Today, March 23, Catherine Morland visits Mrs. Tilney’s bed-chamber, where she expects to find some evidence of her murder by General Tilney, or even perhaps that she has been locked away in some distant tower – but Catherine realizes how gravely mistaken she has been in all her gothic musings, perceiving “the warm beams of a western sun gaily pour[ing] through two sash windows!” … and she turns to leave…
She was sick of exploring, and desired but to be safe in her own room, with her own heart only privy to its folly; and she was on the point of retreating as softly as she had entered, when the sound of footsteps, she could hardly tell where, made her pause and tremble. To be found there, even by a servant, would be unpleasant; but by the general (and he seemed always at hand when least wanted), much worse! She listened — the sound had ceased; and resolving not to lose a moment, she passed through and closed the door. At that instant a door underneath was hastily opened; someone seemed with swift steps to ascend the stairs, by the head of which she had yet to pass before she could gain the gallery. She had no power to move. With a feeling of terror not very definable, she fixed her eyes on the staircase, and in a few moments it gave Henry to her view.
“Mr. Tilney!” she exclaimed in a voice of more than common astonishment.
He looked astonished too.
“Good God!” she continued, not attending to his address. “How came you here? How came you up that staircase?”
“How came I up that staircase!”, he replied, greatly surprised. “Because it is my nearest way from the stable–yard to my own chamber; and why should I not come up it?”
Catherine recollected herself, blushed deeply, and could say no more. He seemed to be looking in her countenance for that explanation which her lips did not afford. She moved on towards the gallery.
“And may I not, in my turn,” said he, as he pushed back the folding doors, “ask how you came here? This passage is at least as extraordinary a road from the breakfast–parlour to your apartment, as that staircase can be from the stables to mine.”
“I have been,” said Catherine, looking down, “to see your mother’s room.”
“My mother’s room! Is there anything extraordinary to be seen there?”
“No, nothing at all. I thought you did not mean to come back till tomorrow.”
“I did not expect to be able to return sooner, when I went away; but three hours ago I had the pleasure of finding nothing to detain me. You look pale. I am afraid I alarmed you by running so fast up those stairs. Perhaps you did not know — you were not aware of their leading from the offices in common use?”
“No, I was not. You have had a very fine day for your ride.”
“Very; and does Eleanor leave you to find your way into all the rooms in the house by yourself?”
“Oh! No; she showed me over the greatest part on Saturday — and we were coming here to these rooms — but only” —[ dropping her voice ] — “your father was with us.”
“And that prevented you,” [ said Henry, earnestly regarding her. ]“Have you looked into all the rooms in that passage?”
“No, I only wanted to see — Is not it very late? I must go and dress.”
“It is only a quarter past four” showing his watch — “and you are not now in Bath. No theatre, no rooms to prepare for. Half an hour at Northanger must be enough.”
She could not contradict it, and therefore suffered herself to be detained, though her dread of further questions made her, for the first time in their acquaintance, wish to leave him. They walked slowly up the gallery.
“Have you had any letter from Bath since I saw you?”
“No, and I am very much surprised. Isabella promised so faithfully to write directly.”
“Promised so faithfully! A faithful promise! That puzzles me. I have heard of a faithful performance. But a faithful promise — the fidelity of promising! It is a power little worth knowing, however, since it can deceive and pain you. My mother’s room is very commodious, is it not? Large and cheerful–looking, and the dressing–closets so well disposed! It always strikes me as the most comfortable apartment in the house, and I rather wonder that Eleanor should not take it for her own. She sent you to look at it, I suppose?”
“It has been your own doing entirely?”[ Catherine said nothing. After a short silence, during which he had closely observed her, he added, ] “As there is nothing in the room in itself to raise curiosity, this must have proceeded from a sentiment of respect for my mother’s character, as described by Eleanor, which does honour to her memory. The world, I believe, never saw a better woman. But it is not often that virtue can boast an interest such as this. The domestic, unpretending merits of a person never known do not often create that kind of fervent, venerating tenderness which would prompt a visit like yours. Eleanor, I suppose, has talked of her a great deal?”
“Yes, a great deal. That is — no, not much, but what she did say was very interesting. Her dying so suddenly” (slowly, and with hesitation it was spoken), “and you — none of you being at home — and your father, I thought — perhaps had not been very fond of her.”
“And from these circumstances,” he replied (his quick eye fixed on hers), “you infer perhaps the probability of some negligence — some” — (involuntarily she shook her head) — “or it may be — of something still less pardonable.” She raised her eyes towards him more fully than she had ever done before. “My mother’s illness,” he continued, “the seizure which ended in her death, was sudden. The malady itself, one from which she had often suffered, a bilious fever — its cause therefore constitutional. On the third day, in short, as soon as she could be prevailed on, a physician attended her, a very respectable man, and one in whom she had always placed great confidence. Upon his opinion of her danger, two others were called in the next day, and remained in almost constant attendance for four and twenty hours. On the fifth day she died. During the progress of her disorder, Frederick and I (we were both at home) saw her repeatedly; and from our own observation can bear witness to her having received every possible attention which could spring from the affection of those about her, or which her situation in life could command. Poor Eleanor was absent, and at such a distance as to return only to see her mother in her coffin.”
“But your father,” said Catherine, “was he afflicted?”
“For a time, greatly so. You have erred in supposing him not attached to her. He loved her, I am persuaded, as well as it was possible for him to — we have not all, you know, the same tenderness of disposition — and I will not pretend to say that while she lived, she might not often have had much to bear, but though his temper injured her, his judgment never did. His value of her was sincere; and, if not permanently, he was truly afflicted by her death.”
“I am very glad of it,” said Catherine; “it would have been very shocking!”
“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to — Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”
They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room…. [next chapter] The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened…
[Northanger Abbey, Vol. II, Chap. IX [ch. 24]]
illustration: by C.E. Brock from www.Mollands.net
[Posted by Deb]