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Happily Ever After… Eventually
It took at least fifteen minutes for Mrs Morland to find her book of essays, and then she had a few other tasks to complete before she could return to her daughter. And when she was able to return, she was surprised to find a visitor there, someone whom she had never seen before.
With a look of much respect, the young man immediately rose, and Catherine introduced Mr Henry Tilney to her mother.
Mr Tilney quickly began to apologise to Mrs Morland. ‘I am sorry to arrive here without an invitation. I know that you cannot welcome a visitor from Northanger Abbey after what happened to Miss Morland there, but I was impatient to know that she had arrived home safely.’
Mrs Morland had never blamed Henry or his sister for their father’s rude behaviour, and now she was very pleased by this young man’s appearance and by his sincere apology.
‘Thank you, Mr Tilney, for your kind treatment of Catherine. I believe you have nothing to apologise for. You, and any friends of our children, are always welcome to visit us at Fullerton.’ Then she continued with a list of polite questions about Mr Tilney’s journey, the weather and the condition of the roads.
Meanwhile Catherine remained silent, but her mother could see from her bright eyes and rosy cheeks that she was very pleased by Mr Tilney’s presence, and Mrs Morland slipped the book of essays into a convenient drawer for a future hour.
Eventually Mrs Morland exhausted her supply of polite questions, and Henry turned to Catherine for the first time since her mother’s entrance and asked, ‘Are Mr and Mrs Allen now at Fullerton?’
Catherine struggled to calm her nerves and answer sensibly, but finally made it clear that the Allens were at home.
‘I would like to pay my respects to them,’ Mr Tilney said. His face was now almost as red as Catherine’s. ‘I wonder if you would be kind enough to show me the way to their house, Miss Morland?’
‘You can see it from that window,’ interrupted Sarah, who continued to sew quietly but was keeping an eye on what was happening.
Mr Tilney bowed politely, but Mrs Morland gave her younger daughter a silencing nod. They both understood that seeing the Allens was not the primary purpose of Mr Tilney’s invitation. Mrs Morland thought that he might want to explain his father’s behaviour to Catherine in private, and she did not intend to put any barriers in the way of that conversation; she encouraged Catherine to walk to the Allens’ house with Mr Tilney.
Mrs Morland was correct: Henry Tilney did want to explain his father’s rudeness - a difficult task for a son - but that was not his primary reason for wanting to talk to Catherine. Above all, he wanted to explain himself, and before they reached the Allens’ house he had done that extremely well. In fact it was a speech that Catherine thought could not be repeated too often. Henry assured her of his affection, and asked if he could hope that she also loved him - something that you will have no doubts about by this time.
Henry was sincerely and completely attached to our heroine; he was delighted by her character and truly loved spending all his time with her. But you must understand that his love and affection for Catherine had its origin in something quite simple; he had recognised that she seemed to admire everything about him, and for this he was very grateful. So on this basis, although Henry would not have been able to explain his reasons to himself, he proposed marriage to Miss Catherine Morland.
The visit to Mr and Mrs Allen’s house was very short.
Both Catherine and Henry were thinking of something much more important than chatting about Bath. Henry was polite, Catherine scarcely said a word, and soon the young couple were happily walking along the path together again, with nothing to do except think of their future life together.
Can you imagine the joy that filled our heroine’s heart? She floated along beside Mr Tilney in a cloud of happiness, as he talked about this and that. But she listened carefully when her dear Henry said that he did not have his father’s permission to approach her. On his return from Woodston, two days earlier, he had been met near the Abbey by his impatient father. In very angry terms the General had insisted that Henry should never think of Miss Catherine Morland again.
This information shocked Catherine, but more important was the fact that Henry wanted to marry her. Knowing that she was loved gave her the courage to try to understand the motives for General Tilney’s actions and for his disapproval of her.
As Henry’s story unfolded, her curiosity turned to delight. His father had found no reason to criticise Catherine’s behaviour or her character; he was, instead, disappointed by his own actions and ashamed of having been misled by Mr John Thorpe. Catherine, it seemed, was guilty of only one thing in the General’s opinion: she was less rich than he had supposed her to be.
The General had been deceived by John Thorpe at their first meeting, at the theatre in Bath. On that occasion, Henry had been talking to Catherine and the General had asked Mr Thorpe if he knew the young lady. John Thorpe had a misleading, and even dangerous, habit of exaggerating the importance and wealth of his friends and acquaintances; he seemed to think that this made him more important in the eyes of the world. When he had become friends with James Morland, he had reported to his family that he had met a young man from a very grand family; then, introducing James to Isabella, he had doubled the amount of his friend’s living, multiplied his private fortune by three or four times, invented a rich aunt for him, and forgot about half of James’s brothers and sisters.
John Thorpe had continued with this practice of exaggeration when telling General Tilney about the Morland family. He had invented a large private income for Catherine, whom he himself had decided to marry, as well as the promise that she would one day receive an enormous inheritance from the Allens.
With this information, which he had no reason to doubt, General Tilney had decided to welcome Miss Morland to Northanger Abbey and to encourage his son to consider Miss Catherine Morland as a possible bride. Henry and Eleanor knew nothing about their father’s conversation with John Thorpe; they were astonished by the kind, friendly attention he showed towards Catherine, and the clear signals he gave Henry that he approved of her as his son’s future wife.
But on his visit to London, the General had met Mr John Thorpe again. The younger man was by that time suffering from what he considered to be ill treatment by both James and Catherine Morland: she had refused his proposal of marriage and James would not accept Isabella’s apologies. Now he was eager to change the General’s good opinion of the whole Morland family. This time he gave a more accurate account of how many Morland children there were and the amount of money and possessions the parents had; in fact, he mentioned too many of one and too few of the other. And the Allens? Their entire fortune would be inherited by one of Mr Allen’s nephews.
Angry with almost everyone in the world except himself, the General had returned to the Abbey, where you have seen how he behaved towards our heroine.
Having heard all this, Catherine forgave herself for thinking that General Tilney could either have murdered or imprisoned his wife. Now she understood how cruel he could be in reality.
Poor Henry was blushing with shame while telling Catherine this story. He had had an angry conversation with his father at Northanger Abbey, and had shocked the General by refusing to agree with his judgement of Catherine. He felt tied to Catherine as much by honour as affection; he would not dismiss her from his heart or from his life. He refused to accompany Eleanor and his father to Herefordshire, and declared his intention of asking Miss Morland to marry him.
General Tilney had been angrier than he had ever been with his son, and the two had parted without speaking to each other again. Henry had returned to Woodston, and had begun his journey to Fullerton on the following afternoon.
Mr and Mrs Morland were quite astonished to be asked by Mr Henry Tilney for permission to marry their daughter. They had not suspected a connection between the two young people, but they believed Catherine was worth loving and they soon happily accepted the situation. They had no reason to object to the marriage, not having heard anything negative about Henry and liking his pleasing manners and good sense. Mrs Morland’s only additional comment was, ‘I am sure Catherine will make a poor housekeeper, but practice is a good teacher.’
Nevertheless, even with everyone celebrating the proposal, Mr and Mrs Morland could not approve of the engagement. They had mild tempers, but their principles were strong; they did not expect heartfelt approval from the General, but they required his agreement, at least. They assured the pair that they would be happy for them to marry when that agreement was obtained, but not before, and they trusted that it would not be denied for long. There need be no expectation of money from the father, since his son’s present income already made him independent and comfortable, their daughter could not hope for more.
The young people were not surprised by this decision. They were, of course, upset, but they parted from each other with the hope that the General’s opinion could be changed very soon. Henry returned to what was now his only home, at Woodston, to look after his parish and to make improvements to his house for his future wife; Catherine remained at Fullerton to cry rather dramatically and to look forward to regular letters from Henry. We need not enquire whether the difficulties of absence were made easier by such secret communication. Mr and Mrs Morland never did - they had been too kind to demand promises and whenever Catherine received a letter, which happened quite often, they always looked the other way.
As we approach the last of these pages, you will have guessed that a happy ending is promised very soon. The only doubt can be the way in which perfect happiness was achieved. What circumstance could possibly change the General’s opinion of a marriage between his son and Miss Morland?
The answer was another marriage. In the course of the summer, Eleanor Tilney married a young man with a large fortune and a very respectable position in society. Such an addition to his own importance threw the General into a good mood for months, and Eleanor insisted that he must forgive Henry and accept Catherine as his future daughter-in-law.
Everyone who knows Eleanor Tilney will, I am sure, congratulate her and wish her well in the home and with the man of her choice, away from the strict discipline of Northanger Abbey. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know of no one who, after all her suffering, deserves happiness more.
And her husband was a young man who truly deserved her: he was not only rich and important, but also affectionate and charming. Eleanor had known him for years, but General Tilney had approved of him as little as he approved of Catherine, and for the same reason: he came from a respectable family with no money. But then this young man inherited an enormous fortune as well as a title, and the General’s opinion changed immediately. Suddenly he too could see that Eleanor’s future husband was the most charming young man in the world. And I should add that this was the same gentleman whose careless servant left the laundry lists in a drawer at Northanger Abbey and involved our heroine in one of her most alarming adventures.
Eleanor and her delightful, rich husband used their influence to persuade the General that Henry should be allowed to marry Catherine Morland. In fact, they explained that Catherine was not, in fact, poor and would have an income of her own of three thousand pounds a year, and that her father was much wealthier than John Thorpe had reported during his second meeting with General Tilney. As a result of this happy news, the General soon permitted his son to return to Northanger Abbey and wrote to Mr Morland, politely giving his agreement to the marriage of his younger son and the Morlands’ eldest daughter.
The event which the General’s letter permitted soon followed: Henry and Catherine were married, the church bells rang and everybody celebrated. The wedding took place less than twelve months after the young couple had met, so the General’s cruelty did not hurt them very much or for very long. To begin perfect happiness at twenty-six and eighteen is to do quite well. I should add, moreover, that perhaps the General added to this happiness by delaying the marriage and giving them time to improve their knowledge of each other and to strengthen their attachment.
I leave it for you to make a final judgement on this question: Is the purpose of this story to recommend parental cruelty, or to reward a son’s disobedience?
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