Sunday, March 09, 2008


Stepping into the cool darkness of the public house, Lizzie was struck once more with the strangeness of being treated like a man. No one rushed forward to lead her to a table, no one greeted her with more than a grunt. It was a bit disconcerting, but less so than the fact that she was about to sit down to eat with a man to whom she was a stranger.

"Here, lad," that same easy voice called over to Lizzie as she peered into the gloom of the inn. The young gentleman lounged easily at one of the small wooden tables near the far window. The morning sun was just beginning to work its way round to the angle, so when he sat up Lizzie was able to take a second glance at her young patron.

No doubt he'd be considered a swell of the first stare, Lizzie thought as she too cautiously lowered herself into the chair opposite. Tall and a bit thin, but with the swift movements of a man of action. Wiry rather than muscled, but with a strong sense of confidence that belied his lazy drawling manner of speech. It told her something that he was conscious of his effect on people and sought to affect it against him. It bespoke intelligence, Lizzie was certain.

"Name's Tilney, Sidney Tilney. The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire. Pleased to meet you, eh -- ?" Tilney used this speech to clasp Lizzie's hand in his and shake it vigorously.

Lizzie swallowed and finally stammered out the answer, "George Bennett, pleased to meet you." There was an unexpected squeak in her voice as she spoke which she tried to cover up with a cough. "No family, no home at present, although I hope to make my way back home eventually."

Tilney's eyes seemed to dance with amusement. "Must be a bit of a tearaway, Bennett. Penniless and far from home. Too ripe and ready by half, I must say."

Lizzie smiled, feeling a little puzzled by the high flung cant, but she determined to press on enthusiastically. "And you, sir? Are you adventuring at present?"

"Now, that's enough of this 'sir' business, Bennett. We're going to be good pals, eh? Now can we get this devil of a landlord to spring us some eggs and decent bread, d'you think?"

Lizzie called over to the landlord in her accurate if somewhat timid French and the man waved his assent and waddled toward the kitchen.

"Damn clever of you to know this French tongue so well," Tilney said with evident relief. "I spend half my day trying to remember the right word. Half the time it comes out all German anyway."

"My gov -- er, tutor always insisted on reading Voltaire in the original language. My father thought Voltaire essential to the well-educated young… man," Lizzie finished lamely.

"Sound like your papa was a task master," Tilney said, not unkindly.

"He was a very good man," Lizzie thought with a stab of loss, that melancholy pain of great sorrow that lingers softened only by the joy of one so beloved. She was glad the landlord bustled up just then to lay two trenchers of eggs and sausage before them. To the devil with a genteel appetite, Lizzie thought wildly as her mouth watered, and tucked into the breakfast with breakneck speed.

"Gad, you were hungry!" Tilney said with a chortle before lifting his own fork to eagerly join in the meal.

No comments: