They finally returned to the chief staircase and walked up to examine three large guest rooms which had been decorated in the last five years.
‘We hope to have other guests from Fullerton staying here in the future,’ said the General, and Catherine was pleased by this kind thought for her family.
At the end of this grand hall, they reached a set of large doors which Eleanor began to open. ‘No, Eleanor. Miss Morland has seen enough. There is nothing else worthy of her notice. We will retire to the library for a cup of tea after so much exercise.’
Catherine watched as the heavy doors were closed and believed that the General had excluded her from the most interesting part of the house. When she was alone with Eleanor, Catherine learned that the room in which Mrs Tilney had died was behind those doors. She imagined that the General’s guilt, not grief, kept him away from that room.
‘Has the room been kept as it was when your mother died?’ asked Catherine eagerly.
‘Yes,’ answered Eleanor, ‘even after nine years it is still exactly as she left it.’
‘I suppose that you were with her when she died?’
‘No,’ said Eleanor sadly, ‘I was unfortunately away from home. Her illness was sudden and short. It had ended before I could return.’
Horrible pictures came into Catherine’s head. Could Henry’s father have caused his wife’s death?
That evening ended quietly and as the young ladies retired, General Tilney said that he had to spend several hours in his office looking over some important papers. Catherine would not let herself believe that the General had business to take care of; she thought there was a deeper reason for his late hours, something that could only be done when the rest of the household was asleep.
Catherine analysed what she believed were the facts: Mrs Tilney’s illness was very sudden; her daughter was away from home at the time, and probably her sons were too; General Tilney was a jealous and cruel man. What was her conclusion? Perhaps Mrs Tilney was alive, shut up for unknown reasons, and receiving a nightly supply of coarse food from a husband who had never loved her. The poor woman must be a prisoner in the oldest part of the Abbey, the part that Catherine was not permitted to see. She worried that her conclusions were too bold, but then she persuaded herself that all the evidence supported her opinion.
Catherine was determined to find out more about the tragic life of Mrs Tilney, and she watched for an opportunity to visit the mysterious rooms that the General did not want her to see. Unfortunately Sunday was a busy day and Catherine had to accompany the Tilneys to church.
She sat with the family in their usual seats near the front of the church and stared directly at a very elegant monument which had been built in memory of Mrs Tilney, although Catherine did not accept this as proof of the poor woman’s death.
Our heroine’s eyes filled with tears as she read the words recorded on the monument, which described Mrs Tilney as a wonderful mother, a loyal friend, a generous neighbour, and, especially, as a loving and much-loved wife. She looked to her left and was not surprised to see that General Tilney remained unmoved; this unemotional attitude, and the proud look on his face, strengthened Catherine’s belief that he had in some way been his wife’s destroyer. She knew this type of man. She could remember dozens of such cruel animals from her novels — men who went from one crime to another, murdering whoever they chose, without any feelings of guilt or regret.
On the next day, Catherine had some time alone. Henry would not return until Tuesday, and both General Tilney and Eleanor were busy with their household duties, giving Catherine time to carry out her plan. She would go through the forbidden doors alone and search for proof of the General’s cruelty. She was sure she would find something: perhaps the veil Mrs Tilney had worn to cover her desperate sadness or the last few paragraphs in her journal, which she had written in a trembling hand.
Catherine knew the way and walked quickly and quietly through the heavy doors and on to Mrs Tilney’s room. She turned the key, opened the door and was in the room. But it was several minutes before she could take another step. What kind of horrible scene did she face? What surprise took her breath away? It was a clean, beautiful, modern, lady’s bedroom. It was filled with handsome furniture, and the bright afternoon sun poured through two large windows which looked out on the most attractive flower gardens. Catherine’s common sense told her that this had been a cheerful place; she was filled with shame. How could she have assumed so much? She was sick of exploring and analysing; she only wanted to return quickly and safely to her own bedroom and to keep all her suspicions to herself. But just as she stepped towards the door, she heard footsteps, and as she entered the hall again, she found herself face to face with Henry Tilney.
‘Mr Tilney!’ Catherine cried. ‘Why did you come up that staircase?’