It took at least fifteen minutes for Mrs Morland to find her book of essays, and then she had a few other tasks to complete before she could return to her daughter. And when she was able to return, she was surprised to find a visitor there, someone whom she had never seen before.
With a look of much respect, the young man immediately rose, and Catherine introduced Mr Henry Tilney to her mother.
Mr Tilney quickly began to apologise to Mrs Morland. ‘I am sorry to arrive here without an invitation. I know that you cannot welcome a visitor from Northanger Abbey after what happened to Miss Morland there, but I was impatient to know that she had arrived home safely.’
Mrs Morland had never blamed Henry or his sister for their father’s rude behaviour, and now she was very pleased by this young man’s appearance and by his sincere apology.
‘Thank you, Mr Tilney, for your kind treatment of Catherine. I believe you have nothing to apologise for. You, and any friends of our children, are always welcome to visit us at Fullerton.’ Then she continued with a list of polite questions about Mr Tilney’s journey, the weather and the condition of the roads.
Meanwhile Catherine remained silent, but her mother could see from her bright eyes and rosy cheeks that she was very pleased by Mr Tilney’s presence, and Mrs Morland slipped the book of essays into a convenient drawer for a future hour.
Eventually Mrs Morland exhausted her supply of polite questions, and Henry turned to Catherine for the first time since her mother’s entrance and asked, ‘Are Mr and Mrs Allen now at Fullerton?’
Catherine struggled to calm her nerves and answer sensibly, but finally made it clear that the Allens were at home.
‘I would like to pay my respects to them,’ Mr Tilney said. His face was now almost as red as Catherine’s. ‘I wonder if you would be kind enough to show me the way to their house, Miss Morland?’
‘You can see it from that window,’ interrupted Sarah, who continued to sew quietly but was keeping an eye on what was happening.
Mr Tilney bowed politely, but Mrs Morland gave her younger daughter a silencing nod. They both understood that seeing the Allens was not the primary purpose of Mr Tilney’s invitation. Mrs Morland thought that he might want to explain his father’s behaviour to Catherine in private, and she did not intend to put any barriers in the way of that conversation; she encouraged Catherine to walk to the Allens’ house with Mr Tilney.
Mrs Morland was correct: Henry Tilney did want to explain his father’s rudeness — a difficult task for a son — but that was not his primary reason for wanting to talk to Catherine. Above all, he wanted to explain himself, and before they reached the Allens’ house he had done that extremely well. In fact it was a speech that Catherine thought could not be repeated too often. Henry assured her of his affection, and asked if he could hope that she also loved him — something that you will have no doubts about by this time.
Henry was sincerely and completely attached to our heroine; he was delighted by her character and truly loved spending all his time with her. But you must understand that his love and affection for Catherine had its origin in something quite simple; he had recognised that she seemed to admire everything about him, and for this he was very grateful. So on this basis, although Henry would not have been able to explain his reasons to himself, he proposed marriage to Miss Catherine Morland.
The visit to Mr and Mrs Allen’s house was very short.
Both Catherine and Henry were thinking of something much more important than chatting about Bath. Henry was polite, Catherine scarcely said a word, and soon the young couple were happily walking along the path together again, with nothing to do except think of their future life together.
Can you imagine the joy that filled our heroine’s heart? She floated along beside Mr Tilney in a cloud of happiness, as he talked about this and that. But she listened carefully when her dear Henry said that he did not have his father’s permission to approach her. On his return from Woodston, two days earlier, he had been met near the Abbey by his impatient father. In very angry terms the General had insisted that Henry should never think of Miss Catherine Morland again.
This information shocked Catherine, but more important was the fact that Henry wanted to marry her. Knowing that she was loved gave her the courage to try to understand the motives for General Tilney’s actions and for his disapproval of her.
As Henry’s story unfolded, her curiosity turned to delight. His father had found no reason to criticise Catherine’s behaviour or her character; he was, instead, disappointed by his own actions and ashamed of having been misled by Mr John Thorpe. Catherine, it seemed, was guilty of only one thing in the General’s opinion: she was less rich than he had supposed her to be.
The General had been deceived by John Thorpe at their first meeting, at the theatre in Bath. On that occasion, Henry had been talking to Catherine and the General had asked Mr Thorpe if he knew the young lady. John Thorpe had a misleading, and even dangerous, habit of exaggerating the importance and wealth of his friends and acquaintances; he seemed to think that this made him more important in the eyes of the world. When he had become friends with James Morland, he had reported to his family that he had met a young man from a very grand family; then, introducing James to Isabella, he had doubled the amount of his friend’s living, multiplied his private fortune by three or four times, invented a rich aunt for him, and forgot about half of James’s brothers and sisters.