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.