Lizzie turned round on the seat with alarm, frightened that the next shot might harm Tilney or herself. "I am not certain," she said, attempting not to sound as breathless as she felt, "but it appears that we may in fact be under fire."
"I supposed it might be so," Tilney drawled as another shot rang out. "Remind me not to travel again with a losel like you, Bennett."
Lizzie looked at him, aghast that he could be so nonchalant about another perilous situation. His crooked grin, however, charged her wits with much needed stimulation. "I have a terrible feeling that we have much more to fear this time. These must be brigands, judging from Armand's pace."
"We shall see," Tilney said, eyes closed once more. "There is little to be done until either we escape the peril or the brigands halt poor Armand's desperate measures."
"How can you be so cool," Lizzie asked, though her castigation was more habitual than actual. She craned her neck in vain to see if the furious hoofbeats were in fact coming closer as she feared. Out the curtained window she could glimpse the legs of an approaching horse.
"They're beside us!"
Tilney sat up then. "Damme! Why did I not carry a pistol?"
"No matter now," Lizzie said, trying to gather her thoughts into something productive.
"I must protect you!" Tilney's eye looked fierce. Lizzie had not seen such an expression on his face and while she worried that it would fatigue the poor man, she could not help feeling a sense of comfort that she had such a noble friend beside her in an hour of need. Gone was the extra burden of worry for her young cousin -- poor Alice! Where could she be now? Surely safe, Lizzie told herself with some guilt, fearing it had been far too long since she had given her cousin even the most perfunctory passing thought.
Yet oh, what a relief in such a dramatic moment to know that she did not face the terror alone, but with a stalwart companion by her side who thought as much to protect her as she did him. "What do we have to use as a weapon?"
"Fiend seize it, Bennett! Take cover, won't you?" Tilney said, his irritation plain on his face and in his voice.
"And where do you propose I take cover, Tilney?" Lizzie shot back as the drumming of hooves around them grew. "We are in the devil's own scrape this time and there's little chance of getting out of it. We shall have to play by our wits assuming they give us the opportunity."
Tilney looked at her, eyes wide. It was impossible to tell whether he was more astonished or angry. For a moment the decision seemed to hang in the balance and then he gave a sharp bark of laughter. "Damme, Bennett, but you are a larksome lass."
He looked ready to say more, at least it seemed to Lizzie there was a peculiar shine to his eyes, but just then they heard a loud thump as someone or something landed on the driver's box and the sound of fisticuffs emerged. The two of them exchanged glances.
The marauders were on the carriage!