18.8

3 May, 2010 by katelaity

Lizzie could not tell what astonished her more: Tilney’s peremptory announcement as he kissed her hand or the gang of miscreants who had appeared outside the carriage. It was impossible to see their faces as the sunlight behind them beamed brightly into the dark interior. The brigands’ voices were a cacophony assaulting Lizzie’s ears and she felt oddly bereft of breath.

Despite her confident words to Tilney, Lizzie feared that this was indeed the end of their extraordinary journey. They had been so fortunate — dodging bullets and French magistrates, not to mention her daily charade. All good things must come to an end, Lizzie thought as she blinked into the bright light, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

Tilney’s grip on her hand had not loosened and Lizzie felt a flush of happiness as she heard his words echo again in her memory. If we die at the hands of these brigands, she thought, at least I will have had one moment of truly exquisite joy. She looked back at Tilney’s face and admired once more the familiar lines of it. Though still touched by his injury and loss of blood, there was not a more handsome face in all the world, Lizzie thought with sudden certainty. Every line of it captured her heart, every imperfection only added to her delight that this man should say he loved her. If this were the end, then it was all worth it. She had found the man who had won her heart.

To her surprise, however, Tilney was staring at the brigands crowded outside the door—and he was smiling!

Lizzie turned to regard the fearsome creatures and saw that they were smiling, too. Her jaw fell open. What could this mean?

“Tilney! ‘Pon rep, but we had a devil of a time finding you,” shouted one young lad who seemed not at all sinister now that Lizzie could see him clearly.

“Lawks, but you’re the very last person I expected to see kicking up a lark among the froggers. Damme, Stephenson! We thought you were the worst sort of highway men.” Tilney laughed heartily. “Bennett and I thought we were done for.”

“I landed a facer on that devilish driver of yours,” Stephenson said, his face glowing with pride. “A regular highwayman couldn’t have done any better, I warrant. You should have seen us go at it wild.”

“Oh, poor Armand,” Lizzie said, her sympathy going out to the innocent driver.

“Well, I fear we have had a bit of a scrape and got the wrong handle on the basket, I think,” Stephenson said rather confusingly. “Aren’t you being kidnapped, old man?”

“Kidnapped?” Tilney said, exchanging a look with Lizzie, evidently as befuddled as she. “You’re too ripe and ready by half, lads. We’ve had a few scraped of late, but never kidnapped.”

“Come out here into the light so we can see you, Tilney,” Stephenson insisted, grabbing hold of the young man’s arm and making him grunt with pain.

“Leave him alone,” Lizzie shouted, “He’s been shot!”

“By one of us?” Stephenson said with alarm. “Good heavens, old man. Sorry about that.”

Tilney laughed, but Lizzie saw the strain on his face. “No, this was another fiasco.” But he leaned forward and with Lizzie’s help, was able to step out into the sunlight.

“Now who’s this friend,” Stephenson said with evident curiosity as he scrutinized Lizzie’s face. “Say don’t I know you?”

Lizzie quailed.

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