Sunday, November 29, 2009


A short time later they heard the landlord's step on the stair. The two had managed to pack up most of Tilney's belongings and were securing the items in their proper places. Lizzie had a moment of anxiety when it came time to put away the writing case, but she decided her letter would simply have to wait. There would be time yet to write to her Italian friend.

If that were indeed what she ought to do.

Lizzie stifled a sigh. She kept an eye on Tilney, but he seemed to be moving with care now. It was unlikely that he would tax himself beyond his capability and risk his pride. One fall was enough to encourage more attention to the weak state of his frame.

The landlord's polite knock came and Tilney called him in. "Messieurs," he began, clapping his hands together with satisfaction. "Your carriage has arrived. My cousin Armand is prepared to drive you where you wish to go, so you can depart at your leisure."

"Ah," Lizzie said, stealing a look at Tilney. "We were under the impression that we were simply hiring a carriage, not a cousin."

The landlord shrugged in his incomparable Gallic way. Lizzie found herself irked by the gesture's implacability and failure to communicate anything meaningful. Doubtless that was the intent of the movement al along.

"Armand is not eager to hand his carriage over to étrangers, you comprehend?"

Tilney harrumphed in a most officious manner. "We are Englishmen after all."

Another shrug, this one less careless. "You have been good customers, monsieur. But when one leaves…" He paused, but did not seem determined to go on.

Lizzie looked uncertainly at Tilney, but the latter merely shrugged in his own inimitable style. "As you say, one cannot predict the actions of strangers."

They agreed on a price and the landlord descended the stairs once more, while Tilney and Lizzie conferred. "This is far from ideal," Lizzie hissed with some hint of venom. "How are we to make a smooth exit if this bumpkin cousin attends to us?"

"Now who's prickly?" Tilney laughed. "We shall manage, Bennett. Perhaps not at once, but we shall have more of an opportunity for concealment if we depart sooner rather than later. Recall we do have a pressing need to make ourselves scarce in this vicinity."

Lizzie sighed again. "I suppose you're right…"

"Of course I'm right!" Tilney crowed. "Now let's get our belongings together and quit this gloomy little corner. I am so very tired of being an invalid."

"But you must be careful," Lizzie scolded, gathering up the last of the handkerchiefs to tuck inside Tilney's traveling case.

"Come now, Bennett," Tilney said with a roguish grin, "Mustn't give the game away. Lawks! Someone will be thinking you're a female if you continue on in that vein."

Lizzie coloured up considerably at his taunt, but said nothing immediately, instead busying herself with the clasps of the case. Finishing her exertions, she stood erect once more with the hope that the pink of her cheeks had diminished.

Tilney's grin seemed to suggest it had not. "You're trotting too hard, Bennett."

"And you're too ripe and ready by half," Lizzie retorted. "Let's see if we can get you downstairs without your making a mull of it." She turned to open the door and thereby missed Tilney's satisfied grin.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


"Stupid thing, really," Tilney said from his crumpled state on the floor. "I just came over a bit weak."

Lizzie charged forward to slip her arms under his. "If you've torn out those stitches—"

"Steady on, Bennett," Tilney said with as much verve as usual though his face had become several shades paler than when she left the room. "I took care to collapse neatly enough. Even you should be impressed."

Lizzie continued to mutter words of considerable derision under her breath as she helped Tilney regain seating on the bed. "You might have caused additional injuries, you know," she said trying very hard to look cross and not at all relieved that he seemed to have added no further harm. As she let go of him, Lizzie found it impossible not to blush at having had need to touch him so intimately again.

To cover her embarrassment and confusion, she told Tilney that the landlord had recommended his cousin as a procurer of transportation.

"Wonderful idea, Bennett," Tilney said, looking a bit faint. His cheeks were flushed pink. Lizzie worried a bit that the strain had been too much for him, but he gamely finished knotting his cravat while she looked on. Her fingers itched to help him smooth out the fabric, but Lizzie willed them into compliance.

"I think a phaeton will be the best thing. We can doubtless hire a good sturdy carriage horse and let our mounts trot along behind us. We ought to make good time."

Tilney gave her a penetrating look. "And whither shall we wend, eh, Bennett?"

Lizzie froze. "Whither?"

"You seem to have a destination in mind already," Tilney continued, picking some imaginary lint off his spotless sleeve. "Care to impart the location to your traveling companion?"

"Ah, well," Lizzie began, but then halted abruptly. After a moment's consideration, she added with as casual an air as possible, "I thought south would be safest, of course."

"Of course," Tilney rejoined. "Why 'of course'?"

"Lud," Lizzie drawled, "they know we're English, after all."

"Tare 'n hounds, Bennett," Tilney said with evident irritation. "What's that got to do with the price of cheese?"

"Sharpen up, Tilney," Lizzie said with a small laugh. "They're going to expect us to head north to get closer to home. We'll fool them all."

"You are a bright chum to have in a scrape and no mistake," Tilney said with a grin that warmed Lizzie exceedingly. "Let's get all our gear together then, shall we? We'll be off once the landlord's relation gets here."

Lizzie turned to the desk to begin packing Tilney's belongings up and so missed his puzzled look of perplexity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


"I'm afraid we must be asking for our bill," Lizzie told the landlord. "It is imperative that we leave quite soon, as we are expected in, ah, Italy soon, and Mr Tilney tells me it is much further than we originally ascertained and the date necessary for our arrival quickly approaches."

"Oui, monsieur," the landlord agreed. He did not bat an eyelash at the patently outlandish story, by which Lizzie was made certain that he was indeed the soul of discretion.

This was indeed fortunate for them both.

While surely he did not believe the tissue of lies she had just woven, he was not in the least bit concerned. That was something positive that Lizzie could say about the French; they were far more worldly and far less inclined to judge than her fellow countrymen. Of course he had been taken in by her masquerade, but Lizzie did not count that against him, for she prided herself on her flawless performance as a boy.

"We shall also require a carriage or a phaeton—I'm not certain what you call them here, a smallish conveyance due to Mr Tilney's injuries. I fear it will be too much effort for him to have to ride and I think it wiser to use this mode of transport."

"Oui, monsieur. Will you wish to drive the carriage yourself, Monsieur George?"

Lizzie considered the question carefully. She hadn't really ever tried to drive a cart or carriage, but given her comfort with riding horses, surely it would be possible to manage them just as well in such a conveyance. Further, it would sidestep the need to involve an outsider in their little ménage, which would certainly decrease the chance of uncomfortable questions.

"Yes," she told the landlord, "That is precisely what we need."

"Very good, monsieur. I will call my cousin, Armand. I think we can arrange for such a conveyance at least as far as the Italian border."

"We can hire someone to bring it back here," Lizzie said. "That will be the simplest thing to do."

The landlord went to fetch the boy from the kitchen to run this errand, while Lizzie considered if enough time had passed to allow Tilney to complete his toilette. She blushed at the thought of the intimate way they had somehow arrived at living. It was certainly not her intent to do anything untoward or unfitting for a young woman in her situation, but somehow since she had washed ashore in that coastal village Lizzie had been unable to reconcile her situation with propriety and so it had to be unless they unmasked altogether.

And where would they be then?

Lizzie sighed. What were they to do? She could not admit to herself that her feelings for Tilney were anything but grateful consideration for a corky individual like him, one to whom she could confide all the difficulties of her situation—well, almost all of her difficulties. Surely it was no more than that. And just as surely, he was no more interested in her than as a passing curiosity of course, she thought as she climbed the steps.

Lizzie knocked at the door. "Are you ready, Tilney?"

"Ah, not quite, but you'd better come in," came his strangled reply.

Alarmed, Lizzie threw the door open. "Good heavens, what are you doing on the floor, Tilney!"

Sunday, November 08, 2009


"Well, damme, Bennett," said Tilney, his voice a little more gruff than usual. "I feel unaccountably weak. Must be the surgery."

"Agreed," Lizzie agreed. "But can you possibly travel? We shall have to hire a coach or phaeton, surely."

Tilney regarded the issue with a passing solemnity. "Do you suppose there is one to be had in this tiny village?"

"I can ask the landlord," Lizzie said, "But first let's get you into some kind of, er, state fit to be seen." Lizzie could feel her face turn crimson with the thought. How could she be valet to this young man? It was not only improper, but also the thought was more than a little daunting to her sensibilities. She had a strange Alice-like sensation that she might just swoon with consideration of the situation.

That would not do.

How to negotiate then between Tilney's helplessness and her own sense of propriety? In vain Lizzie contemplated the options. There seemed to be little chance of escape from one scrape or another of a most perplexing kind.

"Ticklish situation, eh Bennett?" Tilney said. "My suggestion is that you lay out my wardrobe on the bed and help me to this chair here," he indicated the desired seat with and outstretched hand," Then, er, leave me to the task while you go inquire of the landlord whether there might be some suitable conveyance available. We can pursue things from there," he said, smiling as Lizzie aided him to sit on the dressing chair.

"As you wish," she sighed, looking askance at the effort this move had caused him while admiring the fine pink flush in his cheek. How had she ever considered Tilney's face to be anything less than the first chalk was a mystery? While it was not conventionally handsome, she nonetheless saw in its every line his character – at times exasperating, but always bright and observant.

In a flash, Lizzie had laid out the necessities of his wardrobe, sighing that she had had no chance to properly starch his cravat, but Tilney had taken to carelessly leaving it askew for so long, it was doubtless of little concern to him. She busied herself gathering up the details of his clothing. "There you are," she said at last, running her gaze once more over the accoutrements that littered the mattress. "Do be careful."

"I have been dressing myself for a good many years," Tilney drawled, trying to hide his amusement not at all, though his cheeks were a good deal pink. It must be the strain of rising from the sickbed, Lizzie told herself.

After a moment, she finally stepped out of the room and into the hall, and so missed Tilney's odd look of both relief and perplexity.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


"The fiend seize you, Bennett," Tilney said with genuine surprise and irritation. "What the devil do you mean, we have to leave?"

Lizzie smothered the smile that wished to bloom upon her lips. It was no good pretending that Tilney was not delightful, but she had to do her best not to make the thought plain. This will be so much more difficult now, Lizzie thought despairingly. "The magistrate," she offered. "The magistrate has arrived earlier than usual, the landlord tells me. He may well be here to investigate the duel…"

"Ah, and its aftermath," Tilney finished. His brow furrowed as he sat upright with decision. "Then leave we shall. Help me up, Bennett." He began to struggle to the edge of the bed.

"Nonsense!" Lizzie remonstrated. "You cannot possibly be thinking of getting up." In vain she tried to tuck him back into the bed.

"We have no choice, Bennett," Tilney said with admirable firmness. "Either we get on our way or we risk exposure. Be sensible, damme. We'll be brought to Point Non Plus if the magistrate arrives and begins to ask uncomfortable questions."

"I suppose," Lizzie answered, hesitating as she tried to assail his logic, but finding no real recourse.

Tilney looked at her with cool appraisal. "You may have grown accustomed to your telling of Canterbury Tales, but I think it best if we have to avoid spreading too many dubious legends in our wake. Much easier to keep track of the truth as much as possible, eh Bennett?" He crooked one eyebrow in her direction and Lizzie did her best to maintain a steadfast light-heartedness and not give in to the swooning feeling of giddiness that filled her heart at that moment.

"I suppose," she merely repeated, frowning down at Tilney. "How shall we proceed?"

"Help me up, Bennett," Tilney croaked, making an effort to swing his pale legs out from under the bedclothes.

His face looked horribly pale, so Lizzie darted forward to steady his rise from the bed. "Easy now, Tilney. We can't have you doing it much too brown, now."

Tilney gave her a crooked smile. "Curse you, Bennett, but you do have a flair for cant."

Lizzie could feel her cheeks grow pink. "Never mind that now, Tilney. We have important duties ahead of us."

"Indeed we do," he agreed, but Lizzie did not notice the gentle beam in his eyes as they took in her glowing face.