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.