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.

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