Catherine was too wretched to be fearful. The journey in itself had no terror_or her; and she began it without either dreading its length or feeling it_olitariness. Leaning back in one comer of the carriage, in a violent burst o_ears, she was conveyed some miles beyond the walls of the abbey before sh_aised her head; and the highest point of ground within the park was almos_losed from her view before she was capable of turning her eyes towards it.
Unfortunately, the road she now travelled was the same which only ten days ag_he had so happily passed along in going to and from Woodston; and, fo_ourteen miles, every bitter feeling was rendered more severe by the review o_bjects on which she had first looked under impressions so different. Ever_ile, as it brought her nearer Woodston, added to her sufferings, and whe_ithin the distance of five, she passed the turning which led to it, an_hought of Henry, so near, yet so unconscious, her grief and agitation wer_xcessive.
The day which she had spent at that place had been one of the happiest of he_ife. It was there, it was on that day, that the general had made use of suc_xpressions with regard to Henry and herself, had so spoken and so looked a_o give her the most positive conviction of his actually wishing thei_arriage. Yes, only ten days ago had he elated her by his pointed regard — ha_e even confused her by his too significant reference! And now — what had sh_one, or what had she omitted to do, to merit such a change?
The only offence against him of which she could accuse herself had been suc_s was scarcely possible to reach his knowledge. Henry and her own heart onl_ere privy to the shocking suspicions which she had so idly entertained; an_qually safe did she believe her secret with each. Designedly, at least, Henr_ould not have betrayed her. If, indeed, by any strange mischance his fathe_hould have gained intelligence of what she had dared to think and look for,
of her causeless fancies and injurious examinations, she could not wonder a_ny degree of his indignation. If aware of her having viewed him as _urderer, she could not wonder at his even turning her from his house. But _ustification so full of torture to herself, she trusted, would not be in hi_ower.
Anxious as were all her conjectures on this point, it was not, however, th_ne on which she dwelt most. There was a thought yet nearer, a mor_revailing, more impetuous concern. How Henry would think, and feel, and look,
when he returned on the morrow to Northanger and heard of her being gone, wa_ question of force and interest to rise over every other, to be neve_easing, alternately irritating and soothing; it sometimes suggested the drea_f his calm acquiescence, and at others was answered by the sweetes_onfidence in his regret and resentment. To the general, of course, he woul_ot dare to speak; but to Eleanor — what might he not say to Eleanor abou_er?
In this unceasing recurrence of doubts and inquiries, on any one article o_hich her mind was incapable of more than momentary repose, the hours passe_way, and her journey advanced much faster than she looked for. The pressin_nxieties of thought, which prevented her from noticing anything before her,
when once beyond the neighbourhood of Woodston, saved her at the same tim_rom watching her progress; and though no object on the road could engage _oment's attention, she found no stage of it tedious. From this, she wa_reserved too by another cause, by feeling no eagerness for her journey'_onclusion; for to return in such a manner to Fullerton was almost to destro_he pleasure of a meeting with those she loved best, even after an absenc_uch as hers — an eleven weeks' absence. What had she to say that would no_umble herself and pain her family, that would not increase her own grief b_he confession of it, extend an useless resentment, and perhaps involve th_nnocent with the guilty in undistinguishing ill will? She could never d_ustice to Henry and Eleanor's merit; she felt it too strongly for expression;
and should a dislike be taken against them, should they be thought o_nfavourably, on their father's account, it would cut her to the heart.
With these feelings, she rather dreaded than sought for the first view of tha_ell-known spire which would announce her within twenty miles of home.
Salisbury she had known to be her point on leaving Northanger; but after th_irst stage she had been indebted to the post-masters for the names of th_laces which were then to conduct her to it; so great had been her ignoranc_f her route. She met with nothing, however, to distress or frighten her. He_outh, civil manners, and liberal pay procured her all the attention that _raveller like herself could require; and stopping only to change horses, sh_ravelled on for about eleven hours without accident or alarm, and between si_nd seven o'clock in the evening found herself entering Fullerton.
A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in al_he triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with _ong train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-
maids in a travelling chaise and four, behind her, is an event on which th_en of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to ever_onclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows.
But my affair is widely different; I bring back my heroine to her home i_olitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me int_inuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise is such a blow upon sentiment, a_o attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly therefore shall he_ost-boy drive through the village, amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speed_hall be her descent from it.
But, whatever might be the distress of Catherine's mind, as she thus advance_owards the parsonage, and whatever the humiliation of her biographer i_elating it, she was preparing enjoyment of no everyday nature for those t_hom she went; first, in the appearance of her carriage — and secondly, i_erself. The chaise of a traveller being a rare sight in Fullerton, the whol_amily were immediately at the window; and to have it stop at the sweep-gat_as a pleasure to brighten every eye and occupy every fancy — a pleasure quit_nlooked for by all but the two youngest children, a boy and girl of six an_our years old, who expected a brother or sister in every carriage. Happy th_lance that first distinguished Catherine! Happy the voice that proclaimed th_iscovery! But whether such happiness were the lawful property of George o_arriet could never be exactly understood.
Her father, mother, Sarah, George, and Harriet, all assembled at the door t_elcome her with affectionate eagerness, was a sight to awaken the bes_eelings of Catherine's heart; and in the embrace of each, as she stepped fro_he carriage, she found herself soothed beyond anything that she had believe_ossible. So surrounded, so caressed, she was even happy! In the joyfulness o_amily love everything for a short time was subdued, and the pleasure o_eeing her, leaving them at first little leisure for calm curiosity, they wer_ll seated round the tea-table, which Mrs. Morland had hurried for the comfor_f the poor traveller, whose pale and jaded looks soon caught her notice,
before any inquiry so direct as to demand a positive answer was addressed t_er.
Reluctantly, and with much hesitation, did she then begin what might perhaps,
at the end of half an hour, be termed, by the courtesy of her hearers, a_xplanation; but scarcely, within that time, could they at all discover th_ause, or collect the particulars, of her sudden return. They were far fro_eing an irritable race; far from any quickness in catching, or bitterness i_esenting, affronts: but here, when the whole was unfolded, was an insult no_o be overlooked, nor, for the first half hour, to be easily pardoned. Withou_uffering any romantic alarm, in the consideration of their daughter's lon_nd lonely journey, Mr. and Mrs. Morland could not but feel that it might hav_een productive of much unpleasantness to her; that it was what they coul_ever have voluntarily suffered; and that, in forcing her on such a measure,
General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor feelingly — neither as _entleman nor as a parent. Why he had done it, what could have provoked him t_uch a breach of hospitality, and so suddenly turned all his partial regar_or their daughter into actual ill will, was a matter which they were at leas_s far from divining as Catherine herself; but it did not oppress them by an_eans so long; and, after a due course of useless conjecture, that "it was _trange business, and that he must be a very strange man," grew enough for al_heir indignation and wonder; though Sarah indeed still indulged in the sweet_f incomprehensibility, exclaiming and conjecturing with youthful ardour. "M_ear, you give yourself a great deal of needless trouble," said her mother a_ast; "depend upon it, it is something not at all worth understanding."
"I can allow for his wishing Catherine away, when he recollected thi_ngagement," said Sarah, "but why not do it civilly?"
"I am sorry for the young people," returned Mrs. Morland; "they must have _ad time of it; but as for anything else, it is no matter now; Catherine i_afe at home, and our comfort does not depend upon General Tilney." Catherin_ighed. "Well," continued her philosophic mother, "I am glad I did not know o_our journey at the time; but now it is all over, perhaps there is no grea_arm done. It is always good for young people to be put upon exertin_hemselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad littl_catter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wit_bout you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it wil_ppear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets."
Catherine hoped so too, and tried to feel an interest in her own amendment,
but her spirits were quite worn down; and, to be silent and alone becomin_oon her only wish, she readily agreed to her mother's next counsel of goin_arly to bed. Her parents, seeing nothing in her ill looks and agitation bu_he natural consequence of mortified feelings, and of the unusual exertion an_atigue of such a journey, parted from her without any doubt of their bein_oon slept away; and though, when they all met the next morning, her recover_as not equal to their hopes, they were still perfectly unsuspicious of ther_eing any deeper evil. They never once thought of her heart, which, for th_arents of a young lady of seventeen, just returned from her first excursio_rom home, was odd enough!
As soon as breakfast was over, she sat down to fulfil her promise to Mis_ilney, whose trust in the effect of time and distance on her friend'_isposition was already justified, for already did Catherine reproach hersel_ith having parted from Eleanor coldly, with having never enough valued he_erits or kindness, and never enough commiserated her for what she had bee_esterday left to endure. The strength of these feelings, however, was fa_rom assisting her pen; and never had it been harder for her to write than i_ddressing Eleanor Tilney. To compose a letter which might at once do justic_o her sentiments and her situation, convey gratitude without servile regret,
be guarded without coldness, and honest without resentment — a letter whic_leanor might not be pained by the perusal of — and, above all, which sh_ight not blush herself, if Henry should chance to see, was an undertaking t_righten away all her powers of performance; and, after long thought and muc_erplexity, to be very brief was all that she could determine on with an_onfidence of safety. The money therefore which Eleanor had advanced wa_nclosed with little more than grateful thanks, and the thousand good wishe_f a most affectionate heart.
"This has been a strange acquaintance," observed Mrs. Morland, as the lette_as finished; "soon made and soon ended. I am sorry it happens so, for Mrs.
Allen thought them very pretty kind of young people; and you were sadly out o_uck too in your Isabella. Ah! Poor James! Well, we must live and learn; an_he next new friends you make I hope will be better worth keeping."
Catherine coloured as she warmly answered, "No friend can be better wort_eeping than Eleanor."
"If so, my dear, I dare say you will meet again some time or other; do not b_neasy. It is ten to one but you are thrown together again in the course of _ew years; and then what a pleasure it will be!"
Mrs. Morland was not happy in her attempt at consolation. The hope of meetin_gain in the course of a few years could only put into Catherine's head wha_ight happen within that time to make a meeting dreadful to her. She coul_ever forget Henry Tilney, or think of him with less tenderness than she di_t that moment; but he might forget her; and in that case, to meet — ! He_yes filled with tears as she pictured her acquaintance so renewed; and he_other, perceiving her comfortable suggestions to have had no good effect,
proposed, as another expedient for restoring her spirits, that they shoul_all on Mrs. Allen.
The two houses were only a quarter of a mile apart; and, as they walked, Mrs.
Morland quickly dispatched all that she felt on the score of James'_isappointment. "We are sorry for him," said she; "but otherwise there is n_arm done in the match going off; for it could not be a desirable thing t_ave him engaged to a girl whom we had not the smallest acquaintance with, an_ho was so entirely without fortune; and now, after such behaviour, we canno_hink at all well of her. Just at present it comes hard to poor James; bu_hat will not last forever; and I dare say he will be a discreeter man all hi_ife, for the foolishness of his first choice."
This was just such a summary view of the affair as Catherine could listen to;
another sentence might have endangered her complaisance, and made her repl_ess rational; for soon were all her thinking powers swallowed up in th_eflection of her own change of feelings and spirits since last she ha_rodden that well-known road. It was not three months ago since, wild wit_oyful expectation, she had there run backwards and forwards some ten times _ay, with an heart light, gay, and independent; looking forward to pleasure_ntasted and unalloyed, and free from the apprehension of evil as from th_nowledge of it. Three months ago had seen her all this; and now, how altere_ being did she return!
She was received by the Allens with all the kindness which her unlooked-fo_ppearance, acting on a steady affection, would naturally call forth; an_reat was their surprise, and warm their displeasure, on hearing how she ha_een treated — though Mrs. Morland's account of it was no inflate_epresentation, no studied appeal to their passions. "Catherine took us quit_y surprise yesterday evening," said she. "She travelled all the way post b_erself, and knew nothing of coming till Saturday night; for General Tilney,
from some odd fancy or other, all of a sudden grew tired of having her there,
and almost turned her out of the house. Very unfriendly, certainly; and h_ust be a very odd man; but we are so glad to have her amongst us again! An_t is a great comfort to find that she is not a poor helpless creature, bu_an shift very well for herself."
Mr. Allen expressed himself on the occasion with the reasonable resentment o_ sensible friend; and Mrs. Allen thought his expressions quite good enough t_e immediately made use of again by herself. His wonder, his conjectures, an_is explanations became in succession hers, with the addition of this singl_emark — "I really have not patience with the general" — to fill up ever_ccidental pause. And, "I really have not patience with the general," wa_ttered twice after Mr. Allen left the room, without any relaxation of anger,
or any material digression of thought. A more considerable degree of wanderin_ttended the third repetition; and, after completing the fourth, sh_mmediately added, "Only think, my dear, of my having got that frightful grea_ent in my best Mechlin so charmingly mended, before I left Bath, that one ca_ardly see where it was. I must show it you some day or other. Bath is a nic_lace, Catherine, after all. I assure you I did not above half like comin_way. Mrs. Thorpe's being there was such a comfort to us, was not it? Yo_now, you and I were quite forlorn at first."
"Yes, but that did not last long," said Catherine, her eyes brightening at th_ecollection of what had first given spirit to her existence there.
"Very true: we soon met with Mrs. Thorpe, and then we wanted for nothing. M_ear, do not you think these silk gloves wear very well? I put them on new th_irst time of our going to the Lower Rooms, you know, and I have worn them _reat deal since. Do you remember that evening?"
"Do I! Oh! Perfectly."
"It was very agreeable, was not it? Mr. Tilney drank tea with us, and I alway_hought him a great addition, he is so very agreeable. I have a notion yo_anced with him, but am not quite sure. I remember I had my favourite gow_n."
Catherine could not answer; and, after a short trial of other subjects, Mrs.
Allen again returned to — "I really have not patience with the general! Suc_n agreeable, worthy man as he seemed to be! I do not suppose, Mrs. Morland,
you ever saw a better-bred man in your life. His lodgings were taken the ver_ay after he left them, Catherine. But no wonder; Milsom Street, you know."
As they walked home again, Mrs. Morland endeavoured to impress on he_aughter's mind the happiness of having such steady well-wishers as Mr. an_rs. Allen, and the very little consideration which the neglect or unkindnes_f slight acquaintance like the Tilneys ought to have with her, while sh_ould preserve the good opinion and affection of her earliest friends. Ther_as a great deal of good sense in all this; but there are some situations o_he human mind in which good sense has very little power; and Catherine'_eelings contradicted almost every position her mother advanced. It was upo_he behaviour of these very slight acquaintance that all her present happines_epended; and while Mrs. Morland was successfully confirming her own opinion_y the justness of her own representations, Catherine was silently reflectin_hat now Henry must have arrived at Northanger; now he must have heard of he_eparture; and now, perhaps, they were all setting off for Hereford.