Extremely Agreeable Introductions

Every morning now brought its regular duties for Catherine and Mrs Allen: visiting shops, exploring Bath, attending the Pump Room, where they walked up and down for an hour, looking at everybody and speaking to no one. Mrs Allen repeated her usual disappointment every morning: ‘Oh, my dear, I would very much like to find someone I know in this crowd!’

Then on Friday evening when they arrived in the Lower Rooms, Catherine’s fortunes improved. Mr King, whose job was to act as host, introduced Catherine to a young gentleman as her dance partner. Mr Henry Tilney was about twenty-five years old, rather tall, with a pleasing, if not quite handsome, face and, in general, an intelligent and energetic manner. He spoke politely and Catherine felt lucky to have him as a partner. When the two young people retired to the tea table, Catherine discovered that Mr Tilney was very entertaining company. After some polite conversation, he said in a dramatic whisper, ‘Miss Morland, I must apologise. I have not asked you how long you have been in Bath; if you have been here before; whether you have been in the Upper Rooms, to the theatre, to a concert. Forgive me and allow me to begin my list of questions immediately.’ Then Mr Tilney, with a bow and in an exaggerated, extremely polite voice asked, ‘Have you been in Bath long, madam?’

‘About a week, sir,’ answered Catherine, trying not to laugh.

‘A week! Really!’ replied Mr Tilney with excessive surprise.

‘Why should you be so surprised, sir?’ asked Catherine. She too was now speaking like an actor in the theatre.

‘That is a good question!’ said Tilney in his normal voice, ‘But reacting to your answers with appropriate emotions and gestures is my duty. Now let us continue. Were you ever here before, madam?’

‘Never, sir,’ replied Catherine, enjoying the game.

‘How interesting!’ cried Mr Tilney, continuing with his actor’s voice. ‘Have you been to the Upper Rooms? The theatre? The concert hall? And are you totally pleased with Bath?’

Catherine smiled at her companion and said, ‘Yes, I have been everywhere, and I like the city very much.’ She turned her head away, not knowing whether she should laugh or not.

‘Miss Morland, will you be writing unkind things about me in your journal? I predict you will say: «Friday, went to the Lower Rooms and had to dance with a silly man who bothered me with his strange conversation, delivered in a funny voice.'»

‘I would never say such a thing,’ objected Catherine.

‘May I tell you what you ought to say?’ asked Mr Tilney.

‘Please, sir.’

«‘I danced with a very agreeable young man. We enjoyed a great deal of pleasant conversation and he seemed a most extraordinary and intelligent person. I hope I get to know him better.» That, madam, is what I wish you to write in your journal.’

‘But perhaps I do not have a journal.’

‘Not have a journal! How will you re-live every dance, every flattering word, every admiring glance? My dear madam, I think writing a journal is delightful and so particularly suited to the talents of young ladies, whose usual writing style is perfectly faultless except in two areas: a lack of subject, and no attention to the essential rules that govern the English language.’

‘You do not have a very high opinion of ladies’ talents.’

‘Actually, I believe that in every area where good taste is the basis for success, high achievement is quite fairly divided between the sexes,’ finished Mr Tilney.

But then this interesting discussion was interrupted by Mrs Allen. ‘My dear Catherine, can you look at my dress? Have I torn it? It cost me more than any other dress in my wardrobe.’

‘Madam, I can see why it was so expensive,’ said Mr Tilney. ‘Miss Morland’s dress, on the other hand, is pretty but the fabric is too delicate. It will not wash well.’

Catherine began laughing and said, ‘Sir, how can you be so…’ She almost said, ‘strange’.

But Mrs Allen was delighted to talk about her favourite subject, and Mr Tilney was polite enough to continue chatting about fabrics and current fashions for another five minutes.

When Mr Tilney and Catherine returned to the dance floor, he noticed a troubled look on his partner’s face.

‘What are you thinking of so seriously?’ he asked.

Catherine blushed; she had been wondering if Mr Tilney had been too obviously teasing Mrs Allen. But she said, ‘I was not thinking of anything.’

‘You would not look so serious if something had not upset you. I would prefer to be told at once that you choose not to tell me what you are thinking.’

‘Well, then, I choose not to tell you,’ replied Catherine with clear determination.

‘Thank you,’ said her dance partner. ‘Now I can tease you about your serious, secret thoughts and opinions whenever we meet. Nothing brings people closer than a bit of teasing.’

They danced again, and when the assembly closed, Catherine, at least, hoped that there would be many more opportunities to continue their friendship. She did not intend to dream of Henry Tilney that night. As a famous writer has insisted, a young lady must not dream about a gentleman or fall in love with him before the gentleman declares his love for her.


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