Sunday, March 28, 2010


The coach bounced along the country lane. Lizzie sat deeply in thought, Tilney's head still resting against her shoulder. She would have to decide soon what to do. Perhaps this journey will last forever and I need never think again, Lizzie told herself as the fields rolled by.

The darkening of the day seemed to match the unbidden thoughts that returned to whisper that it could not be so. I shall have to leave him, Lizzie reminded herself. She looked outside and saw the gloomy light was not simply cloud cover, but the edge of a forest that drew them into its depths like a giant swallowing.

Just the place for hide and seek, Lizzie thought, then shivered for no reason. The sensation of having a goose step across her grave unsettled the young woman and she shifted a little under Tilney's weight.

What a thick forest this must be to shut out so much light! She had not thought that such woods grew in this part of France. As they approached the higher elevations, surely the trees would thin out. But it was impossible to deny that the forest grew thick hereabouts.

In another moment, Lizzie's sense of unrest grew. She turned her head. Surely that was a sound of hoofbeats behind them! No need to be alarmed, Lizzie told herself, but she could not help the fluttering of her heart. Another set of travelers, doubtless. That was all. It was a road after all and what were roads for but to travel.

Set your mind at ease, Bennett, she scolded. None the less, she wished Tilney were awake. It was not the time to feel on her own. But you're not on your own, Lizzie reminded herself. You have Tilney here beside you and stout Armand on the box. There was no reason to feel nervous.

Yet she could hear the hoof beats distinctly now.

They seemed to be making a speedy clatter on the hard earth. A carriage? She could distinguish no sound of wheels in the echo of the hooves, so that meant riders.

Why jump to the conclusion of brigands? After all, it might just be a group of young farm hands, traveling to the market or to a distant homestead. Perhaps it was a cadre of solicitors, traveling from one court to a higher one. Or soldiers, Lizzie told herself with some rising hope, keeping the roads of France safe from brigands just as the British navy kept the sea safe from pirates.

Well, Lizzie thought hastily, somewhat safe from pirates, that is.

She had nearly convinced herself that she would see the bright colours of the gendarmes as they passed by the carriage, nodding politely as they rode past. But with a jerk, the carriage began to travel more quickly and Lizzie felt her heart leap to keep pace with Armand's team.

"What?" said Tilney, waking with an irritable exhalation. "What are you gibbering about, Bennett?"

"Nothing, it's nothing," Lizzie soothed. "Go back to sleep."

That was when the first bullet rang out. "Lawks," Tilney said with admirable calmness, "Are we under fire again?"

Monday, March 22, 2010


"Monsieur," a familiar voice called.

Lizzie turned to see the kind landlord's cousin Armand, who approached quietly, seeing that Tilney had fallen once more into a slumber. "What is it, Armand?"

"Monsieur, I know that I am to take you . . . what do you say? A ways, no?"

"Oui, that is so, Armand."

"I need to get home soon, monsieur. My children, my wife—there is much to do at our farm."

Lizzie looked at the man and saw a simple farmer far from home. Her heart felt a stab of sympathy quite remote from her own troubles. "I know, Armand. I think we are near enough to the main thoroughfare to catch a mail coach to . . . ah, our destination." Best to remain cagey about that, Lizzie reminded herself.

"Oui, monsieur," Armand agreed. "Do you think your ami will be ready to travel such an arduous way?"

Lizzie had her doubts, but she covered them with bonhomie. "He is quite strong and will recover quickly. Why, he is already much more himself. We will be just fine, Armand. You need not worry."

Perhaps it would make things easier, anyway. If Lizzie needed to make her own escape and head toward Naples, then she could leave Tilney to make his way homeward once more and be safe. She would have to do it and silence her traitorous thoughts that whispered that she could not leave him not tomorrow, not ever.

What is the world, Lizzie thought, that allows us hearts and no way to express them? Allows us minds that must hold in their ruminations that might make this life less painful for many, that must leave to bland tradition the burning passions that wished to break free of such moorings and speak to authentic emotions and lives? What a world this is that gives us hearts to crack with longing and desire and yet no mind to comprehend the ways these hearts operate.

Armand took his seat once more, a hefty hunk of bread and some of the cheese beside him. The carriage rattled off and while the movement shook Tilney, he did not awake, but slumbered on, leaning comfortably against Lizzie's shoulder as she stared off into the space beyond the window.

The French countryside that passed her view remained unseen. Her thoughts were filled with obligations made, tragedies already unfolded and the warm shape of Tilney's head pressed against her shoulder. Lizzie could smell the scent of his hair, a fragrance she had come to know well as she cared for his injured body. Such a foolish thing, she told herself, a mere animal sensation.

But it did not stop her from inhaling deeply the musky smell of his head, nor caressing with her free hand the dark curls of his head as he lay slumbering beside her. Surely, she remonstrated with herself, surely the King of Naples had charms in excess of this modest English gentleman. Surely the King would make her laugh as much as Tilney did, surely. And his knowledge of insects was vast. Tilney could not with certainty identify more than a dozen species.

"I hate insects!" he had announced quite decidedly one day. Lizzie leaned her head upon his and felt a tear fall from her eye.

Monday, March 15, 2010


"If I were to make such a feeble escape from an argument," Lizzie said as she sliced off a little more cheese, "You would never let me hear the end of it, excoriating me for laziness and lack of aplomb."

"Bennett, if it weren't so unseasonably hot, I would stridently argue for the natural superiority of English men over English women," Tilney said pulling his hat low enough to cover his eyes from her gaze before yawning elaborately and sinking back. "Lawks, but I'm fagged to death all of the sudden."

"How very convenient for you. You're just in a miff because you can't defend your point. Concede, Tilney."

"Nothing of the sort," he muttered, sinking even lower and thrusting his legs out in front of him, the picture of perfect ease. "Swallow your spleen, old man. My point's been made for me by better men than I. You just need to open a book."

"You're too smoky by half," Lizzie said with malicious glee. While his hat concealed his eyes from her merry gaze, it did not stop her from admiring his fine profile. There was determination in that chin, but good humour and kindness in his mouth, however much he might scowl. Lizzie felt herself blush at the thought of her stare being noticed and turned her attention to what was left of their lunch.

She wrapped up the bread and cheese and corked the wine, trying to keep the thoughts from racing through her mind again. It was far too difficult to concentrate on anything other than the agreeable young man now snoring softly nearby.

With determination, Lizzie attempted to take command of her thoughts and turn them toward their proper destination: the King of Naples. Think of it, Bennett, she said with mock severity, a king awaits you -- one with a surprising interest in the habits and peculiarities of insects and arachnids, which certainly counted for much.

Tilney evinced no interest in such creatures. Indeed, Lizzie doubted whether he could tell a mosquito from a mosque.

Yet the fact remained all too vividly before her, that she had grown accustomed to his voice, to his slangy speech and moreover, the visage that slumbered before her now.

Lizzie frowned. She had never had a commonplace mind, but now she continually coloured up at the sight of Tilney, at his laughter, at his smile, at that warm voice she once feared she would never hear again after the duellist's bullet winged him. It was fortunate that she had been there to nurse him back to health from the terrible blow, but the idea kept fighting its way into her mind that he might never have been in the position of being shot were it not for her.

Stifling a tiny sob, Lizzie turned her head away from Tilney again. He was nearly recovered, certainly well enough for travel. Though he continued to tire easily, he was well out of danger. There was only one answer.

She would have to abandon him.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


"So, Italy is still our destination?" Tilney asked with elaborate carelessness.

Lizzie, who had been caught up in the high spirits of their conversation, frowned. She had managed not to think too much about the road ahead, instead thinking only of the vaguely southward course as further away from trouble rather than toward a particular location. It was the direction they gave to the driver, but time was approaching when they must make a change.

"Italy, in one way or another," Lizzie said with an equal attempt at a drawling casual air. "I think we may need to make some changes once we get nearer to Nice."

"Our fine charioteer will want to return home, doubtless," Tilney said, tearing off another piece of fragrant bread and leaning back on the seat with a yawn.

"Do you think he will take us as far as that?" Lizzie asked, glancing toward the man in question who at present was letting the horses feed, too. It was a rather lovely day and she closed her eyes, imagining if this were only a day of relaxing fun instead of a brief respite on a troubling journey with an uncertain outcome.

"There is no telling what the man might do," Tilney said with finality. "He is French, therefore inscrutable and unpredictable."

Lizzie laughed and looked at her companion. "You are ridiculously closed minded about our sometime compatriots."

"That is because they are our sometime combatants, too," Tilney said, waving away the proffered goat cheese and taking up his glass of wine. "While I cannot fault the French when they turn their hands to the vineyard, I am quite resolved that they only take up other endeavours with an eye toward disrupting the ease of all Englishmen."

"And Englishwomen?" Lizzie asked a little tartly.

Tilney waved away the comment. "It is terrible to think of Frenchmen appropriating English women. Or foreigners of any kind," he added with a dark look.

Lizzie simply laughed. "If Englishmen were more worthy of the love of Englishwomen, they would seldom have need to set out in search of more winning beaux."

Tilney raised one eyebrow in a censorious arch. "Beaux? This influx of vocabulaire français is most unnecessary. It is precisely the way things get quickly out of hand. French wines are one thing, but it beyond the pale to mix in so many superfluous words in a foreign tongue merely for effect or because you are thinking what to say in English."

"What if there is no more exact word?"

"There is always a way to say something," Tilney said, waving away her argument with his bread. "And generally a better and more concise Anglo-Saxon way to say it."

"Sprezzatura," Lizzie said, allowing the syllables to roll off her tongue with delight.

"Oh, Italian now," Tilney said, taking a bite of bread.

"Don't stall for time," Lizzie grinned. "What would you say is English for 'sprezzatura'? Hmm?"

"Oh, I think it's far too warm to think of Italian. We will soon be forced to think on it, but I would rather not do so before we must. Or do you think otherwise?"

Lizzie had to admit to losing that particular maneuver, but wasn't willing to sacrifice the queen yet.