I don’t know why Annabelle invited her to the tea party at all. I will admit that Lily Fitzmilan dresses fashionably and has impeccable manners, but she is not really a proper lady. So of course I hardly listened to a word she said. However, the phrase, “And so I killed him, of course,” will filter through even the most thorough snubbing, and that is how Miss Fitzmilan concluded her story, in a most brash and boastful tone.
Annabelle and the others were listening to her with rapt attention, so I felt it was my duty to put her in her place. “I don’t believe a word of it.”
Miss Fitmilan’s eyes flashed. “Are you calling me a liar, Miss Wickham?”
“Why, yes, I am.”
“I require satisfaction.” Everyone else gasped.
“You want me to duel you? I will do no such thing!” I protested.
“It needn’t be to the death. First blood will be quite enough .”
I sat up as straight as I possibly could and gave her my iciest glare. “Ladies don’t duel.”
She ignored the insult. “If you forfeit, I will of course accept your gracious apology at once.”
Well, I could hardly apologize to her. “I’m not forfeiting. I merely… mean to appoint a champion.”
“Fine. I’ll fight your noble surrogate tomorrow at noon, in the garden. Will that be suitable?”
As soon as the party broke up, I went to find my betrothed. “Lionel,” I told him, “I need you to defend my honor.”
“The way I heard it, it’s the other lady’s honor that’s at stake.”
“She doesn’t have any, and she’s not a lady.”
“Can’t you just apologize, Evelynia?”
“No! Please, Lionel, you have to do this. Surely you don’t want me to have to take up a blade and fight a duel.”
“Fine, fine; I’ll fight the woman.”
So at noon the next day, I stood with bated breath in a small ring around Lionel and Miss Fitzmilan and watched them duel. While I of course don’t know enough about fencing to be able to tell what they were doing besides waving swords around, it quickly became clear even to me that Lionel was losing rather badly. This was not, of course, because he was so unmanly as to be beaten by a woman, but because he was such a gentleman that he had to insist on going easy on her. Of course he never admitted it, and during the fight he had to put on a show of trying his hardest so as not to cause anyone embarrassment--but I know there is no possible way Lily Fitzmilan could be a better fighter than my betrothed.
They hadn’t been dueling for more than five minutes when Miss Fitzmilan swung her blade into my poor Lionel’s arm. This was first blood, and the fight was over. I ran to Lionel and pressed a handkerchief into his wound. “Really, Evelynia, it’s just a nick,” he said, but I know his exasperation was aimed at his wound, not at me. He turned to his opponent. “You’re quite a formidable woman, Miss Fitzmilan,” he told her. I refrained from screaming.
“I believe you owe me an apology,” she told me.
“Of course,” I smiled my sweetest smile. “I’m sorry I called you an ugly, unladylike liar who’s not fit to be seen in polite company. Oh, did I not say those things? Well, if I ever do, I’ve apologized in advance.”
My satisfaction at getting the last word was short-lived, however, for that very night Lionel told me he wished to break off our engagement. “It’s about that b---” I uttered a word unfit for polite company, but I was in quite a state of shock at the time, so I may be excused, “Isn’t it?”
“If you are referring to Miss Fitzmilan, no, it’s not. I have merely come to realize that we are not right for each other, Evelynia.”
It was about Miss Fitzmilan, of course. Not a week later, he danced with her three dances in a row, and would have danced a fourth if she hadn’t refused. Not through any virtue of hers, of course, I’m sure the seductress was only trying to play hard to get. I’m afraid I quite lost my temper and slapped her. She only laughed. “I’d think you were challenging me to another duel, except that you seem to have lost your champion.”
I glared at her, trying to think of a retort, but before I could say anything, Miss Fitzmilan said, “I’m sorry, that was rude of me. If it’s any comfort, you’ll be rid of me soon; I’m growing quite bored of society here. I mean to head east.”
It was a great deal of comfort. We will be well rid of her.