‘I do not think we will discover his reasons,’ answered Mrs Morland. ‘I feel sorry for his own children, who must have a difficult time with him as their father. But you managed well on your long trip, Catherine, and I am very proud of you. I believe you have grown up quite a lot in the last eleven weeks. I am glad I did not know of your journey while it was happening, but now it has ended perhaps there is no great harm done. You are not the same little girl that we said goodbye to eleven weeks ago. You have grown up and can take care of yourself now.’
Catherine hoped that her mother was right about that, but her spirits were quite worn down and she longed to be silent and alone. She was happy to agree to her mother’s suggestion that she should go to bed early and gain the benefit of a good night’s rest. Her parents knew she was tired and disappointed, but they had not guessed that she was also suffering from a broken heart. Perhaps it is odd that with a young daughter of seventeen just returning from her first adventure away from home, they had not thought of that.
As soon as breakfast had ended the next morning, Catherine sat down to write the promised letter to her friend at Northanger Abbey. She regretted the cold manner in which she had left Eleanor Tilney, and the fact that she had never valued her kindness and character enough. But most of all, she worried about leaving Eleanor to deal with General Tilney and his difficult nature. She wanted her letter to say how grateful she was without reminding Eleanor of how the visit had ended. She wanted to be careful without being cold, honest without placing blame. She did not want to cause Eleanor any pain, and she did not want to embarrass herself in case Henry saw the letter. In the end, Catherine wrote a very short note in which she expressed her grateful thanks and her affectionate good wishes for Eleanor and her brother, and in which she returned the money Eleanor had given her for her journey.
‘This is a very strange friendship,’ said Mrs Morland when Catherine had finished her letter. ‘Soon made and soon ended. I am sorry that you were disappointed, because Mrs Allen had only good things to say about the Tilney children. And you were so unlucky with your friend Isabella too. And poor James! Well, we must live and learn; I hope your next new friends will be more worth keeping.’
Catherine’s cheeks went red as she warmly answered, ‘No friend can be more worth keeping than Eleanor.’
‘If that is true, Catherine, I hope that you and she will meet again some time in the next few years. It is very likely to happen — imagine what a pleasure it will be to see her again.’
But Catherine was not thinking only of Eleanor as she listened to her mother’s kind, but painful words. What would happen to Henry Tilney if she did not meet him for a few years? Her eyes filled with tears as she imagined such a meeting. He might have forgotten her and have met another young woman who attracted him. The next time she saw him, he might be a married man with a family of his own — he might not even recognise her!
Mrs Morland was disturbed by her daughter’s tears and proposed a visit to Mrs Allen. And so mother and daughter began the walk to their neighbour’s house, which was less than a quarter of a mile distant. As they walked, Mrs Morland gave Catherine her opinion of James’s broken engagement.
‘Of course we are sorry for James, but it is good that the engagement has ended, and there is no harm done in the end. We did not know Miss Thorpe, and she had no personal fortune. And now, after such improper behaviour, we have a very poor opinion of her. James will recover, and I am sure that he will use better judgement next time.’
Her mother’s thoughts made Catherine reflect on the changes in her own circumstances. Three months ago she had been full of happy expectations and had run between her home and the Allens’ house ten times a day with a light heart and an independent spirit, looking forward to new pleasures and without a care in the world. She could picture herself three months ago, and now what a different young woman she was!
The Allens were surprised, but very glad, to see Catherine, and they too were very angry and displeased on learning how she had been treated by General Tilney.
‘Catherine surprised us yesterday evening,’ reported Mrs Morland. ‘She travelled all the way in a carriage by herself and knew nothing about her journey until late Saturday night. General Tilney returned home with the strange idea that he was tired of having her in his house. He must be a very odd man, very unfriendly certainly, but we are so glad to have Catherine with us again. And it is a great comfort to find that she is not a poor helpless creature, but can manage very well for herself.’
Mrs Allen was shocked. She filled every pause in the conversation by saying, ‘I really have no patience with the General.’ But she did not allow for many pauses. ‘Bath is a nice place, Catherine, after all,’ she said brightly. ‘I did not like the idea of leaving. Did I tell you that I tore my blue dress? I had it mended before we left Bath and you cannot see the tear. And Mrs Thorpe was such a comfort to us, wasn’t she? You know, you and I were quite lonely at first.’