“I know it,” said Passepartout, turning to another passenger, “but a simple idea–”
“Ideas are no use,” returned the American, shrugging his shoulders, “as the engineer assures us that we can pass.”
“Doubtless,” urged Passepartout, “we can pass, but perhaps it would be more prudent–”
“What! Prudent!” cried Colonel Proctor, whom this word seemed to excite prodigiously. “At full speed, don’t you see, at full speed!”
“I know–I see,” repeated Passepartout; “but it would be, if not more prudent, since that word displeases you, at least more natural–”
“Who! What! What’s the matter with this fellow?” cried several.
The poor fellow did not know to whom to address himself.
“Are you afraid?” asked Colonel Proctor.
“I afraid? Very well; I will show these people that a Frenchman can be as American as they!”
“All aboard!” cried the conductor.
“Yes, all aboard!” repeated Passepartout, and immediately. “But they can’t prevent me from thinking that it would be more natural for us to cross the bridge on foot, and let the train come after!”
But no one heard this sage reflection, nor would anyone have acknowledged its justice. The passengers resumed their places in the cars. Passepartout took his seat without telling what had passed. The whist-players were quite absorbed in their game.
The locomotive whistled vigorously; the engineer, reversing the steam, backed the train for nearly a mile–retiring, like a jumper, in order to take a longer leap. Then, with another whistle, he began to move forward; the train increased its speed, and soon its rapidity became frightful; a prolonged screech issued from the locomotive; the piston worked up and down twenty strokes to the second. They perceived that the whole train, rushing on at the rate of a hundred miles an hour, hardly bore upon the rails at all.
And they passed over! It was like a flash. No one saw the bridge. The train leaped, so to speak, from one bank to the other, and the engineer could not stop it until it had gone five miles beyond the station. But scarcely had the train passed the river, when the bridge, completely ruined, fell with a crash into the rapids of Medicine Bow.