12.5

4 January, 2009 by katelaity

[Your author humbly apologizes for her neglecting this narrative last week and blames an inordinately long coach ride for keeping her from her correspondence.]

Lizzie glanced nervously over her shoulder, but the men seemed altogether occupied with helping the wounded combatants from the field. The two dashed to the bush where their horses had been hastily tethered and leapt into the saddles, or perhaps more accurately, Tilney helped Lizzie aloft then scrambled somewhat awkwardly on himself.

With a last glance at the knot of men muttering away yet more softly as they departed, the two turned their steeds and beat a hasty retreat in the opposite direction. As the hooves thundered along the path, Lizzie resisted looking back although she could not help imagining that a parting shot might be fired at any minute and strike her in the middle of her back, which gave her a very unpleasant itching sensation just there.

At last they turned back into the lane from which her bolting horse had deviated an interminable time ago. Tilney led the way as they rounded the corner and headed them once more east. After some minutes, they let the horses slow, and seeing they were not pursued, breathed mutual sighs of relief and let the winded horses amble along, their sides puffing with the exertion.

Tilney patted Darcy’s neck in acknowledgement of his quickness, then grinned at Lizzie. “A bit of adventure there, eh Bennett?”

“A bit more than I had bargained for,” Lizzie agreed. “I can’t believe it was all about cheese.”

Tilney’s head flew back as he roared with laughter. “Was it? Just cheese?!”

“Admittedly, in the market, scorning the methods by which one produces cheese can be quite serious, casting aspersions on a family tradition and livelihood, but I had really thought it might be over a woman.” Lizzie still rankled at the thought, as much at realizing the mercantile nature of the tussle as at finding her own feelings so easily moved by such silly romantic notions. Novels, as Lord Mangrove had warned so many times, indeed had an insidious effect on the imagination.

Tilney laughed again, although somewhat less heartily. “Ah, men who go to pistols over a woman would do themselves a favour to aim for the heart and end it all.” Lizzie noticed that dark cloud, which sometimes crossed his face, had once more darkened his visage.

“You’re such a terror, Tilney. Someday the right woman will come along and change your mind to something more hopeful,” Lizzie said with unaccustomed confidence. Some of the rush of excitement of the dueling must still charge her limbs, for she was not wont to take such a lively and chaffing tone with Tilney.

Tilney laughed, but there was something harsh in the tone. “For the time being, I shall be happy to remain with a simple chap like you, Bennett. Let women keep their distance.”

Lizzie reflected that Tilney would be unlikely to guess that he was in much closer proximity to a female that he would have guessed, but had no intention of divulging that information. “Shall we ride on until sunset?” she finally asked.

“Perhaps we might seek out a tavern sooner, or some kind of public house,” Tilney said, his voice a tight with strain, which made Lizzie dart him a quick look of concern.

“Are you in need of a restorative mug?”

Tilney gave her a lopsided grin, then reached to open his coat, revealing a crimson streak. Lizzie gasped in horror. “I think I was shot,” he said finally.

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