Catherine felt too unhappy to be frightened by the journey to Fullerton, and began it without worrying about its length or about being alone. Leaning back in the corner of the carriage, crying and feeling cruelly treated, she had gone a number of miles beyond the walls of Northanger Abbey before she raised her head and looked out of the window. She recognised the road as the same one that had taken her to Woodston only ten days earlier, and she suffered even more as she thought about the difference between that trip and this one. Every mile, as it brought her nearer Woodston, added to her grief.
When the carriage passed the road that led directly to Woodston, Catherine thought of Henry and the day that she had spent at his house there. It had been one of the happiest days of her life. On that occasion the General had given her the impression that he actually wished for Henry to marry her. Yes, only ten days ago she had felt so happy about the future, and now, what had she done or not done to deserve such a change in the General’s opinion of her?
The only offence against General Tilney that Catherine could accuse herself of was her shocking suspicions about what had happened to his wife. But Catherine trusted that her secret was safe with Henry; he would not have betrayed her. It was impossible for the General to know that she once wondered if he might have murdered his wife or made her a prisoner in her own home. Of course if he did know about her suspicions, he would have a good reason to ask her to leave, but she believed in Henry and was certain that her secret was safe with him.
But more than anything, Catherine was anxious about Henry’s feelings when he returned to the Abbey and found that she had been sent away. Would he accept his father’s reasons for throwing her out? Or would he regret that she was gone and hate his father for sending her home? Would he argue with his father or remain obedient and talk only to Eleanor about his true feelings?
While thinking over many questions and struggling with doubts about herself, Catherine hardly noticed the hours and miles flying by. How would she explain to her family the circumstances surrounding her sudden return to Fullerton? Would there be any pleasure in returning home with such a story to tell? How could she make it clear to them that Henry and Eleanor were the finest, most interesting and most reliable friends she had ever known? How could she separate them from General Tilney in her family’s opinion? It would break her heart if her family judged her friends unfairly.
Finally, after a journey which had taken more than eleven hours without accident or alarm, Catherine reached Fullerton just after six thirty in the evening. We would expect a heroine to return to her native village after achieving great things, with many stories of success to be proud of. But this homecoming was very different from what you or she might have hoped for. Our heroine was returning home disappointed, alone and without hope or joy. Therefore, her carriage passed quickly through the village and Catherine hurried into her house, unwilling to meet the questioning eyes of friends and neighbours.
But you must remember that the Morland family would not have high expectations of any great achievements or successes for Catherine. Instead, although they would be surprised by her unexpected arrival, they would simply be very happy to have her at home again. The two youngest children, a boy and girl of six and four years old, looked out when they heard the carriage stop at their gate, expecting, as usual, to see a brother or sister arrive home. But when they saw that it was Catherine returning after an absence of eleven weeks, they jumped for joy, shouted for their parents and ran out to greet their older sister.
The warm, affectionate welcome that Catherine received from her parents and brothers and sisters awakened the best feelings in her heart, and she found her troubled spirit calmed; she even, at first, felt happy! But Mrs Morland noticed that the poor traveller looked pale and tired, and soon had the family seated round the tea-table. With cups of tea and sandwiches in front of them, everyone was eager to hear about Catherine’s adventures and to find out why she had come home without warning.
Quite slowly, and with much hesitation, Catherine tried to explain what had happened the night before, and although her parents were usually unwilling to criticise other people, they felt unable to pardon this insult to their daughter. They believed that General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor kindly as a gentleman or as a parent. What could have made him treat a guest so badly? Like Catherine, they could see no reason for his rude behaviour, especially after he had treated her so well for the past four weeks.
Finally, Mrs Morland ended the conversation by saying, ‘It is a strange business and General Tilney must be a strange man, but you are home now, safe and secure. It is not worth troubling yourself any further about that man’s reasons.’