“Nonsense, Mr. Pope!” said Bart, “you don’t look as if you had an enemy in the world.”
“I haven’t,” declared Peter Pope, “but every business man has his rivals, of course. I’ve heard that those city chaps have an eye on any fellow that makes a record like I’m making here. They don’t want to see him get ahead. They must guess that I’m in line for a big promotion, and that might worry them into playing some tragical trick on me.”
Bart wanted to laugh outright. He kept a straight face, and solemnly started to investigate the trouble. He stepped into the express room and took a keen look around, Pope timorously following him.
“There!” panted Pope suddenly, “what did I tell you?”
“That’s so,” said Bart. “It is sort of mysterious. Someone groaned, sure. What have you here, anyway?”
Bart went over to a heap of express matter, come in just that morning. There were several small crates, a box or two, and a very large trunk. Bart centered his attention on this latter. He stooped down as his quick eye observed a row of holes at one end, just under the hauling strap.
“Quiet, for a minute,” he whispered warningly to Pope, who, big-eyed and trembling, resembled a man on the threshold of some most appalling discovery.
Bart’s strained hearing shortly caught a rustling sound. It was followed by a kind of choking moan. Unmistakably, he decided, both came from the trunk.
“Is it locked? No,” he said, examining the front of the trunk. Then Bart snapped back its two catches. He seized the cover and threw it back.
“Gracious!” gasped Peter Pope.
Bart himself was a trifle startled.
As the trunk cover lifted, a man stepped out.
ON THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
“Air—and water!” panted the mysterious occupant of the trunk.
Bart looked him over in some wonder. He was a short, wiry man, and arrayed in a close-fitting costume resembling that of the circus athlete on duty.
The man was drenched with perspiration and so nearly exhausted with his suffocating imprisonment, that his voice was rasping and hollow.
He was weak, too. As he stepped over the side of the trunk he staggered feebly. Then, making out an open window and a pail of drinking water on a bench near it, he made a swift dive in that direction.
First the man stuck his head out of the window and drew in great draughts of pure, fresh air.
Then he seized the tin cup near the pail. He dipped up the water and drank cupful after cupful until Bart eyed him in some alarm.
“Ah—h!” breathed the man in a long aspiration of relief and enjoyment, “that’s better. Say, ten minutes more and there would have been no Professor Rigoletto.”
As he spoke he went back to the trunk. He took out a long gossamer rain coat that had been used as a pillow. This he proceeded to put on.