95. Urania

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Mr Ambrose had suggested that the bushes would cushion our fall. I didn't know what kind of cushion he preferred, but the landing in the bushes gave me a pretty good idea. Basalt, maybe? Sandstone?

By the time I came to a stop at the bottom of the hill on which the bushes were perched, I felt as though I had been squeezed through a meat-grinder. A strangled moan escaped from my throat.

'You should have rolled,' a cool voice commented from above me.

'I did roll! I did nothing but roll and jump and bump! I feel like a flipping football!'

'I mean actively. To break your fall.' A firm hand gripped mine and pulled me up so quickly I couldn't even try to protest. In a moment, I was standing beside Mr Ambrose, whose red uniform - curse him! - somehow still looked immaculate. He hadn't even gotten one twig in his smooth, shiny black hair.

For a moment, we stood like this, each close enough to hear the other's heart beating, our hands intertwined. Then he let go and abruptly turned.

'Let's go!'

'There they are!' The gruff voice from the tunnel entrance was much too familiar. 'Get them!'

Behind us, a shot rang out. It was the starting signal for our race. We dove into the brushes, and now I blessed the thick foliage I had cursed a moment ago. Bullets whipped through the forest to my right and left, but none hit Mr Ambrose or me. We were too well hidden among the green leaves. As quickly as possible, we slid between the trees, farther away from the tunnel.

Suddenly, Mr Ambrose stopped.

'Be quiet!'

'Oh really?' I hissed. 'This isn't the right time for your obsession with silence! We've got to run, and I don't care how loudly we do it! We-'

'No. I mean, I heard something. Be quiet and listen, just for a second.'

Grudgingly, I did as he told me. Over the hammering of my own heart I couldn't hear anything, at first. Then, slowly, I began to hear a low chatter, far off on the other side of the undergrowth.

'Voices!' I exclaimed.

Mr Ambrose nodded. 'Yes. Probably the crowd at the harbour. If we can reach it in time, we'll be safe!"

Without another word, he dove between two bushes and disappeared.

Muttering a low curse, I followed. The farther I got, the louder the voices became. I redoubled my effort, almost running headlong, raising my arms to shield my face from the sharp branches that attacked me from all sides. It was with a shocking suddenness that I stumbled out of the trees and into the open, onto a square paved with cobblestones.

The harbour. We had really managed to reach the harbour. In front of me stretched a wide, seaside promenade, with dozens of people strolling up and down, enjoying the view. Some of them glanced towards the forest when I burst out from between the trees, and looked more than a little surprised by the sight of a soldier with leaves and twigs in his bird's nest of hair, but most were too busy watching the ships arrive and leave.

Or, to be more precise - two ships arriving, one ship leaving. The ones that were arriving looked older, but the one that was about to embark was a brand-new steamship. Passengers were just getting on board the shiny, new vessel, all looking like wealthy tourists returning to England after a wonderful holiday. For a moment, my eyes fixed on the cursive word emblazoned on the ship's hull: Urania.

Quickly, I threw a sideways glance at Mr Ambrose and saw in his eyes the mirror of my own thought: our only chance. We rushed forward, slipping into the line at the gangway of the luxurious ship, and ignoring the protest of a thick-set French gentleman right behind us.

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