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.