Sunday, July 19, 2009


There was a step on the stair. Lizzie's heart leapt. It must be the physician, she told herself and hastily rolled up the letter she had begun, tucking it into her pocket, then moving swiftly to cap the ink and return all the items to their places in the letter case.

She would finish the letter later, surely. Lizzie did her best to thrust away all disruptive thoughts nagging at her mind, suggesting that it wasn't a matter of time that was needed to complete the letter, but a decision about what the contents might be. Never mind that, she scolded. Somehow it would all work out.

She instantly recognized the steady rap at the door. Crossing to open it, she found the frowning physician on the other side. He entered the room with a curt nod and went straight to the patient.

"His colour looks much better," he said placing a palm on Tilney's forehead. "And the fever, she is gone. Excellent."

"He was awake earlier," Lizzie mentioned, trying to look as appropriately nonchalant as she could manage. "I daresay he will be awake again soon."

The sawbones nodded as if this were all according to plan. "You must get him to eat. As much as possible. Do not accept his arguments. We need to restore his strength. There is always a chance he may have to fight off further infection. It was a deep wound."

Lizzie, who had assumed the worst was over, worried anew. "How will we know when he's out of danger?"

The physician shrugged in that peculiarly Gallic way. "One cannot say. We shall simply have to observe." He looked at Lizzie with his usual penetrating stare. "You need rest as much as he. It will do no good to fall ill yourself."

"Well, I -- " Lizzie stammered.

"No," he continued, waving away Lizzie's protests. "You have worn yourself out. And even with a," he paused searching for the right word, "tenacious constitution like your own, your reserves are not endless."

Lizzie swallowed and found she had nothing to say.

"Sleep, eat, rest." He gestured down at the slumbering Tilney. "Push him over. There is plenty of room for two."

Lizzie did her best to conceal her alarm. "Certainly, certainly. As you suggest."

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Lizzie felt the need to do something useful while Tilney slumbered and, tired of the endless repairing of clothes, steeled herself to do her duty. Certain that Tilney would not at all mind, she retrieved his letter case from his baggage and sat down to compose a letter to the King of Naples.

It was funny how comforting the very act of writing was. Sitting at the small table in the corner where the light shone to its best in the late afternoon, Lizzie uncapped the ink and sharpened the quill. With luck she would have some time before the physician arrived to check on his patient and see the improvement the day had brought.

She selected one of the smaller size papers among Tilney's collection. Dipping the quill in the tiny bottle, Lizzie drew a breath and quickly wrote the date at the top, marveling again how much time had passed since that fateful day of the funeral. Another dip and she write "Your Majesty," in her usual manner, which was far too florid for her liking, but she found herself incapable of writing with the neat penmanship Lady Mangrove had always praised in her own writing. However much she might control the rest of her life, Lizzie found it impossible to restrain her pen.

It was provoking. Lizzie often suspected that her handwriting revealed things about her that she would prefer to keep locked in her most private thoughts.

She dipped the pen once more into the inkpot and paused. As her hand hovered over the ink, allowing a stray drop to fall back into the bottle rather than blot the paper, Lizzie felt her good intentions sink.

What had she to say?

Her immediate thoughts were to apologize for the delay in responding to his last missive, but how then to explain what had happened in the succeeding interval? "My excuse is rogues, pirates, destitution and a considerable amount of time spent in disguise as a young man." Hardly satisfying to her correspondent, Lizzie imagined.

Nor flattering when put so baldly, she had to admit. Mrs. Radcliffe would make much of such a narrative, but Lizzie was certain she had neither the skill nor the patience to make much of the events. Besides, it wasn't really the point, after all.

What was the point, though? Telling the king that she would be coming to Naples somewhat unexpectedly? That she had taken the hinted promises as definite indications? Where did she stand with the king after all?

Lizzie stared at the clean white page and sighed. Such a terrifying tyranny in that empty space.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


As Tilney snored on, Lizzie's thoughts raced. What indeed were they to do? What was her rightful situation at this point? She glanced down at Tilney's calm face, a little careworn to be sure, but just as open and appealing as it had been at her first sight of him.

That was the problem, after all.

By all that was right, she owed her affections to the hinted promises of the King of Naples, who, if he had been less than forthright in his declarations (a factor she put down to Italianate modesty), had nonetheless implied a very positive outlook in return for her attentions.

Despite his prodigious knowledge of insects, their habits and habitats, Lizzie had found that the immediate and tangible charms of Tilney had somehow made it very easy to forget the primarily literary appeal of the King. He was royalty, too, she tried to remind herself. Italian royalty to be sure, which was not quite the same thing; nonetheless, for a woman in her somewhat marginal position in English society, royalty of a kind was nothing to be sniffed at by any means.

Yet she must admit that she had hardly spared a thought for the King in some considerable space of time. Lizzie could not simply blame the rigours of caring for Tilney in his compromised position. Tending a sick bed had often left her with ample time to peruse the informative letters posted by her Neapolitan friend, re-reading with interest his knowledgeable dissertations on the dining habits of the common cockchafer.

You have not shown the slightest interest in cockchafer lore, Lizzie scolded herself.

It was true: since meeting up with Tilney on that fateful day, she had spared little more than the occasional thought for the King and his little creatures. She looked down at her friend's slumbering visage. It wasn't that he was remarkably handsome. His face, while pleasant enough, did not have the dazzling attraction of someone like the elusive Kit Barrington, who had so fascinated her poor cousin, Alice.

Yet there was so much good humour and lively wit in that face when it was awake. That was the chief distraction, Lizzie thought with a sigh, a mind that kept up with her own. Be fair, she reminded herself, a mind that sometimes pulled ahead, too. Trapped in the well-intentioned enclosure of Mangrove Hall, Lizzie frequently tired of slowing her thoughts to match the pace of those around her. Love them as she might, she could not claim much in the way of intellectual stimulation for the kindly relatives who took her in. It was a pleasant change to be kept on her toes by a friend who was every bit as clever as she, and more than willing to chafe her verbally.

But duty was a thing a young woman ought not abandon completely. Lizzie felt a flush of shame at her own indulgent ways. As much fun as her adventures had been (in retrospect anyway; it was difficult to recall now just how frightened she had been when Tilney was shot), it behooved her to remember that pleasure was not the aim of life and she owed it to her relations and to the memory of her parents to do what was right.

"We shall go to Naples," Lizzie said aloud. Tilney stirred at her words, but did not waken, turning his sweet face away from the light from the window. Lizzie felt a painful tugging at what was surely her heart-strings. Why must he look so thoroughly agreeable just then?