From this time, the subject of the affair between Isabella Thorpe and Captain Frederick Tilney was frequently discussed and analysed by the three young people at Northanger Abbey. Catherine learned, with some surprise, that Eleanor and Henry were in perfect agreement about one thing: their father may not approve of Isabella’s behaviour, but his greatest objection to her as a wife for his elder son would be that she was not socially well connected and she had no money. Such thoughts made Catherine think with some alarm about herself. She was as socially insignificant and as poor as Isabella, and if the heir to the Tilney fortune could not propose to a woman without money, would his younger brother ever gain his father’s permission to marry someone like her? This worried Catherine, but she thought about General Tilney’s generous attitude towards her and the special attention she always received from him. Added to this, more than once she had heard him dismiss the idea that money was the most important thing in the world.
During one of their discussions, Catherine said, ‘Mr Tilney, shouldn’t you tell your father how Isabella has behaved towards my brother? Then he will be able to judge her by her character rather than by her situation in life.’
‘No,’ replied Henry. ‘Frederick must tell his own story if he asks my father for permission to marry Miss Thorpe. But I must emphasise to you that I do not believe that will ever happen.’ The household went about its business with no news from Captain Tilney, and so the General, who knew nothing about his elder son’s connection to Miss Thorpe, was able to spend his time and energy making Catherine’s time at Northanger pass pleasantly. He often expressed his anxiety about this task, worrying that she would be bored with the quiet life they led. He wished that there were more young people in the area, or more types of entertainment. He talked about hosting a large dinner party or even a ball, but it was a dead time of year and many of their friends were not at present in the neighbourhood. His worries ended one morning, at last, when he told Henry that he would bring Eleanor and Miss Morland to dinner at his son’s house the next time Henry was at Woodston.
‘And when do you think, sir, I may look forward to this pleasure?’ asked Henry. ‘I am going to Woodston on Monday and will have business there for at least two or three days.’
‘Well, we will take our chances on one of those days,’ General Tilney answered. ‘There is no need to make a firm date. We do not expect anything fancy, just whatever you have in the house will be enough. We know that a single man cannot be expected to produce anything grand. What about Wednesday? Yes, you may expect us early on Wednesday.’
A ball itself could not have pleased Catherine more than a visit to Henry’s house in Woodston, and her heart was full of joy with the idea of becoming acquainted with the place. Nevertheless she was both surprised and a little sad when Henry found her and Eleanor in the sitting-room an hour later and said, ‘I am here, young ladies, to say that our pleasures in this world must always be paid for. Look at me at this moment. Because I look forward to seeing you both in my own house on Wednesday, I must leave now, two days before I had intended to go, and I would much rather stay.’
‘But must you go?’ Catherine asked with a very sad face.
‘Yes, I must! My old cook will be frightened half to death about preparing a dinner for my father. She will need as much time as possible to prepare everything.’
‘But the General told you not to give yourself any trouble,’ said Catherine.
Henry only smiled, and as he left he said, ‘I wish I could reason like you.’
Catherine always doubted her judgement and agreed with Henry’s, so she had to think about this. How could people understand each other if they said one thing so positively and meant something else? Only Henry and Eleanor could interpret what their father’s words really meant.
The hours from Saturday to Wednesday passed very slowly for Catherine. Everything was quieter, even rather dull, without Henry. Then she worried that Captain Tilney might arrive, and she could not imagine acting politely towards him. She thought a lot about her brother, and felt sad at having lost Isabella’s friendship. Her only feeling towards Northanger Abbey itself was now one of embarrassment, and the idea of a country parish with a comfortable house was much more attractive to her.
Finally Wednesday arrived and by ten o’clock the carriage left the Abbey with General Tilney, Eleanor and Catherine inside, and after an agreeable drive of about twenty miles they entered Woodston, a large village in pleasant countryside. Catherine looked around and believed that she preferred it to any place she had ever seen.