‘Catherine, don’t be naive. You know that he is head over heels in love with you.’
‘With me? Dear Isabella, why would you say such a thing?’
‘My sweet Catherine, be honest, and don’t pretend you are not aware of his feelings. John says in his letter that just before he left Bath he made it clear that he intended to propose marriage to you very soon, and that you encouraged him quite openly.’
‘Isabella, I am completely astonished by what you say. I had no idea that your brother was in love with me, and I certainly did not encourage him in any way. I sincerely swear that no talk of his proposing marriage to me ever passed between us. He must have misunderstood me in some way because I never thought nor wished for anything of this kind from him. Please explain to him as properly as possible that I did not intend to deceive him in any way, but if I could think of one man more than any other, he is not that person. Please don’t be angry with me, Isabella, because we shall, of course, still be sisters-in-law.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Isabella said blushing, ‘but there are more ways than one of our becoming sisters. But what am I talking about? My mind is wandering again. So you are determined not to accept a proposal from John?’
‘I cannot return his love, and I certainly never meant to encourage him,’ insisted Catherine.
‘I must say, Catherine, that I agree with you. What would you and he live on? He has very little money, and it is no good saying that people can live on love because it is just not possible. I think John cannot have received my last letter.’
‘And so you do understand what I have said? I did not mean to encourage your brother.’
‘Of course I understand,’ said Isabella. ‘A little harmless flirtation often leads one person to assume they know another’s mind. I assure you that I am the last person in the world to judge you severely in such matters. Circumstances change; what one means one day, one may not mean the next.’
‘But my opinion of your brother did not change. You are describing something that did not happen.’
Without listening to Catherine, Isabella continued with her own thoughts. ‘Nobody should rush into an engagement before knowing what they are doing. And young men change their opinions so easily. Why should a brother’s happiness be more important to me than my friend’s? My advice to you, Catherine, is not to be in a hurry. Tilney says people often deceive themselves about the state of their own heart, and I believe that he is right. Oh, look, here he comes, but he will not see us here.’
But Captain Tilney walked directly to their bench and took the seat next to Isabella. The two of them began whispering together, making Catherine very uncomfortable and very jealous for her brother.
Finally she stood and said, ‘Isabella, I would like to join Mrs Allen. Will you walk with me?’
‘You go without me,’ Isabella said. ‘I must wait here for my sisters.’
Catherine could do nothing to persuade Isabella to leave the bench, and so she found Mrs Allen and left the Pump Room. It seemed to her that Captain Tilney was falling in love with Isabella and that her friend was unconsciously encouraging him. It had to be an unconscious flirtation because Isabella was engaged to James, but Catherine was left confused and worried by her conversations with Isabella that day. Why had she talked so much about money? Why had she been so obviously pleased at seeing Captain Tilney? And how did John Thorpe come to the conclusion that she had encouraged him to fall in love with her?
A few days passed and Catherine, although not allowing herself to suspect Isabella of improper behaviour, could not help noticing that her friend seemed an altered creature. When she was with Catherine and James in the Allens’ or Thorpes’ lodgings, she seemed a bit dreamy and not quite as full of spirit and energy as before. That alone would not have troubled Catherine, but when she saw Isabella in the public rooms, she had to admit that she became much livelier and flirtatious when Captain Tilney was in the room. Catherine could see that James was confused and hurt by his fiancee’s behaviour, and she thought that Captain Tilney too was being treated badly by Isabella. Surely Isabella had not told him that she was an engaged woman; otherwise, he would not have flattered her with so much attention.
Catherine worried so much about the situation that she finally decided to speak to Henry Tilney about it, describing what she had observed and ending by saying, ‘I am certain that your brother must be unaware that Miss Thorpe is engaged to be married to my brother, James.’
‘My brother does know that,’ replied Mr Tilney.
‘Does he?’ asked Catherine. ‘Then why does he pursue Isabella as if she was unattached? He will have his heart broken if he falls in love with her.’
‘I am sure that my brother can look after his own heart,’ Henry said with a smile. ‘I have told him that Miss Thorpe is engaged, but he is his own master and will do as he pleases.’
‘But he is giving great pain and anxiety to my brother.’
‘Are you sure that this distress is caused by Frederick? Is it his attentions to Miss Thorpe, or Miss Thorpe’s reaction to them that gives pain to your brother?’
‘Is it not the same thing?’
‘I think your brother would understand the difference. No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can turn it into a tragedy.’
‘Should I warn James? Or can you speak to your brother and advise him to leave Bath?’
‘I do not believe that any one of the three people involved in this situation would thank us for our advice. If your brother and Miss Thorpe love each other, as you are certain they do, they will never tease each other beyond what is acceptable to them both. Don’t worry. Frederick will not stay long in Bath, and then your brother and his fiancee will laugh about poor Captain Tilney’s attachment to the beautiful Isabella.’
Catherine could not argue against Henry’s analysis of the situation, and she decided to stop worrying about it. That evening Isabella and James were at the Allens’ lodgings to say goodbye to Catherine, and with relief she saw only affectionate behaviour between them.