Disappointment at First Sight

The next morning Catherine was at the Tilneys’ lodgings, ready to begin her journey to Northanger Abbey. She was unusually nervous, wanting to do exactly what was right to maintain her new friends’ high opinion of her.

But she had no need to worry. Miss Tilney’s good manners and Henry’s smile soon drove away any anxious feelings, and General Tilney welcomed her very warmly and looked after her every need. Even Captain Tilney appeared in the sitting-room to wish them all a safe journey, although Catherine heard him whisper to Eleanor, ‘How glad I shall be when you are all on your way home.’

Catherine joined Eleanor and a servant inside one carriage; Henry and General Tilney were in the front carriage, with Henry driving. Finally the journey of thirty miles from Bath to Northanger Abbey began. Our heroine relaxed and enjoyed Eleanor’s company as she observed a road that was entirely new to her. She looked back at Bath without regret, excited about being with Eleanor and Henry, and about spending time in a real abbey.

After two hours, which flew by for Catherine, the carriages stopped for lunch. Catherine could not help noticing the General’s habit of giving orders and dominating every conversation. He gave his opinion about the journey, about the inn at which they had stopped, the service of the waiters, the quality of the food, and even about the weather. Eleanor and Henry spoke very little when their father was part of the group, and Catherine felt a sense of relief when it was time to return to the carriages and get away from General Tilney. But the General delighted her with a surprising suggestion.

‘The day is very fine, Miss Morland, and I think you would see more of this beautiful countryside if you took my place with Henry at the top of the front carriage.’

And so Catherine found herself sitting beside Henry, as happy as any girl who ever existed. And Henry drove so well! He did not swear or congratulate himself on his ability with horses, and he seemed to enjoy making conversation with Catherine. Sitting beside him in his carriage was almost as good as dancing with him.

‘My sister is very happy that you are coming to Northanger Abbey as her guest. She does not have a true friend in the neighbourhood and is looking forward to this time with you.’

‘But you are with her most of the time, aren’t you?’

‘Northanger is my home for about half of my time. I have my own house in Woodston, which is nearly twenty miles from my father’s house, and I must spend some of my time there in my parish. Of course I am always sorry to leave Eleanor.’

‘And the Abbey? You must be very fond of the Abbey.’ Henry smiled and said, ‘You seem to have formed a very positive view of Northanger Abbey.’

‘Yes, I think I have. It is a fine old place, isn’t it? Like the kind of places one reads about in Mrs Radcliffe’s novels?’

‘And are you prepared to meet the type of frightening experiences that may occur in such houses? Do you have a brave heart? Are your nerves strong enough for secret rooms and hidden staircases?’ said Henry in a low, quiet voice.

‘Oh, yes!’ cried Catherine. ‘But I will not be easily frightened with so many people in the house. We are not returning to it after it has stood empty for years and no one expects us. I have read about that kind of thing happening in novels, and then mysterious and scary things occur.’

‘No, that is certainly not the case at Northanger. We shall not have to feel our way along a dark hall with only the dying coals of a distant fire to light our way. Nor will we have to make our beds on the floor of a room without windows, doors or furniture. I am sure you have read about such circumstances too in one of your favourite novels,’ suggested Henry.

‘Of course, as is the custom in old houses,’ he continued in his dramatically low voice, ‘you will be in a separate part of the house, away from the rest of the family. And when we go to our warm, familiar rooms at the end of the evening, Dorothy, our ancient servant, will lead you up a different staircase, and then along several dark passages, into an apartment that has not been used since a very old aunt died in it more than twenty years ago. Will that frighten you?

‘Will you be content in your large room with very high ceilings and very little light? The walls in this room are hidden behind dark, heavy tapestries and the bed is covered in material appropriate for a funeral. Will your blood run cold when you enter? Will you be happy to spend the night there alone, with nobody close enough to hear you if you shout, or even scream?’

‘But that will not happen to me, I am sure,’ said Catherine in a trembling voice. ‘You are describing what happens in novels.’

‘But what are they based on? Think about the furniture you will find in your apartment. Not tables, wardrobes or drawers, but in a dark corner you might see a broken violin or a tall black cupboard from several centuries ago, and over the fireplace an oil painting of a handsome military man, whose eyes seem to follow you round the room.


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