93. The Tortoise and the other Tortoise and no Hare

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Our race into the darkness ended rather abruptly when, after a few dozen yards, the rails levelled out, and our cart rolled to a halt.

Having expected a thrilling race through the dark tunnels of the mine, this was something of an anti-climax. It was also quite worrying, considering a bunch of bloodthirsty soldiers, armed with rifles, sabres and God only knew what else, were not far behind.

'Now what are we going to do?' I demanded. 'Get out and push?'

'Not quite,' he said drily, and in so calm a voice it made me want to strangle him. 'Climb over there. Quick.'

Jumping over the front wall of the cart, he landed on something solid – wood, not the stone of the tunnel floor, I could tell from the sound his shoes made. He gestured for me to follow. Looking over the edge of the cart's metal wall, I saw that it didn't actually end at what I had taken to be the front wall. There was a flat, wooden extension, a kind of platform, attached to the front, and in the middle of the platform there was a construction that looked like a strange sort of metal see-saw.

The only difference from a see-saw was, it didn't have seats at the ends. Instead, it had wooden handles, one of which Mr Ambrose was already holding.

'Well, what are you waiting for?' he asked. 'Grab hold, and let's get going!'

'Get going with what?' I demanded, though I already had an inkling.

'Grab the other handle and start moving it up and down,' he ordered. 'This isn't just a mining cart. It's a draisine.'

'A what?'

'A draisine. You move it by it by moving the handles up and down.'

'You mean you want to try and escape the murderous hordes that are chasing us by pumping up and down?'

'Essentially, yes.'

'You must be joking!'

He considered this. 'No,' he stated. 'In fact, I'm quite at liberty to be serious. Which I am in general, and in particular at the moment.'

'You don't say.'

'Yes, I do. Now get moving, Mr Linton.'

I opened my mouth to argue – then, I heard the screech of another mining cart, not far behind us. However much I might have liked to argue – there was no time. Quickly, I grabbed the other end of the see-saw and, immediately, Mr Ambrose began to move up and down at a prodigious rate. The cart – or draisine, rather – shuddered, and then began to move forward at a leisurely pace. I felt as if we were sitting in an old ladies' carriage, with a tame old horse in front, so the venerable grandmother wouldn't get jostled.

'Can't this thing go any faster?' I panted.

'Of course it can,' was Mr Ambrose's reply. 'If you move faster.'

And he picked up the pace. It was all I could do to try and follow his movements and not dangle off at the end like a sack of potatoes. I doubt I contributed much to our forward thrust. Nevertheless, sweat soon began running down my forehead.

'Don't shove the lever upwards like that,' Mr Ambrose commanded. 'It comes up automatically on your side when I push down. We have to move in turns. First you push down, then I, then you again.'

From then on, we alternated in the movement, and I had to bear half of the burden. As we moved along at an agonizing pace, we could hear the soldiers slowly coming closer behind us. They didn't seem to have nearly as much trouble as we with getting their draisine moving.

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