The next morning brought the following very unexpected letter from Isabella:
My dearest Catherine, I received your two kind letters with the greates_elight, and have a thousand apologies to make for not answering them sooner.
I really am quite ashamed of my idleness; but in this horrid place one ca_ind time for nothing. I have had my pen in my hand to begin a letter to yo_lmost every day since you left Bath, but have always been prevented by som_illy trifler or other. Pray write to me soon, and direct to my own home.
Thank God, we leave this vile place tomorrow. Since you went away, I have ha_o pleasure in it — the dust is beyond anything; and everybody one cares fo_s gone. I believe if I could see you I should not mind the rest, for you ar_earer to me than anybody can conceive. I am quite uneasy about your dea_rother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford; and am fearful o_ome misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right: he is the onl_an I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it. Th_pring fashions are partly down; and the hats the most frightful you ca_magine. I hope you spend your time pleasantly, but am afraid you never thin_f me. I will not say all that I could of the family you are with, because _ould not be ungenerous, or set you against those you esteem; but it is ver_ifficult to know whom to trust, and young men never know their minds two day_ogether. I rejoice to say that the young man whom, of all others, _articularly abhor, has left Bath. You will know, from this description, _ust mean Captain Tilney, who, as you may remember, was amazingly disposed t_ollow and tease me, before you went away. Afterwards he got worse, and becam_uite my shadow. Many girls might have been taken in, for never were suc_ttentions; but I knew the fickle sex too well. He went away to his regimen_wo days ago, and I trust I shall never be plagued with him again. He is th_reatest coxcomb I ever saw, and amazingly disagreeable. The last two days h_as always by the side of Charlotte Davis: I pitied his taste, but took n_otice of him. The last time we met was in Bath Street, and I turned directl_nto a shop that he might not speak to me; I would not even look at him. H_ent into the pump-room afterwards; but I would not have followed him for al_he world. Such a contrast between him and your brother! Pray send me som_ews of the latter — I am quite unhappy about him; he seemed so uncomfortabl_hen he went away, with a cold, or something that affected his spirits. _ould write to him myself, but have mislaid his direction; and, as I hinte_bove, am afraid he took something in my conduct amiss. Pray explai_verything to his satisfaction; or, if he still harbours any doubt, a lin_rom himself to me, or a call at Putney when next in town, might set all t_ights. I have not been to the rooms this age, nor to the play, except goin_n last night with the Hodges, for a frolic, at half price: they teased m_nto it; and I was determined they should not say I shut myself up becaus_ilney was gone. We happened to sit by the Mitchells, and they pretended to b_uite surprised to see me out. I knew their spite: at one time they could no_e civil to me, but now they are all friendship; but I am not such a fool a_o be taken in by them. You know I have a pretty good spirit of my own. Ann_itchell had tried to put on a turban like mine, as I wore it the week befor_t the concert, but made wretched work of it — it happened to become my od_ace, I believe, at least Tilney told me so at the time, and said every ey_as upon me; but he is the last man whose word I would take. I wear nothin_ut purple now: I know I look hideous in it, but no matter — it is your dea_rother's favourite colour. Lose no time, my dearest, sweetest Catherine, i_riting to him and to me, Who ever am, etc.
Such a strain of shallow artifice could not impose even upon Catherine. It_nconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehood struck her from the very first.
She was ashamed of Isabella, and ashamed of having ever loved her. He_rofessions of attachment were now as disgusting as her excuses were empty,
and her demands impudent. "Write to James on her behalf! No, James shoul_ever hear Isabella's name mentioned by her again."
On Henry's arrival from Woodston, she made known to him and Eleanor thei_rother's safety, congratulating them with sincerity on it, and reading alou_he most material passages of her letter with strong indignation. When she ha_inished it — "So much for Isabella," she cried, "and for all our intimacy!
She must think me an idiot, or she could not have written so; but perhaps thi_as served to make her character better known to me than mine is to her. I se_hat she has been about. She is a vain coquette, and her tricks have no_nswered. I do not believe she had ever any regard either for James or for me,
and I wish I had never known her."
"It will soon be as if you never had," said Henry.
"There is but one thing that I cannot understand. I see that she has ha_esigns on Captain Tilney, which have not succeeded; but I do not understan_hat Captain Tilney has been about all this time. Why should he pay her suc_ttentions as to make her quarrel with my brother, and then fly off himself?"
"I have very little to say for Frederick's motives, such as I believe them t_ave been. He has his vanities as well as Miss Thorpe, and the chie_ifference is, that, having a stronger head, they have not yet injure_imself. If the effect of his behaviour does not justify him with you, we ha_etter not seek after the cause."
"Then you do not suppose he ever really cared about her?"
"I am persuaded that he never did."
"And only made believe to do so for mischief's sake?"
Henry bowed his assent.
"Well, then, I must say that I do not like him at all. Though it has turne_ut so well for us, I do not like him at all. As it happens, there is no grea_arm done, because I do not think Isabella has any heart to lose. But, suppos_e had made her very much in love with him?"
"But we must first suppose Isabella to have had a heart to lose — consequentl_o have been a very different creature; and, in that case, she would have me_ith very different treatment."
"It is very right that you should stand by your brother."
"And if you would stand by yours, you would not be much distressed by th_isappointment of Miss Thorpe. But your mind is warped by an innate principl_f general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings o_amily partiality, or a desire of revenge."
Catherine was complimented out of further bitterness. Frederick could not b_npardonably guilty, while Henry made himself so agreeable. She resolved o_ot answering Isabella's letter, and tried to think no more of it.