This was a suspension-bridge thrown over some rapids, about a mile from the place where they now were. According to the signal-man, it was in a ruinous condition, several of the iron wires being broken; and it was impossible to risk the passage. He did not in any way exaggerate the condition of the bridge. It may be taken for granted that, rash as the Americans usually are, when they are prudent there is good reason for it.
Passepartout, not daring to apprise his master of what he heard, listened with set teeth, immovable as a statue.
“Hum!” cried Colonel Proctor; “but we are not going to stay here, I imagine, and take root in the snow?”
“Colonel,” replied the conductor, “we have telegraphed to Omaha for a train, but it is not likely that it will reach Medicine Bow is less than six hours.”
“Six hours!” cried Passepartout.
“Certainly,” returned the conductor, “besides, it will take us as long as that to reach Medicine Bow on foot.”
“But it is only a mile from here,” said one of the passengers.
“Yes, but it’s on the other side of the river.”
“And can’t we cross that in a boat?” asked the colonel.
“That’s impossible. The creek is swelled by the rains. It is a rapid, and we shall have to make a circuit of ten miles to the north to find a ford.”
The colonel launched a volley of oaths, denouncing the railway company and the conductor; and Passepartout, who was furious, was not disinclined to make common cause with him. Here was an obstacle, indeed, which all his master’s banknotes could not remove.
There was a general disappointment among the passengers, who, without reckoning the delay, saw themselves compelled to trudge fifteen miles over a plain covered with snow. They grumbled and protested, and would certainly have thus attracted Phileas Fogg’s attention if he had not been completely absorbed in his game.
Passepartout found that he could not avoid telling his master what had occurred, and, with hanging head, he was turning towards the car, when the engineer, a true Yankee, named Forster called out, “Gentlemen, perhaps there is a way, after all, to get over.”
“On the bridge?” asked a passenger.
“On the bridge.”
“With our train?”
“With our train.”
Passepartout stopped short, and eagerly listened to the engineer.
“But the bridge is unsafe,” urged the conductor.
“No matter,” replied Forster; “I think that by putting on the very highest speed we might have a chance of getting over.”
“The devil!” muttered Passepartout.
But a number of the passengers were at once attracted by the engineer’s proposal, and Colonel Proctor was especially delighted, and found the plan a very feasible one. He told stories about engineers leaping their trains over rivers without bridges, by putting on full steam; and many of those present avowed themselves of the engineer’s mind.
“We have fifty chances out of a hundred of getting over,” said one.
Passepartout was astounded, and, though ready to attempt anything to get over Medicine Creek, thought the experiment proposed a little too American. “Besides,” thought he, “there’s a still more simple way, and it does not even occur to any of these people! Sir,” said he aloud to one of the passengers, “the engineer’s plan seems to me a little dangerous, but–”
“Eighty chances!” replied the passenger, turning his back on him.