Catherine was staring at the blanket when Miss Tilney, hoping that her friend would be ready for dinner, entered the room.
‘It is an odd old chest, isn’t it?’ said Miss Tilney, as Catherine hastily closed the chest and turned away from her friend’s eyes. Our heroine was blushing and feeling ashamed of her wild imagination.
‘It is impossible to say how long that chest has been in our family,’ continued Miss Tilney. ‘I do not know why it was put in this room, but I have left it here because it is handy for blankets and sheets. And in that corner it is out of the way.’
Catherine could not speak, but made herself calm down and hurry down the stairs with Eleanor to join Henry and General Tilney in the dining-room. The General insisted on punctuality and was looking at his watch as the two young ladies entered the room. He violently pulled the bell beside the fireplace and shouted, ‘Dinner to be on the table immediately!’
Catherine felt extremely nervous as she took her place at the table, worried about offending the General and cursing her own interest in old chests. The General scolded his daughter for making their guest hurry down the stairs, and then recovered his politeness. Catherine was distressed at having caused Eleanor any discomfort, but the General was so kind and attentive towards her that, with this and a healthy appetite, Catherine soon recovered her peace of mind and began to enjoy being at Northanger Abbey; she actually felt a very positive sense of happiness.
The dining-room was large and elegant, with a very grand table and a number of servants attending to the diners’ needs.
‘This is a beautiful room,’ Catherine commented.
‘It is a good size,’ agreed the General. ‘I believe that a large dining-room is necessary in a house like this. But I suppose you are used to much grander dining-rooms at home and at Mr Allen’s house.’
‘No, not at all,’ was Catherine’s honest answer. ‘I have never seen such a large dining-room in my entire life.’
The General’s mood brightened when he heard this, but he politely said, ‘I am sure that there is more comfort in a smaller dining-room. I am sure that Mr Allen’s house has everything in the correct size for perfect happiness.’
Before the party retired for the night, a violent storm started outside, and as Catherine reached the door to her room, she listened to the wind and rain with sensations of wonder. The night made her think of the horrible scenes which Mrs Radcliffe’s buildings had witnessed. She knew that in a house like Northanger Abbey, which was so modern in many ways and so securely guarded, she had nothing to fear, and so, after noticing that Eleanor’s apartment was very close to hers, she entered her room with a reasonably strong heart and steady nerves.
Catherine looked across the room and saw the window curtains move, and so she forced herself to step boldly forward, and while softly whistling a little tune, she courageously looked behind each curtain and found nothing unusual. Then she glanced at the chest beside the fireplace and laughed at herself for worrying about anything in this very pleasant room.
‘I will take my time getting ready for bed, and I will not worry if the fire goes out.’
Catherine felt satisfied with her own determination to be brave and normal. She happily prepared herself for bed and watched the fire die away, but just as she was ready to climb into bed she spied a tall, old-fashioned black cupboard, which she had not noticed earlier and which looked like the cupboard Henry had described in his fictional room. Had he, in fact, been talking about this particular cupboard?
Catherine took her candle and examined it closely. It was very handsome, black with gold handles, and very old. The key was in the door, inviting her to look inside.
So, placing the candle very cautiously on a chair, she seized the key and tried with all her strength to turn it, but it would not move. Alarmed, but not discouraged, she tried it another way and the key turned in the lock, but the door would not open. She paused a moment, listening to the wind roaring down the chimney and the rain beating against the windows, and everything seemed to warn her not to open this mysterious cupboard. But Catherine knew she would not be able to sleep until she had seen what was hidden within.
She tried the key again, moving it in different directions until the door suddenly opened; Catherine’s heart leapt at such a thrilling victory. Now she saw a variety of drawers of different sizes, and she bravely began to open them and examine the interiors; each was equally empty! But Catherine had read enough novels to know that such cupboards often had secret, hidden sections, and so her search continued, and she was successful. By opening a door behind the first set of drawers, Catherine discovered a roll of papers that had been pushed back into the furthest part of the cupboard.
Her heart trembled, her knees shook and her cheek grew pale. With an unsteady hand she seized the precious treasure and was determined to read every line before she attempted to rest. Could it be the diary of Matilda, the young woman Henry had told her about?
But then something horrible happened: Catherine’s candle was blown out by the wind from the chimney, and she was left in total darkness. She heard footsteps outside her room and a door banged shut. By now there was a cold sweat on Catherine’s forehead and she was trembling from head to foot; the papers fell from her hand as she jumped into her bed and hid beneath the blankets.
To close her eyes in sleep was impossible; her thoughts were going in every direction: Had Henry intended her to find Matilda’s diary? How long had it been hidden in the cupboard? Would she be the first person to discover its secrets? She was determined to read the diary, which she was sure she had found, as soon as there was enough sunlight to see.
Hour after hour passed and Catherine could do nothing but listen to the terrible storm, which seemed to be warning her of hidden dangers, and pray that morning would come quickly.
A servant entered Catherine’s bedroom at eight o’clock the next morning and opened the curtains. As soon as she was alone again, Catherine leapt from her bed and gathered up the sheets of paper she had left on the floor. Then she jumped back into bed to enjoy the luxury of discovering Matilda’s secrets while resting on her pillow.
Her greedy eyes glanced rapidly over one of the pages. She was surprised by what she found and quickly looked at several more pages. All of them contained household lists of laundry items: shirts, socks, underwear, gloves, ties; or lists of household purchases: writing paper, pens, hair powder, shoes and string. These lists and nothing more were the secret documents that had filled her with excitement and robbed her of half her night’s rest! She blushed to think that she had learned nothing from her experience with the chest beside the fireplace. How could she imagine that she would find a family secret in a guest bedroom?
Catherine hurried to get ready for breakfast, hoping that Henry Tilney would never know that she had spent her first day at Northanger Abbey behaving like a fool.