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Reliable Family Life
Catherine felt too unhappy to be frightened by the journey to Fullerton, and began it without worrying about its length or about being alone. Leaning back in the corner of the carriage, crying and feeling cruelly treated, she had gone a number of miles beyond the walls of Northanger Abbey before she raised her head and looked out of the window. She recognised the road as the same one that had taken her to Woodston only ten days earlier, and she suffered even more as she thought about the difference between that trip and this one. Every mile, as it brought her nearer Woodston, added to her grief.
When the carriage passed the road that led directly to Woodston, Catherine thought of Henry and the day that she had spent at his house there. It had been one of the happiest days of her life. On that occasion the General had given her the impression that he actually wished for Henry to marry her. Yes, only ten days ago she had felt so happy about the future, and now, what had she done or not done to deserve such a change in the General’s opinion of her?
The only offence against General Tilney that Catherine could accuse herself of was her shocking suspicions about what had happened to his wife. But Catherine trusted that her secret was safe with Henry; he would not have betrayed her. It was impossible for the General to know that she once wondered if he might have murdered his wife or made her a prisoner in her own home. Of course if he did know about her suspicions, he would have a good reason to ask her to leave, but she believed in Henry and was certain that her secret was safe with him.
But more than anything, Catherine was anxious about Henry’s feelings when he returned to the Abbey and found that she had been sent away. Would he accept his father’s reasons for throwing her out? Or would he regret that she was gone and hate his father for sending her home? Would he argue with his father or remain obedient and talk only to Eleanor about his true feelings?
While thinking over many questions and struggling with doubts about herself, Catherine hardly noticed the hours and miles flying by. How would she explain to her family the circumstances surrounding her sudden return to Fullerton? Would there be any pleasure in returning home with such a story to tell? How could she make it clear to them that Henry and Eleanor were the finest, most interesting and most reliable friends she had ever known? How could she separate them from General Tilney in her family’s opinion? It would break her heart if her family judged her friends unfairly.
Finally, after a journey which had taken more than eleven hours without accident or alarm, Catherine reached Fullerton just after six thirty in the evening. We would expect a heroine to return to her native village after achieving great things, with many stories of success to be proud of. But this homecoming was very different from what you or she might have hoped for. Our heroine was returning home disappointed, alone and without hope or joy. Therefore, her carriage passed quickly through the village and Catherine hurried into her house, unwilling to meet the questioning eyes of friends and neighbours.
But you must remember that the Morland family would not have high expectations of any great achievements or successes for Catherine. Instead, although they would be surprised by her unexpected arrival, they would simply be very happy to have her at home again. The two youngest children, a boy and girl of six and four years old, looked out when they heard the carriage stop at their gate, expecting, as usual, to see a brother or sister arrive home. But when they saw that it was Catherine returning after an absence of eleven weeks, they jumped for joy, shouted for their parents and ran out to greet their older sister.
The warm, affectionate welcome that Catherine received from her parents and brothers and sisters awakened the best feelings in her heart, and she found her troubled spirit calmed; she even, at first, felt happy! But Mrs Morland noticed that the poor traveller looked pale and tired, and soon had the family seated round the tea-table. With cups of tea and sandwiches in front of them, everyone was eager to hear about Catherine’s adventures and to find out why she had come home without warning.
Quite slowly, and with much hesitation, Catherine tried to explain what had happened the night before, and although her parents were usually unwilling to criticise other people, they felt unable to pardon this insult to their daughter. They believed that General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor kindly as a gentleman or as a parent. What could have made him treat a guest so badly? Like Catherine, they could see no reason for his rude behaviour, especially after he had treated her so well for the past four weeks.
Finally, Mrs Morland ended the conversation by saying, ‘It is a strange business and General Tilney must be a strange man, but you are home now, safe and secure. It is not worth troubling yourself any further about that man’s reasons.’
‘But why couldn’t he send Catherine home in the proper manner if he had to leave for Hereford?’ asked Sarah, the eldest of Catherine’s sisters.
‘I do not think we will discover his reasons,’ answered Mrs Morland. ‘I feel sorry for his own children, who must have a difficult time with him as their father. But you managed well on your long trip, Catherine, and I am very proud of you. I believe you have grown up quite a lot in the last eleven weeks. I am glad I did not know of your journey while it was happening, but now it has ended perhaps there is no great harm done. You are not the same little girl that we said goodbye to eleven weeks ago. You have grown up and can take care of yourself now.’
Catherine hoped that her mother was right about that, but her spirits were quite worn down and she longed to be silent and alone. She was happy to agree to her mother’s suggestion that she should go to bed early and gain the benefit of a good night’s rest. Her parents knew she was tired and disappointed, but they had not guessed that she was also suffering from a broken heart. Perhaps it is odd that with a young daughter of seventeen just returning from her first adventure away from home, they had not thought of that.
As soon as breakfast had ended the next morning, Catherine sat down to write the promised letter to her friend at Northanger Abbey. She regretted the cold manner in which she had left Eleanor Tilney, and the fact that she had never valued her kindness and character enough. But most of all, she worried about leaving Eleanor to deal with General Tilney and his difficult nature. She wanted her letter to say how grateful she was without reminding Eleanor of how the visit had ended. She wanted to be careful without being cold, honest without placing blame. She did not want to cause Eleanor any pain, and she did not want to embarrass herself in case Henry saw the letter. In the end, Catherine wrote a very short note in which she expressed her grateful thanks and her affectionate good wishes for Eleanor and her brother, and in which she returned the money Eleanor had given her for her journey.
‘This is a very strange friendship,’ said Mrs Morland when Catherine had finished her letter. ‘Soon made and soon ended. I am sorry that you were disappointed, because Mrs Allen had only good things to say about the Tilney children. And you were so unlucky with your friend Isabella too. And poor James! Well, we must live and learn; I hope your next new friends will be more worth keeping.’
Catherine’s cheeks went red as she warmly answered, ‘No friend can be more worth keeping than Eleanor.’
‘If that is true, Catherine, I hope that you and she will meet again some time in the next few years. It is very likely to happen - imagine what a pleasure it will be to see her again.’
But Catherine was not thinking only of Eleanor as she listened to her mother’s kind, but painful words. What would happen to Henry Tilney if she did not meet him for a few years? Her eyes filled with tears as she imagined such a meeting. He might have forgotten her and have met another young woman who attracted him. The next time she saw him, he might be a married man with a family of his own - he might not even recognise her!
Mrs Morland was disturbed by her daughter’s tears and proposed a visit to Mrs Allen. And so mother and daughter began the walk to their neighbour’s house, which was less than a quarter of a mile distant. As they walked, Mrs Morland gave Catherine her opinion of James’s broken engagement.
‘Of course we are sorry for James, but it is good that the engagement has ended, and there is no harm done in the end. We did not know Miss Thorpe, and she had no personal fortune. And now, after such improper behaviour, we have a very poor opinion of her. James will recover, and I am sure that he will use better judgement next time.’
Her mother’s thoughts made Catherine reflect on the changes in her own circumstances. Three months ago she had been full of happy expectations and had run between her home and the Allens’ house ten times a day with a light heart and an independent spirit, looking forward to new pleasures and without a care in the world. She could picture herself three months ago, and now what a different young woman she was!
The Allens were surprised, but very glad, to see Catherine, and they too were very angry and displeased on learning how she had been treated by General Tilney.
‘Catherine surprised us yesterday evening,’ reported Mrs Morland. ‘She travelled all the way in a carriage by herself and knew nothing about her journey until late Saturday night. General Tilney returned home with the strange idea that he was tired of having her in his house. He must be a very odd man, very unfriendly certainly, but we are so glad to have Catherine with us again. And it is a great comfort to find that she is not a poor helpless creature, but can manage very well for herself.’
Mrs Allen was shocked. She filled every pause in the conversation by saying, ‘I really have no patience with the General.’ But she did not allow for many pauses. ‘Bath is a nice place, Catherine, after all,’ she said brightly. ‘I did not like the idea of leaving. Did I tell you that I tore my blue dress? I had it mended before we left Bath and you cannot see the tear. And Mrs Thorpe was such a comfort to us, wasn’t she? You know, you and I were quite lonely at first.’
‘Yes, but that did not last long,’ Catherine replied brightly, enjoying thoughts of Bath and happier days.
‘Very true. Then we met Mrs Thorpe and were always busy. My dear, do you think these silk gloves still look well? I wore them for the first time in Bath. Do you remember that evening?’
‘Oh, yes, perfectly,’ answered Catherine.
‘It was very agreeable, wasn’t it? Mr Tilney drank tea with us that evening, and I thought he was an excellent addition to our little society. He is a kind gentleman, isn’t he? I think you probably danced with him that evening. I am not certain, but I was wearing my most expensive dress, do you remember? And Mr Tilney admired it very much.’
Catherine felt too emotional to answer, but Mrs Allen continued, ‘I really have no patience with the General. He seemed such an admirable gentleman when we met him. Do you know, Catherine, that his lodgings were rented by another family the day after he and his children left? But no wonder - it was such a desirable address.’
As they walked home again, Mrs Morland said, ‘You must be grateful for your old friends. They have loved you and been concerned for your happiness for many years. Having the affection and good opinion of friends like Mr and Mrs Allen is much more important than your recent unhappy experience.’
Catherine knew that these were wise words, but at that moment they meant little to her. Her present happiness did not depend on old friends, but on the behaviour of her newest friends. Mrs Morland continued encouraging her daughter to forget about the people she had met at Bath as they walked towards home.
Catherine listened politely to her mother, but she was silently reflecting that now Henry must have arrived at Northanger; now he must have heard about her departure; and now, perhaps, the family were leaving the Abbey for Hereford.
The following day, Mrs Morland sat with Catherine and Sarah, her two eldest daughters, as they worked at their various jobs. Catherine had never been hard-working, nor had she liked sitting indoors for very long, but Mrs Morland noticed that her bad habits had become even worse. The seventeen-year-old could not sit still, nor concentrate on a piece of work for even ten minutes at a time. She regularly stood up and walked around the room or wandered into the garden. Sitting quietly seemed impossible.
But worst of all to her mother was Catherine’s lack of energy and spirit. She knew her daughter had never been a good worker, but silence and sadness were unusual for her. What had happened to her old, cheerful personality?
For two days Mrs Morland allowed this behaviour to pass without a hint of criticism, but when a third night’s rest still had not returned Catherine to her old self, she decided to have a serious talk with her daughter.
‘My dear Catherine, I am afraid you have become too grand for your own family. Should your father mend his own shirts? Look how steadily your sister is working, while your head is still in Bath. You must remember that there is a time for everything. Now is not the time for balls and theatre; now is the time for you to be useful to me and to your family.’
Catherine picked up her sewing basket and sadly replied, ‘I do not think about Bath. At least, not very much.’
‘Then you must still be upset about General Tilney, and that is very silly of you. You probably will never see him again. You should not worry about things you cannot change.’ After a short silence, she continued, ‘I hope you have not found your home disappointing because it is not as elegant as Northanger Abbey. That would be turning your visit into something evil. Wherever you are, but especially in your own home, you should learn to be content. I was not happy to hear you at breakfast talking so much about the French bread and the beautiful plates at Northanger.’
‘I am sure I do not care about any of that,’ said Catherine quietly.
‘I have a book,’ Mrs Morland said, ‘with a very clever essay about young ladies who have been spoiled by making friends with people who are much grander than their own families. I will find it for you later. I am sure it will do you good.’
Catherine tried to get on with her work, but after a few minutes Mrs Morland saw her staring out of the window again. She came to the conclusion that her daughter was suffering, and she hastily left the room to find her book of clever essays.
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