Lizzie could not have been unconscious for more than a moment or two before she awoke. She was somewhat flustered to find herself sprawled across Mr. Tilney’s lap and struggled to rise from the indecorous position.
"Easy now," came Tilney’s steady reply. Did she only imagine it, or was there a hint of humor in his words? Lizzie did not hesitate, however, regaining her unsteady feet beside Darcy, who seemed unruffled by the sudden appearance of a second rider, although he was sweating from the exertion of their race.
Her own mount circled skittishly, still unnerved by the sudden surprise and the wild ride. Lizzie shook her head to clear it and took a step away from Tilney. Looking up she saw that he was no looking off in the distance, a view blocked from her by Darcy. His face looked suddenly grave. Lizzie bent down and peered under Darcy’s neck in the same direction.
Across the clearing was a group of men. Lizzie was quick to realize what Tilney no doubt did – the men were engaged in a duel. The duelists stood some yards apart, surrounded by what were surely their seconds (or so Lizzie reckoned from her reading). There was a singular delight in seeing before her something she had read about so many times. Just as the first glimpse of the Bonny Read in full sail had filled her heart with a singing joy, the romantic sight of the battling rivals gave Lizzie a certain satisfaction and brought a smile to her lips. The smile faded when she beheld Tilney’s expression. "A duel," she ventured to whisper toward him.
Tilney glanced down but his grimness remained. "Duels are illegal," he said simply.
Lizzie looked again at the knot of men and saw a similar grimness on their faces. It came to her, somewhat belatedly she understood, that they were in some danger. Once more she cursed the wine muzzing her head. It was slowing her reactions.
One of the men shouted at them in French, brandishing his weapon heavenward. Tilney looked down at Lizzie. "What's he saying?" He could tell it was not good. "Can you persuade him we will not interfere?"
Lizzie tried to clear her throat and felt a sudden strangle of fear around it. "Pardon, messieurs!" she began, her voice stretching to a higher register than she had intended. What to say? Lizzie shouted that they were sorry and had come there by accident, but the men leveled their pistols at the two of them, announcing they were to come forward. She hastily explained to Tilney, who dismounted and stood by her side. It felt better to have him there and Lizzie had to resist the impulse to take his hand, something he would not at all expect from George Bennett.
"Anglais?" one of the duelists asked Lizzie as they approached. She nodded. His second squinted at Lizzie and looked back at his friend.
"C'est une femme, no?"
Lizzie felt a thrill of fear and stopped in her tracks. Tilney looked at her with surprise and then looked at the men with something like alarm. Lizzie had a moment to realize that every trace of the lazy drawler was gone from his frame. He looked ready to act.
She gulped. What to do now?