94. Shots in the Dark

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'You have a firearm?' I demanded, my breath catching. He regarded me with supreme disdain. 'Sir,' I hurriedly tagged on.

'Of course I have a firearm, Mr Linton. Do you think I would go into a situation such as this without being prepared?'

'But why didn't you use it on the soldiers before?'

'Because they had long-range weapons and could have shot me long before I could have returned the favour. You don't bring a rifle on an infiltration. It is cumbersome and slow to load. This,' he patted the weapon hidden behind his hand, 'is a Colt Paterson improved model prototype with loading lever, 36 calibre. If our friend there,' he nodded towards the approaching light, 'gets close enough, he will be swiftly and terminally perforated.'

'Meaning, Sir?'

'Meaning that I will put a hole in his head, Mr Linton.'

I threw a worried glance at the walls of the tunnel, which were still rushing past in a blur, then directed my gaze at the light that was approaching alarmingly fast.

'I hope we survive long enough to have to worry about fighting him. If we keep going at this pace, we'll probably die when we ram into him. We're moving too fast and, as you said, this thing has got no brakes.'

'I doubt it'll come to a collision. Look.' And he raised the safety lamp high over his head, pointing to something beside the cart I hadn't seen before: a set of tracks, running parallel to our own.

'Why have two sets of rails in a mine?' The confusion in my voice was evident.

'One for sending up the salt, one for sending down empty carts again. It makes sense.'

'Well... I suppose you're right. And you think he's on the other set of tracks?'

'Yes. But...'

'But what, Sir?'

'But be ready to jump, just in case I'm wrong.'

How very comforting.

As we raced closer, I could see that indeed he was not on another set of tracks. But there was no need for me to jump, either. Long before we reached the other mining cart, the tracks flattened out. We began to slow down, rolling along the track at a leisurely pace. Now we could see that the other mining cart hadn't, in fact, been moving towards us – it had only seemed that way because we had been catching up so fast. It was, in fact, moving in the same direction as we, only at a considerably slower pace. A single, rather fat man, whose red uniform and bushy white beard made him look distinctly harmless, was gripping the handle of the draisine. As we came nearer, he raised his hand.

Mr Ambrose raised a hand, too – the one with his gun in it.

I noticed just in time to grab it and push it down again.

'No!' I hissed.

He gave me a don't-interrupt-my-important-business look, which I completely ignored. I clung to his arm tenaciously. 'Why not, Mr Linton?'

'Because he hasn't got a gun in his hand, Sir!'

'He might be going for one, Mr Linton.'

'Then wait until he does, Sir. You can't shoot an unarmed man!'

'That, Mr Linton, is usually the wiser and more effective policy.'

'Ahoy there,' the man called, waving genially in our direction. 'Caught up to me and my little ship on wheels, have you? Well, I ain't the fastest, I got to admit that.'

'See? He didn't want to shoot! He just wanted to wave at us.'

'For now, Mr Linton.'

Suddenly, the old soldier let go of the end of the see-saw with which he had been pushing along his cart and jumped off.

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