An hour passed away before the general came in, spent, on the part of hi_oung guest, in no very favourable consideration of his character. "Thi_engthened absence, these solitary rambles, did not speak a mind at ease, or _onscience void of reproach." At length he appeared; and, whatever might hav_een the gloom of his meditations, he could still smile with them. Mis_ilney, understanding in part her friend's curiosity to see the house, soo_evived the subject; and her father being, contrary to Catherine'_xpectations, unprovided with any pretence for further delay, beyond that o_topping five minutes to order refreshments to be in the room by their return,
was at last ready to escort them.
They set forward; and, with a grandeur of air, a dignified step, which caugh_he eye, but could not shake the doubts of the well-read Catherine, he led th_ay across the hall, through the common drawing-room and one useles_ntechamber, into a room magnificent both in size and furniture — the rea_rawing-room, used only with company of consequence. It was very noble — ver_rand — very charming! — was all that Catherine had to say, for he_ndiscriminating eye scarcely discerned the colour of the satin; and al_inuteness of praise, all praise that had much meaning, was supplied by th_eneral: the costliness or elegance of any room's fitting-up could be nothin_o her; she cared for no furniture of a more modern date than the fifteent_entury. When the general had satisfied his own curiosity, in a clos_xamination of every well-known ornament, they proceeded into the library, a_partment, in its way, of equal magnificence, exhibiting a collection o_ooks, on which an humble man might have looked with pride. Catherine heard,
admired, and wondered with more genuine feeling than before — gathered al_hat she could from this storehouse of knowledge, by running over the title_f half a shelf, and was ready to proceed. But suites of apartments did no_pring up with her wishes. Large as was the building, she had already visite_he greatest part; though, on being told that, with the addition of th_itchen, the six or seven rooms she had now seen surrounded three sides of th_ourt, she could scarcely believe it, or overcome the suspicion of there bein_any chambers secreted. It was some relief, however, that they were to retur_o the rooms in common use, by passing through a few of less importance,
looking into the court, which, with occasional passages, not wholl_nintricate, connected the different sides; and she was further soothed in he_rogress by being told that she was treading what had once been a cloister,
having traces of cells pointed out, and observing several doors that wer_either opened nor explained to her — by finding herself successively in _illiard-room, and in the general's private apartment, without comprehendin_heir connection, or being able to turn aright when she left them; and lastly,
by passing through a dark little room, owning Henry's authority, and strewe_ith his litter of books, guns, and greatcoats.
From the dining-room, of which, though already seen, and always to be seen a_ive o'clock, the general could not forgo the pleasure of pacing out th_ength, for the more certain information of Miss Morland, as to what sh_either doubted nor cared for, they proceeded by quick communication to th_itchen — the ancient kitchen of the convent, rich in the massy walls an_moke of former days, and in the stoves and hot closets of the present. Th_eneral's improving hand had not loitered here: every modern invention t_acilitate the labour of the cooks had been adopted within this, thei_pacious theatre; and, when the genius of others had failed, his own had ofte_roduced the perfection wanted. His endowments of this spot alone might at an_ime have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent.
With the walls of the kitchen ended all the antiquity of the abbey; the fourt_ide of the quadrangle having, on account of its decaying state, been remove_y the general's father, and the present erected in its place. All that wa_enerable ceased here. The new building was not only new, but declared itsel_o be so; intended only for offices, and enclosed behind by stable-yards, n_niformity of architecture had been thought necessary. Catherine could hav_aved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value o_ll the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingl_ave been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had th_eneral allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of hi_ffices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland's, a vie_f the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors wer_oftened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading he_n. They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond he_xpectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes fo_hich a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deeme_ufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions,
commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did no_trike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, som_attened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off.
Yet this was an abbey! How inexpressibly different in these domesti_rrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, i_hich, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of th_ouse was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they coul_et through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw wha_as necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.
They returned to the hall, that the chief staircase might be ascended, and th_eauty of its wood, and ornaments of rich carving might be pointed out: havin_ained the top, they turned in an opposite direction from the gallery in whic_er room lay, and shortly entered one on the same plan, but superior in lengt_nd breadth. She was here shown successively into three large bed-chambers,
with their dressing-rooms, most completely and handsomely fitted up;
everything that money and taste could do, to give comfort and elegance t_partments, had been bestowed on these; and, being furnished within the las_ive years, they were perfect in all that would be generally pleasing, an_anting in all that could give pleasure to Catherine. As they were surveyin_he last, the general, after slightly naming a few of the distinguishe_haracters by whom they had at times been honoured, turned with a smilin_ountenance to Catherine, and ventured to hope that henceforward some of thei_arliest tenants might be "our friends from Fullerton." She felt th_nexpected compliment, and deeply regretted the impossibility of thinking wel_f a man so kindly disposed towards herself, and so full of civility to al_er family.
The gallery was terminated by folding doors, which Miss Tilney, advancing, ha_hrown open, and passed through, and seemed on the point of doing the same b_he first door to the left, in another long reach of gallery, when th_eneral, coming forwards, called her hastily, and, as Catherine thought,
rather angrily back, demanding whether she were going? — And what was ther_ore to be seen? — Had not Miss Morland already seen all that could be wort_er notice? — And did she not suppose her friend might be glad of som_efreshment after so much exercise? Miss Tilney drew back directly, and th_eavy doors were closed upon the mortified Catherine, who, having seen, in _omentary glance beyond them, a narrower passage, more numerous openings, an_ymptoms of a winding staircase, believed herself at last within the reach o_omething worth her notice; and felt, as she unwillingly paced back th_allery, that she would rather be allowed to examine that end of the hous_han see all the finery of all the rest. The general's evident desire o_reventing such an examination was an additional stimulant. Something wa_ertainly to be concealed; her fancy, though it had trespassed lately once o_wice, could not mislead her here; and what that something was, a shor_entence of Miss Tilney's, as they followed the general at some distanc_ownstairs, seemed to point out: "I was going to take you into what was m_other's room — the room in which she died — " were all her words; but few a_hey were, they conveyed pages of intelligence to Catherine. It was no wonde_hat the general should shrink from the sight of such objects as that roo_ust contain; a room in all probability never entered by him since th_readful scene had passed, which released his suffering wife, and left him t_he stings of conscience.
She ventured, when next alone with Eleanor, to express her wish of bein_ermitted to see it, as well as all the rest of that side of the house; an_leanor promised to attend her there, whenever they should have a convenien_our. Catherine understood her: the general must be watched from home, befor_hat room could be entered. "It remains as it was, I suppose?" said she, in _one of feeling.
"And how long ago may it be that your mother died?"
"She has been dead these nine years." And nine years, Catherine knew, was _rifle of time, compared with what generally elapsed after the death of a_njured wife, before her room was put to rights.
"You were with her, I suppose, to the last?"
"No," said Miss Tilney, sighing; "I was unfortunately from home. Her illnes_as sudden and short; and, before I arrived it was all over."
Catherine's blood ran cold with the horrid suggestions which naturally spran_rom these words. Could it be possible? Could Henry's father — ? And yet ho_any were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions! And, when sh_aw him in the evening, while she worked with her friend, slowly pacing th_rawing-room for an hour together in silent thoughtfulness, with downcast eye_nd contracted brow, she felt secure from all possibility of wronging him. I_as the air and attitude of a Montoni! What could more plainly speak th_loomy workings of a mind not wholly dead to every sense of humanity, in it_earful review of past scenes of guilt? Unhappy man! And the anxiousness o_er spirits directed her eyes towards his figure so repeatedly, as to catc_iss Tilney's notice. "My father," she whispered, "often walks about the roo_n this way; it is nothing unusual."
"So much the worse!" thought Catherine; such ill-timed exercise was of a piec_ith the strange unseasonableness of his morning walks, and boded nothin_ood.
After an evening, the little variety and seeming length of which made he_eculiarly sensible of Henry's importance among them, she was heartily glad t_e dismissed; though it was a look from the general not designed for he_bservation which sent his daughter to the bell. When the butler would hav_it his master's candle, however, he was forbidden. The latter was not goin_o retire. "I have many pamphlets to finish," said he to Catherine, "before _an close my eyes, and perhaps may be poring over the affairs of the natio_or hours after you are asleep. Can either of us be more meetly employed? M_yes will be blinding for the good of others, and yours preparing by rest fo_uture mischief."
But neither the business alleged, nor the magnificent compliment, could wi_atherine from thinking that some very different object must occasion s_erious a delay of proper repose. To be kept up for hours, after the famil_ere in bed, by stupid pamphlets was not very likely. There must be som_eeper cause: something was to be done which could be done only while th_ousehold slept; and the probability that Mrs. Tilney yet lived, shut up fo_auses unknown, and receiving from the pitiless hands of her husband a nightl_upply of coarse food, was the conclusion which necessarily followed. Shockin_s was the idea, it was at least better than a death unfairly hastened, as, i_he natural course of things, she must ere long be released. The suddenness o_er reputed illness, the absence of her daughter, and probably of her othe_hildren, at the time — all favoured the supposition of her imprisonment. It_rigin — jealousy perhaps, or wanton cruelty — was yet to be unravelled.
In revolving these matters, while she undressed, it suddenly struck her as no_nlikely that she might that morning have passed near the very spot of thi_nfortunate woman's confinement — might have been within a few paces of th_ell in which she languished out her days; for what part of the abbey could b_ore fitted for the purpose than that which yet bore the traces of monasti_ivision? In the high-arched passage, paved with stone, which already she ha_rodden with peculiar awe, she well remembered the doors of which the genera_ad given no account. To what might not those doors lead? In support of th_lausibility of this conjecture, it further occurred to her that the forbidde_allery, in which lay the apartments of the unfortunate Mrs. Tilney, must be,
as certainly as her memory could guide her, exactly over this suspected rang_f cells, and the staircase by the side of those apartments of which she ha_aught a transient glimpse, communicating by some secret means with thos_ells, might well have favoured the barbarous proceedings of her husband. Dow_hat staircase she had perhaps been conveyed in a state of well-prepare_nsensibility!
Catherine sometimes started at the boldness of her own surmises, and sometime_oped or feared that she had gone too far; but they were supported by suc_ppearances as made their dismissal impossible.
The side of the quadrangle, in which she supposed the guilty scene to b_cting, being, according to her belief, just opposite her own, it struck he_hat, if judiciously watched, some rays of light from the general's lamp migh_limmer through the lower windows, as he passed to the prison of his wife;
and, twice before she stepped into bed, she stole gently from her room to th_orresponding window in the gallery, to see if it appeared; but all abroad wa_ark, and it must yet be too early. The various ascending noises convinced he_hat the servants must still be up. Till midnight, she supposed it would be i_ain to watch; but then, when the clock had struck twelve, and all was quiet,
she would, if not quite appalled by darkness, steal out and look once more.
The clock struck twelve — and Catherine had been half an hour asleep.