Sunday, December 06, 2009


"Careful now, old fellow," Lizzie said with effort. It had taken her two trips to get Tilney's belongings down the stairs even with the landlord's help and Tilney took it upon himself to try to make his way down without her assistance. A very foolish move, for which she would have cursed him had she known anything stronger than "damme!" or "the devil take you!" both of which seemed far too flippant to match the level of irritation she had at present.

"I don't need much help," Tilney said, his stubborn look much at odds with the frailty of his pale frame. Lizzie ignored his words and took his arm in hers as they wended their way down the steps. When they reached the ground floor, Tilney drew in a sharp breath.

"Bit sharp in the ribs, Bennett," he croaked, seeking to conceal the effort those words cost him. Lizzie steered him to the nearest chair while the landlord looked on and tutted. The handful of people idling in the inn took in the scene with good-natured curiosity over their cups of cheer.

She noticed that no one stepped forward to lend a hand.

Tilney looked pale but maintained a chipper expression for the room. Only one who knew him as well as Lizzie did could ascertain the effort it took him to maintain that carefree look. She felt a pang in her heart to know how he suffered, but restrained herself from making any comment on that fact.

The landlord stepped out from behind her and looked at Tilney with some concern. "Ah, monsieur. Are you certain you should leave today? Perhaps another day of rest, no?"

Tilney should his head and gave a rakish grin. "Things to do, old man, places to be." He made as if to fumble with his cravat, but Lizzie could see the fingers tremble slightly as he fussed with the knot.

"Monsieur, could we purchase a bottle or two of your finest Bordeaux for our journey," Lizzie inquired hastily, distracting the landlord from his frowning appraisal of Tilney's visage. He shrugged and went to fetch the bottles.

Lzzie knelt down before Tilney and mopped the light sheen of sweat from his brow with his handkerchief she had still kept in her sleeve. "You'll be able to rest in the carriage," she whispered. "It will be fine."

"Not feeling so corky," Tilney muttered, closing his eyes for a moment. "Damn surgeon should have stitched me tighter, I reckon."

Lizzie couldn't entirely resist a smile. "You're just fagged to death and will doubtless fall asleep at once, leaving me to entertain myself."

"Oh, lud, you're just going to get jug-bitten and sing away the afternoon anyway," Tilney said, a little color filling his cheeks at the thought. "I'll be lucky to get even a wink with your blasted drunken caterwauling."

"It's a scandal," Lizzie agreed, relieved to see him looking a bit less pale. "I am the son of my father, truer words have never been spoken."

"Well, I must look queer as Dick's hatband," Tilney said, coughing into his sleeve. "But I'm feeling a little less peaky now, so let us make the rest of the way out to the carriage. I have a bad feeling about this magistrate."

"As you wish," Lizzie said, the words echoing strangely in her ears. She had just got Tilney to the threshold of the inn when the landlord's voice rang out in alarm.

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