Sunday, August 24, 2008


The rapid staccato tattoo of her mount's hooves echoed in Lizzie's ears as she pulled in vain at the reins. The shots had spooked him, though, and there seemed to be little hope of stopping him until his panic subsided. She could hear Tilney's hoofbeats behind her, starting belated pursuit, but Lizzie could not help but fear that his arrival would come too late.

She cursed herself for the over-consumption of wine at luncheon. Had she been wiser, she would not have given in to Tilney's imprecations and would have been more alert – and likely far less woozy than she was beginning to feel just then. The rapid pace, normally a bracing one for that adventuresome rider, was taking a toll on her less-than-wholly settled stomach and knocking her slightly tipsy brain even further off kilter.

“Oh, mumbles,” Lizzie muttered, still pulling impotently at the reins, “I shall fall off surely.” It was not a fate to be anticipated with any glee.

The track along which the runaway horse carried her was growing ever more wild. Somehow they had left the wide path that led from the public house and headed off into a more thicjly forested area. Lizzie was alarmed to find the sound of shots repeated and at closer range. Some kind of danger lurked in the woods, that was certain, but it was a little difficult to think about it too much while she was desperately attempting to maintain her seat upon the horse. She cursed her poor training, cursed the copious wine and cursed her relative unfamiliarity with trousers.

Trousers were a revelation, indeed, she had discovered, but they did not immediately replace the expectations of a life time spent in skirts. Every thing, every motion seemed to take on a new shape. Who knew inexpressibles could have so profound an impact?

Her head began to fill with a soft susurration that promised to cloud out all logical process. Lizzie fought desperately against its force, but came to realise that her efforts were failing. I shall never be able to live with myself, Lizzie thought, if I faint away like some trifling girl. While a more dispassionate reader might find such a thing eminently forgivable given the particular circumstances, Lizzie was known for her unflaggingly harsh opinions when it came to her own conduct (for that matter, she was known to be a tad harsh when it came to the conduct of others as well, but we shall leave that by the side at present).

Just as she felt the agonizing slip into the murky state of unconsciousness, Lizzie sensed the light improving as the horse bolted into a clearing where a small number of men stood, pistols drawn and appearing to be just as surprised by her presence as she was by theirs. Even the runaway seemed to evince a puzzled air, for his steps surely began to slow, allowing in that instant a breathless Mr. Tilney to dash up and make a grab for Lizzie's reins just as she slipped sideways in her saddle.

“So very sorry,” Lizzie muttered as she fell across Tilney's lap.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Lizzie felt her feet stumble with unaccustomed awkwardness, as if they were very remote from her instead of attached to the ends of her legs. "Oh, mumbles," thought Lizzie, "I must be foxed!" It was a thought equally frightening and exhilarating. While she had seen Lord Mangrove stagger on occasion from an exquisite over-indulgence in West Indian rum, she had never imagined experiencing the effects herself. I must remember it all precisely and write it in a letter, Lizzie thought. To the King of Naples, she added quickly, then immediately realised that she could do no such thing.

This experience, although fascinating, could not have come at a more precarious time, for she needed to maintain the easy masquerade as George that she had taken up as well as concentrate on guiding her horse, for Mr. Tilney was already aboard Darcey and looking to be quite high in dudgeon, impatient to be on his way. Darcey had picked up his mood and stamped his feet with an excess of vital energy.

Lizzie's horse showed signs of the same restiveness and she had to hop helplessly on one foot as the pony danced around her, trying in vain to spring aboard the saddle. It was to her shamefaced embarrassment that the groom finally had to take a hand and help her up. She had no more than lighted in the saddle when Tilney took off at a sharp clip and Lizzie was forced to follow.

Although she wanted very much to go more slowly – and thought the sudden speed a less than prudent idea immediately after a meal and particularly when the horses were cold – Lizzie held her tongue and bounced along in Tilney's wake as well as she might, although the sloshing of the plonk in her stomach soon proved discomforting.

I shall never drink again, Lizzie promised herself foolishly, particularly if I know that vigorous exercise on horseback will follow fast upon such indulgence. Her head had begun to ache unaccountably badly and she could feel a glow of perspiration exude from her forehead. The swiftly tilting scenery went past with a nacreous green glow.

All at once a sound rang out which Lizzie recognized from recent events to be the sound of pistol shot. Tilney's head whipped around in the direction from which the shot seemed to come, reining Darcey in slightly, but the lively chestnut was unwilling to stop altogether, shying coltishly away to the left while Tilney craned his neck left, a hand raised to shade his eyes.

Coming upon the pair so quickly and with the lag of liquor in her blood, Lizzie failed to rein in sufficiently, her horse bumping into Darcey, who reared and snorted loudly. Her more timid mount shied, cowering from Tilney's stepper. At that moment another shot rang out, rather close to the two riders and Lizzie's horse took this as sure sign of danger and bolted wildly, ignoring Lizzie's heartfelt cry of "Stop! Stop!"

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Tilney seemed to awake from his momentary reverie, hastening to fill Lizzie's glass, which alarmed her. She could tell the effects of the wine were already creeping into her thoughts and it would take some effort to control them.

To distract him, she pressed for further information. "What else, pray tell, do you do to win the hearts of the delicate ones?"

Tilney sighed. "I have not been much of mood to do so lately, Bennett."

"Now, now," Lizzie said, trying to keep the arch tone out of her voice, although the roguish effect of the wine inclined her toward that outlook. "You can't let one bad experience color your actions, Tilney. Show a little spark."

Tilney chuckled and gargled a little more wine. "You're right, I suppose. But mind my words, young George, stay away from women with dimples. Dimples as a sure sign of a sensuous nature and a fickle heart."

"What about men with dimples?" Lizzie said, taking care not to smile herself. "For I noticed just now when you laughed that you have dimples yourself."

Tilney looked rather sharply at her, one brow arched high. For a moment, Lizzie feared that she had gone too far, but then the young man at last burst into laughter that was not without an edge of bitterness. "I suppose what is true of the goose must be likewise true of the gander. Damme, Bennett, but you're too clever by half. I shall have to watch myself around you."

Lizzie felt a giggle coming on and was at great pains to stifle it. Oh dear, she thought, this must be an consequence of the wine. I must get Tilney talking and distracted. She reached across to fill his glass with the last of the bottle. Better him than me, Lizzie thought. "Never mind that, Tilney, you were on to the next sure fire trick in your bag. Tell on, I need educating in the habits of fine women."

"Oh, let us not speak of women any more," Tilney said, the animation draining away from his face. "Let us speak of horses, trousers, banking schemes -- anything but women. I am through with women for the nonce." Tilney threw back the last of the wine and gestured for the landlord. Lizzie quailed at the thought that he might order more wine, but Tilney merely settled the bill and stood quickly to go.

Lizzie stood, too, and immediately felt how the wine had nudged her equilibrium off course. Swaying a little, she gripped the edge of the table and tried not to trip over her chair. Fortunately Tilney had not noticed her inebriation as he was already striding toward the door with his deliberate steps. Lizzie grabbed the last slice of bread to nibble as she followed tipsily in his wake. This will be an interesting ride, Lizzie thought.

As she passed by the table with the two young women, one surreptitiously caught her eye and smiled winningly. Lizzie smiled before she realized it and hurriedly even more quickly for the door.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Compared to the wine they had drunk with Black Ethel, this vin ordinaire seemed far rougher stuff, Lizzie thought to herself, not venturing to voice her opinion which Tilney would no doubt disparage with good natured humor. So she was surprised to hear him comment upon that very quality.

"Palatable, but not much more. Eh, Bennett?" Tilney said, his head held at a speculative angle. "In town this would be beneath my touch, but as we're in the country proper, I guess it will do." He poured a little more into each of their tumblers and grinned at Lizzie. "We'll get a little bosky and share the secrets of our amours."

"Oh, that wouldn’t really be sporting, now would it? I only asked for your advice in the broadest general terms, Tilney. No need to ramble through your conquests."

Tilney laughed. "No stories of you calf-loves, then? All right, I will share my secrets for success with the descendants of Aphrodite. Listen and learn, Bennett, and you will be a success with the pinkest of the pink when you return to our native land."
"Lawks, man, on with your advice then," Lizzie said, feeling emboldened by the wine's warm glow.

"The key," Tilney said with a knowing look, "is to flatter them of course."

"Well, yes, that works with everyone, men included," Lizzie interrupted.

"Ah, but you have to flatter women differently," Tilney insisted. "Men like to have their good qualities noticed. Girls on the other hand, need to have their imaginations awakened. Now listen first," Tilney said, noticing Lizzie's impatient gesture. "I know whereof I speak."

"A woman needs to have a picture painted of the vision she forms in your mind. She can't bear to be simply what she is -- lovely as that might be. Most of 'em have read far too many novels so they get these notions of dramatic scenes and romantic ideals. They want to be heroines, not just women, so you have to convince them that they are -- at least to you."

"I'm sure there are many sensible women whose imaginations have not been corrupted by the reading of novels," Lizzie retorted a shade too vehemently, swigging a little more wine from her tumbler.

Tilney chuckled. "Sensible women are no fun to flirt with."

Lizzie flushed, feeling again as if this sharpish young man had somehow seen through her charade. "I suppose that's true enough. Well, how would you begin to spin such a web of deceit before a docile young maiden of the realm?"

"Oh, it needn't be all lies. After all, the truth is much easier to remember." Tilney laughed a bit too heartily for such a slim joke, but poured more wine into his glass. "You must praise every limb of her frame with excessive enthusiasm --"

"My mistress's eye are nothing like the sun," Lizzie intoned bitterly as she stared into her glass.

"Oh, yes, poetry is always good -- provided it flatters," Tilney said with a strange look at his drinking partner. "Poetry sufficiently obscure might be passed off as one's own."

"Then I suppose it helps to woo an ignorant girl."

Tilney smiled but the expression stopped short of convincing. "As the sweet sweat of roses in a still," he intoned with a sonorous tone, "As that which from chafed musk cat's pores doth trill, / As the almighty balm of th' early east, / Such are the sweat drops of my mistress' breast."

"A girl might well be bewitched by your recitation," Lizzie admitted, washing down a little more red, "provided she is not scandalized by your choice of poets. Is Donne really fit for a gentle woman's ears?"

"What? A churchman of the first order, a loving husband --"

"And once a libertine who thought a true woman as rare as a falling star." Lizzie looked frankly at her companion, wondering again what really lay beneath his too-smooth exterior.

"He was onto something there," Tilney said, staring off into the distance. "Although he seemed to repent once he found such a gem."

"Is it the nature of all libertines to repent at last?" Lizzie was hardly aware of speaking her thoughts aloud, but it did not matter as Tilney appeared not to have heard.