Sunday, December 21, 2008


Surely she had seen blood before, Lizzie thought even as she gasped for air. But the violence of the wound before her seemed vividly garish against the young man's bright white shirt. The shot had taken him in the shoulder and left behind a gaping hole though which blood poured even as the seconds tried to stanch the flow with an array of handkerchiefs.

His fellow combatant shouldered through the crowd, bleeding from the arm, but seemingly negligent of the injury and the pain. He looked fiercely at his foe, apparently trying to determine the extent of his injuries.

Good heavens, Lizzie thought dizzily, was he intending another go round?

"Bien?" he asked roughly, wrapping the bandage offered him around his forearm as he regarded his opponent with a cocky smile.

"Très bien," the other croaked, as another man pushed through the crowd. This must be the physician, Lizzie deduced. The man in black threw down his bag and waved the others away from the injured man. Taking away the bundle of handkerchiefs, he tutted at the wound and turned back to his bag.

Extracting a large pair of pincers, he called to no one in particular for brandy. Several flasks were proffered and the physician grabbed one at random and put it gently to the lips of his patient, before taking a swig himself.

Handing the flask back to its owner, he motioned for the others to take hold of the young man's limbs. Once he was securely anchored, the doctor plunged the pincers into the wound and began to hunt for the ball lodged in the man's shoulder. The patient bellowed with pain and was rewarded with further helpful infusions of brandy.

At long last, the doctor grunted with satisfaction and extracted the ball triumphantly. The crowd cheered heartily and everyone looked relieved. The doctor bandaged the wound with alacrity and they all helped him, swaying, to his feet.

His opponent regarded him with clear triumph and not a little scorn. "Il est decide, cousin?"

Lizzie felt her eyes widen with surprise. They were family, and fighting like this?! How horrible, she thought.

The defeated man, nodded and said only, "Oui," in a voice that plainly conveyed his defeat. He could not quite bring himself to regard his victor in the eye, which showed a want of character, Lizzie could not resist concluding.

The champion drew himself up to full height, ignoring completely the wound in his arm as he shook a warning finger at his enemy. "Vous ne souillerez pas le fromage de mon famille toujours encore!"

Lizzie could not have been more astonished. So it was not love after all. She grimaced. The scene no longer seemed like one plucked from a beloved novel, but instead appeared all too cheap and petty. Gladiators! Rather they were petulant prigs -- and worse, little more than merchants.

She felt certain that somewhere Lord Mangrove was smiling at her naiveté.

Lizzie had no time to reflect upon this shift in illusions, for Tilney grabbed her sleeve and said, "Let's make a run for it, Bennett -- now while their attention is elsewhere!"

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The two men stood back to back and the seconds remained at rapt attention. A man all in black with a tall hat began to count in French. The duelists began to pace apart, pistols held high, faces grim. The cool afternoon breeze ruffled their shirts and hair, but Lizzie could not hear a sound.

It was as if she had been suddenly plunged into the pages of a novel. All the elements were here: Two men in a life or death struggle, tense guardians gathered round, a secret rendezvous in a sheltered location.

It must be love, Lizzie thought with an unaccustomed leap of her heart. These were emotions poorly suited to George Bennett, but she could not help the thought once it rose. Surely they were fighting for the love of a woman. How would it go? Surely the young man who had taken charge of the situation, who had forced them into service as seconds was hot-blooded enough to be the correspondent.

Lizzie looked over at the opponent, on whose side she had been drafted. While equally well-dressed, Lizzie thought that she detected a certain petulant air that suggested the wronged party, the one who had lost something.

Again she felt a stab of worry over Tilney's fate. In the heat of the moment, when the bullets were flying, who could say what might happen? Lizzie was alarmed to realise how strong her feelings were. I am beholden to the King of Naples, she reminded herself. It was only proximity that had caused her to idly knit her thoughts toward Tilney and his cursedly devilish humour.

He looked anything but amused at present, however. As the duelists reached the end of the counting and turned, she could not stop herself from drawing a gasp of breath. The two men aimed their pistols and fired. The sudden cacophony rang in the ears of all those present.

Lizzie looked with alarm at Tilney, who -- she was relieved to find -- suffered no injury. The same could not be said of the combatants. The seconds, friends no doubt of the two in question, rushed forward with cried of some alarm.

Neither remained standing, so Lizzie feared the worst. She saw Tilney head forward to examine his duelist, so she thought she ought to do the same. Fighting her way into the crowd around the erudite Frenchman, she at last caught a glimpse of the man.

It was all she could do not to faint straight away.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Lizzie tried to keep her wandering thoughts under control. The tension of the moment seemed to squeeze her middle so tightly that she found it hard to breathe. Tilney appeared to be completely relaxed, but Lizzie could tell from her close observation of him during the last few days that he was anything but.

"Marcel! Louis!" Their interrogator gestured peremptorily to his cohorts, indicating that they ought to train their weapons on the interloping English. Lizzie thought back to her time on board the Bonny Read and wondered what the fearless Black Ethel would do.

Not that it would help much, Lizzie thought to herself. I am no pirate. I wish I were fearless, but here I am consumed by it.

"To even things," the Frenchman continued, addressing them both with a haughty edge of contempt, "One of you must serve on either side. D'accord?"

"We shall be happy to oblige," Tilney said somewhat icily, irritated by the insistence that the two of them take part in this quarrel to which they had not been party. Lizzie was just relieved that they weren't going to have to be shot, so the full impact of the situation did not immediately hit her.

Tilney gave her a searching look, as if to signal concern for his young friend. Lizzie gulped, but tried to toss him a confident nod. He had to expect manly fortitude from young George Bennett and she was going to do her level best to deliver it.

If I die, he'll find out I'm a woman, Lizzie considered, but he ought not know before that.

Seeing the two compliant the Frenchman once more wrangled his cohorts into place and the duel began to reassemble. Lizzie was somewhat surprised to see that their interrogator was one of the correspondents. His opponent was a pale and effete-looking Parisian who maintained an unconvincing air of hauteur. Lizzie did not make much of his chance and thus was somewhat nonplussed to find herself wrangled to his side of the altercation.

There seemed to be an inordinate number of seconds for a duel, based on her memory of novels and historical events. She had a vague recall of the playwright Ben Johnson felling an actor (thus ever the enmity between writers and their instruments, she pondered) and of course, Pitt the Younger, but the details of the events remained somewhat hazy.

Besides, French rules -- like everything else about this country -- might prove to be rather different than those of her homeland. Fair play might not even enter into the proceedings.

"Êtes-vous prêt?" their commander demanded of his opponent. Lizzie looked over at Tilney and felt a stab of fear that his handsome face might be marred by the violence of the moment. Somehow she could not bear the thought and felt herself grow faint once more.

This will not do, she told herself with a little shake. You are a man, behave as a man must!

"Laissez-nous commencer!" the Frenchman spoke firmly and at once the duel began.