‘Oh, yes!’ cried Catherine. ‘I am at the part with the black veil.’
‘You are desperate to know what is behind the veil, aren’t you?’
‘Do not tell me! I know it must be Laurentina’s bones. Oh, I love Udolpho! I assure you that only a meeting with you could persuade me to come away from it.’
‘How charming of you. When you finish Udolpho, I have a list of ten or twelve other Gothic novels that I am certain you will love,’ Isabella said.
‘But are they all frightening and full of dark secrets and mysterious accidents?’ hoped Catherine.
‘Of course,’ Isabella assured her. ‘My friend Miss Andrews has recommended them to me. Miss Andrews is as beautiful as an angel, and I often scold men terribly for not admiring her!’
‘Scold them! Do you really scold them for not admiring her?’ asked Catherine, who was quite shocked by Isabella.
‘Yes, in fact, I told Captain Hunt at a ball this winter that even if he teased me all evening, I would not dance with him unless he admitted that Miss Andrews was beautiful. I am determined to show men that we ladies are capable of real friendship. For example, if I heard anybody say anything negative about you, I would quickly lose my temper. Of course, that will not happen, because you will always be a great favourite with the men.’
‘How can you say that?’ Catherine cried, blushing bright red. ‘Dear Catherine, Miss Andrews is really quite dull compared to you. I saw a young man watching you yesterday, and I am sure he is in love with you. Don’t look embarrassed. I understand perfectly that your heart is attached to another man, who shall remain nameless.’
‘But I may never see Mr Tilney again,’ said Catherine rather desperately. ‘Don’t say that I have lost my heart to him. I will not think about him; instead, I shall worry about the black veil.’
‘Well, my dear, we will change the subject. Have you decided what you will wear tonight? I am determined to dress exactly like you. The men take notice of that sometimes, you know.’
‘Does it mean anything?’ asked Catherine innocently.
‘Mean anything! I make it a rule to ignore what men notice or what they say. They are often very bold if you do not treat them with spirit and make them keep their distance.’
‘Are they bold? Men always behave very politely to me,’ said Catherine, feeling quite confused.
‘Oh, men think they are so important! But, listen, I have meant to ask you something: do you prefer men with dark or fair hair?’
‘I have not really thought about it,’ answered Catherine, ‘but perhaps neither. Something between the two: a medium brown.’
‘That sounds like your description of Mr Tilney’s hair, and he has dark brown eyes, if I remember correctly. I actually prefer fair hair and blue eyes better than any other, but do not reveal my preference if you know anyone like that.’
‘Why would I do that?’ Catherine asked, feeling more confused than ever.
‘Catherine, let us drop the subject for now. Let us move to the other end of the room. I believe there are two bold young men near us who have been staring at me for more than half an hour.’ The young ladies walked to the book at the front of the room. ‘Watch those two young men, dear Catherine. I hope they are not following us. I refuse to take any notice of them.’
‘There is nothing to worry about, dear Isabella,’ Catherine assured her friend. ‘They have left the Pump Room.’
‘Which way did they go?’ asked Isabella in a rush. ‘One was very good-looking.’
‘They went towards the church.’
‘Well, I am very glad that I have got rid of them!’ insisted Isabella. ‘Now please accompany me to the hat shop.’
‘That would be lovely,’ agreed Catherine, ‘but we may see those two young men if we go in that direction.’
‘I will not take any notice of them. If I did, it would spoil them and make them believe they were important.’
Catherine did not know how to argue against this logic, so she and her friend walked as quickly as possible towards the hat shop, following in the steps of the two young men.