فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

Distressing Letters

When Catherine was completely calm again at Northanger Abbey, she began to wonder why she had not heard anything from Isabella. She was impatient for news from Bath, and she wanted to know that her friend and her brother, James, continued on the best possible terms. Isabella had promised to write and had assured Catherine that she was always strict about carrying out her promises. This, Catherine thought, made it very strange that she had not received a letter from Isabella.

Then, on her tenth morning at the Abbey, Catherine found a letter beside her place at the breakfast table. She opened it and found that it was from James:

Dear Catherine,

This is not a letter that I want to write, but I think it is my duty to tell you that everything is at an end between Miss Thorpe and me. I left her and Bath yesterday, and will never see either of them again. You will learn the details from a different source, but I hope you will trust that my only mistake was to believe that my love was returned. Thank God I learned the truth in time. She has made me miserable forever.

I hope that your visit to Northanger Abbey finishes before Captain Tilney and Isabella announce their engagement. I have been a fool, believing her words rather than the evidence in front of my eyes. I wish that I had never met her. Dearest Catherine, be careful how you give your heart.

Catherine sat at the breakfast table with tears running down her cheeks, and with Eleanor and Henry wondering how they could help her. Fortunately, General Tilney was hidden behind his newspaper and took no notice of his guest that morning. Unable to eat, Catherine hurried off to the sitting-room to be alone as soon as it was politely possible.

Eleanor and Henry recognised that their friend was distressed and were very concerned for her, and so, after half an hour, they quietly approached her.

‘I hope you have not had bad news from Fullerton. Is your family all well?’ Eleanor asked gently.

‘They are all well, thank you. The letter was from my brother at Oxford.’

Everyone was quiet for a few minutes, but then Catherine cried, ‘I do not think I shall ever wish for a letter again! Poor James is so unhappy, and you will soon know why.’

‘I am sure he is glad to have such a kind, affectionate sister. You will be a comfort to him if he is in any distress,’ replied Henry kindly.

‘I have one favour to beg,’ Catherine said in a troubled voice. ‘If your brother, Captain Tilney, is coming here, could you please give me notice so that I may go away.’

‘Frederick? Has this anything to do with your friend, Miss Thorpe?’ asked Henry.

‘How quickly you have guessed,’ cried Catherine. ‘And now I understand why she has not written to me, but please read what my brother has written.’

Both Henry and Eleanor read James Morland’s letter, and Henry said, ‘I am very sorry that anyone you love is unhappy, but I cannot believe that Frederick ever intended to propose marriage to Miss Thorpe.’

Then Eleanor asked, ‘What can you tell me about Miss Thorpe’s family? Does she have any fortune?’

‘Her mother seems a good sort of person, and her father is dead. They are not a wealthy family, and I believe Isabella has no fortune at all, but that would not matter to your family. Your father told me the other day that he only valued money because it allowed him to guarantee the happiness of his children.’ Henry and Eleanor exchanged a look. Then Eleanor said, ‘I can imagine Frederick flirting with a girl like Miss Thorpe, but he would not respect her for treating her own fiance so badly. He has never found a woman good enough to love, and this situation would not make him love Miss Thorpe.’

‘You might be wrong this time, my dear sister,’ said Henry. ‘Surely Miss Thorpe would not break off her engagement to Mr Morland before securing a promise from the other gentleman. You may delight in such a sister-in-law: open, honest, lively, with strong affections and nothing artificial about her emotions.’

‘That kind of sister-in-law would be delightful,’ said Eleanor, smiling at her brother.

‘But perhaps,’ observed Catherine, ‘although she has behaved so badly to my family, she may behave better to yours. Now that she has got the man she really likes and wanted, she may learn to be faithful.’

‘I trust she will be faithful to our brother,’ replied Henry, ‘unless she meets someone with more charm, or even a better fortune. I think that is Frederick’s only chance of escape.’

‘You are right. I think ambition was her only motive when falling in love. I remember when she found out what my father would do for her and James, she was so obviously disappointed. I have never been so deceived by anyone in my entire life, but that does not compare to poor James’s feelings towards her.’

‘We must pity your brother at present,’ Henry said, ‘but we must not underestimate your loss. You no longer have a close friend to open your heart to, to depend on, to learn from. You will feel the loss greatly, won’t you?’

Catherine thought for a moment and then said, ‘No, to tell the truth, I am hurt and cannot still love her. I will never hear from her or see her again, but I do not feel such grief as I would have thought.’ To Catherine’s surprise, this conversation greatly lifted her spirits.

From this time, the subject of the affair between Isabella Thorpe and Captain Frederick Tilney was frequently discussed and analysed by the three young people at Northanger Abbey. Catherine learned, with some surprise, that Eleanor and Henry were in perfect agreement about one thing: their father may not approve of Isabella’s behaviour, but his greatest objection to her as a wife for his elder son would be that she was not socially well connected and she had no money. Such thoughts made Catherine think with some alarm about herself. She was as socially insignificant and as poor as Isabella, and if the heir to the Tilney fortune could not propose to a woman without money, would his younger brother ever gain his father’s permission to marry someone like her? This worried Catherine, but she thought about General Tilney’s generous attitude towards her and the special attention she always received from him. Added to this, more than once she had heard him dismiss the idea that money was the most important thing in the world.

During one of their discussions, Catherine said, ‘Mr Tilney, shouldn’t you tell your father how Isabella has behaved towards my brother? Then he will be able to judge her by her character rather than by her situation in life.’

‘No,’ replied Henry. ‘Frederick must tell his own story if he asks my father for permission to marry Miss Thorpe. But I must emphasise to you that I do not believe that will ever happen.’ The household went about its business with no news from Captain Tilney, and so the General, who knew nothing about his elder son’s connection to Miss Thorpe, was able to spend his time and energy making Catherine’s time at Northanger pass pleasantly. He often expressed his anxiety about this task, worrying that she would be bored with the quiet life they led. He wished that there were more young people in the area, or more types of entertainment. He talked about hosting a large dinner party or even a ball, but it was a dead time of year and many of their friends were not at present in the neighbourhood. His worries ended one morning, at last, when he told Henry that he would bring Eleanor and Miss Morland to dinner at his son’s house the next time Henry was at Woodston.

‘And when do you think, sir, I may look forward to this pleasure?’ asked Henry. ‘I am going to Woodston on Monday and will have business there for at least two or three days.’

‘Well, we will take our chances on one of those days,’ General Tilney answered. ‘There is no need to make a firm date. We do not expect anything fancy, just whatever you have in the house will be enough. We know that a single man cannot be expected to produce anything grand. What about Wednesday? Yes, you may expect us early on Wednesday.’

A ball itself could not have pleased Catherine more than a visit to Henry’s house in Woodston, and her heart was full of joy with the idea of becoming acquainted with the place. Nevertheless she was both surprised and a little sad when Henry found her and Eleanor in the sitting-room an hour later and said, ‘I am here, young ladies, to say that our pleasures in this world must always be paid for. Look at me at this moment. Because I look forward to seeing you both in my own house on Wednesday, I must leave now, two days before I had intended to go, and I would much rather stay.’

‘But must you go?’ Catherine asked with a very sad face.

‘Yes, I must! My old cook will be frightened half to death about preparing a dinner for my father. She will need as much time as possible to prepare everything.’

‘But the General told you not to give yourself any trouble,’ said Catherine.

Henry only smiled, and as he left he said, ‘I wish I could reason like you.’

Catherine always doubted her judgement and agreed with Henry’s, so she had to think about this. How could people understand each other if they said one thing so positively and meant something else? Only Henry and Eleanor could interpret what their father’s words really meant.

The hours from Saturday to Wednesday passed very slowly for Catherine. Everything was quieter, even rather dull, without Henry. Then she worried that Captain Tilney might arrive, and she could not imagine acting politely towards him. She thought a lot about her brother, and felt sad at having lost Isabella’s friendship. Her only feeling towards Northanger Abbey itself was now one of embarrassment, and the idea of a country parish with a comfortable house was much more attractive to her.

Finally Wednesday arrived and by ten o’clock the carriage left the Abbey with General Tilney, Eleanor and Catherine inside, and after an agreeable drive of about twenty miles they entered Woodston, a large village in pleasant countryside. Catherine looked around and believed that she preferred it to any place she had ever seen.

They drove through the village, looking at the neat houses, charming shops and tidy gardens until they reached Henry’s house at the far end of the main street. It was a newly built, large stone house, and as they drove up to the door, Henry, with three or four energetic dogs, waited at the door to welcome them.

When they were inside, the General, who seemed to think that Catherine would be disappointed by the house, began to defend it.

‘We are not calling it a good house. It does not compare to Northanger or to Fullerton, but we feel that it is decent, and not inferior to the houses round here. I believe that there are very few clergymen in England with a house half so good.’

When the party entered the sitting-room, which was still without furniture, Catherine was delighted and her comments satisfied even the General.

‘What a prettily shaped room!’ she cried. ‘It is the nicest room I have ever seen. And it has a beautiful view. You must decorate it soon, Mr Tilney, and enjoy it.’

‘I believe it needs a lady’s touch,’ said the General with a satisfied smile.

‘Well, if it were my house, I would always sit in this room,’ Catherine declared.

Henry entertained his guests with a wander round his garden, a look at the stables, and then a walk through the village. At four they returned to the house for a delicious meal of many courses, which the General seemed extremely pleased by.

At six o’clock, after General Tilney had had his coffee, the carriage was waiting at the front door for the return trip to Northanger Abbey. Catherine felt certain that she could not possibly misinterpret the General’s behaviour that day. It seemed clear that he expected her to become his daughter-in-law; she only wished that she could feel as confident about his son’s plans.

The next morning brought the following unexpected letter from Isabella:

Bath, April

My dearest Catherine,

I was delighted to receive your two kind letters and I have a thousand apologies to make for not answering them sooner. I am quite ashamed at being so idle, but in this horrible place, one can find time for nothing. Thank God we leave here tomorrow, so please direct your next letter to me at my home, and write to me soon!

I have not found any pleasure in Bath since you left. There is so much dust in the air, and everyone that I care about has left. I believe that if I could see you, I could put up with everything else because you are more precious to me than anybody can imagine.

I am worried about your dear brother, who I have not heard from since his return to Oxford. I fear that there has been some misunderstanding between us, and I am confident that you will make my position plain to him: he is the only man I ever did or ever could love. I trust you to make that perfectly clear to him.

The spring fashions are in the shops, and the hats are simply the most awful you can imagine. I hope you are having a nice time at Northanger Abbey, but I am afraid you never think of me. I will not say anything against the family you are with, although I could if I wanted to be spiteful or ungenerous. I have learned that young men change their minds from one day to the next, and I am happy to say that the young man whom I dislike more than all others has left Bath. You will guess that I mean Captain Tilney, who, as you remember, was constantly following me and teasing me in the most flirtatious manner. But I know men too well to be fooled by him. He returned to his duties in the army two days ago, and I hope that I will never be bothered by him again. In the last two days he was in Bath he was always flirting with Charlotte Davis, a rather plain girl. I refused to take any notice of him when I saw him on the street after that. What a contrast there is between him and your brother!

Please send me news of dear James. He seemed so unhappy when he left Bath, perhaps he had a cold or something else that made him feel unwell. I would write to him myself but I have lost his address in Oxford and I worry that he misinterpreted my behaviour in some way. Ask him to write to me and we will sort everything out.

I have not been going out in the evenings, except that I went to the theatre last night with the Hodges, after they teased me about staying in night after night. I had to show them that I was not staying in because Captain Tilney had gone. I went out to show everyone that I have a good spirit of my own. Do you remember Anne Mitchell? She was wearing a hat like the one I bought with you, but it did not suit her. I suppose it went with my odd face, at least Tilney told me so at the time and said every eye was looking at me. But, of course, he is the last man whose opinion I would take any notice of. I wear purple all the time now. I know it is not the best colour for me, but it is your dear brother’s favourite colour.

Lose no time, my dearest, sweetest Catherine, in writing to him and to me.

Your friend forever…

How could anyone be so false, so dishonest? Not even kind-hearted Catherine could be fooled by so many lies and so much self-interest. In fact, Catherine was ashamed of Isabella and ashamed of ever having loved her. Her excuses for her treatment of James were empty, and Catherine could not believe that she had been asked to write to her brother on Isabella’s behalf. He had suffered enough and would never hear Isabella’s name mentioned by his sister. Never again!

When Henry returned from Woodston, Catherine told him and Eleanor about the letter.

‘Your own brother has had a lucky escape,’ Catherine said sincerely. ‘And for me, I wish that I had never met Isabella Thorpe. I can see that she never had any true feelings for either James or for me.’

‘It will soon seem that you never had met,’ Henry said.

‘But please explain one more thing for me,’ Catherine replied. ‘She was obviously pursuing your brother but did not succeed. But I do not understand Captain Tilney’s behaviour in this affair. Why did he flirt with her and make her quarrel with my brother, and then walk away from her?’

‘I cannot explain my brother’s motives, but like Miss Thorpe, he thinks very highly of himself. Until this time, he has not been hurt by his flirtations,’ explained Henry. ‘I believe that he never really cared for your friend.’

‘Well, I disapprove of this sort of behaviour,’ Catherine said quite angrily, ‘and I must say that I do not like Captain Tilney at all. I suppose that no great harm has been done to me or to my brother, but what would have happened if Isabella had lost her heart to him?’

‘But we must first assume that Isabella had a heart to lose, which would make her a different young woman, and so she would have received very different treatment from my brother,’ replied Henry.

‘It is good that you defend your brother,’ said Catherine.

‘And you must defend your brother’s position and understand that he should not feel sad about losing Miss Thorpe. He has had a lucky escape. Your own sense of what is right and wrong is so strong that you have not even thought of revenge against your friend. I admire you very much for that.’

Henry’s admiration was enough to make Catherine feel better in any situation. She was determined not to think that Captain Tilney was completely evil; she decided she would never answer Isabella’s letter, and she tried not to think about what had happened in Bath between those two ever again.

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