‘I always use that staircase. It is the easiest route from the stables to my apartment. And why shouldn’t I use it? But may I ask why you were using that staircase? It does not connect with the passage to your room.’

‘I have been to see your mother’s room,’ Catherine explained, blushing deeply.

‘Really? Is there anything extraordinary to see there?’

‘No, nothing at all,’ said Catherine. Then she quickly added, ‘I thought you were not coming back until tomorrow.’

‘I finished my business earlier than expected. You look pale. Did I alarm you by running so fast up those stairs?’

‘Oh, no. And did you have good weather for your ride?’

‘Well, yes. But has Eleanor ignored you and left you to find your way into all the rooms in the house by yourself?’

‘Oh, no, don’t say that. She showed me most of the house on Saturday, and we were coming into these rooms, but then,’ whispered Catherine, ‘then your father stopped us.’

‘Have you looked into all of the rooms in this part of the house?’

‘No, I only wanted to see… Isn’t it late? I must hurry and get dressed for dinner,’ said Catherine nervously.

‘It is only a quarter past four,’ said Henry as they walked along the passage. For the first time in their acquaintance, Catherine wished to leave him, but he continued chatting. ‘My mother’s room is very attractive, isn’t it? Large and cheerful, with such a wonderful view. I am surprised that Eleanor does not use it for herself. She sent you to look at it, I suppose.’

‘No,’ said Catherine without adding any explanation.

‘So it was your own decision to visit my mother’s room. Since there is nothing out of the ordinary there, I assume you went there to honour my mother’s memory. I am sure that Eleanor has told you that the world never saw a better woman… but I still cannot understand the reason for your visit. What else did my sister say to make you curious about Mother’s room?’

Slowly and with some hesitation, Catherine said, ‘She said that her dying was very sudden, and that none of you were at home at the time, and I thought, perhaps, your father had not been very fond of her.’

‘And from this little information, you have come to the conclusion that my mother was badly treated in some way?’ He continued, with cold eyes fixed on Catherine, ‘My mother’s illness, which ended in her death, was sudden, but she had suffered from the same illness for years. Her doctors, very respected, capable medical men, were called and looked after her until she died on the fifth day. Frederick and I were at home and visited her repeatedly; she received every possible attention which we could offer.’

‘But was your father,’ said Catherine, ‘equally attentive during her illness? Was he full of grief and sorrow when she died?’

‘Miss Morland, you have misjudged my father. He loved my mother as well as he could, and although I know that he was not the easiest man to live with, he valued her highly and sincerely, and he was truly, if not permanently, affected by her death.’

‘I am very glad to hear that,’ Catherine began. ‘It would have been very shocking otherwise!’

‘If I understand what you are implying, you had come to a conclusion that is too horrible for me to put into words. What have you been basing your wild suspicions on? Do we not live in a civilised society where laws and customs guide us? Do you not know us well enough to accept us as part of that society? We are not characters in a Gothic novel, Miss Morland.’

They had reached the end of the passage, and with tears of shame our heroine ran off to her own room. She hid there, considering every disappointment that she now might have to face. She was terribly humbled and she cried bitter tears. Would General Tilney learn what she had imagined? Would she lose Eleanor’s friendship and possibly Henry’s love? She hated herself more than she could express, but when the clock struck five, she knew that she had to appear for dinner although both her heart and spirit were broken.

Henry was more polite than ever, seeming to know that Catherine was in need of a kind word and careful attention. Gradually Catherine began to feel better, and she started to hope that her foolishness had not cost her all of Henry’s friendship.

She had arrived at Northanger Abbey hoping to be frightened, and she had willingly turned what she saw and heard into a tragedy which could be traced back to the pages of the Gothic novels she loved to read. Charming as Mrs Radcliffe’s books were, it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the middle counties of England, could be looked for and understood. Maybe Mrs Radcliffe and her fellow novelists understood the character of the people beside the lakes and in the pine forests of the continent, but in the central part of England murders were uncommon, servants were not slaves, and neither poison nor sleeping pills could be bought at a local chemist’s, like potatoes at a grocer’s. She now believed that there was a mixture of good and evil in the English character rather than the black and white described in her Gothic novels.

With these thoughts in mind, Catherine decided that she would use her good sense in the future, and because of Henry’s continued kindness and his unwillingness to refer to what had happened, she was able to be happy again. She listened to Henry with the greatest attention, knowing that she would be improved by what she learned from him. She still trembled when she glanced at the chest or the black cupboard in her bedroom, but she admitted that these reminders of her past foolishness were probably good for her.


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