The coach bounced along the country lane. Lizzie sat deeply in thought, Tilney's head still resting against her shoulder. She would have to decide soon what to do. Perhaps this journey will last forever and I need never think again, Lizzie told herself as the fields rolled by.
The darkening of the day seemed to match the unbidden thoughts that returned to whisper that it could not be so. I shall have to leave him, Lizzie reminded herself. She looked outside and saw the gloomy light was not simply cloud cover, but the edge of a forest that drew them into its depths like a giant swallowing.
Just the place for hide and seek, Lizzie thought, then shivered for no reason. The sensation of having a goose step across her grave unsettled the young woman and she shifted a little under Tilney's weight.
What a thick forest this must be to shut out so much light! She had not thought that such woods grew in this part of France. As they approached the higher elevations, surely the trees would thin out. But it was impossible to deny that the forest grew thick hereabouts.
In another moment, Lizzie's sense of unrest grew. She turned her head. Surely that was a sound of hoofbeats behind them! No need to be alarmed, Lizzie told herself, but she could not help the fluttering of her heart. Another set of travelers, doubtless. That was all. It was a road after all and what were roads for but to travel.
Set your mind at ease, Bennett, she scolded. None the less, she wished Tilney were awake. It was not the time to feel on her own. But you're not on your own, Lizzie reminded herself. You have Tilney here beside you and stout Armand on the box. There was no reason to feel nervous.
Yet she could hear the hoof beats distinctly now.
They seemed to be making a speedy clatter on the hard earth. A carriage? She could distinguish no sound of wheels in the echo of the hooves, so that meant riders.
Why jump to the conclusion of brigands? After all, it might just be a group of young farm hands, traveling to the market or to a distant homestead. Perhaps it was a cadre of solicitors, traveling from one court to a higher one. Or soldiers, Lizzie told herself with some rising hope, keeping the roads of France safe from brigands just as the British navy kept the sea safe from pirates.
Well, Lizzie thought hastily, somewhat safe from pirates, that is.
She had nearly convinced herself that she would see the bright colours of the gendarmes as they passed by the carriage, nodding politely as they rode past. But with a jerk, the carriage began to travel more quickly and Lizzie felt her heart leap to keep pace with Armand's team.
"What?" said Tilney, waking with an irritable exhalation. "What are you gibbering about, Bennett?"
"Nothing, it's nothing," Lizzie soothed. "Go back to sleep."
That was when the first bullet rang out. "Lawks," Tilney said with admirable calmness, "Are we under fire again?"