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.

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