Sunday, January 25, 2009


Tilney sank back down to the table. If he had been pale before, he was nearly white now. Lizzie gasped and her tears fell freely. There was no one to see them now and she feared that Tilney could not hang on much longer.

Just then the door flew open and a harried man with a bag stepped in, closely followed by the alarmed seamstress, who was still blathering away wildly even as the physician waved her down. Lizzie was beyond relieved to see that a saviour had come.

"He's been shot, here," Lizzie said frantically, indicating the shocking wound needlessly and forgetting her French. "Ici, ici!" she added, still holding Tilney's hand in her own.

"C'est tout droit," the doctor said calmly, which maddened Lizzie to know end, but he stepped up to feel Tilney's pulse at the neck, frowned and then moved down to his side to peer at the wound.

"Permettez-moi de travailler," he said abruptly to Lizzie, indicating she ought to move to the other side of the table and out of his way. Loathe as she was to leave Tilney's side, Lizzie realised it was best to let the physician work.

He looked up at her, squinting a little. "Plus de lumière, s'il vous plait," he said, then adding, "monsieur," with such a crooked eyebrow that Lizzie feared she had been discovered. There was no time to think about that, however, when Tilney's life hung in the balance.

Lizzie and the seamstress moved to open the curtains of the shop and let more light in. The seamstress opened the door wider too. Lizzie hoped the fresh air from outdoors would prove bracing to the poor young man who seemed barely alive.

Oh, please do not take him from me, Lizzie fervently asked. I cannot bear to be parted from my dear friend. How could I know, how could I have imagined --

Lizzie found she was unable to finish the thought, save for redoubled wishes that he be safe, please let him be safe and whole.

The doctor called for water and the seamstress galloped off to fetch a basin. He rummaged through his bag and pulled out what looked like a very large set of pincers. He looked over at Lizzie. "Aidez-moi à le tenir," he said and she walked over as one in a trance, terrified at what was about to happen.

She leaned over and pressed her hands down on Tilney's shoulder, which felt icy to her touch. A sob threatened to break out from her throat, but through sheer force of will, Lizzie held it in. I must not fail him now, when he needs me most, she thought and inclined as far as she dared, then nodded to the physician.

The seamstress returned with a basin and stood ready beside the physician. He plunged the pincers into the wound and Tilney groaned, trying to rise from his weakened position. Even if Lizzie had not been holding him down, she doubted that he could have risen. He had become far too weak.

As the physician probed deeper, she could feel the body under her hands become weaker. All at once there was a terrible cry that pierced Lizzie's ears with horror.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


It seemed an eternity had passed, was passing while Lizzie stood silently beside the still body of her friend. The rich red seeped through the cloth she held at his side, but it did not seem to leaking out as fast as before.

"Hang on," Lizzie whispered, unwilling to break the silence with much more than that, as if the silence itself somehow suspended Tilney's fate. His face was pallid and slack, mouth slightly open. The stress of the injury was evident in his expression, which looked far more fatigued than his usual animated self.

The eyes, normally sparkling with barely suppressed laughter, remained stubbornly closed and Lizzie had to learn down to ascertain that he was indeed still breathing albeit shallowly. The pleasant features—not so much handsome as lively and well-formed, good humoured and quick—looked as wonderful as ever and Lizzie felt fear stab her heart again at the thought of losing him.

To her surprise, Tilney raised a hand to touch her fingers where they held the cloth to his wound. He licked his lips and then began to speak. Lizzie had to bend low to hear him, her ear very near the barely moving lips.

"Bennett," he whispered in a ragged tone, "if I should not make it—"

"You will!" Lizzie hastened to say, laying her free hand on his shoulder for emphasis.

"But if I should not," he continued doggedly, coughing with the effort, "there are certain items in my bag that should be delivered to my family. Swear you will do this, Bennett."

"I swear," Lizzie repeated, a promise she knew not to be made lightly, but sworn as an oath on her life that very moment.

"You're a good chap, Bennett," Tilney said, smiling weakly, eyes still closed, "if a bit odd. I have grown very fond of you."

"I will do whatever is necessary," Lizzie told him, trying to keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks. "But the physician is on his way and will no doubt patch you up in no time at all. You'll be fine, I'm sure of it."

Yet she looked at the frightening red-soaked cloth and wondered if it were true.

"Tell my mother I am sorry," Tilney said finally. "I did not mean to punish her by going away, but I could not remain there any longer with, with—" He paused. "No matter. The past is the past. But tell her, Bennett. You will, will you not?"

"I swear," Lizzie repeated, the tears welling too fast to be detained any longer.

"Good man," Tilney said and then was overtaken by a fit of coughing that struck terror into her heart.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


"Good heavens!" Lizzie exclaimed, forgetting all propriety in her moment of alarm. "What, what..!" There was nowhere for this sentence to go, fueled only by panic and a vague knowledge that something must be done.

"Yes, my thoughts precisely," Tilney said dryly if a tad weakly.

"Are you in pain?" Lizzie inquired, then immediately blanched. Of course he must be in pain! "I meant, are you in unbearable pain?"

"Manageable, Bennett," Tilney said, although his voice betrayed an evident weakness. "But perhaps we should ride along and in hopes of coming to an inn very soon."

Lizzie didn't like pale look of his visage, but there seemed to be no other option. They touched their heels to the horses and set off again. She decided that it would be best to keep his spirits up and his thoughts distracted by chatting about their recent adventures with a lively air she did not feel. "I wonder what sort of cheese was at the heart of the altercation," she began tentatively, casting a glance at the pallid Tilney.

"I've always been partial to Red Leicester," he said in return. The strain was evident, but he laughed nonetheless. "I don't suppose there's much call for that around these parts."

"Probably not. I'll bet it was far more likely to be Camembert, or possibly a variation on Brie."

"If it was goat cheese," Tilney coughed, "I think they would both deserve to be shot." Suddenly he collapsed against Darcy's neck and Lizzie cried out, distressed.

"Perhaps we should go back to the clearing. They did have doctors after all," Lizzie reined in her mare and rose as close as she dared to Tilney, Darcy helpfully allowing her to do so without shying.

"No," Tilney said, smiling wanly up at her. "Just a bit further. We can't be far from some kind of civilization. After all, the duelists had to be going somewhere, I suppose."

Lizzie tried not to be terrified by the bloodless look of Tilney's face. His eyes were looking dull and sightless. The loss of blood was weakening him. What would she do if he fell off? She couldn't lift him, surely.

"Ahead," he murmured. Lizzie looked and was immediately relieved to see a small group of buildings. Surely there would be some one who could help them!

"Just a little further now," she encouraged Tilney and tried to urge the horses forward a little faster, though she grabbed onto his arm to keep him astride the gelding. When at last they got to the door of the first building, Lizzie shouted quickly for assistance in French and was relieved to see a woman in an apron appear in the doorway looking surprised and then distressed as she saw poor Tilney's appearance.

The woman gestured to bring Tilney forth and Lizzie struggled to get him safely off the horse and through the doorway. He staggered in her arms and Lizzie was terrified to see how much blood was soaking his shirt. The woman gestured to a table from which she had cleared a good amount of needlework. Lizzie helped Tilney to clamber up on the tabletop while she begged the woman to find a physician.

Tilney lay supine and Lizzie hardly knew what she should do. Surely the blood must be stopped. She grabbed a cloth from the mending pile and, after hesitating a moment, opened Tilney's shirt to reveal the wound in his side. It was useless to blush at the naked flesh before her, for the horrifying hole where the bullet had struck him continued to pour forth the precious red fluid.

Lizzie folded the towel and pressed it to his warm flesh. "Hold on, Tilney," she said quietly. His eye flickered but did not open. Lizzie felt tears well up in her eyes. It must not be too late. She could not bear to have those beautiful eyes close forever.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


[Your author humbly apologizes for her neglecting this narrative last week and blames an inordinately long coach ride for keeping her from her correspondence.]

Lizzie glanced nervously over her shoulder, but the men seemed altogether occupied with helping the wounded combatants from the field. The two dashed to the bush where their horses had been hastily tethered and leapt into the saddles, or perhaps more accurately, Tilney helped Lizzie aloft then scrambled somewhat awkwardly on himself.

With a last glance at the knot of men muttering away yet more softly as they departed, the two turned their steeds and beat a hasty retreat in the opposite direction. As the hooves thundered along the path, Lizzie resisted looking back although she could not help imagining that a parting shot might be fired at any minute and strike her in the middle of her back, which gave her a very unpleasant itching sensation just there.

At last they turned back into the lane from which her bolting horse had deviated an interminable time ago. Tilney led the way as they rounded the corner and headed them once more east. After some minutes, they let the horses slow, and seeing they were not pursued, breathed mutual sighs of relief and let the winded horses amble along, their sides puffing with the exertion.

Tilney patted Darcy's neck in acknowledgement of his quickness, then grinned at Lizzie. "A bit of adventure there, eh Bennett?"

"A bit more than I had bargained for," Lizzie agreed. "I can't believe it was all about cheese."

Tilney's head flew back as he roared with laughter. "Was it? Just cheese?!"

"Admittedly, in the market, scorning the methods by which one produces cheese can be quite serious, casting aspersions on a family tradition and livelihood, but I had really thought it might be over a woman." Lizzie still rankled at the thought, as much at realizing the mercantile nature of the tussle as at finding her own feelings so easily moved by such silly romantic notions. Novels, as Lord Mangrove had warned so many times, indeed had an insidious effect on the imagination.

Tilney laughed again, although somewhat less heartily. "Ah, men who go to pistols over a woman would do themselves a favour to aim for the heart and end it all." Lizzie noticed that dark cloud, which sometimes crossed his face, had once more darkened his visage.

"You're such a terror, Tilney. Someday the right woman will come along and change your mind to something more hopeful," Lizzie said with unaccustomed confidence. Some of the rush of excitement of the dueling must still charge her limbs, for she was not wont to take such a lively and chaffing tone with Tilney.

Tilney laughed, but there was something harsh in the tone. "For the time being, I shall be happy to remain with a simple chap like you, Bennett. Let women keep their distance."

Lizzie reflected that Tilney would be unlikely to guess that he was in much closer proximity to a female that he would have guessed, but had no intention of divulging that information. "Shall we ride on until sunset?" she finally asked.

"Perhaps we might seek out a tavern sooner, or some kind of public house," Tilney said, his voice a tight with strain, which made Lizzie dart him a quick look of concern.

"Are you in need of a restorative mug?"

Tilney gave her a lopsided grin, then reached to open his coat, revealing a crimson streak. Lizzie gasped in horror. "I think I was shot," he said finally.