‘Oh, Mr Tilney, how frightening! It is like a scene from Udolpho! But it cannot really happen to me. I am sure your housekeeper is not really Dorothy, and there are no ghosts at Northanger Abbey, are there? What else might happen?’
‘I think you will feel frightened on your first night, but nothing unusual will happen to you. Not on that night. You will go to bed and get a few hours of disturbed sleep. But on your third night, there will probably be a violent storm. The thunder will be so loud and so frequent that the whole abbey will shake. A terrible wind will accompany the noise, and when the lightning flashes, you will see movement behind the heavy tapestries. Because you are naturally curious, you will get out of bed to investigate and behind a tear in one of the tapestries, you will discover a small, secret door. With your lamp in your hand, you will pass into a small dark room.’
‘No, I could not go into the room! I would be too frightened!’
‘But you would enter because Dorothy has told you about a secret underground passage between your apartment and the church of St Anthony, less than two miles away. Could you resist such an adventure? No! You will go into the small, dark room, which leads to several more tiny rooms. You will see a sharp knife in one room, drops of blood in another and, in a third, chains and a whip.
‘Finally you find a large, old-fashioned cupboard, and when you unlock its doors, you find drawers, one of which contains many mysterious sheets of paper. You hurry back to your room with this treasure and begin to read:
You have found the diary of Matilda, a poor, unfortunate girl. Have pity on me and… Your lamp suddenly goes out and leaves you in total darkness.’
‘Oh, no!’ cries Catherine. ‘And then what? Please, go on!’
But Henry could not continue telling the story without smiling, and Catherine at last understood that he was amusing himself by frightening her. Catherine felt ashamed of desperately wanting to hear more of the story, and told herself to remember where she was.
‘Mr Tilney, you are a good story-teller, but you have not alarmed me. Your sister would never put me in a room like the one you have described. I am not afraid of anything at Northanger Abbey,’ insisted our heroine.
Just then the Abbey came into view and Catherine found that she was more than a little disappointed. Parts of the building were very low and she could not even see an ancient chimney. But it was a real abbey, and she was delighted to be there, even when she saw that the hallway and informal sitting-room were very modern and decorated with elegant furniture. She had to admit that this was not what she had wished for. She had dreamed of entering a scene from Udolpho, but instead found herself in a richly decorated, beautiful, comfortable home.
Soon she was taken to her own room by Eleanor, who asked her to be ready for dinner in twenty-five minutes.
This room was nothing like the one that Henry had described. There was pretty paper on the walls and a lovely carpet on the floor. Everything, in fact, was very handsome, comfortable and even cheerful. She was determined to change her clothes quickly and be early for dinner because she did not want to risk upsetting General Tilney. But suddenly she noticed a large wooden chest at one side of the fireplace and she forgot about the General and the need to hurry.
‘This is very strange! I did not expect such a sight as this! What an enormous chest! Why is it hidden in this corner, almost out of sight? I should not, but I will look inside. I must do it now while there is still light outside. If I wait until evening my candle may go out.’
Without hesitating, Catherine tried to open the old oak chest, but had trouble with the lock, which was made of ancient looking, dull silver. The handles at each end were broken, perhaps by some awful violence, and in the centre of the lid there was a silver plate with some mysterious writing which she could not understand. Could it say Tilney in a foreign alphabet, or did the chest not originally belong to the family? By what strange events could it have become theirs?
Catherine’s curiosity grew by the second and she became more and more determined to open the chest. With trembling hands, she had just managed to turn the lock and lift the heavy lid a few centimetres when a servant knocked on the door. Catherine dropped the lid immediately and it came down with a tremendous bang.
‘Miss Tilney has sent me, miss. Do you need any help with dressing for dinner?’ asked the servant.
This kind offer brought Catherine to her senses and reminded her of what she should be doing at that moment. She dismissed the servant and rapidly changed her dress, although her eyes kept returning to the chest.