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.