When they were inside, the General, who seemed to think that Catherine would be disappointed by the house, began to defend it.
‘We are not calling it a good house. It does not compare to Northanger or to Fullerton, but we feel that it is decent, and not inferior to the houses round here. I believe that there are very few clergymen in England with a house half so good.’
When the party entered the sitting-room, which was still without furniture, Catherine was delighted and her comments satisfied even the General.
‘What a prettily shaped room!’ she cried. ‘It is the nicest room I have ever seen. And it has a beautiful view. You must decorate it soon, Mr Tilney, and enjoy it.’
‘I believe it needs a lady’s touch,’ said the General with a satisfied smile.
‘Well, if it were my house, I would always sit in this room,’ Catherine declared.
Henry entertained his guests with a wander round his garden, a look at the stables, and then a walk through the village. At four they returned to the house for a delicious meal of many courses, which the General seemed extremely pleased by.
At six o’clock, after General Tilney had had his coffee, the carriage was waiting at the front door for the return trip to Northanger Abbey. Catherine felt certain that she could not possibly misinterpret the General’s behaviour that day. It seemed clear that he expected her to become his daughter-in-law; she only wished that she could feel as confident about his son’s plans.
The next morning brought the following unexpected letter from Isabella:
My dearest Catherine,
I was delighted to receive your two kind letters and I have a thousand apologies to make for not answering them sooner. I am quite ashamed at being so idle, but in this horrible place, one can find time for nothing. Thank God we leave here tomorrow, so please direct your next letter to me at my home, and write to me soon!
I have not found any pleasure in Bath since you left. There is so much dust in the air, and everyone that I care about has left. I believe that if I could see you, I could put up with everything else because you are more precious to me than anybody can imagine.
I am worried about your dear brother, who I have not heard from since his return to Oxford. I fear that there has been some misunderstanding between us, and I am confident that you will make my position plain to him: he is the only man I ever did or ever could love. I trust you to make that perfectly clear to him.
The spring fashions are in the shops, and the hats are simply the most awful you can imagine. I hope you are having a nice time at Northanger Abbey, but I am afraid you never think of me. I will not say anything against the family you are with, although I could if I wanted to be spiteful or ungenerous. I have learned that young men change their minds from one day to the next, and I am happy to say that the young man whom I dislike more than all others has left Bath. You will guess that I mean Captain Tilney, who, as you remember, was constantly following me and teasing me in the most flirtatious manner. But I know men too well to be fooled by him. He returned to his duties in the army two days ago, and I hope that I will never be bothered by him again. In the last two days he was in Bath he was always flirting with Charlotte Davis, a rather plain girl. I refused to take any notice of him when I saw him on the street after that. What a contrast there is between him and your brother!
Please send me news of dear James. He seemed so unhappy when he left Bath, perhaps he had a cold or something else that made him feel unwell. I would write to him myself but I have lost his address in Oxford and I worry that he misinterpreted my behaviour in some way. Ask him to write to me and we will sort everything out.
I have not been going out in the evenings, except that I went to the theatre last night with the Hodges, after they teased me about staying in night after night. I had to show them that I was not staying in because Captain Tilney had gone. I went out to show everyone that I have a good spirit of my own. Do you remember Anne Mitchell? She was wearing a hat like the one I bought with you, but it did not suit her. I suppose it went with my odd face, at least Tilney told me so at the time and said every eye was looking at me. But, of course, he is the last man whose opinion I would take any notice of. I wear purple all the time now. I know it is not the best colour for me, but it is your dear brother’s favourite colour.
Lose no time, my dearest, sweetest Catherine, in writing to him and to me.
Your friend forever…
How could anyone be so false, so dishonest? Not even kind-hearted Catherine could be fooled by so many lies and so much self-interest. In fact, Catherine was ashamed of Isabella and ashamed of ever having loved her. Her excuses for her treatment of James were empty, and Catherine could not believe that she had been asked to write to her brother on Isabella’s behalf. He had suffered enough and would never hear Isabella’s name mentioned by his sister. Never again!
When Henry returned from Woodston, Catherine told him and Eleanor about the letter.
‘Your own brother has had a lucky escape,’ Catherine said sincerely. ‘And for me, I wish that I had never met Isabella Thorpe. I can see that she never had any true feelings for either James or for me.’
‘It will soon seem that you never had met,’ Henry said.
‘But please explain one more thing for me,’ Catherine replied. ‘She was obviously pursuing your brother but did not succeed. But I do not understand Captain Tilney’s behaviour in this affair. Why did he flirt with her and make her quarrel with my brother, and then walk away from her?’
‘I cannot explain my brother’s motives, but like Miss Thorpe, he thinks very highly of himself. Until this time, he has not been hurt by his flirtations,’ explained Henry. ‘I believe that he never really cared for your friend.’
‘Well, I disapprove of this sort of behaviour,’ Catherine said quite angrily, ‘and I must say that I do not like Captain Tilney at all. I suppose that no great harm has been done to me or to my brother, but what would have happened if Isabella had lost her heart to him?’
‘But we must first assume that Isabella had a heart to lose, which would make her a different young woman, and so she would have received very different treatment from my brother,’ replied Henry.
‘It is good that you defend your brother,’ said Catherine.
‘And you must defend your brother’s position and understand that he should not feel sad about losing Miss Thorpe. He has had a lucky escape. Your own sense of what is right and wrong is so strong that you have not even thought of revenge against your friend. I admire you very much for that.’
Henry’s admiration was enough to make Catherine feel better in any situation. She was determined not to think that Captain Tilney was completely evil; she decided she would never answer Isabella’s letter, and she tried not to think about what had happened in Bath between those two ever again.