Sunday, July 27, 2008


After a time, Tilney's light-hearted manner revived. "Well, Bennett, perhaps you're right. Perhaps I do not give women enough credit. They're not all barques of frailty, I suppose."

"Quite right," Lizzie responded as she tucked into the fine country stew the landlord set before them. "While women tend to be raised without a thought for their brains, there are many who work to develop innate abilities to the best of their circumstances."

Tilney laughed and brandished his spoon at his friend. "You seem to have an inordinate interest in some clever lass. Fess up, Bennet! Your colouring up gives you away."

Lizzie had indeed blushed at the remark, fearing that Tilney might get too close to the truth of her disguise. "Not at all, Tilney. I was merely thinking of a, er, distant cousin of mine, I knew well in childhood. She corresponded in three languages, kept a collection of unusual insects catalogued and labeled carefully, and was seldom to be found without a book of some kind near to hand."

"Ha!" Tilney said as if he were about to declare checkmate. "And tell me, is she not in fact an old maid, ignored by all men, as dry and dreary as a gnarled wych-elm."

"Not at all! She has long been considered a rather handsome woman."

"But not married, surely," Tilney said with finality, taking a healthy bite of bread as if to seal the fate of this unknown woman.

"Not yet, although," Lizzie swallowed, afraid to reveal the secret so long contained, "Although she is engaged to -- a rather prestigious person in another country." The secret confessed but still obscured left Lizzie with a pleasant feeling of both revelation and smug secrecy.

However, Tilney greeted this disclosure with a crow of laughter. "Of course! Some foreigner who's never laid eyes on her -- it’s the only possibility. No Englishman will settle for such a homely bookworm."

Lizzie tried not to show how nettled she had become, although Tilney's dismissive words struck very close to her heart. It was true the King of Naples had never laid eyes upon her, although she believed the pencil sketch she had sent to him -- although from her most flattering angle -- was a reasonably accurate depiction of her modest appearance. Lizzie knew she was not a beauty like Alice or her mother, but there was certain nothing hideous about her looks, either.

But Tilney could not know that George was really Lizzie, and a young man like George should not be quite so eager to support the vanity of a mere cousin. Be a man, Lizzie scolded herself -- bluster, brag and lie as we imagine them to do when they are out of our sight.

"'Pon rep, Tilney, I suppose you're right. You're the experienced one after all with the civilized side of womankind. I do well enough with the rougher sort. Tell me, how would you inveigle your way into the eyes of some young lass being such a notoriously picksome sort -- say, those two country girls over there?"

"Oh, a conversation like that will require fortification," Tilney drawled. Gesturing to the landlord, he called for wine, which made Lizzie worry a bit. Lord Mangrove did not approve of wine being wasted on young people without an educated palate, as he always said, so her experiences with the stuff were limited.

Nonetheless, she determined to press on. "Go on then, Tilney. I'm curious to know how you work your way around a tempting armful."

Tilney grinned. "Well, the two before us hardly qualify, but I'll tell you the secret to getting on with the petticoats without trotting too hard." He thrust a tumbler of wine at Lizzie with a laugh.

Oh dear, Lizzie thought and gulped a mouthful down.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Lizzie was grateful when the need for a luncheon became apparent and the two reined in a small country inn. The ride all morning had been noted for Tilney's unusual silence and lack of good humor. He appeared to be deep in thought and answered Lizzie's few conversational gambits with little more than a grunt.

They handed over their reins to the groomsmen and stepped into the cool comfort of the inn. It was a pleasant place of thick oak posts and lace-curtained windows. The landlord lead the two of them to a small table in the corner from which they might glimpse the other folk filling the dining room that day.

There were two young ladies sitting quietly with an older woman, perhaps their mother. To the right, an elderly pair of men sat munching cheese and bread without a word to one another. A table of four held a lively pair of couples, chatting with animation and laughing frequently at one another's comments. It gave the room a fond cheery feel Lizzie thought.

Tilney's thoughts clearly headed in another direction as he reflected misanthropically on the folks gathered there. "Honestly, Bennett, look around us. What a sad reflection of the horrors of modern life."

"Lud, Tilney. What are you talking about? I see nothing but a pleasant gathering of friendly folk. What could be cheerier?"

"Bennett, you are far too kind and trusting," Tilney snorted. "You look, but you do not see."

"For instance?"

Tilney nodded his head toward the table with the two young women and their guardian. "What does that table suggest to you?"

"Two young ladies, friends or sisters, under the careful watch of their mother or some such relative," Lizzie said feeling a little puzzled by the hint of venom in his tone.

"Not at all," Tilney said, a coldness creeping into his voice. "Two young jackdaws in training with a senior member for advice on the craft."

Lizzie laughed, a little too soprano at first, coughing to deepen it to a contralto. "Tilney, you can't be serious. They look like nice country girls and their mother, or chaperone, looks kindly if dull."

"Bennett," Tilney chided with a shadow of his usual humor, "You ignore the details. Every aspect of their simple frocks has been designed to tempt the masculine gaze, to leave us besotted with their beauty. They are, in short, snares. Hook our eyes and our purses are not far behind."

"Ah, disappointed love has ruined your perspective, my friend. Do you not think girls dress to please themselves? They do tend to delight in the little touches of silk and lace that we often ignore. Who gives a hang about types of muslin but women? Is none of it for their own pleasure?"

Tilney waved away the suggestion. "Snares for us, Bennett, and nothing more. We shall end up like those two broken hearted old men over there," indicating the two elder gentlemen.

"Now, now," Lizzie said, stranded somewhere between exasperation and amusement, "Who's to say they're broken hearted? Perhaps they are merely enjoying the comfort of an understanding silence. They have known each other for decades and are perfectly content to share the fellowship of happy memories."

"You are far too optimistic," Tilney grumbled, reaching for a piece of bread which he buttered with far too much force.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Tilney regarded Lizzie's comment for some time in silence, before admitting, "Undoubtedly, it must take a great deal to drive a woman into piracy, Bennett." He let his chestnut trot on for a few steps before continuing, "But I think most gels might come by it naturally."

Lizzie tried to cover her growing sense of irritation. "If you had heard her story, Tilney, you would no doubt be moved to tears -- even with your hard heart."

"Oh I don't doubt it, old boy. Just the same, you take the average skirt flirter and you'll find the hardened heart of a criminal."

Although he affected the same careless even tone, Lizzie could see in Tilney's bearing a growing sense of glowering ill humor. While she remained rankled by his comments on her sex in general, Lizzie was determined to find the root of this unfair prejudice. Surely he must not be too fixed in his opinion at such a young age. "I think you should spill, Tilney. What unconscionable petticoat princess has tweaked your nose?"

"Oh, it's a boring old story," Tilney muttered. "The same you'd hear from a hundred others." Nonetheless, his mood seemed to darken further and Lizzie found herself wanting to help her benefactor relieve the burden in his breast.

"Go on then, Tilney. It's a long ride and I'm sure it would help you to share this burden with one uniquely qualified to understand."

Tilney laughed and sounded a little more like himself. "Damme, Bennett! What makes a jackanapes like you at all qualified to understand the problems women cause?"

Lizzie grinned. "Black Ethel took me under her wing in a way. Gave me some insight into the way their minds work. She may be an extraordinary example of one, but she's a woman for all of that."

They rode along in silence for a few steps while Tilney seemed to turn the matter over in his mind. The fields beside them perked up in the golden light of the morning and the calls of doves came from the nearby copse. It was a lovely day.

"There was a girl," Tilney said quietly at last. "She was lovely as a summer's day, long golden hair, delicate hands and the finest of family graces." Lizzie could not help thinking of her cousin Alice and bridling at the thought that golden locks were any indication of the qualities of a young woman, but kept her tongue in check. "She promised to make me the happiest of men, Bennett, and then she threw me over for a long-limbed cad with a bigger fortune and better connections."

"A not uncommon story," Lizzie began, "But --"

"A very common story if you ask me," Tilney said with surprising fury.

"But one that can be told from either side" Lizzie continued evenly. "Why did you choose her in the first place but for her decorative beauty and family connections?"

Tilney did not respond at first, his clouded face staring fixedly at the ground. "I was dizzy about her, Bennett. Wrote her poetry and all that malarkey. I was smitten."

"But what did you know of her beyond polite agreeableness, good connections and long golden locks?" Lizzie persisted. "You probably gave more thought to the cut of your waistcoat than you did to her suitability as your life's companion."

Tilney looked at Lizzie with some annoyance. "She was lovely, well-bred and perfect."

"Did she wake early or late? Did she want to hear news from abroad or only from the local village? Did she read? Did she enjoy architecture? What did you really know of her character and spirit?"

Tilney pulled up short causing Darcy to snort with surprise. "She was my intended, not a candidate for Oxford," he said somewhat brusquely.

"Then I am not surprised she threw you over," Lizzie said with a harsh laugh. "You know your horse better than you knew her. Why do men treat women as if they were children?"

"I suppose they haven't had the benefit of piratical experience," Tilney said, his tone returning to his relaxed drawl once more, but his eyes continued to look rather more fiery than usual.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Runaway Horse

Spooked by a lady's handkerchief, your humble narrator's horse shies and runs away, detaining her from her narrative duties. Another episode will come in due time.