the menu. He seemed to be comparing the prices with the contents of his purse. A spiffy suit like that, and a budget? Interesting. He poured the boy a glass of water.
“Are you waiting for your father, young man?”
The boy looked up, too quickly, his eyes a little too innocent. “No, he's waiting for me, in Chicago.” He shifted in his seat, and something fell to the floor.
“Allow me,” Charles said as he scooped up the magazine. Wild West Weekly. The boy must be a runaway. Charles could respect that. His own great-grandfather had run away on a different sort of railroad. He wasn't sure what kind of oppression this boy was leaving behind, but it was an escape nonetheless. Charles smiled. He'd allow the boy some freedom, at least as far as Chicago.
“Can I recommend the chicken and dumplings? We have a special price for early diners.”
The boy nodded gratefully, then buried his nose in his magazine.
“Ride on, cowboy,” Charles whispered as he took the order to the kitchen.