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.