A Complicated Social Life

The young ladies’ progress was stopped at the busiest crossroads in Bath. Every day parties of ladies out on important tasks like buying cakes, trying on hats, or even (as in the present case) searching the roads for two young men, were held up by the traffic at this corner.

‘We shall be kept here for a terribly long time,’ Isabella complained. ‘Look at this carriage coming towards us. What dangerous driving!’ But Isabella’s attitude changed when she looked again. ‘How delightful! It is Mr Morland and my brother!’

‘Good heavens! It is James!’ uttered Catherine when she saw her blond, blue-eyed brother.

John Thorpe and James Morland got out of their carriage, and although Catherine was totally surprised by the arrival of her brother, she greeted him with the most sincere pleasure. James could not say much to his sister for the moment because Miss Thorpe clearly intended to gain his attention with her flirtatious eyes and sweet smiles. James responded to Isabella with a mixture of joy and embarrassment which, if she had been more of an expert in matters of the heart, might have given Catherine a clue to the reason for her brother’s visit.

John Thorpe, a rather fat young man of medium height with a plain face and ungraceful style, immediately claimed everyone’s attention. Looking at his watch, he shouted, ‘Twenty-five miles from Tetbury to Bath in two and a half hours! We left Tetbury as the town clock struck eleven.’

‘You have lost an hour, John,’ James Morland corrected him. We left the inn at Tetbury at ten o’clock.’

‘Miss Morland, your brother is dreaming. My horse could never take over three hours for such a journey. And have you noticed my carriage? I just gave fifty pounds for it to a friend at Oxford. Now, lead the way to Mother’s lodgings, Isabella.’ Isabella was so happy to take James’s arm and when they passed the two offensive young men from the Pump Room, she only looked back at them three times.

Mr Thorpe accompanied Catherine, and no sooner had they begun their walk than he started to talk about his superior carriage again.

‘Do you like an open carriage, Miss Morland?’

‘Very much, but I have few opportunities of being in one.’

‘I shall drive you to Lansdown Hill tomorrow, and I shall take you out in my carriage every day that I am in Bath.’

Catherine was not sure if this was an appropriate arrangement, but she said, ‘Thank you, but won’t your horse need a rest?’

‘Never! That horse has only covered twenty-five miles today. Too much rest ruins a good horse. I am an expert on horses and tomorrow you and I will drive to Lansdown, Miss Morland.’ Isabella was listening to her brother and turned and said, ‘And what about me?’

‘Isabella, I did not come to Bath to drive my sisters around, especially not those two ugly younger ones. Anyway, Morland must take care of you.’ And turning towards Catherine, he said, ‘Miss Morland, let us be dance partners this evening. It is always good to get these annoying arrangements out of the way.’

After getting her agreement, Mr Thorpe seemed to give up chatting with Catherine. Instead, he made comments to her about the appearance of every woman they passed. Some he said were pretty, some fat, some old, some almost handsome. Although Catherine was very inexperienced, she doubted if Mr Thorpe was behaving very politely, so she tried to change the direction of his comments.

‘Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr Thorpe?’

‘Lord, no! There has not been a good novel since Tom Jones.’

‘You might like Udolpho; it is so interesting,’ said Catherine.

‘No, if I read any, it will be one of Mrs Radcliff’s; she knows something about real life,’ said Mr Thorpe confidently.

Catherine did not want to embarrass Mr Thorpe, but she had to say, ‘Udolpho was written by Mrs Radcliff.’

‘Was it? Oh, yes,’ Mr Thorpe replied. ‘I was thinking of that other stupid book by that woman who married a foreigner. Keep away from anything she has written.’

Once again Catherine felt that she had misunderstood the reasoning behind someone’s opinions.


When James Morland visited his sister and Mr and Mrs Allen at their lodgings later that afternoon, he asked, ‘Well, Catherine, how do you like my friend Thorpe?’

If John Thorpe had had no connection to her brother or to her new friend, and if there had been no invitations for carriage rides and dance partners, Catherine would have said, ‘I do not like him at all.’ But under the present circumstances, she said, ‘I like him very much; he seems very agreeable.’

‘He is a good-natured fellow. Perhaps a little too full of opinions sometimes, but you girls like that in a gentleman, don’t you? And how do you like the rest of the family?’

‘Oh, very much, especially Isabella,’ Catherine said happily.

‘I am very glad to hear you say that,’ said James. ‘She has so much good sense and is so friendly and kind. Since I met her, I have wanted you to meet her and now I learn that she already has a very high opinion of you. I am sure you may be very proud of receiving praise from a girl like Miss Thorpe. And I am sure she is greatly admired in a place like Bath, isn’t she?’


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