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From Chapter 12 of Sand Mansions
April 1877

Hovering over the Courthouse was a huge red balloon. Across its vast dome large black cursive letters proclaimed: Faulkner's Flights of Fancy. The bulb was ornamented with great columns of gold braid, and beneath it hung the largest wicker basket Larrabee had ever seen. His horse balked and sidestepped, but he pressed her on with reassuring words and his heels, and she clattered back to the side of the sheriff's big dapple-gray.

By the time they got to the square, the balloon was still about eight feet off the ground, and a man wearing goggles and a duster was climbing down from it via a rope ladder. About halfway down he turned, smiling and waving to the cheering crowd. He wore a ship captain's cap, leather gloves, and a scarf tucked into the duster. His broad smile seemed to say that he was very glad indeed to be out of the sky for a while.

A second head appeared in the basket. A woman. She somehow managed to follow the man down the rope ladder without tangling her skirts or showing an unseemly amount of lace. As she disappeared into the noisy crowd, a parasol opened up, and as he moved forward in the sheriff's wake, Larrabee determined that the woman from the sky was a very attractive brunette with a fair complexion and a dimpled smile. Deputy Clay had gotten there in time to push the crowd back to give the balloonists some room.

The man doffed his cap and bowed. "I am Captain Faulkner! And this is my pilot, Miss Diana Quarry!"

"Don't hardly seem right them being up there alone together if they ain't married," someone said.

Diana was curtseying, a pinch of her brocade-trimmed dress at her fingertips as she acknowledged the applause. Two faces looked on from the Courthouse windows, Ray Polk the county clerk and Judge Carlisle, who frowned at the proceedings as he did at any disturbance in his court. The judge moved away from the window and left Ray staring down in fascination.

"Miss Quarry and I have just completed an air journey of forty-five miles!" Faulkner declared.

The crowd clapped and whistled and cheered. Diana beamed at the attention. She had beautiful teeth. A black velvet ribbon held her curls in place under a gray felt bonnet trimmed with pink roses. She turned her parasol in a dainty gloved hand.

"Hot darn!" somebody said. Larrabee wasn't sure if he was talking about the balloon or Diana.

"We have seen so much of your beautiful state," Faulkner said, "and now we would like to offer you the chance to see some of it--from our wonderful balloon!"

Almost to a man, the crowd let out an ooh of anticipation.

"We can take each of you up for as long as there's daylight and the winds are light--"

A stillness of expectation set in.

"--for just one dollar. Some separation of opinion arose and Faulkner waited for the price debates to die out. Again he held up his gloved hands. "We will ascend to a height of two hundred feet, high above your fair Courthouse, then return you safely to terra firma."

Someone had the notion that terra firma was in a northern state and another argument broke out.

A breeze lifted the Spanish moss and turned the leaves on the live oaks.

The sheriff folded his arms and surveyed the crowd. "Mister, I believe they need another demonstration."

Faulkner seemed disappointed. The lovely Diana stopped smiling for a moment.

"Very well, folks. Would another ascent convince you of the safety of Faulkner's Flights of Fancy? I shall ask for further assistance! We can let out a hundred feet of line and bring the aircraft back down to your lovely Courthouse Square. What do you say?"

Again, Faulkner and the lovely Diana were smiling confidently.

At Faulkner's direction the men pulled in the lines. The pulling was tough because the big red balloon, orange in the midday sun, was stubbornly pulling back, pulling toward the south, and a dozen men on each rope yanked and clawed and swore for every yard they brought in. Then, above all the tugging and grunting, a voice cried out that something was wrong.

It was Diana, who had been watching from high on the Courthouse steps.

"It's caught fire!"