Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 71

She pointed to the problem below. “There, can you work that last peg loose?”

Soap hung over the edge. “I’ll do my best.”

Sophronia handed him the hurlie and he lowered himself down.

He dropped farther than she had, bracing one foot precariously against each of the tiny bars at the ends of the carriages, straddling the coupler. It was a good thing they were moving slowly. He wrapped both hands about the peg and tried to shift it, twisting back and forth, tugging. The muscles of his back and shoulders strained. It was a dangerous position. If he was successful and the back carriage separated, he would fall off the end.

The peg wouldn’t budge, so he shifted to bang at it with his feet, just as Sophronia had done. Then he grabbed and wiggled it.

Cannon fire sounded. Sophronia, crouching on top, flattened herself to the roof once more.

Soap returned to pulling just as a massive jolt hit the train, jerking the coupler.

He tugged, everything jumped, and the peg worked free all at once. Now lacking the safety peg, and with the back carriages dragging against the tracks, the train decoupled. The front part of the train drew away.

Soap was forced into an uncomfortable contortion. He shifted his weight and pinwheeled forward, into the emptiness where the train had been. Sophronia lurched for the hurlie rope, grabbing on to it just in time. Her arms wrenched and she almost slid over the side, for Soap was no lightweight. She gritted her teeth and braced her chest against the transmitter edge. Front padding had some uses but it wasn’t comfortable.

Soap swung and slammed against the back of the freight carriage. But they weren’t dragging him along the track, which was something. Sophronia strained, holding him up by pure force of will, for he really was too heavy for her.

Soap was a dead weight. Sophronia’s arms began to shake and she wasn’t going to be able to hold him for long.

Then his head lifted and he twisted, scrambling for some kind of purchase on the train. His feet found the remaining half of the coupler. With Sophronia’s added weight on the hurlie, he managed to stand, leaning against the back of the freight carriage.

“Soap! Soap, are you hurt?” Sophronia’s voice sounded overly breathless and winded to her own ears.

“Just stunned and a little bruised, miss. Don’t you worry about me.”

“If you’re able, can I let go the hurlie? Then you can crank it in yourself?”

“Ready, miss.”

Sophronia let go. Soap managed to pull in on the hurlie rope so it was once more taut to the grapple over the top rail. He used the tension to climb up to the roof.

Sophronia pounced upon him. She was not so brave as to hug him, but her hands were quick to stroke over his head, checking for injury. He’d lost his cap, and the texture of his tight, curly hair was reassuring. She could feel no stickiness of blood, although he would have a bumper of an egg on the back left side.

“How do you feel? Are you dizzy? Did you rattle your brain?” She could not stop petting him.

Soap submitted meekly to her ministrations. “I’m fine, miss. Not much brain to rattle. You know me, same color and toughness as old boot leather.”

Sophronia sighed and forced herself to stop touching him.

He caught one of her hands as she lowered them.

“Though I do like your concern, miss.” He was looking at her with those serious dark eyes. The ones that switched twinkle for intent.

The horror of almost losing him curdled her stomach and she felt quite ill. Sophronia also wished she could see into his eyes clearly, check the state of his pupils. Sister Mattie had warned them about derangement of the brain due to physical force.

The train gave a start, as though sensing its newfound freedom, and picked up speed.

Sophronia braced Soap solicitously.

He let her, because he knew she needed it.

The moment Sophronia realized this, she knew she was in trouble. Because it had always been that way between her and Soap. And it was more than friendship. And she was an idiot not to have realized it sooner. What was it she had told Dimity? I want a man who stays out of my way. Soap wouldn’t ever get in her way.

“Miss, are you well?”

“Soap, I…”

They heard a shouting above them and looked up to see the underside of the flywaymen’s dirigible, managing to keep pace.

Several men were leaning over the edge, their faces pale in the dim light of evening. One of those faces was Felix’s and another was that of his father.

The Duke of Golborne was pointing a very wicked-looking pistol at them.

“You know what,” said Sophronia to Soap, “I think I have rather decided to hate guns.”

“Interesting decision in your line of work,” replied Soap conversationally, letting her go and slowly turning to face this new threat.

The duke yelled down, “Stay where you are, young lady!”

So Felix has told him who I am. Or what I am, at the very least. Sophronia ignored the duke and stared at her erstwhile beau. Felix Mersey had the grace to look ashamed. Sophronia ought to have felt betrayed, but mostly she simply felt disappointed.

Sophronia yelled up at the duke, “I can’t very well obey you, sir, even if I wanted to. In case it has slipped your notice, I’m not the one driving this train.”

“Oh, I noticed. And here’s what we are going to do about it. You leave the darkie here and I’ll keep a careful eye on him while you go order the driver to stop. If you manage that in the space of ten minutes, then you will return to find him still alive. How’s that for a fair bargain?”

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