50. Threats and Decisions

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Any feathers available to knock me over with? For the second time this night, I was completely taken by surprise. This tradesman's boy was turning out to be a regular Casanova! Had I heard right?

“W-what?” Ella stuttered. “What do you mean, challenge him?”

Apparently, she hadn't yet understood what he meant. Or she would not let herself understand, maybe.

“I mean, challenge him to a duel,” Edmund replied, calmly. “To the death.”

She took an involuntary step towards him. Or maybe it was voluntary. You could never tell with these love-struck people

“Edmund, you must not jest about such things,” she whispered, her hands clasping the iron poles of the fence tightly. “You must not.”

“Who says that I am jesting?”

“Please, Edmund, stop. You worry me sick.”

“I am sorry for that. But it cannot be helped. You say you will not refuse Sir Philip, nor stand up to your aunt, so I have no choice.”

“No choice but to contemplate violence?” Letting go of the poles, she threw her hands up in the air. “What mad demon possesses you, Edmund? I beg you, relinquish this mad scheme!”

“It is not mad. Indeed it is highly logical. You will not rid yourself of Sir Philip, very well, then I shall do it for you. I shall acquire a pistol, go to his house, and challenge him. Do you think I should explain the situation to him? How things stand between us?”

Ella almost fainted right then and there. Only Edmund's quick hands, which shot through the gaps in the fence and caught her around the waist, prevented her from falling.

Wait just a minute!

I was on the point of charging in. Now he definitely was touching areas he wasn't supposed to be touching on a lady, and I had to look after my little sister, after all. But then, he had only prevented her from falling. I decided to not kill him for his insolence just this once.

“Tell him?” Ella whispered, obviously in no hurry to get out of his arms. “Are you mad?”

He smiled at her. It was a boyish, excited kind of smile that looked new on his face which I had seen so often anxious and sad, yet it suited him well. He looked like a different person, and for the first time I began to understand what Ella saw in him, just a little.

“That's the second time you've accused me of insanity tonight, my love. Don't let it become a habit.”

“Be serious, Edmund!”

“I'm absolutely serious. I don't want you to suspect me of a mental disorder.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do. And I'm serious about that too.”

“But telling Sir Philip? After all the hundreds and hundreds of times I have begged you to keep our love a secret?”

Edmund's smile became a trifle wistful.

“Ah, but what is there to keep secret anymore? If I go to him tomorrow and vanquish him, then it will not matter whether or not I have told him, will it? I need to explain it to him, Ella. I cannot simply march up to him and insult him to make him fight me. I would smudge the honour of my family, which, as you so diligently pointed out, is a bad thing to do. No, I need to go to him and say: 'Sir Philip, I love the girl you have set your sight on, and she loves me. I will fight for her with my last breath.' He is a gentleman. He will understand, and allow me the opportunity to fight for you. Once I have put a bullet through his heart, the way will once again be free. So you see, Ella, I am not mad. I have thought this through very carefully.”

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