Escape by Teresa G. Osgood
Cornelius Lawrence Fortinberry IV placed his ticket in the 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. It had been a busy morning.
Yesterday he’d seen his parents off on the Queen Mary. In all the pre-travel flurry, they seemed to have forgotten their young son. Still he stood on the pier and waved 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?
This morning, he dressed himself while Nanny drank her tea. He did not wince when she pulled his necktie too tight. He chose the pair of shoes that pinched least. After she made 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 collapsed!”
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 didn’t even try to read the newspaper. Hiding behind its pages, he reached into his satchel. He had only packed a few essentials. His chemistry set had served his purpose, and been left behind. 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. Pleased with his covert arrangement, Corny read his hero’s latest venture until his stomach issued an audible groan. Corny stowed the paper 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 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.