**IN WHICH FIX, THE DETECTIVE, CONSIDERABLY FURTHERS THE INTERESTS OF PHILEA_OGG**
Phileas Fogg found himself twenty hours behind time. Passepartout, th_nvoluntary cause of this delay, was desperate. He had ruined his master!
At this moment the detective approached Mr. Fogg, and, looking him intently i_he face, said:
"Seriously, sir, are you in great haste?"
"I have a purpose in asking," resumed Fix. "Is it absolutely necessary tha_ou should be in New York on the 11th, before nine o'clock in the evening, th_ime that the steamer leaves for Liverpool?"
"It is absolutely necessary."
"And, if your journey had not been interrupted by these Indians, you woul_ave reached New York on the morning of the 11th?"
"Yes; with eleven hours to spare before the steamer left."
"Good! you are therefore twenty hours behind. Twelve from twenty leaves eight.
You must regain eight hours. Do you wish to try to do so?"
"On foot?" asked Mr. Fogg.
"No; on a sledge," replied Fix. "On a sledge with sails. A man has propose_uch a method to me."
It was the man who had spoken to Fix during the night, and whose offer he ha_efused.
Phileas Fogg did not reply at once; but Fix, having pointed out the man, wh_as walking up and down in front of the station, Mr. Fogg went up to him. A_nstant after, Mr. Fogg and the American, whose name was Mudge, entered a hu_uilt just below the fort.
There Mr. Fogg examined a curious vehicle, a kind of frame on two long beams,
a little raised in front like the runners of a sledge, and upon which ther_as room for five or six persons. A high mast was fixed on the frame, hel_irmly by metallic lashings, to which was attached a large brigantine sail.
This mast held an iron stay upon which to hoist a jib-sail. Behind, a sort o_udder served to guide the vehicle. It was, in short, a sledge rigged like _loop. During the winter, when the trains are blocked up by the snow, thes_ledges make extremely rapid journeys across the frozen plains from on_tation to another. Provided with more sails than a cutter, and with the win_ehind them, they slip over the surface of the prairies with a speed equal i_ot superior to that of the express trains.
Mr. Fogg readily made a bargain with the owner of this land-craft. The win_as favourable, being fresh, and blowing from the west. The snow had hardened,
and Mudge was very confident of being able to transport Mr. Fogg in a fe_ours to Omaha. Thence the trains eastward run frequently to Chicago and Ne_ork. It was not impossible that the lost time might yet be recovered; an_uch an opportunity was not to be rejected.
Not wishing to expose Aouda to the discomforts of travelling in the open air,
Mr. Fogg proposed to leave her with Passepartout at Fort Kearney, the servan_aking upon himself to escort her to Europe by a better route and under mor_avourable conditions. But Aouda refused to separate from Mr. Fogg, an_assepartout was delighted with her decision; for nothing could induce him t_eave his master while Fix was with him.
It would be difficult to guess the detective's thoughts. Was this convictio_haken by Phileas Fogg's return, or did he still regard him as an exceedingl_hrewd rascal, who, his journey round the world completed, would think himsel_bsolutely safe in England? Perhaps Fix's opinion of Phileas Fogg was somewha_odified; but he was nevertheless resolved to do his duty, and to hasten th_eturn of the whole party to England as much as possible.
At eight o'clock the sledge was ready to start. The passengers took thei_laces on it, and wrapped themselves up closely in their travelling-cloaks.
The two great sails were hoisted, and under the pressure of the wind th_ledge slid over the hardened snow with a velocity of forty miles an hour.
The distance between Fort Kearney and Omaha, as the birds fly, is at most tw_undred miles. If the wind held good, the distance might be traversed in fiv_ours; if no accident happened the sledge might reach Omaha by one o'clock.
What a journey! The travellers, huddled close together, could not speak fo_he cold, intensified by the rapidity at which they were going. The sledg_ped on as lightly as a boat over the waves. When the breeze came skimming th_arth the sledge seemed to be lifted off the ground by its sails. Mudge, wh_as at the rudder, kept in a straight line, and by a turn of his hand checke_he lurches which the vehicle had a tendency to make. All the sails were up,
and the jib was so arranged as not to screen the brigantine. A top-mast wa_oisted, and another jib, held out to the wind, added its force to the othe_ails. Although the speed could not be exactly estimated, the sledge could no_e going at less than forty miles an hour.
"If nothing breaks," said Mudge, "we shall get there!"
Mr. Fogg had made it for Mudge's interest to reach Omaha within the tim_greed on, by the offer of a handsome reward.
The prairie, across which the sledge was moving in a straight line, was a_lat as a sea. It seemed like a vast frozen lake. The railroad which ra_hrough this section ascended from the south-west to the north-west by Grea_sland, Columbus, an important Nebraska town, Schuyler, and Fremont, to Omaha.
It followed throughout the right bank of the Platte River. The sledge,
shortening this route, took a chord of the arc described by the railway. Mudg_as not afraid of being stopped by the Platte River, because it was frozen.
The road, then, was quite clear of obstacles, and Phileas Fogg had but tw_hings to fear— an accident to the sledge, and a change or calm in the wind.
But the breeze, far from lessening its force, blew as if to bend the mast,
which, however, the metallic lashings held firmly. These lashings, like th_hords of a stringed instrument, resounded as if vibrated by a violin bow. Th_ledge slid along in the midst of a plaintively intense melody.
"Those chords give the fifth and the octave," said Mr. Fogg.
These were the only words he uttered during the journey. Aouda, cosily packe_n furs and cloaks, was sheltered as much as possible from the attacks of th_reezing wind. As for Passepartout, his face was as red as the sun's disc whe_t sets in the mist, and he laboriously inhaled the biting air. With hi_atural buoyancy of spirits, he began to hope again. They would reach New Yor_n the evening, if not on the morning, of the 11th, and there was still som_hances that it would be before the steamer sailed for Liverpool.
Passepartout even felt a strong desire to grasp his ally, Fix, by the hand. H_emembered that it was the detective who procured the sledge, the only mean_f reaching Omaha in time; but, checked by some presentiment, he kept hi_sual reserve. One thing, however, Passepartout would never forget, and tha_as the sacrifice which Mr. Fogg had made, without hesitation, to rescue hi_rom the Sioux. Mr. Fogg had risked his fortune and his life. No! His servan_ould never forget that!
While each of the party was absorbed in reflections so different, the sledg_lew past over the vast carpet of snow. The creeks it passed over were no_erceived. Fields and streams disappeared under the uniform whiteness. Th_lain was absolutely deserted. Between the Union Pacific road and the branc_hich unites Kearney with Saint Joseph it formed a great uninhabited island.
Neither village, station, nor fort appeared. From time to time they sped b_ome phantom-like tree, whose white skeleton twisted and rattled in the wind.
Sometimes flocks of wild birds rose, or bands of gaunt, famished, ferociou_rairie-wolves ran howling after the sledge. Passepartout, revolver in hand,
held himself ready to fire on those which came too near. Had an accident the_appened to the sledge, the travellers, attacked by these beasts, would hav_een in the most terrible danger; but it held on its even course, soon gaine_n the wolves, and ere long left the howling band at a safe distance behind.
About noon Mudge perceived by certain landmarks that he was crossing th_latte River. He said nothing, but he felt certain that he was now withi_wenty miles of Omaha. In less than an hour he left the rudder and furled hi_ails, whilst the sledge, carried forward by the great impetus the wind ha_iven it, went on half a mile further with its sails unspread.
It stopped at last, and Mudge, pointing to a mass of roofs white with snow,
said: "We have got there!"
Arrived! Arrived at the station which is in daily communication, by numerou_rains, with the Atlantic seaboard!
Passepartout and Fix jumped off, stretched their stiffened limbs, and aide_r. Fogg and the young woman to descend from the sledge. Phileas Fog_enerously rewarded Mudge, whose hand Passepartout warmly grasped, and th_arty directed their steps to the Omaha railway station.
The Pacific Railroad proper finds its terminus at this important Nebrask_own. Omaha is connected with Chicago by the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad,
which runs directly east, and passes fifty stations.
A train was ready to start when Mr. Fogg and his party reached the station,
and they only had time to get into the cars. They had seen nothing of Omaha;
but Passepartout confessed to himself that this was not to be regretted, a_hey were not travelling to see the sights.
The train passed rapidly across the State of Iowa, by Council Bluffs, De_oines, and Iowa City. During the night it crossed the Mississippi a_avenport, and by Rock Island entered Illinois. The next day, which was th_0th, at four o'clock in the evening, it reached Chicago, already risen fro_ts ruins, and more proudly seated than ever on the borders of its beautifu_ake Michigan.
Nine hundred miles separated Chicago from New York; but trains are not wantin_t Chicago. Mr. Fogg passed at once from one to the other, and the locomotiv_f the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railway left at full speed, as i_t fully comprehended that that gentleman had no time to lose. It traverse_ndiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey like a flash, rushing throug_owns with antique names, some of which had streets and car-tracks, but as ye_o houses. At last the Hudson came into view; and, at a quarter-past eleven i_he evening of the 11th, the train stopped in the station on the right bank o_he river, before the very pier of the Cunard line.
The China, for Liverpool, had started three-quarters of an hour before!