Lady Alice Longtown was the only daughter of the Marquis of Longtown—a family so distinguished their title reflected the equally ancient name. At the perspicacious age of seventeen, Lady Alice announced before she was to go up to York that she cared nothing for the younger girls at Miss Anglesey’s Select Academy in Yorkshire.
Her mother, a perceptive woman, listened with sympathy before saying, “My dear, this will be your last year of schooling.”
“Mother, the Misses Anglesey have naught to teach me than I cannot get myself, if I am found in want. And I would be away from a set of girls silly past all bearing, raising shrieks and alarms over little more than a spider, or a torn flounce.”
“Perhaps, but few of us are not silly when full young,” the Marchioness observed. “Those girls come not only from the best homes—” (trust the Misses Anglesey for that, she thought privately; the adjective before ‘Academy’ was no idle boast)—“but the most comfortable. For these girls, stirring themselves to excitement over trifles gives them something to think about in the strictly supervised decorum of your days. It is harmless enough, and the best of them will gain in character once they return home to be presented to society.”
Alice agreed to the sense of this observation, though her expression revealed a lingering doubt.
And so Lady Longtown gestured for Alice to draw closer to her mother’s chair, and added in a low voice, “In truth, I had hoped in sending you there that you would find among the other young ladies a friend or two to take the place of the sister I was never able to give you. A female friend, my darling Alice, can be a pearl beyond price, as the proverb says. So it was with my very dearest friends, Miss Paul and Miss Drummond, before they became Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Tilney.”
There followed a pause, as Lady Longtown considered both friends, who unlike her had each married late, the first out of love and the second out of duty. Mrs. Tilney, though married into a considerable estate as well as wealth, had had a difficult life, whereas Mrs. Hughes had had the happiest marriage of the three—cut short after five halcyon years, and had been left to struggle as she could ever since.
Lady Longtown shook her head. “A friend can be the greatest of comforts when circumstances otherwise . . . “ Another shake of the head.
“Mama? What is it you are not saying?”
“It is nothing, my dear. My thoughts merely stray. To return to my point, so I still have hopes you might find a friend, but it might take some effort on your part.”
Since this was to be Lady Alice’s last year at school, she determined to heed her mother’s words. Otherwise she might never have paid the least notice to Miss Eleanor Tilney, who at scarcely thirteen to Alice’s greater age, was easily overlooked. But the name had caught her attention when her mother spoke it, kindling her interest the more when her mother had gazed out at the lawns, her hand pausing in her netting, as if she knew something of Mrs. Tilney that she dared not say.
Eleanor Tilney was the quietest of girls, always reading when she had not work at hand. Alice was, at first, put to some trouble to get past the girl’s natural reserve, for she was not like so many of the others, bosom-friends in an afternoon, and enemies by week’s end. Though she was thin and small and dark of hair, Eleanor showed signs of one day being a pretty girl, and that evidence was never clearer when her face was illuminated by a tender smile at the receipt of letters from home.
Alice became aware of the small kindnesses Eleanor performed, such as coaching the little girls in differentiating the many principalities of the Hapsburg Empire on the map, and setting their work boxes straight before Miss Caroline came round to inspect before snuffing their candle in the dormitory.
Alice and Eleanor often read together; Lady Longtown had no patience with novels—to which Alice was indifferent—but one of Eleanor’s brothers faithfully sent Eleanor everything new, once he had read it, and when there were no novels that met with his tastes, he sent books of plays. The preponderance of these were humorous, which Alice discovered was Eleanor’s preference. She admitted that she had little patience with the more extravagant Gothik novels.
“How is this?” Alice exclaimed. “You do not relish the frightening spectacle of old castles full of mysterious counts, ancient skeletons, and the wind moaning around the towers of haunted abbeys?”
Eleanor said, “Perhaps because I live in an abbey, they hold little charm for me. And as for ghosts, I never could be frightened by accounts of mysterious German Grafs, or ancient tombs, after my mother pointed out how terrible it must have been for the nuns—many girls our age—who knew no other home, being driven out by King Henry before he awarded the abbey to my ancestor of those days. That counts, for me, a truer horror than the rattling of chains or ghostly moans.”
Though Alice cared little for works of imagination, she had a great interest in facts of history. She discovered after these words an interest in seeing that abbey for herself, that she might hunt for artifacts of those forlorn nuns of long ago, but she kept her opinion unspoken. And was glad she did, for not a month after, on the day when Miss Anglesey herself passed out the post, Eleanor received one from her brother that caused her face to pale more than that of any heroine between three marbled covers, and run weeping from the room.
It seemed her mother was fatally ill—not expected to live.
When the chaise-and-four pulled up a mere hour later to convey Eleanor home, Alice did not join the rest of the girls in staring avidly out the windows. Eleanor, she could not help but think, was in truth very like those heroines of the tragedies the girls read so eagerly, but like them, had no idea of being a heroine. She had only the disagreeable aspects of a heroine’s life, and being stared at only made her situation worse.
In that moment, she determined that until Eleanor should find her hero, she at least would have a friend in Lady Alice Longtown.
My Dearest Eleanor:
You have only to speak the Word if this missive is unwelcome. I thought I must wait these ten weeks for the worst of your grief to pass, but on Rec’pt of a Letter from my own mother, covering three pages testifying to the excellence and superlative Qualities of your own dear Mother, I felt I ought to take Pen in Hand to share her words with you, which I have copied out Fair.
I know not if a general report about the Frivolities of our school would be welcome or only cut up your Peace, so I will confine myself to reporting that the First of May’s gathering is come and gone, the Misses Anglesey having rewarded the good (and those who pretended to goodness, such as Miss C— B— and Lady E— G—) alike with Extracts from their honor’d brother’s published Sermons for the Edification of the Female Sex, which I noted afterward sat about unread in preference to a copy of The Sylph—it being passed about and read in whispers over candlelight—this novel having been discover’d on Amelia Forbright’s mother’s shelves.
It is said that it was writ by the Duchess of Devonshire the year I was Born. The Fashions in it sound quite Hideous—but here I am, going on when I promised I would not, unless you would find my silly words entertaining and not Fatiguing.
Enclos’d please find my Mother’s remembrance about Yours, and at the end, the Words she wish’d me to convey to you in Acknowledgment of your terrible Loss.
Your devoted friend
* * *
Dear Lady Alice:
I was surprised and Delighted to receive yours, which I never thought to Have. I wish straight away to thank you for your Kindness in conveying those words from Lady Longtown, and I have only to ask, that if you would not deem it too Forward in me, I would like to write to her directly to thank her for what served to assuage a little of the prodigious Grief I felt, if you would be so good as to furnish her Direction.
I shared the Letter with my elder brother Henry, who, with my eldest brother, were both here with my Father when my poor Mother breath’d her last. She had always been of a sickly Constitution; the doctors here in Gloucestershire were familiar with her Case, which had confounded the Medical Establishment these many Years, but no one had thought that this illness would be worse than any of those Previous, or (so I was assured, when we could even speak Rationally) I would have been brought back the sooner.
Because I did not arrive in Time, though the Coachman did his best; I was only there to find my father Inconsolable, and my brothers in mingled Grief. I was there, in short, to see my poor mother carried to the Family Vault.
I will not trespass against your Good Nature in minutely describing what we felt. It is only now that the worst of the Grief is beginning to Ease, though each reminder of her often raises it afresh. Even though often Ill she was always my dearest Friend and companion, as I was her’s, and many were the Hours she and I spent, often with my Brother Henry, reading plays together, and laughing over them.
She had dearly lov’d to Laugh, especially at the foibles of Language. Even in her last Day, my brother Henry confid’d, she chid him for employing a trite expression, and admonish’d him, saying, they might be easy, but they were never Interesting, and unless he wish’d to cause his parishioners to nod off during Divine Service, he might study not for originality save for avoiding the threadbare Figurative when a plain detail would do.
If you believe that any of these poor words (for I make no claim to the éclat of Originality, and indeed, the Figurative is sometimes a comfort, for we all understand its Meaning) might be of Interest to Lady Longtown, pray share them as you choose. I have found in a Casket, many sheaves of Riband-ty’d Letters from your Mother, so I know that they were great friends.
I have taken all the Letters to myself, but otherwise we chose not to disturb my mother’s rooms, for the sake of my Father, who often visits them. They are fine rooms, and Henry did say my Mother express’d a wish that I might take them over if she did not Recover, but my comfort must wait upon my Father’s, who is so Sincerely Griev’d I scarcely know him.
Afterward, my Father gave me Permission to take her Portrait into my own rooms as well. It had never pleas’d him, for he insisted it was Monstrous unlike. My Dear Mother once told me that it was exactly like, according to her own Mirror, but my Father would see her as she had been as a Bride, and not as a woman of Forty Years.
I believe that is the sum of my life now, and I beg you to Forbear with my trifling words. I will not claim I scarcely know what I write, for I have thrown away three pages of scribbles that repeated sentiments that can only be Tiresome. Therefore I shall close with gratitude and my best wishes to you and your Family—
Alice had gone down from York by then, and straightaway dispatched a letter to Eleanor, not only conveying her mother’s fond desire for further conversation about her dear friend, but an invitation to visit at Manydown as soon as could be, that they might share in their grief together, and read over Mrs. Tilney’s correspondence, which Lady Longtown preserved among her greatest treasures.
As soon as Eleanor finished reading her letter, she laid it down, casting a frightened glance at the far door. She and Henry were alone in the breakfast room, which gave her the courage to say, “Henry, Lady Alice Longtown invites me to visit. What ought I to do?”
“Is it a real invitation?” Henry asked.
Eleanor looked startled. “What is a real invitation? That is, it seems so to me, but how would I know if one isn’t?”
“May I see it?”
Eleanor held out her letter, and after a short perusal, Henry laid it down, saying, “That is indeed a real invitation, and moreover, your Alice appears to be a real friend. See, there is no falsity about it, no, ‘Some time or other you must visit, I quite count upon it.’” He saw his sister’s eyes widen, and reflected that some time amongst company might do poor Eleanor a world of good. She certainly learnt little about life at that girls’ academy of hers.
“But what about mourning?” Eleanor asked.
“Yesterday fortnight it will be six months, which strictly speaking will put us into half-mourning. Which—as you are not eligible for dancing anyway—makes an invitation like this perfectly acceptable.”
Henry at that time was in his fourth year at Eton, where the strictest adherence to hierarchy was reinforced by enthusiastic employment of the ground ash—a privilege Frederick, because of his many demerits, had never attained, or Henry might have led a miserable life. For Frederick had run with the Bloods, whose academic attainments were negligible, their energies divided between all forms of sport, high life, and oppressing the lower school. A few of those Bloods who became prefects became objects of horror to the junior scholars, like Henry, who learned to move in groups.
Henry had discovered that not only safety but enjoyment lay in friendship. He sought those most like him, scorning to ape the tuft hunters who followed and flattered after anyone bearing a title, or vast wealth.
Most of his friends were second and third sons, unremarkable for anything but good humor, and maybe for their skills at cricket or on the river. Thus he was put in the way of mastering the mysteries of social rules, leading to his greatest triumph: inculcation into the Funny Club, in a school where rowing was as important as other sport.
Henry’s thoughts had turned to Eton because he knew that Frederick had been sent down in disgrace for the last time. Though Eleanor had been spared hearing the argument between father and son (“You never consider our name, and your mother scarcely cold in her grave” against “It was only a bit of bobbery, but the bagwigs would kick up an almighty dust”) Henry had been forced to endure it, before the general and his heir had each slammed off into opposite wings of the house.
Henry rather suspected that Frederick would get his wish at last, a cornetcy in a fashionable regiment, something their mother had dreaded but Henry knew his father rather favored than not. Once Henry returned to Eton, as he soon must, and Frederick rode off to join his regiment, that would leave poor Eleanor home with the General until it was time for Eleanor to return to the Misses Anglesey. It would be a lonely, unpleasant few weeks.
“Will you allow me put the question to Father?” he asked.
This, Eleanor was only too glad to assent to. She dreaded admitting that at times she was afraid of her father. She had sincerely pitied him as they grieved together after the loss of her mother, but General Tilney’s grief had slowly altered from a stunned quietude to restless anger, exacerbated by Frederick’s problems at Eton.
Henry was aware that his sister, in her innocence, would never think to puff her friend’s connection. But Henry knew the Longtowns were connected with the first families of the county, and so, when he presented Eleanor’s letter, he made certain that ‘The Marchioness of Longtown’ got due mention.
The General, puzzled as to what to do with a lone girl at home—he loathed the idea of interviewing governesses almost as much as he was repelled by the thought of finding one underfoot in his home—closed at once with the offer, and betook himself to his desk to write on behalf of his daughter.
The result was most satisfactory to all. Frederick gained his point, and was soon off to London to equip himself for his new duties.
As the Longtowns’ estate, near Hereford, was easily reached in a day, Eleanor, with her new dove grays and lavenders packed in her trunk, climbed into the family berlin, which the General had ordered repainted for the occasion, and rolled off in grand style to be conveyed to her new friend.
Eleanor hated to say farewell to Henry. Brother and sister had been one another’s chief comfort during those first terrible weeks after the loss of Mrs. Tilney. But soon Henry must go off to his new term. So Eleanor found herself in a new situation, among pleasant people. Lady Longtown welcomed her tenderly, exclaiming how very much she resembled her mother, and Eleanor was permitted to read her mother’s letters.
Under such influence, Eleanor could scarcely forebear improving. She remembered how to smile, and even to laugh. The visit, in short, answered so well that the vague mention of a fortnight extended until it was time to return for another season with the Misses Anglesey.
And so the year passed.
Eleanor must, of course, return for Christmastide, but Henry was there, too. Eleanor and Henry passed many cold, sleety December days sitting side by side with their feet on the fender in the breakfast-room, as they read aloud from Sir Fopling Flutter, and The Rivals, and The Way of the World.
Over the following year, Frederick was infrequently home, and whenever he did arrive, it was invariably in company with several loud young men who crashed about much as Frederick did, sabers rattling, the spurs on their riding boots tearing up the carpets and scoring the floors, their voices hallooing all over the house—usually with a loud oath.
Eleanor could not but notice that, saving only the spurs on boots, the slamming of doors and the frequent oaths were an echo of her father’s habit, when he was in temper. Even in the rare moments that Frederick was not accompanied by his regimental friends, she tended to be shy of him. He had long since given over teasing her by leaping out from behind doors to frighten her, and yanking her braids, as he had when they were much younger. His teasing was now all verbal, flippant remarks that she imperfectly understood.
“It’s the way of the soldier,” Henry said when he found her weeping in the morning room—Frederick and his friends having taken over the parlor. “He does not mean to be unkind. If you listen to them, you will discover they talk that way to one another.”
“He called me a mopish baggage at breakfast, and told me to go away before I killed him with my woeful phiz. Does Frederick speak that way to you?” Eleanor asked.
Henry lifted a shoulder, his smile rueful. “Invariably. Do you not hear him address me as Parson Sobersides, and the like? There is no altering what he is determined to regard as mere quizzing. Either I go about in a stew of resentment, or quiz him in return.”
“I was used to think,” Eleanor said slowly, “that Mother took against the army for Frederick because he might be sent overseas just to be killed, and at other times I remember her speaking generally about soldiers and their rough manners. Now I wonder if that was not as generally meant as I once thought.” She dared not venture closer to her subject than that hint, for she did not wish to sound unfilial.
Henry scarcely needed that hint. Long before she died, he had been old enough to discern not only how their mother had softened the General’s moods, but how frequently she had intervened between him and the rest of the world, putting a rational, polite meaning to his vagaries, which had changed as often as the weather; one day his favorite horse was the finest in the land, fastest and best behaved, but a week later the General claimed the wicked jade was no good—ought to be shot—when she had merely stumbled in a rabbit hole, causing him a bruising fall.
“Military men,” Henry said, “seem to be a set with another way of thinking, especially the dragoons and cavalry. It answers, for one cannot be a pattern-card for delicacy on the battlefield.”
Eleanor accepted this piece of wisdom, and said nothing, but after that, fell into the habit of looking to Henry for guidance, and avoiding Frederick when she could.
In this manner the next two years passed, with Eleanor moving between Northanger, the Longtowns’ Manydown, and Miss Anglesey’s Academy. Her father was not always at home: he was often in London, or Bath, or Tunbridge, wherever his particular set gathered, and Henry had his friends—he was often invited away.
When Eleanor neared her sixteenth birthday, the General startled her, after she had opened her gifts, by saying, “Sixteen! I suppose we ought to look about us for a suitable husband for you. Girls your age are far too apt to fall in love with those foppish fellows with nothing more to them than a few French phrases on their lips, a satin coat, and a Paris wig.”
Eleanor stared in horror at the General, unable to speak.
The General went on. “That girl you made your bosom-piece at that York school, the marquis’s daughter. I understand he has a son—”
“He is so very much older than I, sir—”
“That is no matter! An earl!”
“—and anyway he is promised to someone.”
Frederick tossed aside the Post, and said, “I’ve a capital fellow in mind. Captain in my regiment—father Lord St. Aidan, was with Howe in the colonies before the title fell to him— rode with Tarleton. After the Peace, he retired to the estate. Very fine. Waldo Bantry is the only son, which makes him a viscount one day. Waldo’s got the finest eye for horseflesh in Northampton, I assure you.”
He gave Eleanor a careless nod, then got up to follow his father out to the stable, leaving Henry and Eleanor together.
“Is it wrong to feel only dread at the prospect?” Eleanor asked Henry. “The books all say that delicacy in a female requires leaving such matters to her guardian, and yet at Manydown, I’ve seen Alice, her brother, and their cousins dancing and flirting and, in short, it seems they are going about making their own choices.”
“And their parents look on with approbation, having invited them so everyone could meet.” Henry tried to smile encouragingly. “I don’t believe you will be precipitously married off, as apparently happened in our grandparents’ day. If our father listens at all, it should only result in everyone gathering, and smirking, a handful of compliments and a bouquet of roses, and if you do not suit, no harm done. It must be that way at the Longtowns’, is not it?”
“So it is,” Eleanor said, somewhat mollified, but then her brow furrowed again. “But life there is altogether different from what we are used to see about us here.”
“Well, ten to one our father forgets all about it by the time he reaches the end of the avenue. He’ll have other things to think about.”
Eleanor accepted that, but with trepidation, being loth to trust her entire future to her father’s forgetfulness, if it meant being united with a gentleman whose single quality seemed to be that he could pick out a good horse.
The General said nothing more to her that day, and gradually her fears subsided. A week later, she returned for what was to be her last year with the Misses Anglesey. Now that she was considered near grown, the few years’ difference between her age and Alice’s dwindled to nothing, the moreso as Alice had for two years been forced to live quietly according to the requirements of mourning. She had lost first a grandmother, then an uncle.
The Longtowns emerged at last from their long mourning before Eleanor was to leave the Select Academy at last. Lord Longtown had celebrated the family’s release by taking them to London, where he was introduced to the General. As Lord Longtown admired a military man as much as the General admired a lord, they were instant friends.
The result? When Eleanor packed her trunk for the last time, preparatory to returning to Northanger, she received that rarity, a letter from her father, informing her that he had invited a great company for the shooting season. Among the guests would be the Longtowns, in gratitude for their hospitality these many years—so he wrote, but the truth was a little more complicated than that.
Lady Longtown, married off at a very young age, had had no difficulty in perceiving the difference in her friend after marriage, and though determined to befriend Mrs. Tilney’s daughter, had been equally determined to avoid the General. But in this she was balked by the military man, who possessed the tactical advantage of being a man. He finally contrived to be introduced to the marquis at one of their clubs, and the two gentlemen had discovered in each other a man very much in his way of thinking.
Add to that the marquis’s parsimonious habits, and an invitation to take his entire family to another man’s house, where he would not be expected to lay out for fodder, food, and drink, and he accepted on behalf of the marquise and his unmarried daughter, on the spot.
. . . We shall be a merry party, Daughter. You will also meet Captain Bantry and Lord St. Aidan, and the Viscount’s girl, who will be a companion to you. In addition, when I made the Discovery that your brother Henry is friends with Captain Bantry’s cousin, and had even stay’d at the St. Aidan Estate, I bade him bring his friend to Round Out the numbers. We shall fill the entire Rectory table, which I fancy would have Pleased your dear Mother.
He closed the letter with words that made clear his expectation of gratitude, but far from wishing to thank him, Eleanor half-wished to run away.
At least she would have Alice and Lady Longtown, she thought as she climbed into the carriage that was to convey her away forever. And Henry would be there as well.
* * *
Climbing from the carriage at last, tired, dusty, with the headache from the stuffy heat and constant motion, she greeted the servants who came out to tend to her belongings, and walked into the abbey. She heard men’s voices emanating from the drawing room, and turned at once toward the stairs, that she might change out of her creased traveling gown, tidy her hair, and refresh herself, but that was not to be.
Her father, having heard the noise of the arrival, stood in the doorway. “There you are, my girl. Come within. I have been waiting impatiently to introduce you. Why are you so late?”
Eleanor had not even had a chance to remove her bonnet and gloves before her father—without waiting for an answer—took her elbow and drew her inside the drawing room. Here she perceived what seemed a great number of hearty male figures, each staring her way.
She dropped her gaze as her father’s voice hallooed, “Eleanor, may I present my lord St. Aidan, and here is Captain Bantry.”
A man even larger than her father made his bow in form, and said, “A fine filly, General Tilney.”
Eleanor looked up in time to see a young man run his gaze from her dusty bonnet to her equally dusty shoes, before making his bow as well.
“As fine as Mrs. Tilney, my lord, who was a diamond in her day,” the General replied in an equally loud tone, better suited to the field of command than a drawing room. “And though she cannot be here, she made certain her girl would enter life with thirty thousand pounds, she and Henry both—and that was before Henry inherited from his grandfather Drummond. Ho, Henry could live a life of ease, so he could, but he must be doing—and as it chances, the living at Woodston is set aside for him. Yes, yes, my children are situated very well, very well indeed.”
“So I perceive, General, ha ha ha, and no more than they deserve!”
“Very well said, my lord, very well said indeed! ‘And no more than they deserve’—and the girl will bring to her marriage no mean portion, Captain Bantry, if you like what you see.”
They all laughed loudly at this as Eleanor looked about her for a chair. Her knees trembled so much she was afraid of sinking to the ground, her emotions so dreadful she could not put to them a name, except a sense that she was one of those very horses of which the staring Captain Bantry was so very fine a judge. She felt, in short, like a commodity in a shop, and it was some minutes before she trusted that the burn of shame would not betray her in tears.
Gradually she became aware of Henry’s voice nearby. “ . . . walk out into the garden while the afternoon is so fine?”
She wanted only the safety of her room, but she recognized in his kind words an escape, and gratefully put out her hand. Rising, she caught the attention of the others, and was forced to curtsey again, and endure the loud compliments of her new acquaintance, before she was permitted to make her exit.
They walked out, and she was glad of her bonnet, for she would not have her face seen. A monstrous lump seemed to have taken up residence in the region of her heart, and she dreaded questions, for she knew that if she tried to speak, she would dissolve into tears.
But no sooner had they gained the outdoors than Henry said, “Come, Bantry, give us that piece again.”
Eleanor had been vaguely aware of another person in the room besides her brother, but the only impression she retained was that of a blue morning coat with modest golden buttons. A voice startled her, so lugubrious it rose nearly to a wail, “‘Hail, sweet asylum of my infancy! Content and innocence ride beneath your humble roof, and charity unboastful of the good it renders.’”
“Hold,” Henry said. “‘Ride?’ It truly says ride.”
The second voice dropped the startling manner, and spoke with scarcely repressed humor. “Ride it is. I can fetch the first volume if you like.”
“What I wonder,” said Henry, “is, what content and innocence are riding? Have you ever seen content upon a horse? A metaphor is supposed to convey meaning.”
“Whatever it is, I should think the housekeeper would pursue it with a broom before it ever got to the stable,” came the thoughtful reply.
The absurdity of the words steadied Eleanor, though she was not ready to smile. Henry said, “Go on. Let’s have another. Let’s have the one about the gushing tears of gratitude and sensibility.”
“There are a lot of tears,” came the rejoinder. “Seas of tears, and if you think I have got all that by rote, Tilney, I take leave to inform you . . .”
“Don’t say it,” Henry warned. “I cannot challenge you to a duel in my own house.”
“ . . . that you can dashed well commit that abominable claptrap to memory yourself.”
‘Bantry.’ Eleanor knew that this Bantry could not be the captain who had regarded her as a horse at market. His voice was not at all loud—it more resembled Henry’s, on the verge of laughter.
She did not quite dare to raise her head, but her interest piqued, further banishing the grief sparked by humiliation.
“I shall have to fetch it, then, and we can trade off reading it aloud. But mind, it only answers if we use the most absurd voices possible,” Henry said.
At that, Eleanor ventured a question, though her gaze remained on the gravel of the sidewalk. “What is this, Henry?”
“Why only a capital novel, that is certain to capture the hearts of the discerning public. It’s got everything we could possibly desire—an abbey, orphans—”
“Do not forget the forged will,” the unknown Mr. Bantry put in.
“And ever so many adventures, especially on the part of our heroine. I think no fewer than five times she is separated from her true love,” Henry said.
“Affording the opportunity for seas of tears,” his friend added.
“I must see this novel,” Eleanor said, half-laughing.
“And so you shall. The volumes reside in my trunk, as do several others. We shall read them all, and I promise, most are not as absurd.”
“Cumberland’s Henry might be considered half-absurd,” his friend said.
“I have to remain partial to any novel with my given name as its title,” Henry responded with great cheer. “We shall read it, too. There are some capital bits. Hey day, here we are, at the side-door. Eleanor, if you wish to slip upstairs to your room, we can meet again in the apple orchard, books at hand. What say you?”
Eleanor managed a word of gratitude, and made her escape.
When she came down again, she wore a white morning gown, tied with a new blue sash. She had brushed out her hair and tied it up on her head with a matching blue ribbon, and she had scrubbed her face to remove all traces of dust and tears. By the time she made her way to the orchard, she was very ready to meet Henry’s friend, whose voice had intrigued her.
Unlike the military men, who all wore powdered wigs, Mr. Bantry wore his own hair, which was a soft brown, simply queued. There was a superficial resemblance to his cousin in the strong bones of his face and high forehead, but his countenance, unlike the captain’s, was open and pleasant, his well-shaped mouth and gray eyes carrying a hint of smile.
Lady Alice was there as well, Henry having located her at the other end of the house, with Miss Bantry and Lady Longtown. Henry invited them all to take a turn in the garden, where he expected Eleanor to join them shortly.
Lady Longtown, who had come with little expectation of enjoyment, save seeing her old friend’s home, had been wishing she could be shed of the Honorable Charlotte Bantry’s style of conversation. “Do go along, girls,” she said. “I confess I have a little headache, and will remain quietly inside.”
The two young ladies rose with alacrity, Charlotte eager for a male audience, and Alice desiring to hear any voice but Charlotte’s. Henry conducted them to the garden walk, where Eleanor greeted Alice with a smile and a warm handshake, then turned to the others.
“There you are, Eleanor,” Henry said. “I am certain you recollect Bantry from earlier, but you did not have the opportunity to meet Miss Bantry.”
Eleanor turned to this young lady, very ready to welcome the newcomer, to meet a simpering smile and a flash of a fan.
“My dear Miss Tilney,” she said in languishing tones. “I have been perishing to meet you this age, is that not true, Cousin Charles? You must lead us over the abbey—so fascinating—some time or other, but I was just suggesting to my cousin and Mr. Tilney that they might show us the way to the stables, where I know my brother will be exhibiting the paces of his new chestnut hunter.”
She tripped a few steps forward, until she reached a point between Henry and his friend, then turned. “Everyone teases me abominably, so that I do not know which way to look, but I cannot help my passion for a chestnut horse, and it is not at all because some insist that they match the color of my hair. It is simply that I am from a family known for the excellence of our horses . . .”
As she spoke, she reached with sprightly assurance and took an arm of each young man with her neatly gloved fingers, leaving Eleanor and Alice to follow her bouncing curls, which Eleanor thought rather closer to dun than chestnut.
Alice’s brown eyes met Eleanor’s, her brows raised. “I am so very glad you are here,” Eleanor said to her friend, with sincerity.
Alice was too well-bred to laugh, but they shared a smile of understanding.
As it transpired, the visit that Eleanor had dreaded very soon took an unexpected turn for the better. Miss Bantry, on discovering that a reading party really meant reading, rather than her leading the conversation in gossiping about her London beaus, very soon found her way to the military side of the house, where she was better able to train her guns on Captain Tilney without the added flanking movements of other females.
Whether or not she was able to dart Cupid’s arrows into the red-coated breasts of these sons of Mars is a question better left to herself. Eleanor and Henry gained the impression that she had better things to do than consort with a second son and her “Cousin Charles” who—lacking any inheritance—was destined for the law courts, and perchance some minor role in Parliament.
This left Lady Alice, Eleanor, Charles Bantry, and Henry together for most of the long visit over the shooting season. The two young gentlemen occasionally joined the military men in taking out their pistols, but for the most part they preferred riding with Eleanor and Alice, or when it rained—which it often did—gathering around the fireside and reading books and plays.
First Love—The Box-Lobby Challenge—all had their innings, amid much mirth. Sometimes Lady Longtown joined them, working at her embroidery while they read, but she mostly kept to her room—except for the principle meals of the day—where the girls invariably joined her in the evenings.
One afternoon the young people tested their German by struggling through Goethe’s Der Bürgergeneral.
At first Eleanor had a difficult time of it, until Charles Bantry, in the most natural manner in the world, took his lexicon on his knee, and translated the more difficult words with a droll accent that caused them all to laugh far more than the rascally Schnaps.
Before they finished reading, Charlotte Bantry appeared. She waited only for the present speaker—who happened to be her cousin—to draw breath, then interrupted to say, “This rain! Who can support it? Mr. Tilney, pray show me the gallery, and explain the pictures there, before I expire from ennui. It seems as if it has rained these fifty ages.”
Alice winced, then said in a low voice to Eleanor, “I think I will join my mother. She often feels the headache, and I would feel better to see how she gets on.”
Eleanor instantly agreed. “Pray convey my good wishes. Shall I send for tea, or barley-water, or a tisane?”
“No, thank you, truly, if there is no great noise, the headache invariably goes off.” Alice curtseyed to the rest of the company and withdrew.
Charlotte did not notice her exit except as a gain. She had no intention of wasting herself on a younger son, but the two captains having ridden out with their respective fathers and Lord Longtown, regardless of the rain, she must have someone to flirt with, and the fewer young ladies present, the more certain she could establish herself as the principal talker.
Leaving her cousin, with whom she had been familiar all her life, she trained the battery of her eyelashes and her titter on Henry.
Perforce Eleanor found herself in company with Charles Bantry. “Miss Tilney, I feel I should apologize for this summary ending of our play,” Charles said as they trailed more slowly after the other pair.
“In truth, I was in difficulty following, as you perhaps noticed,” Eleanor admitted. “I was taught some German, but we mostly read hymns and poems. I can scarcely make out a newspaper or anything difficult.”
“Greek is my downfall,” Charles admitted.
“Greek! I thought boys must begin Greek at a young age.”
“And so it is. I assumed myself a great expert, after enduring years of construing Thucydides and the rest, but then an uncle of my mother’s chanced to introduce me to a visiting Greek diplomat, for you know I’m intended for the law. The truth is, I was confounded from the start. I could scarce comprehend one word in a hundred.”
Eleanor looked her surprise. “Had they taught you so ill?”
He laughed. “I could accuse the masters, but I expect the true blame rests on my shoulders. Though I dearly love a play, I am no great scholar of antiquities. Moreover, the Greek of the Athenians and that of now seems to be vastly different.”
“Very like French,” she exclaimed. “I shall never forget the day Madame de Louvette visited with her daughter. Madame was very polite, but her daughter laughed at our French, and said she could not make anything out—our accents were so ill, and our words antiquated, like those used by her grandmother.”
“And did you comprehend her French?”
“Not a word, except now and again,” Eleanor admitted. “She talked so fast it all ran together in a stream. Mary O’Bannon, whose mother is French, translated, but no one wished to tell Miss Anglesey. Mary, who is kindness itself, certainly has never said a word against what we are taught. We were glad when Mademoiselle de Louvette went away again. Nobody wanted that girl among us.”
“As well she was a girl,” Charles said, smiling. “If a fellow came among us new, and promptly started showing away like that, he would have got his jacket dusted for him. Or a dunking in the river, whichever came first.”
Eleanor, who had heard everything about Eton that a well-intentioned brother thought fit to tell a younger sister, accepted this with a smile, and as they turned the corner to enter the gallery, “I wonder why it is, if you come among persons and you are new yourself, you accept a vast deal more than you will from a newcomer behind you.”
“That is very true,” Charles exclaimed as they slowly passed the long windows, the watery light slanting in lit his gray eyes to the color of pewter. “Perhaps it might be that when one is new, one strives to learn to fit in amongst this new set—to adapt to what seems at first incomprehensible—but then that becomes habit.”
“And newcomers might appear to threaten that habit? And we do not like change, unless it is one we wished for.”
“We also do not like change, unless,” he said on a soft laugh, “the newcomer is prodigiously handsome, wealthy, or something else that we might all be if we could.”
“Oh, that is quite true,” she exclaimed, and at his encouragement, went on to relate the arrival of a girl whose widowed mother had recently married a duke. “She was not beautiful, or even very interesting, but her new father being a duke lent her all the éclat anyone could wish—”
The others’ voices had been echoing down the long stone walls. Eleanor and Charles had shut out the noise, which was chiefly Charlotte’s titters, until Charlotte herself approached. “Charles, what are you boring on about now?”
It was Eleanor who had been speaking. She halted, and caught a wry grin from Charles that made her suppress a laugh. Charlotte bestowed a sunny smile on them as she established herself in the middle of the group, and turned the topic firmly to herself, her opinion of portraits in general, and the superior quality of her ancestors in the gallery at Whitby Tor, her father’s estate, until it was time to dress for dinner.
Much later, when the ladies withdrew for the night—noise echoing upstairs from the military men playing billiards—Henry lit Eleanor up the stairs, as he often had over the years. “Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked.
“It is always fine to have Alice by,” she said. “And Lady Longtown as well. How she wept when she saw the portrait of Mother.”
Henry looked down at that.
“It seems Lord Longtown and Papa agree,” Eleanor said. “As for Lord St. Aidan, their friendship must be an accepted thing.”
Henry smiled. “Yes, the tedious conversations at dinner about enfilading, building abatis, and bulwarks, and the relative qualities of nine pound artillery over twelve.”
“Do not forget the different types of gunpowder,” Eleanor said. “Because of course we women will find ourselves in need.”
Henry laughed, then said, “And Waldo Bantry?”
Eleanor sighed. “The best I can say is that he has paid me scant attention since the day of my arrival. Except when pressed by either his father or ours, then he offers me awkward compliments of the sort I would very much rather not hear.”
“Charles says that since his father gained the title, they have all been pushing him to marry, which he can be forgiven for not wanting at one-and-twenty. They seem to think that you will consent to a marriage now, that can be put forward when you come of age.”
Eleanor shook her head resolutely.
Henry had worried about this, and he and Charles had put their heads together. But he would not embarrass his sister by telling her that. “You know I am to go up to Oxford this year.”
“Of course,” she said.
“The thing is, I should be delighted to take you anywhere when I am come down, that you may escape Northanger.”
She took his meaning as he had known she would: to escape being importuned. She nodded gratefully, and he said, “Then all you need do, if Father asks for your consent, is return no definite answer. As Mother had bade him at the very end not to promise your hand without your having made a choice, I believe he will heed her.”
This was the first she had heard of any such promise, but she understood that so much had been kept from her as a child. And even now, it struck her for the first time that her mother might not have chosen her father at all—she might have been told whom to marry. Some of the references in the much-cherished letters Lady Longtown kept were now clearer to her discernment than they had been when she was thirteen. As well she now perceived why there was such a difference in tone between her mother’s younger years and those later, until her children were born. It had little do with age, as she had blithely assumed at first.
“There is one thing I overheard our respective fathers discussing: Lord St. Aidan seems to be attempting to put into Miss Bantry’s head the idea that you ought to be invited to Whitby Tor for a long visit.”
Eleanor put her hands to her cheeks. “Oh, no, Henry,” she breathed.
“I gather that Charlotte, being the only female in the household since she was a baby, is in the habit of having her way in everything. Perhaps a female companion might put her in the way of learning how to get on in society.”
“She must have a governess, or a Lady Longtown, for that. She would not heed me.” Eleanor did not like to put certain thoughts to words, even to her brother, but she misliked the prospect of being Charlotte Bantry’s shadow, for she knew that would be her place as Charlotte’s guest. She had met enough Charlottes at Miss Anglesey’s to know what to expect.
But in this, as in so many things, her wishes were not consulted. Before the Bantrys left Northanger Abbey, the viscount genially invited them all to Whitby Tor for Christmas—the very same company. The General and Lord Longtown each closed with the invitation on the spot.
Eleanor counted upon having Alice to lend her countenance, but even that was denied her. Early in December half the Longtown household came down with a putrid sore throat, which of course required Lady Longtown to stay to nurse them all. Alice wrote from her sickbed, every line breathing sincere regret.
Eleanor was braced for the disagreeable prospect of once again being in company with people she least wished to meet. At least she would have her brother. Henry had gone down to Oxford, but he was to meet them there once he came up again, leaving Eleanor to ride with her father in great state, her maid and the servants exiled to the driver’s seat or the top.
She, so used to quiet travel on her own or with Henry, found painful her father’s posturing and great parade at the inn where they halted. Nothing, it seemed, was right, from the stables to the food, though she saw naught to complain of.
It seemed her father was well-known at this inn, and as no one spoke to her, she found it best to retire to the little waiting room reserved for her, and remain there until called to depart.
“A fine estate,” her father declared the next morning, as their berlin proceeded down the grand avenue that swept around before the house. “You will like presiding here, I make no doubt,” he added complacently, counting the Palladian columns under his breath.
Eleanor felt obliged to say, “But nothing has been settled yet.”
“Yes, but you will accept Bantry’s offer. Girls your age always fall in love with the first redcoat they see, and as you and the young captain are often in company, everything will fall out as we wish.”
Eleanor found herself disagreeing in private, though out loud she could at least agree to his praise of Whitby Tor. It truly was an impressive house, built around a grand portico, wings stretching to either side. It was set against gentle, wooded hills, with a scenic lake before.
The carriage swept them over a bridge and onto a graceful drive. Very soon, after being greeted at the front door by the viscount and his daughter, they were conducted through the house as the viscount proudly retailed its history: built upon the model of Stowe House by William Kent, it was not quite as grand (the viscount admitted modestly), whereupon he went on to recite, in tiresome detail, the measure of length, breadth, and height, not omitting the number of windows.
By the time they had tramped up and down three flights of stairs, Eleanor was aware of a headache, but her ordeal was not yet over. Though at last given leave to retire to the guest chambers, she found herself followed by Miss Charlotte Bantry, who had yet more history to relate, to wit, all the changes she had wrought within as she led Eleanor from one Egyptian or Grecian room after another.
By the time Eleanor was left to wash her face and hands of the travel dust, she knew to the penny how much each ell of fabric cost, and the history of everything from hangings to furnishings, including the ormolu clock on the marble mantelpiece opposite the foot of her bed.
Her part, she had discovered, was to marvel, praise, and thank; if she were remiss, Charlotte laid out for the compliments she was expecting. The prospect of three weeks of similar delights so weighed on her spirits that her head truly ached by the time the bell rang, calling them to dinner.
But here she found a surprise: waiting in the drawing room was Charles Bantry, newly arrived from London’s Inns of Court, where he was reading at Gray’s Inn in hopes of being called to the bar.
Charlotte found herself led in by the viscount, but to her relief, Charles sat at her other side. “I am to make my apologies for my son,” the viscount boomed. “He made every effort to be here. Such a lure, you may be sure, he must make every effort—but even captains are under orders, and so I am to promise that, barring a tempest of horrendous degree, he and your brother shall ride through the gates on the morrow. I trust we may keep you well occupied until then.”
Eleanor bowed from her chair, knowing that nothing more was expected from her. Thenceforth the viscount had nothing to say to her; he turned his attention to the General, and raised one of their favorite topics, the French war.
Eleanor soon saw that they were safely embarked on a long, detailed military conversation utterly incomprehensible to anyone else. Charlotte, seated opposite, was therefore beyond the reach of politeness, and so Eleanor trusted to the protection of the loud military conversation to ask, “Do you reside here, Mr. Bantry?”
Charles gave his head a shake. “I often stay here with company, and occasionally to aid my uncle with accounts, but Whitby Farm is my home. Your brother has spent time there—it lies beyond the wood you can see across the lake, hard by Leweston village. Once your brother joins us, we might ride over for a visit, if you like.”
Remembering Henry’s account of jolly stays with Charles, she agreed, then, on asking how he found London, Charles entertained her for the remainder of the dinner with droll accounts of some of the more peculiar figures to be found at Gray’s Inn, as well as some odd customs.
“They still speak of the library fire as if it happened a fortnight ago, but it occurred in the last century. Yet to hear some of these old fellows, you’d think they were there personally, throwing buckets of water and trying to save moldering manuscripts in the old court hand.”
If Charles was to be believed, the main requirement for being Called to the Bar was endurance of a great many elaborate formal dinners, Eleanor found out over the next few days. She suspected Charles exerted himself to present only that which was entertaining—something she was more grateful for as the days turned into a week, and the party swelled to include not just Captains Waldo Bantry and Frederick Tilney, but a parcel of equally loud, boisterous dragoons whom Captain Bantry invited at the last moment, having discovered these gentlemen at loose ends.
The viscount was happiest with a like-minded audience at hand. Dinners had to be endured during which the viscount relived at tedious length every battle won and lost with Colonel Tarleton against the rebellious North Americans, after which came an equally long withdrawal with only Charlotte as company as the gentleman lingered over their canary.
Though Eleanor was no great performer, in self defense she plucked elementary tunes on the harp in order to give employment to her hands and eyes as Charlotte, with the same fluency exhibited by her father, recounted every local ball, who danced with whom, and how many suitors she had smiled on or snubbed.
If Charlotte Bantry’s conversation contained a grain of truth, Eleanor reflected on the fourth night, half the gentlemen in the country were in severe danger of expiring for love of the fascinating Miss Bantry.
But for every dull evening she endured, there were the far more interesting days. Charlotte, after the first day, when Eleanor claimed she was happy with a book rather than following her hostess to a local shop to watch her choose new ribbons and laces for her Christmas Eve Ball gown, left her to herself.
Eleanor enjoyed the company of Henry and Charles, while Charlotte devoted herself to changing her gowns and flirting with those among the military men who might one day enjoy suitable titles.
The weather, though threatening under low gray skies, cooperated enough to permit Charles to drive Henry and Eleanor through the woods to the village, and to the farm where Mrs. Bantry, Charles’s widowed mother, carried on Charles’ father’s work on the history of the Romans in Britain. They returned by moonlight, singing verses together from their favorite Irish airs.
When snow fell at last, closing everyone into the house with a blinding white blizzard visible out the many windows, the three continued their habit of reading plays, dividing the parts between them irrespective of age or sex: in Mrs. Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem, Henry insisted on reading Letitia Hardy, whose vagaries kept the other two laughing, and Eleanor surprised herself as well as the gentlemen with her hair-witted coxcomb Flutter. Charles held up his end by ranting with admirable madness while reading Doricourt.
By the advent of the Christmas Eve Ball, Eleanor had secured requests for dances from nearly all the single men of the party, but she discovered the only one she looked forward to was the prospect of dancing the Sir Roger de Coverley with Charles.
Before January was half over, Lady Longtown’s household being at last recovered from its epidemic, the lady herself wrote to Eleanor, knowing that the girl would be spending the winter alone at Northanger with no company but the servants.
She invited Eleanor for a long stay to help pass the tedium of winter, and as Eleanor was now eighteen, and must not travel about without a lady companion, Lady Longtown introduced her to Mrs. Hughes, speaking of her fondly as another old friend of Eleanor’s mother.
Eleanor instantly recognized the name. This lady, Eleanor had gleaned from her mother’s and Lady Longtown’s correspondence, had married an unworldly curate who, in his dedication to his duties, had caught the illness going around his poor parish and had succumbed, leaving his widow with barely a competence.
As the next year passed, the three families repeated the pattern thus established: visiting over the long nights of June at Manydown, for the shooting season at Northanger, and Christmas holidays at Whitby Tor.
Eleanor loved Lady Alice as her first friend, but she could not but notice that Alice resembled her placid mother in preferring to sew and talk to reading, especially of imaginative or comical works. So when Alice walked out with her, Charles, and Henry, Eleanor conscientiously endeavored to guide the conversation to history and other more practical topics, saving the reading for when only the three of them sat together.
Thus, time passed pleasantly during the various visits, rendering the long, lonely stretches between times easier to bear. Eleanor did her best to order the household in such a way as to shield the servants from the General’s temper.
When it came time again to travel, Mrs. Hughes, living with her elder sister in the town of Gloucester, professed herself always available to accompany the daughter of her old friend—and yet, Eleanor discovered, for some reason it seemed that Mrs. Hughes was never invited on her own account, which puzzled her, as she could see how fond the two ladies were of one another.
Delicacy forbade her put her question to either Alice or her mother. Whom ought she to ask? Henry was her first choice, but he was not always home, and so, by degrees she had come to rely on the good sense, as well as the good humor, of Charles Bantry.
Invariably house parties at Northanger and at Whitby Tor included both young gentlemen, so Eleanor kept her question to herself until the annual shooting party at Northanger.
When Henry and Charles arrived together, having trusted the splendid September weather to an open phaeton, Eleanor was startled at the changes: they both had cut their hair in the new Roman style, made fashionable after the hated Powder Tax was passed.
Eleanor was not quite certain how it was, but Charles’ hair, a soft brown tint with just enough curl, made him seem older. No one would ever call him or Henry handsome—her brother’s face was too long, his chin too square, and in contrast Charles had rather a roundish face with a broad, high brow above a strong jaw and hawk nose. But Eleanor found that thoughtful brow, and the way his eyes would crinkle into smile lines when he hid laughter, much more compelling than the features of an Apollo.
By now, thanks to Lady Longtown—and even Charlotte Bantry, whose Christmas Eve Ball included everyone of consequence in the neighborhood—she was used to dancing and talking with a variety of gentlemen. But none of them were comfortable, none had the sense of humor and the breadth of interest that she had become accustomed to in Henry and Charles.
It was Charles who knew how the Whitby Tor estate and its farms were run; the viscount merely knew how to spend its rents, and how to impress visitors with his grandfather’s tastes in building.
So it was natural for her to wait until the three of them were alone together, sitting around the fire in their accustomed group, as Henry sorted through the various books and plays set out on the table. Alice was with her mother, who as always stayed retired in her rooms.
“I have a question to put to you, one I think of some delicacy,” Eleanor said.
Both Charles and Henry turned, and as her brother made an encouraging motion before leafing through Sheridan’s latest play, she explained her dilemma.
To her surprise, Charles looked away, as Henry said, “I believe you may look to Lord Longtown to solve your mystery.”
“Pray explain,” Eleanor said. “I don’t understand.”
Charles said, “Simply put, Lord Longtown regards Mrs. Hughes as little more than a pensioner, there to be employed when a gentlewoman is wanted, and easily neglected in favor or those with more privilege and position.” His voice was even, but the lack of his customary smile warned her that some meaning lay below his words.
Henry turned the conversation to the Sheridan play in his hands, and nothing more was said on that head, but Charles’s words remained with her. As the three of them walked in the garden under the autumn colors, laughing at Henry’s essays into wit, Eleanor began to realize that she did not want these days to end.
Their shoes rustled through the leaves, and the warm air of a very late summer made such excursions pleasant, but it was more than the perfect weather. It was more than the laughter and conversation the three of them shared. As she walked between the two of them, her brother on one side—so fond and so dependable—she became aware that most of her notice turned to Charles on the other: the curving wave of his short hair as it fell on his brow, his fine, capable hands, even his steady breathing. He was not dashing, dressing in the first stare. And yet she had found herself counting the days until Henry might bring him again—as she began dreading their going away more sharply each successive visit.
She dreaded his going away.
“Could this be love?” she thought, as Henry tried to recollect the verses of a satiric ballad about Robespierre, and Charles promptly tried to compose substitutions, to Henry’s groans.
What she felt was certainly not love as exhibited by heroines in novels. She was not breathless in Charles’ presence—in fact, she hadn’t fainted once. Nor did she fall upon Alice’s bosom and mingle quarts of tears when he frowned. She felt his absence, but that was a hollow sensation inside, an emptiness that only went away when the days drew the prospect of his next visit closer.
In the time it took them to make a leisurely circuit of the garden, she settled it within herself that if what she felt was not love, it was something very like it.
Ought she to say something? She, Charles, and Henry had laughed over the absurdity as stated by Mr. Richardson in the Rambler, that no young lady can be justified in falling in love until the gentleman’s love is declared. Even in her limited experience she had seen that theory thoroughly exploded—Charlotte Bantry quite determinedly laid siege to every nobleman she regarded as eligible, and even Alice had turned away from two prospective marriages (both gentleman having professed a decided regard) because she cared not for them—her eye had fallen on a quiet Irishman, as Eleanor had learned.
Then Eleanor recollected Charles’s averted face when the topic of Mrs. Hughes was discussed, and she began to perceive much that had been hitherto hidden. Charles, she thought with increasing dismay, might be regarded by the viscount, the marquis, and most importantly her father, as one of those “pensioners”—always at the beck of his uncle when needed, but disregarded at other times. He was only included in these house parties now because Henry made certain he was invited. The General never had anything to say to him other than a polite greeting when he arrived, and farewell when he went away.
In the time it took to walk inside, and upstairs to take off her bonnet, she resolved to present her dilemma to Henry, as always.
And when he lit her along the passage from Lady Longtown’s rooms to her own at the end of the evening, she drew him inside, shut the door, and said, “Henry, I wish to put a question. It is about Charles—Mr. Bantry.”
Henry touched the candle to hers, then set the two on the table. “And so?”
“Henry, I will leave off the subject if I ought not to introduce it, but do you think Mr. Bantry and I . . . might suit?”
To her surprise, Henry sat back, rubbing his jaw. Then he lifted his head, so that twin candle flames gleamed in his eyes. “I know not two people who are better suited to one another. And though we have never broached the subject—Bantry possesses too much delicacy to introduce your name—I would hazard a guess he feels it as well.”
Eleanor gave a nod. “There was that talk of pensioners.”
“You take my meaning,” Henry said approvingly. “He feels it deeply. Which is I believe why he does not speak.”
“But the case is absurd,” she retorted. “Our father has mentioned my thirty thousand pounds several times. No one I marry will ever be poor.”
“Perhaps not, but our father looks for someone higher. Charles inherits nothing—not even the house he was born in. His widowed mother is permitted to live there, but Whitby Farm will go to Waldo’s second son, when that son comes into being. Charles may eventually stand for Parliament, which is his only hope of rising in the world, and that is a gamble. It also lies in the future.”
“So saying something to him, would that be wise?”
Henry said slowly, “I think—given the circumstances—it would only hurt him. And you know our father would be exceedingly put out, because he quite counts upon your marrying Waldo.”
“I shall have to disabuse him of that, at the least,” Eleanor said bravely, though inside she quailed at the idea of disappointing her father, for she knew what the result must be.
But as it transpired, the necessity was taken out of her hands.
A fortnight following All Saints Day, Frederick arrived at Northanger for a short visit. Over dinner, he said, “By the bye, Father, I think it better to throw out a signal: Waldo Bantry has been in London, carrying dispatches, and laying siege to the Earl of Chantry’s daughter. Odds are lengthening at the clubs, ever since he was seen invited twice in Grosvenor Square.”
The General became quite red in the face, then scowled down the table at Eleanor. “Devil fly away with him! Then why should we fatigue ourselves going there for Christmas, hat in hand? I shall write to inform St. Aidan we have another engagement. Perhaps Lord Longtown may be persuaded to spend Christmas here instead. Plague take these Bantrys!” He swung his head toward Frederick. “Or do you have intentions toward the girl? What is her portion?”
“Charlotte?” Frederick said easily. “She would not have me any more than I would her. She is all but engaged to Sir George Elkin, now he has inherited. More fool he,” Frederick added caustically. “She’s fun to trifle with on the ballroom floor, but spare me her breakfast conversation!” And he laughed at his own wit.
“Then we shall put these Bantrys out of our heads,” the General said.
Eleanor stiffened her spine and though she could not quite bring herself to raise her voice, the word ‘Charles’ could be made out in her expostulation.
It was quite enough for the General, who scowled alarmingly. “‘Charles’—I trust you do not refer to Charles Bantry, the solicitor’s clerk? Worse and worse! Trust a female to . . . put them all out of your head,” he declared in a voice that rang down the stone halls.
Blinking back tears, Eleanor rose and left the table.
* * *
My occasions took me down to London from Oxford, where I met with Bantry. He told me that Waldo has, as he put it so delicately, stormed the fortress and lost, so he is now casting about for a new and better dowry. There is some talk of a duke’s daughter, but he is not taken seriously. Unless he gains his promotion to general, for no duke’s daughter will marry a mere captain.
I expect an Express from our Father to be Waiting on my desk when I return to Oxford, ordering me back home, or back anywhere else, so Charles and I exchanged our Christmas wishes early, after which we satisfied ourselves with proclaiming Waldo a Rogue, a Scoundrel, and any other satisfying epithet as his Actions have put paid to our very Enjoyable visits.
In the course of blackguarding his cousin, he let slip how very much he regrets not seeing you again, and though you did not make me your ambassador, I was fairly certain you would pardon me for replying that you might feel the same.
I am sending this from London, carrying Charles Bantry’s regards, and best wishes for your continued good health
The General valued a title almost as much as the parsimonious marquis loved spending the holidays at someone else’s expense, and the General had a very liberal hand for his friends. And so, as customary, the elder Longtowns came for Christmas along with their still-unmarried daughter.
Frederick chose to accept an invitation from another of his friends, which changed the tenor of the company enough that Lady Longtown was often seen downstairs. And so they spent a quiet holiday, especially when the General and the marquis rode out on fine days to walk over an ancient battlefield in order to estimate where fell each blow.
The best of this visit was Henry’s arrival two days before Christmas, bearing a box of books that, he told Eleanor when they had a moment to themselves, Charles Bantry had put together for her.
“Oh, pray tell him he ought not,” she exclaimed, even while turning over the promising volumes. “To go to such expense! It cannot be easy for him.”
“I would no sooner take away a pleasure of his than fly to the moon,” Henry stated. “I assure you, every other sentence while I was in London was, “Think you Miss Tilney might like this?’ or ‘I saw that play a month ago. I made certain your sister would find it amusing, and I happened upon a copy.’”
Tears of gratitude filled Eleanor’s eyes, not so much for the books—though she was glad enough to get them—but because of this evidence that she was as much in Charles’s thoughts as he was in hers.
Alice looked on with a full heart. She said nothing that was not praise at the time, but later, when she was alone with her mother, she confessed, “I would never say anything to dear Eleanor, but when I saw those novels, I thought of her as sad a heroine as any of the Camillas or Belindas within the covers.”
Lady Longtown murmured, “I would give anything to have her mother back again.”
Alice agreed, but as Lady Longtown read no novels, she let the subject drop. However, when the visit was over and Alice looked through the window at Eleanor standing alone at the door, waving her handkerchief in farewell, the thought came back with full strength. Oh, if only one could dip one’s pen in the inkwell and write another ending for a deserving friend!
Back at Northanger, Henry was also preparing to go. Eleanor, alone with him, said, “Henry, please convey my thanks and my very best wishes—oh, such trite words. Do not laugh at me.”
Henry looked down at her from the saddle, shaking his head. “Laughter is sometimes our best shield, but not at this moment. Your heart is full. I can see it. What will you have me write?”
The word ‘love’ hovered on Eleanor’s lips, but delicacy kept her from speaking it. Everything was wrong—that word must only be spoken when she and Charles were together, on the threshold of a future united.
She stepped back. “My thanks for everything he sent, for I will read and reread them, gladly. But Henry, if you could send him a few guineas, and express it in such a way—that I beg he act as our agent, looking out good prospects—oh, you will know how to do it so as not to pain him.”
Now Henry did laugh. “My dear Eleanor, we have the same thought: I already have been doing just that. And now I had better ride before this threatening snow actually falls.”
She clasped her hands and stepped back again. “Pray write to me! Tell me all his doings that you can.”
As always, Henry kept his word. This correspondence set the tone for the remainder of the year.
Henry was normally a sporadic letter writer (he admitted he studied too much for éclat) but for the sake of his sister and his friend, he began a voluminous correspondence with Eleanor, in which the chief content was Charles Bantry’s thoughts and doings. And Eleanor wrote back even longer letters, retailing her opinions of the books and plays that Mr. Bantry continued to send via Henry, knowing that Henry would share her thoughts with Charles.
By this method they each could satisfy scruples—they were not corresponding secretly—but as time passed, and Eleanor began to attend local assemblies, and in London Charles Bantry enjoyed all the pastimes the metropolis had to offer, it is safe to say that neither could be serious about anyone else.
Eleanor never danced with a young man, be he ever so rich or handsome, that she did not compare him unfavorably with Charles; she discovered, as have many before and since, that the richer and the more handsome the man, the more assured he seemed to be that any young lady’s interest would repose solely in himself.
In short, they were boring.
Charles Bantry had been early inoculated against the frivolousness of young ladies like his cousin Charlotte and her friends. In Eleanor Tilney, who had been used to Henry Tilney’s quick tongue and drolleries, he had found someone with whom conversations never foundered, or even ended. They must be forever interrupted with yet more to say.
So they went on in this style until Henry came down successfully from Oxford, ready to renovate Woodston Parsonage, and take up his clergy duties. His time was still no longer his own, but he was only twenty miles from Northanger, and as Woodston had a dedicated and energetic curate, he was able to get away more frequently.
His new, relative freedom, the lessened chances of seeing Charles Bantry, and the occasion of the General’s beginning to complain of gouty symptoms raised in Henry a new idea.
After the holidays were over, instead of the family settling in for the grim darkness of winter, he must get them all to Bath.
* * *
Henry guided her firmly through the worst press, though they were forced to a slow circuit. Eleanor could not dance with anyone, as she had not been introduced, but for her this was an advantage. Another time—in the Lower Rooms—she would bow and smile if Mr. King thought fit to present some unknown young man to her notice, but this, her first night in Bath, she had eyes only for one person.
And then there he was. He, too, squeezed through the press, and she had a moment to see him, to calm the leap of her heart, and even to observe the flush of warmth in his countenance, and his effort to keep his coat from harm by the heedless gestures of a party of gentleman taking up room in the middle of the passage.
Then he caught sight of her, and she felt as if someone had poured sunshine from her modest feather headdress to her white gloves and her new gown with its Grecian embroidery along the sleeve bands and the hem.
His smile illuminated his face as he bowed, and she curtseyed. At first the conversation must be awkward, carried out in a high voice in order to be heard over the noise all around them, but at that moment the musicians brought the present dance to a close, and Charles held out his hand. “If we are nimble, we might be able to get into the set making up.”
Eleanor had no objection to that! Thinking herself in high luck indeed, she took his arm and followed as he ploughed through the crowd until it opened up abruptly.
The set swiftly formed around them, leaving them facing one another, and smiling. At length he said, “I must confess, there is a war here.” He touched his waistcoat over his heart. “I am so very glad to see you at last, Miss Tilney, but I must admit to scruples. The world might see us right now—that is, everyone except your father—and yet it feels like a clandestine meeting.”
The General might have seen them, too, but he had gone straight to the card room, leaving Henry and Eleanor to the mob.
“I know,” said Eleanor, looking up into his gray eyes, so that she might remember them more clearly during the long days to come when they would be apart. “I know, and I mean to be good. But I would not be better anywhere else.”
“We think alike in that,” he said, and at that moment the music struck up, forcing them apart as the line twirled, parted, then came together.
For the remainder of the dance neither was much aware of anything they said. This was not the place for any kind of conversation. But each was elated to be exactly where they were, and the dance—shuffling, awkward, the music scarcely heard over the buzz of voices—could never be long enough.
Though no one had the smallest particle of interest in them, they were too conscientious to dance more than twice, and—Henry having scouted ahead—shared tea, crowded in at the end of a table with a large party of strangers. But by the end of this period they were agreed to meet in the morning to walk to Beechen Cliff.
They could meet only briefly at the theatre, where the General had taken a box. They had to avoid the Pump Room, for there the General was supposed to be found. Eleanor did feel a certain amount of guilt, for she was exerting herself to prevent her maid from discovering her true purpose in Bath. She did not want the woman, who had been chosen for her by her mother when she was but a girl, to find herself questioned by the General.
Eleanor knew that Miss Blake, a kindly, timid soul, would be equally miserable if asked to lie, or to be obliged to disclose the truth. Therefore Miss Blake must know nothing.
She and Charles met for a few minutes at the least almost every night, but each fine day was made felicitous by the three of them taking long country walks, wherein they could freely canvas every subject as well as take in the splendid sights. Eleanor enjoyed these walks as much as she delighted in the dances when she and Charles partnered.
Though sublimely happy, she spared a thought for her brother, and was glad to see Henry enjoying himself on his own account. Like Frederick (who regarded himself above the company one met with at the Gloucestershire assemblies, but whose style she had seen at the private balls) Henry enjoyed flirtation. But unlike Frederick, who was careless of his partners’ hearts, Henry confined his banter to entertaining absurdities—and for the space of a dance he could find equal diversion in ladies who affected superciliousness, or desperate attentions anywhere else, if he could not find one who laughed at his repartee.
Eleanor’s and Charles’s felicity, perhaps, was the more intense for their awareness of the inexorable approach of his day of departure. He could only get away from London for two weeks, though he declared that he would do everything he could to arrange a return.
He rode away at the end of the two weeks, leaving Eleanor watching for the post each day, before walking or driving out with Henry.
Midway through their third week, just as they had established a routine, the General abruptly declared, “The waters are over-praised. I find nothing different in my constitution, in spite of these smooth-talking physicians with their Omnium this and Gatherum that.”
He rose from the breakfast-table, saying, “Give notice to your woman to pack up your things, Eleanor. Henry, of course you may do as you like, but I am giving notice to quit this house at the end of the week.”
He walked out of the room, leaving the other two to gaze in astonishment at one another. “He is bored,” Henry said.
Eleanor agreed, in silence. She had lived long enough now to understand that their father must be important wherever he went, but in the vast crowds of Bath there could be nothing interesting in a General who was not in an active command—whose name was not mentioned in the Times in conjunction with the troubles in France, or elsewhere in the world.
“I will apprise Bantry,” Henry said, and, seeing the sorrow his sister could not hide, he added, “There is always next year.”
She was too distraught to thank him for the thought.
* * *
As for Eleanor, it seemed there was nothing for it but get through the days as best one could. Even Alice’s company was denied Eleanor; the Longtowns would not return from Ireland until the spring, whereupon Alice would be leaving behind the man she had secretly betrothed—for she was in a similar situation to Eleanor. She had fallen in love with an Irish lord whom she had befriended in London, but her father wavered in giving permission because in his view an Irish title was never as good as an English.
As the iron cold of November closed in, and once again Eleanor must walk out wearing wear pattens and heavy wraps, she reflected on the passing of her birthday. She was now of age, and it seemed she, like her mother, might be single much of her life, if not most of it.
A repeat of the Bath scheme seemed destined to failure before it could be raised, until help arrived from an unexpected quarter.
Frederick arrived home in a great clattering of horse hooves and ringing of spurs. He very seldom came, as increasingly he and the General disagreed violently over Frederick’s allowance—he maintaining that the quarterly amount given him was scarcely enough to afford him to live like a gentleman, and Northanger under his father’s reign could be nothing but dull.
But this day, he was all smiles when he joined them at dinner. “Father, you are going to try the waters again, are you not?”
“Why should I think they are any better now?” the General asked.
“Everyone agrees they are beneficial,” Frederick said carelessly, then leaned forward. “If you take lodgings in a good street, I shall join you, for you must have heard that Lady Amelia Cullen—daughter of Lord Longtown’s brother—is a widow, Cullen having expired in India, after sending home a fortune. As her father is dead, there was every expectation that she would take up residence at Manydown, but Major Hughes, who knows the family, says there is talk that she will finish out half-mourning at Bath instead.”
The General sat up at this. “How is this? Does the marquis think of going?”
Frederick shrugged carelessly. “Who else is to take her but her uncle?”
Perhaps they all could be persuaded to go, Eleanor thought. Alice could be counted upon to lend countenance to her schemes to see Charles Bantry, and she—unlike poor Miss Blake—had nothing to fear from the General.
Eleanor turned to her father. “Oh, pray consent, sir.”
The General nodded slowly, and Eleanor could not help but think that though the General might not be first in company on his own account, to be seen arm in arm with a marquis would gain him the envy and approbation that he seemed to feel must be his due in any public place.
“A fine idea,” the General said. “I shall have a great many matters to arrange with my steward, but once Christmas is well over, I believe Henry ought to be able to leave off his sermons for a week, and ride to Bath to arrange lodgings for us.”
Eleanor finished her dinner in a flurry, then ran upstairs to write to her friend.
As it transpired, everything was in a fair way to being settled when she received an answer in return.
My dearest Eleanor,
I have mulled for days whether I ought to write this letter. You have always been the sister I wished I’d had. It has always been the wish of my dear Mother as well as Myself to Protect you as we could from the worst of Worldly Wiles, but as my Mother wisely says, you are now of age.
So I believe I may trust you with these lines, as you have entrusted me with the secret of your Inclinations for Mr. C.B.
If my father had any idea that your esteemed eldest Brother wished to court Amelia, he would forbid her to stir a Step outside the estate, though she is above thirty and the mother of a daughter. You know how very careful my Father is with Money, and, in his Words, though he has a great regard for General Tilney, and he feels that Captain Frederick Tilney has a thousand good qualities as an Officer, he believes he would be a Careless husband—and when it should transpire that he comes into the property, that the captain will probably run through his Inheritance in a year unless he has the good fortune to marry a strong-willed wife. My Mother unites with him in this, as she feels that Captain Tilney would not make Amelia’s happiness his first concern—or even his tenth.
In short, do not look for us at Bath. But Mother and I are also united in Agreeing that nothing definite shall be said until you are safely there. We both feel it greatly that you, whose wishes are always so simple, and whose Affections have settled on a truly Fine Gentleman, should be balked for the worst of Reasons.
Pray burn this as soon as you receive it—
Alice did not burn the letter, but kept it locked in her desk until Henry rode over to Northanger next. She showed it to him and asked, “What must I do?”
He said, “Nothing. Let everything go forward as planned. The physician recommends the waters to Father whether or not the company suits, and as for Frederick, he is very well able to take care of himself.”
Accordingly, Henry set out on a mild day late in January, the low sun bright enough to warm the air from frigid to brisk, the ground hard enough for the horses’ hooves. He made excellent time therefore, baiting at the Beaufort Arms in Petty-France as they had the previous year.
By the next afternoon he had arranged for lodgings in Milsom Street, a locale he knew would please their father, and straight off dispatched a letter to Charles. Having completed the arrangements to his satisfaction, he was free to enjoy himself until Saturday, whence he would return so as to be at Woodston to conduct divine services the following day.
Friday evening found him at the Lower Rooms, being welcomed by the Master of Ceremonies, who had altogether too few unattached gentlemen willing to dance with the many hopeful ladies always in attendance.
Henry always enjoyed dancing. The music, the movement, the patterns as people twirled and leaped and bounded; for a short time he could be amused by anything and anybody. As had happened before, he found himself presented to a very young lady who was obviously new to Bath, if not new to dancing. A slim figure and a quantity of brown curling hair scarcely made her stand out from the crowd, but her countenance was open, and her sparkling eyes making it clear she came with every expectation of enjoying herself.
Miss Morland knew the figures well enough, but she seemed self-conscious, her expressive gaze earnest as she glanced from him to the others in the line and back again. During the few, trifling remarks they exchanged, her serious demeanor lightened to a quick smile before the gravity of concentration returned.
He was sufficiently satisfied with Miss Morland as a partner to accompany her to tea after their two dances, rather than deposit her back with her companion. Once they had engaged in the insipid ceremonial expected of what society flattered itself formed rational discourse, he put forward his customary questions about Bath, and sat back in expectation of amusement.
Once again, she did not disappoint: there was no pretense of a fashionable ennui, nor die-away airs.
He offered her some nonsense about the usual Bath questions, ending with an air of mock hauteur, “I have been very negligent—but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.”
Miss Morland regarded him with her bright gaze, and said with quiet sensibility, “You need not give yourself that trouble, sir.”
“No trouble I assure you, madam,” he said, now affecting a simper. “Have you been long in Bath, madam?”
Miss Morland bit her lip, as if trying to hide a laugh, but her eyes gave her away as she said, “About a week, sir.”
Henry decided he was going to tease that laugh out of her. “Really?” he exclaimed, hand to his breast.
Her eyes widened. “Why should you be surprised, sir?”
He kept up his nonsense, to which she replied with steady politeness, her quick gaze sometimes narrowing, sometimes shifting away, but that laugh never quite escaped. Henry, put on his mettle, increased the nonsense, until Miss Morland’s companion—a lady whose obvious respectability was her chief claim to interest—interrupted them to draw attention to a pin in her gown.
Capital! On the subject of dress, Henry had been accompanying Eleanor to the local shops ever since she had gained an age to take an interest in such things, and here at last he won his reward. When he soberly informed Mrs. Allen that Miss Morland’s gown would not wash well, Miss Morland laughed before she quickly caught herself up.
Before Henry could turn to her to win another, Mrs. Allen ploughed placidly on, making it clear that she could spend the entire evening upon the subject of muslin.
Miss Morland was too polite, or too inexperienced, to venture a remark much less more laughter, though he hoped to tease one or the other out of her. When at last the company was in movement, and they were able to leave Mrs. Allen to contemplation of clothing, he danced again with Miss Morland and this time he won another laugh.
When they bowed and made their farewells, he walked away, mildly pleased with the evening—the young lady so refreshingly natural, the companion delightfully absurd—and he hoped he had in his turn furnished her some entertainment.
It would be a shame, he thought as he walked back to the White Hart, when the inevitable occurred: she would find friends who would lead her into the fashionable excesses of the Charlotte Bantrys, and if he saw her again, she would affect all the airs and graces young ladies seemed to regard as necessary as their feathers and fans.
* * *
And yet as the week passed, the General found excuses to delay. This task must be seen to at once—the stable dissatisfied him—the steward might be found neglectful. When Henry and Eleanor took a walk, she said, “I believe Father is waiting upon assurance from Lord Longtown that they are on their way to Bath.”
Henry looked down into his sister’s face. “And are they?”
A telltale blush was enough of an answer: nothing had changed in that regard, and Eleanor had kept silence.
“Then I shall propose that we write to invite Mrs. Hughes to accompany us, and if she is willing, the three of us go ahead.”
Eleanor whirled to face him. “Oh, Henry that would be capital.” Charles’s name was unspoken between them, but Eleanor understood from Henry’s silence that Charles had certainly been apprised of their plans, and might even now be on his way.
Eleanor knew that he could get away from his duties in London only with difficulty, which made her the more frantic to be gone. But she suppressed her emotions, as always, and Henry walked away to the stable in search of the General.
The General—perhaps considering his own comfort in being able to travel in state, without a parcel of females and all their impedimenta crowded into the coach—closed with Henry’s offer at once. Their reward was to be dispatched ahead of their father, which meant, barring bad weather, they might be in Bath early enough to attend the dancing that Monday night, for Henry traveled simply, his equipage speedy. Mrs. Hughes—always ready to be of service, and delighted to escape to the comfort of Bath—was ready the moment they drove to her homes.
Thus they reached Milsom Street at an early enough hour to get settled and look about them. Eleanor left Miss Blake tidying away the last of her things into the drawers that she had recently cleaned, and went down to the drawing room, where she found Mrs. Hughes waiting.
“We are much too late arrived to visit the Pump Room, of course,” said this lady, “but I suggest we go to the Upper Rooms, and at least make a circuit.”
“All the world will be there,” Henry said, sauntering into the drawing room. “And his brother and sister as well.”
“Just so,” said gentle Mrs. Hughes. “While there might be little opportunity for dancing, there is all the greater chance of our recognizing someone we know. I hope that this way, we might find you a better companion than a widow, Miss Tilney.”
Here was an unexpected turn of events! Mrs. Hughes, ordinarily a quiet, retiring soul, appeared to be determined to be vigorous in her chaperonage, very much against her nature.
Eleanor thanked her, but added, “If you do not wish to venture into the crowd, I am content to wait. Last year taught me not to expect much.”
Mrs. Hughes, unaware of course of such a person as Charles Bantry being within a hundred miles of Bath, said, “And so you were confined to the drawing room until General Tilney or Mr. Tilney here was able to accompany you? A young lady wants friends.” And she gave a firm nod. “You will enjoy taking a turn about the Pump Room, or walking to Edgar’s Buildings to visit the shops and meet other young people, and when the weather permits, taking a turn in Sydney Gardens. I am very willing to do these things, but if we were to find you a friend in another young lady, you will enjoy them much more.”
There was nothing to be said to that, except to express gratitude. Eleanor, who wanted only to spend as much time with Charles as possible—which she could not do under Mrs. Hughes’ eye anymore than she could in company with this hypothetical friend—must once again hide her true feelings as she trusted that the reclusive widow would neither recognize anyone nor wish to endure the press of the crowd, leaving Henry and Eleanor to themselves.
But in this, as in so many things, she was balked.
Not five minutes after their arrival, Mrs. Hughes exclaimed under her breath, “Ah! I believe that is . . . yes.” She turned a beaming smile to Eleanor. “Before I met your dear mother and Lady Longtown to be, I was at another school. And here is one of my schoolfellows—who possesses an entire family of daughters. Just the very thing!”
Eleanor and Henry were left to follow Mrs. Hughes, who in triumphant good will, sailed into the crowd. Eleanor had enough time to be surprised by Henry smiling and bowing at one of the numerous company toward which Mrs. Hughes ventured, before Mrs. Hughes shook hands with another widow. Eleanor stood between what became two parties, as Henry spoke to a very young lady and an older one, and Mrs. Hughes spoke to her friend.
Eleanor caught the name ‘Mrs. Thorpe’ as—just beyond Mrs. Hughes’ shoulder—her breath caught: here was Charles! He stood uncertainly, and Eleanor did as well, wondering if she dared to introduce him.
Then Mrs. Hughes beckoned to Eleanor to say with the happy smile of a conjurer, “Mrs. Thorpe and Mrs. Allen have invited us to join their party—see here is a chair for you, dear Miss Tilney.”
Charles backed away as Eleanor must sit down, and compose herself. The others around her were all in motion as another dance was being made up. Henry was also gone, Mrs. Hughes having spied another acquaintance present with her hopeful daughter. Only the unknown young lady remained, until a young man came up to her, saying with the manner of long acquaintance, “Hey day, I’ve kept you waiting. Let’s hop it, before the crowd squeezes us out again.”
The young lady looked downward, plainly not very happy with this careless greeting, but she obediently followed her partner as he elbowed his way through the crowd.
Henry reappeared, and smiled at Mrs. Hughes. “I left Miss Smith for a moment, having found an old schoolfellow to introduce to my sister, that they may join the dance directly.”
Mrs. Hughes, distracted by her conversation with Mrs. Thorpe, seemed delighted that everything was falling out so well, and Eleanor could not but help notice how very adroitly Henry managed not to introduce her partner’s name into the discourse. But: “I fear there is scarcely any room left,” Mrs. Hughes said.
Mrs. Thorpe interjected here, “My Isabella will show her the way—where is she gone to? She and Mr. Morland are somewhere in this crowd. Well, perhaps Miss Morland will do.”
Mrs. Hughes once again exerted herself on Eleanor’s behalf, and leading her through the crowd, came up at last to the very young lady Eleanor had earlier noticed. Eleanor found herself introduced to “Miss Morland,” as Charles made his way into the line opposite.
The crowd was nearly insupportable, the noise so great Eleanor could barely make out the scrape of the violins. The heat was scarcely less oppressive than the noise, yet Eleanor danced lightly, filled with the sunlight of happiness at once again having Charles there.
They were only able to exchange a few words, for that was all the dance permitted, and Eleanor was further distracted by Miss Morland, who appeared to be far more interested in talking to her than to her partner, who she discovered during one of their exchanges was “Mr. Thorpe.”
The moment the dance ended, Miss Morland was promptly claimed by a stylish young woman, which freed Eleanor to walk about the perimeter of the room with Charles. Eleanor’s awareness of the heat and noise vanished—everything disagreeable was sunk below notice, replaced by the sublime felicity of Charles’ steady gray gaze, his tender smile, the little curl of hair that fell forward to touch his eyebrow.
Greatly daring—trusting to the press of people who took no notice whatsoever—she slid her hand into his arm, reveling in the press of his fingers over hers. “Your brother,” he said, “charged me to bring the latest from London, and I have executed his wishes.”
“Oh?” Eleanor replied. “What have we?”
“A very silly novel by the author of The Children of the Abbey. Clermont studies the hackneyed so determinedly in every degree that one might call it a distillation.”
“Capital,” Eleanor said, laughing. “It ought to read aloud well.”
“Preferably with a suitable thunderstorm to add to the atmosphere,” Charles said. “Cumberland’s new play, The Eccentric Lover—the ink is scarcely dry. I was in luck, finding it newly appeared at the bookseller the day I took the mail coach, so I had plenty to read.”
Eleanor’s heart contracted within her breast. She hated the idea of him squeezed into the mail coach for what must be a long, dirty, wearying journey. “I am sorry,” she burst out, her heart too charged for restraint. “I ought not to . . . It seems vastly unfair, your coming all this way, for so short a stay.”
“I would walk,” he said simply. “And twice as far. Farther. Just to see your smile. It sustains me during the months we can only exchanged trivialities through the exemplary patience of your brother.”
“Oh, Charles,” she whispered.
He stopped, and faced her, looking down with so serious a countenance that her heart stuttered against her ribs. “Eleanor, permit me to speak to your father.”
“Oh, I couldn’t—it would be terrible.”
“I am not afraid of him.”
“But I am,” she said, taking his hands in hers. “You have only seen him in company. You do not know his temper. If he forbids me directly to never see you, or communicate with you, then I must obey. I know we are close enough to doing wrong—but I can countenance meeting publicly.”
He gave a nod of understanding.
“And were the worst to happen, though he cannot forbid me to think about you, to have only memory would break my heart.”
He bowed slightly, his smile gone. “Of course I will not speak until you give me leave.”
She knew he wanted to ask “when”—she felt the word as a constraint between them—and sorrow constricted her throat. She made an effort to smile, to enjoy what little time they had. And almost as soon as they were in motion again, there was Mrs. Hughes coming their way, searching through the crowd for her charge.
Charles touched her hand, murmured, “I had better go,” and taking a step, was lost in the press of dancers coming to form a new set.
Mrs. Hughes appeared a moment later. “There you are, dear Miss Tilney. I was afraid I had lost you.”
“I beg pardon for putting you to so much trouble.”
“Oh, my dear, think nothing of it—but this great crowd —we are going in to tea.”
Eleanor let herself be drawn along, and though it was a large party who sat down together, and Mrs. Hughes looked proud to have found two old friends from her youth whose presence provided the unexceptionable companionship she had hoped to discover for Eleanor’s benefit, Eleanor herself could scarcely bring herself to endure the heat, noise, and interminable nothingness of the conversations. She sat by Mrs. Hughes, her single hope that she could dance with Charles once more before they were obliged to go home.
* * *
Thither therefore they went, Henry obligingly keeping them company. The Pump Room indeed proved to be too crowded to afford a place to sit, and so they proceeded to the Crescent where, to Mrs. Hughes’ delight, they encountered both her friends, and so the parties joined.
Mrs. Hughes had not known Mrs. Allen except as an acquaintance, and fell into conversation in order to repair that, leaving Mrs. Thorpe to her young charge and his brother. Mrs. Thorpe was only too happy to encourage these smart young people to get acquainted with her offspring—for she was always thinking ahead to marriage—and uttered a great deal in their praise after lamenting the fact that her eldest two had gone out exploring in the countryside.
The General not having yet arrived (and had not authorized Henry to secure a box at the Orchard Theater, where location was of particular interest) they were at liberty to attend the undress ball at one of the Assembly rooms. Henry, professing himself ready to escort his sister, enabled Mrs. Hughes to stay back if she liked.
The evening being exceptionally bitter, she was content with all she had achieved so far, and felt she had earned a quiet evening in the fine parlor, her feet on the fender, and her much-read copy of Hannah More’s Sacred Dramas on her lap.
While she was thus blamelessly and contentedly occupied, Eleanor danced with Charles among a set of strangers who had not the least interest in any of them, and Henry entertained himself with a series of partners, including three sisters, each more affected than the last—the eldest of whom managed, among her languishing airs, to insinuate in her lisping voice some fairly penetrating questions as to how much of a fortune Henry possessed, and how large a home.
Eleanor’s happiness was unsullied in not knowing that this evening was to be the pinnacle of her felicity: when they arrived back, it was to discover that the General had arrived not long after they left, and the house was at sixes and sevens.
After issuing his orders, the General had gone out, so Eleanor and Henry did not see him that night, and the next morning, he was still upstairs when they came down together to an early breakfast.
They had scarcely begun when a note arrived begging Henry and Eleanor to take an early walk to the Pump Room—via the White Hart across the way.
To receive a note directly from Charles could only be bad news. Eleanor dressed as fast as she could, and with beating heart, set out with Henry.
Her first glance of Charles’s pale, set face confirmed her fears. The words “My father” were on her lips when Charles met them at the door, and, conducting them to a table in the corner, sat down, proffering a letter.
“It is from my mother,” he said, taking them both by surprise. “Begging me to return. She says that Lord St. Aidan has suffered an apoplectic attack. She reports he has been blooded, and is resting comfortably—confined to a low diet—but the medical man’s fears are such that she thinks I ought to return at once, to help with the affairs of the estate.”
When Henry and Eleanor, each with full hearts, had said everything that was proper, Charles continued, “My horse has been ordered. I only waited to give you word in person, before I must take leave.”
Eleanor could not prevent tears from starting, and trusted to her bonnet to hide her face as they shook hands earnestly. All their feelings must be communicated thus—their fingers clung tightly together until the strength of his feelings nearly caused her fingers to crepitate. She protested with a watery laugh, he apologized and kissed each finger, and then, as if he could not control the words that might burst out at any moment, picked up his worn greatcoat and his hat, and was gone.
Neither spoke as Henry escorted Eleanor back to Milsom Street. She was glad of the walk for it enabled her to recover a semblance of calm. She scolded herself into rationality: the viscount might improve so rapidly that Charles would be able to return. And until then, at least she was at Bath, instead of being immured at Northanger during winter. There was plenty to do, plenty to see, and there were others to think of—and her own sensibilities to hide, as the General was at that moment coming down to breakfast.
“And there you are,” the General greeted them. “Good morning, Mrs. Hughes. How do you do? Henry, the morning is exceptionally fine, and as it appears our particular friends have not yet arrived, let us take advantage of the day and ride up to Beechen Hill, and perhaps beyond.”
“I am yours to command, sir,” Henry said.
Mrs. Hughes then turned to Eleanor to suggest that they, too, take advantage of the fine weather walk out to the Pump Room. Eleanor was inclined to demur, but she did not want to attract any more notice from her father than would naturally fall to her portion, and agreed in her quiet voice. As she had not changed out of her walking dress, once again sent for pelisse, bonnet, and gloves.
As expected, they found Mrs. Thorpe well established between the music gallery and the great clock, Mrs. Allen next to her. Mrs. Hughes, welcomed by both, joined them and fell into a conversation about the weather, from which Eleanor’s mind wandered almost at once.
In looking about the room, she spied a familiar figure—Miss Morland, at that moment detaching herself from a handsome young woman dressed very smartly, almost too smartly. Eleanor recognized Miss Thorpe, who had been pointed out once or twice by her fond mother, but who on both occasions had been too occupied in whispering behind her fan to the gentleman she was in company with to spare time for an introduction.
But Miss Morland obviously had no such preference; she made her way to Eleanor’s side, saying, “I hoped to see you again, Miss Tilney.”
Her voice and face were so cheerful that Eleanor made an effort to respond in kind, after which Miss Morland said, “How do you like Bath?”
Eleanor said, “I find it agreeable, to be sure. And you?”
Miss Morland’s eyes widened with obvious pleasure. “Oh, how could anyone not be happy at Bath? There is something to do every day, and one might dance every night, if one wished.”
Eleanor’s heart grieved a little because there was only one person with whom she wished to dance, but in the face of such innocent enthusiasm, she was prompted to a smile. “Is this your first visit?”
“Yes,” replied Miss Morland. “I never thought such a thing would come in my way, but my friends the Allens invited me to accompany them to Bath.”
“That was a happy thought,” Eleanor said, “and a generous impulse.”
“Was not it?” Miss Morland replied, and then with a sidelong look and a shy, somewhat embarrassed smile, “How well your brother dances!”
Until this moment, Eleanor had never once considered either of her brothers in the role of a romantic figure. Frederick was too loud, too abrupt, and too selfish, in spite of his dashing air and good looks, and Henry . . . was Henry, her faithful companion and protector.
“Henry!” she exclaimed, smiling at Miss Morland’s rosy cheeks. Even so mild an encomium had never come her way, and she wondered at this young lady seeing Henry in such a different light. “Yes, he does dance very well.”
Miss Morland then went on to inquire closely into Henry’s partner two nights previous—a lifetime ago, to Eleanor—in a way that from anyone else might have proved uncomfortable, but Miss Morland was so transparently earnest that Eleanor found herself amused, and charmed.
“He never comes to the Pump Room, I suppose?”
“Yes, sometimes,” Eleanor said. “But he has rid out this morning with my father.”
At that moment, Mrs. Hughes, perhaps having had enough of a good thing in Mrs. Thorpe’s well-intentioned praise of her offspring (and Mrs. Allen’s praise of her own dress), appeared, to suggest their return. Eleanor had time to assure Miss Morland of her intention to attend the next evening’s cotillion ball, and then they were walking back.
The General in the course of the morning had succeeded in adding his name to the Subscription Book, and engaged a fine box at the theater. Thus he was well prepared to greet his expected friends, whenever they might arrive; he had considered deeply, and was come to the conclusion that to write to the marquis inquiring of his arrival date was to appear in some wise as a supplicant, seeing as the marquis had not seen fit to write to him first, asking if they might meet in Bath. He would scorn to admit that his knowledge of the marquis’s plans had arrived through his son.
So the General settled in to entertain himself as best he could—and to make an attempt at the waters, or to be seen making this attempt—until the arrival of the Longtowns.
Consequently, they were all to attend the cotillion ball the next day. Eleanor had forgotten her conversation at the Pump Room until she saw Henry in his new coat.
“I will not be the only one glad you are to go with us,” she said to him.
“What is this?” Henry asked, delighted to see her attempt at a smile. “Mrs. Hughes is harboring a secret wish to dance?”
Eleanor’s smile flickered wider for a heartbeat, before she said, “No, I believe it your former dancing partner.”
“Miss Smith?” Henry replied. “I thank you for the warning.”
“You did not care for Miss Smith?” Eleanor said, remembering the fashionably dressed young lady.
“Let it be said I fault no one for ambition, especially young ladies, who must get themselves wed, as there is little else when a fortune is in want,” he replied. “But when one has to pass an entire evening listening to strictures about the frivolity, waste, hilarity, and sinfulness of an entire company—issued from a lady dressed in pink-trimmed jaconet—one begins to contemplate the depths of hypocrisy to which a lady determined to marry will sink.”
Eleanor shuddered. “I gather she thought such strictures proper to a clergyman’s wife?”
“Yes. Making me sympathize with the parish where she must have grown up, if such was her example.”
“I should say! But however, the partner I meant was Miss Morland.”
“Miss Morland,” Henry repeated.
“Insofar as I may be a judge, she seems to have a taste for your particular style of nonsense.” And when Henry laughed, Eleanor added, “I hope you have not taken a dislike to her.”
“Not at all,” Henry said. “Will I sound like a coxcomb if I venture this observation: she may be the youngest of my various partners this year, but she was the most sensible? Unless, of course, she has taken it upon herself to adopt the manners of that other young lady I saw her in company with, the one with the elaborate headdress.”
“I believe that is Miss Thorpe,” Eleanor said.
Nothing more was said about either young lady, but Eleanor noticed that when they entered the Lower Rooms that evening—rather late, as the General did not believe it suited his prestige to number among the early arrivals—Henry found Miss Morland and if appearances were anything to go by, was accepted with happy alacrity.
Eleanor sat down with the chaperones, having no intention of dancing. Any pleasure she might gain would be in watching Henry’s progress. Consequently she watched as well as she was able in spite of the crowd, and so observed the differences between Miss Morland’s dance and her friend Miss Thorpe’s. The latter appeared to have ensnared young Mr. Morland, who only had eyes for her, whereas his smartly dressed partner was always watching the other dancers, and flirting with her fan.
In contrast, Miss Morland only had eyes for Henry. Eleanor was obliged to smile. Miss Morland’s admiration of him was the more evident when she was approached by Mr. Thorpe, which occasioned the first expression of disapprobation Eleanor had seen in the young lady. This was no flirt, casting about everywhere for admiring eyes.
Eleanor could see from Henry’s smile that he was teasing Miss Morland much the way he teased her, and that she smiled back with every evidence of enjoyment. The result was, when the two rejoined her, she introduced the topic of walks.
Here she was not disappointed. Miss Morland’s spontaneous expression of delight was open and genuine, and so it was swiftly settled between the three of them that, if the weather should cooperate, they would call for Miss Morland in Pulteney Street at noon the following day.
Thereupon, Mrs. Allen, feeling she had sat long enough, chose to take her young charge home so that she could continue to sit in more comfort at her own hearth.
Henry and Eleanor had begun to take a turn about the room, which was thinning of company, when they found themselves confronted by the tall, stylish Miss Thorpe. “Mr. Tilney,” said this young lady with a ready smile. “I believe we can all but say we are acquainted, as our parties have combined more often than not, but somehow or other we have not been properly introduced.”
Henry bowed, and Eleanor curtseyed as Miss Thorpe turned to her. “And Miss Tilney, I tremble to meet for my dearest friend Catherine—the dearest angel you could conceive—has been forever dinning my ear with praise of your taste and elegance, and I see she has only spoken a particle of the truth. That is the most heavenly gown! Every young lady in the room must be jealous, and I suffer a thousand dreads of comparison.”
Eleanor, seeing no shadow of dread in Miss Thorpe’s complacent smile merely bowed again, afraid if she spoke it might be satirical.
But Miss Thorpe had already turned away from her. “Mr. Tilney,” she said. “Catherine has sung your praises these fifty ages, quite convincing us all that you are the best dancer in the room. And I trust her completely as the best judge, for though she is very new to Bath, she is a most apt pupil—learns a million times faster than my own sisters, it must be confessed. One might never take her for a mere country miss.”
“Miss Morland seems happy in her choice of instructress,” Henry said.
“For my part,” Miss Thorpe confided, “it would cut up my peace abominably if I could not be helping the sweetest girl you could ever conceive gain a pretense of town polish. Everyone laughs at me for my loyalties, for they are extreme. Men say we women have no regard for our own sex, but I defend my friends no matter what anyone says—those who say my sweetest Catherine arrived woefully ignorant and in need of guidance win no approbation from me. Or my brother, who holds himself the chief of her admirers, and if I may breathe a delicate hint, trusts his regard returned.”
“Happy,” said Henry, “are those who can safely know the minds of others.”
Miss Thorpe’s fan acknowledged these words, as if—Eleanor was not about to pretend she knew Miss Thorpe’s mind—they had not been what she was expecting.
Then she turned her head, her tall plumes nodding above her elaborate headdress. “Ah, here they are again, striking up the country dance, and it is quite absurd that out of this vast crowd, here we are equally lacking a partner.”
There could only be one possible response to this loud hint, and Henry, Eleanor knew, was equal to the challenge—and would probably find himself vastly amused by Miss Thorpe’s nonsense. However, Eleanor knew from her schooldays what must be the inevitable result, and she had no intention of finding Miss Thorpe happening by chance to find herself in Milsom Street whenever Eleanor might be expected to walk out—or commanding her company in other ways. “Alas,” she said, “my brother and I were this instant on our way to the lobby to fetch my cloak.”
Miss Thorpe bowed, and professed herself delighted with the meeting. Eleanor and Henry paid their devoirs and made their escape.
Once they were safely away, Henry said, “I confess I cannot make out the connection between the Morlands and the Thorpes. I had assumed that Miss Thorpe, at least, was in Morland’s pocket, for any time I have seen them they danced exclusively, as if they were engaged.”
Eleanor suspected that Mr. Morland was not much older, or more experienced than his sister. She said, “I believe it is safe to say that Morland is in her pocket, while she is on the catch for something better.”
“And Miss Morland?”
Eleanor remembered the younger lady’s clouded demeanor when Mr. Thorpe so gracelessly showed up late for his promised dance two evenings before, and Miss Morland’s wooden aspect when that same gentleman went up to her during the dance. “I doubt very much whether Miss Morland has any regard for Mr. Thorpe, whatever he may think.”
Henry nodded in acceptance—but the following day, they were both astonished when, after they called in Pulteney Street, they were informed by the footman that Miss Morland had just gone off.
“Is there a message for either Miss or Mr. Tilney?” Eleanor asked, feeling foolish.
“No, madam,” he said.
Eleanor checked the pocket of her pelisse for a calling card—then mentally shrugged. They walked away, wondering if a message had gone astray, until they witnessed a spectacle that seemed to prove Miss Thorpe’s claim was true after all. They had just gained Argyle Street when two one-horse gigs dashed smartly by. In one sat Mr. Morland with Miss Thorpe, and in the other, Miss Morland with Mr. Thorpe.
Just before the turning, Eleanor saw Miss Morland glance back—but her countenance was too far away to read. Triumph? Dismay? Indifference?
Henry uttered a laugh. “It seems our fascinations are not too highly regarded by anyone but ourselves.”
Eleanor was chagrinned. So much, she thought, for my first essay into match-making.
* * *
Eleanor was irritated enough with Miss Morland’s weathervane sense of friendship to say, “I am not in.” Better her than Miss Thorpe, Eleanor thought as she tied her bonnet under her chin, but best of all would be neither of them.
She felt she had sustained an escape when, the evening previous, among the usual crowd at the Lower Rooms there were no Allens, Thorpes, or Morlands to be seen.
But as evening came round again, and the General was calling up the stairs to Henry to hurry, for he would not keep Major Lord Dewhurst waiting at the theater, Eleanor wondered if the awkwardness would be worse for the waiting.
She had not had an opportunity to speak privately with Henry, for one or the other of them had been accompanying their father. She was glad that the theater party was confined to gentlemen, though she knew it merely put off the inevitable moment. As she and Mrs. Hughes sat on either side of the fire, each with her book, Eleanor found herself unable to concentrate on the pages. She kept imagining different conversations with Charles about motivations and misconceptions—each worse than the last—which ended with her imagining what she ought to say when next she encountered Miss Morland, who would doubtless be in company with the supercilious Miss Thorpe.
At last she laid aside her book, and went to fetch paper and a pen. She could not write to Charles, but there was always Alice.
She was so involved in describing all the persons concerned, and who had said and did what on which day, that the hour was quite advanced without her knowing it when she was startled by a scratch at the door.
“I see light,” came Henry’s voice. “You are still awake?”
Eleanor had lit a branch of candles to write by. She turned them that they would not throw a long shadow to obscure the door, and went to open it.
Henry came in, and sat down, saying, “Well, it transpires we were both right and wrong.”
Eleanor gave a small laugh. “In what regard?”
“I found myself sitting directly across from Miss Morland, who was in the opposite box, and I tried not noticing her, but I believe she watched me more than she did the stage, and with so miserable a countenance that I finally bowed.”
“And did she bow back?” Eleanor asked, amused in spite of her lingering resentment.
“Yes, but with such a cast-down face that I could not forebear going round after the play, if only to hear what nonsense might be offered.”
“And so? Did she beg a million pardons, or was she on her dignity?”
“You are perhaps thinking of Miss Thorpe, who would undoubtedly have acted either role, or both. Miss Morland nearly drove me back out into the hall again, so swiftly and earnestly did she speak. And if she is to be believed, Thorpe lied to her, saying that he had seen us gone out in my curricle—which has not been put to since Charles and I drove out a week ago.”
“Mr. Thorpe!” Though Eleanor had not exchanged so much as a word with that gentleman, she had overheard enough to believe the worst of him. “As Mama was used to say—lud!”
“Miss Morland was quite wild to make her apologies, and beg our pardon, and in short, if you agree, we are engaged to walk out again.”
Henry spoke carelessly, with his usual amused smile, adding, “When she said she had called upon you and been turned away, it was my turn to offer an untruth, laying the blame upon our Father, who certainly is impatient enough to bear it. Then she taxed me with such honesty, and sincerity, I could not hold out.”
Eleanor was amazed that her brother would have put himself to the trouble. Hitherto he would laugh off such slights—imagined or real—for as he had said once, following an especially difficult conflict between Frederick and their father, which had prompted both to express their ire toward Henry and Eleanor, “Human foibles are so inevitable one must either be angry or amused. For my part I mean to adopt the latter emotion, for it is easier to get through life laughing than forever angry.”
“I’m glad you told me,” Eleanor said as he rose to leave. “If I see her on the morrow, I shall be certain to corroborate your excuse.”
Henry then said good night, and withdrew to his own room, leaving her considering what she had just heard. She had made an error in attempting to put Miss Morland together with Henry. She would no longer make any such attempts. Henry and the young lady must look about them on their own for that.
But Eleanor had been sufficiently intrigued by Miss Morland to think that, if her excuse was true (and she was inclined to believe her over Thorpe) she was willing to pursue the acquaintance on her own account.
With this better frame of mind, she and Henry walked out into the Crescent the next day, following divine services. Once again they perceived the Thorpe party combined with the two Morlands, but the very moment Miss Morland spied them, she separated off from the party and came to them.
And so earnest was her gaze that Eleanor found herself saying, “No, no, Miss Morland, no apology necessary, or if there is, I must make mine. I trust my brother explained why I was not there to receive your call.”
“Oh, Miss Tilney, I am so glad to have it all explained, and everyone in agreement,” exclaimed Miss Morland. “And I had looked forward to the walk so very much! Please, let us try again—let us try tomorrow.”
“Very well,” Eleanor said, seeing her brother’s smile. His expression—the lift of his brows—said as clearly as if he spoke, See? How can you hold out against that? “Tomorrow, then, we shall consider ourselves engaged.”
Her reward was a beaming smile of felicity. Miss Morland then bade them good day, and returned to her party, who could be seen earnestly speaking. Henry and Eleanor walked on in silence until they could trust in not being overheard, and then he said, “There, now, admit it, to stand out against that would be like scolding the friendliest of puppies.”
Eleanor laughed. “I hardly know whether to agree, or to scold you for likening Miss Morland to a puppy.”
“No, you must not hold the simile against me, knowing my fondness for my faithful hounds. For you must admit that of all creatures under heaven, dogs have the cleanest hearts.”
“That I will grant you,” Eleanor said, pulling her pelisse closer about her as the rising wind attempted to take her bonnet. “I will also grant the worsening of the weather, and beg that we might turn toward—”
“Hi, haloo,” came a hoarse voice. “Hey day, Tilney, fetch up!”
Henry and Eleanor stopped and turned as one, twin expressions of surprise on their faces when they beheld none other than Mr. Thorpe, his face much reddened by running. He wore a coachman’s greatcoat, which was the fashion in some circles, his scarf thrown carelessly over his shoulder, and his hat set back on his head.
He made a short, rather perfunctory bow, then said, “I am directed by Miss Morland to explain that she is quite mistaken, and tomorrow she is engaged to drive out to Clifton with us. But if you will wait until Tuesday, she will be at your service.”
Eleanor exchanged looks with Henry, who gave a faint shrug, as if saying, You shall choose. “You may inform Miss Morland that Tuesday is equally convenient, and please carry our thanks for the afterthought,” Eleanor added, striving to avoid irony.
Thorpe flicked his fingers to his hat and turned away, losing himself in the crowd.
“Well,” Henry said. “What do you make of that?”
Eleanor struggled between laughter and vexation. “My chief reaction is that at least we are spared a second refusal at the door in Pulteney Street.”
Henry shook his head. “I am going to lay a wager,” he said. “That there is some other explanation, and perhaps by tonight we might find out what it is.”
“I will not take that wager,” Eleanor responded, bending into the wind sweeping along the sidewalk. “But I will observe this: acquaintance with these people spares us the boredom of predictability.”
Henry laughed and shook his head, then gave an exclamation as the wind promptly tried to claim his hat. He clapped his hand to it and they walked faster.
As it transpired, they were to gain their explanation a lot faster than they could have expected. No sooner had they entered the drawing room when the door was impetuously thrown open behind them—and here was Miss Morland herself, tears of vexation gleaming in her eyes as she fought for breath.
As soon as she could get words past her lips, it became apparent to Henry that Thorpe had taken it upon himself, for his own reasons, to deny Miss Morland’s company the next day; Eleanor, meanwhile, turned with some trepidation toward her father, who she knew would not be pleased by this summary intrusion into their home.
But both brother and sister were taken utterly by surprise when General Tilney, once it could be made clear who this unexpected guest was, smiled benignantly upon Miss Tilney, and scowled at the footman instead. “What do you mean by it, William? Why must our guest be put to the trouble of opening the door herself? I shall look into this matter—”
“Oh, please sir,” Miss Morland declared, with all the earnestness Eleanor and Henry had come to associate with her. “Please do not blame the footman—it was my fault, mine entirely—I nearly trod upon his heels—he did not know I was there—I would never for the world have done so impolite a thing, except I did so want explain Mr. Thorpe’s mistaken . . .that is . . . please believe it was my fault entirely, and the servant is not to blame.”
“Very well,” the General said, bowing to Miss Morland as if she were Lady Longtown. “Very well. William, Miss Morland pleads eloquently for your innocence, and so the matter may be regarded as closed. Miss Morland’s mercy is as keen as her judgment. You may go, William—and do see that the door below is shut.”
As the footman left, after exchanging a mild look of question and surprise with Henry, the General turned to their guest, and with the same elaborate manner, as if she were older and possessed of an exalted title, invited her to take the best chair.
Miss Morland, still clutching her muff, sat down and regarded the General with frightened eyes as he asked her about her stay in Bath.
When away from her friends, Miss Morland had excellent manners, and Eleanor began to get an idea. Seizing the opportunity when the General turned to address a remark to Henry, Eleanor said to Miss Morland, “Pray, why was Mr. Thorpe so insistent upon the changing of our plans?”
“Oh! He said he is thinking of going off on Tuesday, and it would not be convenient for the drive they so wish to make, therefore it must be tomorrow. But, however, I’d as lief not go at all,” she said under her breath.
“It is very cold,” Eleanor said as the General turned back. “A ride in an open gig must be disagreeable if there is no sun.”
“So I should say,” the General remarked. “Not at all the thing for a gently nurtured young lady. All very well for a gentleman. We are hardier souls. But ladies’ health must be thought of.” He shook his head. “A walk gains the same healthful benefit, but does not put delicate constitutions at risk. I am glad my children showed the proper consideration in their invitation, which—if I may be permitted to offer my opinion—I heartily endorse.”
Miss Morland thanked him, looking poised to run as she glanced at the mantelpiece, where the clock chimed the quarter hour. She stood rather abruptly. “I shall take my leave. Thank you! I wish you all a good day.”
The General had also stood, along with Henry, but instead of ringing for the servant, he said again in his grandest manner, “Would you do my daughter the honor of dining with us, and gracing her with your company for the remainder of the day?”
Eleanor tried not to stare in surprise, and quickly added her civil wishes, though scarcely aware of what she said.
Miss Morland turned her way, red to the ears. “Thank you, thank you, I very obliged—and I should dearly love to stay, but Mr. and Mrs. Allen do not know where I am gone to—it is out of my power to stay. They will be looking for me at every moment.”
The General bowed as grandly as if she were a duchess. “Of course the claims of Mr. and Mrs. Allen must not be superseded. But some other day, when longer notice may be given, I trust the Allens will not refuse to spare you to my daughter?”
“Oh, no,” Miss Morland said, casting another startled look Eleanor’s way as she assured him that it would be no trouble—she would have great pleasure.
Following which the General astonished his children by opening the door with his own hands, and attending their guest downstairs himself. All the way down they could hear his voice extolling Miss Morland’s praises.
“Well,” Henry said when he and Eleanor were alone. “It seems our father has chosen a friend for you. I trust you are not disappointed?”
“Poor Miss Morland,” Eleanor exclaimed, half-laughing. “She looked ready to sink into the ground.”
“Or run like a hare. Not that I blame her in the least. What can explain this odd turn?”
“I hope and trust this benignant mood will stay with us,” Eleanor declared. “Perhaps he has gained notice of the arrival of one of his especial friends?”
Henry held out his hands, as if to say, anything might be possible. Then, as the sound of the front door closing reverberated back up the stairs, he added in low tones, “I must say this for Miss Morland, she seems to be the gainer when away from the company of these Thorpes.”
Eleanor gave a decided nod. “I agree with all my heart.”
* * *
Eleanor finished her letter and dispatched it on the way to Pulteney Street, where, in the quietest manner, Miss Morland appeared and joined them. Eleanor could not prevent herself from casting her eyes over the young lady, who was dressed neatly and with taste, without any hint of astounding wealth, and in the course of conversation on their way out of Bath, not the smallest reference to grand relations or friends was dropped.
Miss Morland only mentioned the Allens once, her brother twice. The main of her commentary was preserved for her delight in Bath.
Eleanor and Henry were still puzzled to discover the proprietary interest the General had taken in Miss Morland, but gradually those questions were left behind with the buildings as they reached the open country alongside the river.
Then Miss Morland startled both by remarking that it reminded her of the South of France.
“You have been abroad, then?” Henry asked, his suppositions about the young lady taking yet another wild turn.
“Oh! No. I only mean what I have read about,” she said, and admitted that the chief of her information had come from novels. The apologetic look that accompanied this confession charmed Eleanor as much as her utter lack of coyness, bridling, or pretense kindled Henry’s interest.
The customary threadbare politenesses sank, unmourned by all, as they launched into a discussion of novels, Miss Morland with all the eagerness of recent discovery, and ready feelings. So easily they fell into the quick, often passionate give-and-take that Eleanor had never thought to experience away from Charles that Henry, she saw, began to tease Miss Morland as much as he did Charles and herself.
Initially Miss Morland betrayed surprise, then uncertainty, and now it was Eleanor’s turn to exert herself—to unite with Miss Morland against Henry’s teasing, and in so doing attempt to demonstrate without words that this was the highest compliment Henry could pay anyone—to treat her like he did the two people he loved best. Eleanor had begun the walk wondering what the General saw in a kind-hearted but essentially ignorant young lady, but in the course of talking she began to think differently.
“This is me,” she thought, “at thirteen, when Alice befriended me in all my ignorance.” From little hints unconsciously dropped by Miss Morland, Eleanor discovered that the differences in their ages was the same as that of Alice and herself—dearest Alice, without whom Eleanor would have endured a far lonelier life.
But that was not the whole of it. The occasional glances Miss Morland turned Henry’s way, the parted lips and eagerness for everything brought back their first conversation—which had been chiefly about Henry.
Eleanor watched with amusement and no little delight as Henry exerted himself to expound on the great Gilpin’s theories of the Picturesque, as Miss Morland drank in every word. But presently Miss Morland’s uncritical eagerness inspired Henry to lay aside the mask of amused mockery that had become habitual to him ever since they were all small, and Frederick had attempted to bully him using his greater size. Henry’s defense, Eleanor had seen—though it had taken years to understand—was his wit. Henry’s best weapon as well as his greatest skill was laughter.
For the first time in memory, Eleanor watched her brother strolling along, his walking stick idly smacking at rocks like a cricket bat, as he talked freely on every subject, encouraged by a young lady who hung on every word without the slightest vestige of consciousness.
Of course Henry could not leave off teasing any more than he could forget to breathe, but a word from Eleanor—and a startled, grave glance from Miss Morland—sobered him at once. By the time they reentered Bath and walked up to Pulteney Street, Henry’s voice united with Eleanor’s in begging for her company for dinner on Wednesday. Henry’s tone was as sincere in asking as Miss Morland’s was in accepting—and so it was safe to say that the three young people looked forward to Miss Morland’s visit.
But when Wednesday dawned, from the moment the General rang for William to demand an exact accounting of the prospective menu, in case it should not please their guest, Eleanor and Henry found their pleasure waning.
For reasons best known to himself, the General had settled it within himself to leave off his customary pursuits and remain with them the entire time, alternating between flattering questions, compliments following Miss Morland’s least statement, and a firm direction of the conversation.
Sorrow replaced all the delight of the walk to Beechen Cliff in Eleanor’s heart when she observed her brother speaking no more than thrice—the General, in dropping such obvious and awkward hints, instead of pushing the two together might succeed in driving them apart. Miss Morland, obviously oppressed by the General’s ponderous gentility, spoke less and less, and those words were generally directed at her plate.
It fell to Eleanor to exert herself to keep conversation going, lest uncomfortable pauses lengthen into silence, and to try to cover decently the painful matchmaking. It was a relief when the hour for Miss Morland’s departure arrived at last, and the meal—which Eleanor had looked forward to—was thankfully left to the past.
With somewhat more natural expressions, Eleanor and Henry attended Miss Morland to the door, and the three parted with mutual good wishes and promises to see one another the next evening at the Lower Rooms.
Not half an hour after Miss Morland’s departure, directly following Eleanor’s ringing for tea, a great commotion rose in the street—horse hooves, a clatter, and halooing.
“Frederick is come,” Henry said.
Two minutes later, Frederick himself arrived, wearing the very latest fashion in coats, his hair shorn and brushed into wild curls. “There you are,” he exclaimed. “Pretty much as I last left you at Northanger.” He reached over to tug at Eleanor’s hair. “Is there a chance of tea, Mops?”
The General entered then, and exclaimed, “Frederick! Here you are. I wish I could report the Longtowns’ arrival, but they are still expected.”
“Hi ho, I trust they will bustle a bit, for we aren’t long on the island.”
The General looked interested. “Stuart has summoned you, I collect?”
Frederick waved a careless hand. “My company departs at the end of March to join the Regiment in Portugal.”
Unsurprisingly there followed an incomprehensible conversation about armaments, horse training, artillery, and related subjects, until Frederick gave a crack of laughter as he said, “So I’ll give over chasing my widow for now. Even if I could get her to agree to an engagement, you know how likely they are to slip the reins and bolt at the first sign of something better, if you’re away.”
“And the odds in favor of Bantry and the duke’s daughter?” the General asked.
“Now ten to one in his favor—after shortening steadily. The duke was shying at the gate, but now with St. Aidan laid up with apoplexy, and a title in the offing, he’s back in the running. We’ve cautioned Waldo not to settle for a penny less than fifty thousand pounds if the old devil comes up to scratch.”
“Why? Is she ugly?” the General asked.
Mrs. Hughes rose noiselessly and slipped from the room, unnoticed by either the General or his heir.
“As sin, ugly as sin. But for fifty thousand, and a connection to the oak leaves, Waldo says he’d marry a squint-eyed hunchback dwarf. Which she very nearly is, ha ha ha!”
Eleanor rose to follow Mrs. Hughes, Henry moving to the door to open it for her, but at that moment Frederick turned her way. “So who is here to meet me? Anyone worthwhile?”
Eleanor forestalled the General—she could not bear to hear Miss Morland described in vulgar terms—and so she said on her way to the door, “We have been living very quietly. But you may read the names of the arrivals in the Subscription Book at the Pump Room to find acquaintance.”
At that she stepped decisively out, as the door closed on Frederick saying to Henry, “And you, Parson Sobersides? What have you to say for yourself?”
Eleanor was spared any more of this disagreeable conversation by withdrawing to the back parlor, where Henry soon joined her. “I thought I might write a letter,” he said, and Eleanor turned her mind gratefully to what might be conveyed through her brother to Charles.
* * *
“Should you wish to dance, I can introduce you to our acquaintance,” Henry said dutifully, a moment before he spied Miss Morland, her eyes wide with friendly expectation when she saw him.
Frederick did not trouble to lower his voice as he swept his gaze around, uttered a laugh, and said, “Impossible—how can you endure it?”
“With a great deal of pleasure,” Henry retorted, and left his brother standing at the door, having done his duty. He walked straight to Miss Morland, who, he could see, had heard every word.
But far from being offended, she appeared to be suppressing a desire to laugh, and in that instant his ire gave way to ready amusement. “Shall we join the set, Miss Morland?”
“Thank you, sir,” she replied with simple readiness.
They joined the dance, and Henry gave himself up to the pleasure of a partner whose enjoyment brought a glow to her cheeks and a sparkle to her eyes, her lips curving in a smile every time he and she met for hands-across.
But scarcely had the first dance ended when Frederick plucked at his arm, and drew him away without the slightest effort at a politeness toward his partner. Henry said nothing; he would not expose Miss Morland to Frederick’s attentions if he could avoid it.
“The tall girl who was sitting with your partner has been eyeing me since I walked in. I think I’ve found the biggest flirt in Bath—and the prettiest as well. Why isn’t she dancing?”
“I can ask, if you really want to know,” and on Frederick’s assent, Henry sighed and took his question to Miss Morland, though he could already predict what was likely to happen.
Miss Morland—as expected—believed her friend meant to sit out the dances, imputing the best of motives to Frederick. Now Henry found himself put in the position of not knowing how to give an honest girl an honest response. Unwilling to expose any of them, he turned Miss Morland’s generosity into a compliment, and to his relief the music struck up again—with (as he had expected) Miss Thorpe walking out on Frederick’s arm, her plumes bobbing at every step.
Miss Morland stared in surprise, and again Henry tried humor instead of truth; his motivation was entirely to protect Miss Morland’s faith in others’ good nature as long as he could, for it had gradually become important to him to shelter her from the petty cruelties of venality and falsity as much as he was able.
But he could see that Miss Morland was troubled not only on Miss Thorpe’s behalf, but also Frederick’s; from some of the hints the chaperones dropped, it seemed that Miss Thorpe had at last secured young Morland’s offer, whereupon he had left for home to arrange his affairs. Miss Morland worried that Frederick might find himself disappointed! Henry had to exert himself to protect such a generous heart from understanding his brother’s idle intent.
“Mrs. Thorpe is happiness itself,” Mrs. Hughes said on their return to Milsom Street. She then added a little doubtfully, “but Mr. Morland is full young. I know the young people must be too disappointed to see that a two years’ wait is very much in their favor. No one should rush into marriage.”
Eleanor agreed out loud, but disagreed to herself. How could a mother be so oblivious? All the while Mrs. Thorpe had been confiding her triumph to Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Hughes, her eldest daughter had been flirting with Frederick as if there had never been any James Morland in the world.
Henry kept silent until they reached home, and as usual he lit his sister upstairs.
“The only other person in Bath who seemed as surprised as she was delighted by the news of the engagement,” Henry remarked, “was Miss Morland.”
“’Tis true. Even Mrs. Allen seemed to have expected nothing else—and I had thought she noticed nothing but the newest set of sleeves, or fashionable trim on bonnets.”
Frederick’s name was not spoken between them as they wished one another a good night.
But he was very much on Eleanor’s mind as a few days went by.
* * *
Occasionally Henry accompanied them, for once Eleanor had performed her office, her father had no further use for her, and she might please herself. When Henry was elsewhere, Mrs. Hughes walked with them, and if they encountered Miss Morland alone—which seldom occurred—then the two young ladies would then proceed to the Crescent, or to the lending library where Catherine might change her book. This led to many lively discussions, and for the first time, Eleanor found herself in the guise of advisor, pointing out this or that volume that she thought her new friend might enjoy—and was consequently gratified in being proved right.
It was apparent that life with the Allens afforded a great deal of time for reading, especially as it seemed Miss Thorpe was now often too busy to attach herself to her sweetest Catherine.
The first time the Thorpes arrived before the Allens, when Eleanor turned away from the book, she found Miss Thorpe directly behind her. “Ah, Miss Tilney,” this young lady declared. “And so you, too, cannot tear yourself away. Who is come among us now? I am certain you must know everybody, possessing a vast London acquaintance.”
Eleanor bowed, taking a step back to extricate herself. “I knew very few people in London,” she said. “I live a quiet life.”
“And so do I,” Miss Thorpe declared. “I would not exchange a quiet life for the noise and bustle of London for a million pounds. But while one is in Bath, you know, it is a vastly different thing. And so, where do you order your gowns? You always look so ravishing! The men all surely take notice. At one of our assemblies, Miss Morris—a dear creature, the sweetest girl you can conceive—did her hair in a style much like yours, and cast everyone into agonies of jealousy, though if I am to be honest, it suited her hideously.”
Eleanor could not get a word in edgewise, Miss Thorpe spoke so rapidly.
“I hinted to Catherine that if she would leave off the side-curls as you do, and adopted the Grecian robe like yours, she would amaze the entire room with her éclat. But perhaps there is only one man’s notice that interests her, who can tell? I would never whisper a word—I am laughed at everywhere for my high notions of loyalty. So is Captain Tilney with you?”
This first pause in expectation of an answer caused Eleanor to suspect that she had just heard the reason for this unexpected attack. “Frederick rode out earlier, I believe. He seldom gives us notice of his movements.”
Miss Thorpe smiled with scarcely hidden contempt, looked about, and said, “Speaking of Catherine, I must see if Mrs. Allen has yet arrived.”
“And my father is expecting me,” Eleanor responded, curtsied, and made her escape.
Eleanor’s suspicion became conviction a short time later when she left her father, to glance through the windows across the court at the White Hart. She caught sight of Miss Thorpe walking as fast as she could with one of her sisters in tow, toward the stables where Frederick boarded his horses.
She found Mrs. Hughes, and as the weather looked like rain coming on, and she had not thought to bring her umbrella, they walked to Milsom Street. The chief of her thoughts was pity for Mr. Morland, but everything went out of her head when she met Henry in the drawing room, in the midst of reading a letter.
“As I am bade to convey greetings to you, you might as well read them for yourself,” he said, and she knew by his manner that the letter was from Charles before she glimpsed his own dear hand.
My dear Tilney:
Whitby Tor has been in such a state since my arrival I have only now gained the leisure to sit down and square myself to this paper. I am relieved to report that my Uncle slowly improves. The physicians regard the Case as hopeful, though his right arm is still Insensible, and his speech on that side makes his words difficult to make out.
But he is cognizant enough of what I am saying, and has given me carte blanche to settle outstanding Affairs until Cousin Waldo returns home from Northampton, and so to spare my cousin as much as I can, I have set myself to untangle the snarl. Due to the new Income Tax law—which neither my Uncle nor my Cousin seems to have comprehended—the Estate is more in Arrears than ever, and yet vast Sums are going to the Smugglers for wine.
I informed my Uncle that he may as well pay the Duty and be put to far less Trouble, though the physicians both took me aside to maintain that it would be better if he could not get at the Wine at all. He must be kept to a strict, low diet, and blooded weekly, if he is to survive.
Pray oblige me by carrying my best wishes to E. who I fancy walking with me in spirit everywhere, and many is the labor made much lighter by imagin’d conversations, and remembered exchanges . . .
Eleanor’s eyes burned. Impatiently she blinked away the tears that she might read the rest of the letter as quickly as her eyes could take in the words.
Charles made light of the situation, but Eleanor knew enough about life at Whitby Tor to winnow out the truth: Charles had all the responsibility and none of the authority. Everything he did might be undone at a word once Captain Bantry returned home.
Her mood was sober when she handed the letter back. They could not discuss it with Mrs. Hughes present, so Eleanor must keep her reflections to herself as the rest of the family joined them for dinner, following which they went to the theater.
A sleety Sunday did not improve anyone’s mood; the evening ended with loud, angry male voices echoing through the house, the actual words mercifully muffled, except for the occasional “pounds” and “expense.”
Eleanor retired early, in hopes of a better day on the morrow. Miss Morland had promised to call upon Eleanor. However, a shock awaited Henry and Eleanor at breakfast. The General came in late, frowned at Frederick’s empty plate, and said, “I have given the servants notice: we shall depart within a week. I am convinced that the Longtowns are not going to arrive—perhaps the marquis, who might serve as a pattern for correct behavior, has scruples about public appearance until half-mourning ends in summer. And as for the waters, the devil may take them for all of me.” He made a dismissive gesture. “The only benefit I see is for those whose hands are out for collecting vails. If anything, my stomach is the more disordered for the drinking. I am better off with our well water, and our air at Northanger.”
Then he took Eleanor by surprise. “However, I have not forgotten your excellent friend, Miss Morland. You have done well there, I believe. Perhaps she might honor us with a visit? You always enjoy a friend at hand, do you not?”
The General then turned to Henry and said with an insinuating tone, “I trust that will enable you to bestir yourself! The prize will be right there for the plucking.”
Henry’s brows shot up, and Eleanor was dismayed to see his lip curl. The General then rose, tossed down his napkin, and said, “Henry, we shall do better to take a ride now the sky has cleared up.” He walked out.
Eleanor stayed her brother with a hand. “I am very certain that Miss Morland has no notion of any . . . of what our father hints at.”
Henry’s expression softened at once. “No more do I. The more I think on it, the more I believe that Miss Morland will be a welcome addition to our family party. She will enjoy everything, because that is her nature, our father’s mood will improve as he shows off, and—” He made a mocking bow. “We shall gain a companion who seems to regard us as arbiters of taste.”
Eleanor uttered a small laugh. “Such a state cannot last.”
Henry smiled. “I cannot answer that. But surely there will be shared pleasure until the inevitable discovery.”
“Henry? Have you your hat and whip?” came a shout from below.
They were gone by the time Miss Morland arrived. For the first half-hour of easy chatter, Eleanor rejoiced inwardly at every sensible utterance of Miss Morland’s. While nothing she said would astonish the company with its originality, wit, or sharpness, every word of honest enjoyment was so much a contrast to Miss Thorpe’s stylish nothings that Eleanor began to think her father had—for whatever reason—a very good idea.
Once they had canvassed the dance, and their reading, Miss Morland, with a happy expression, informed Eleanor that the Allens had decided to extend their stay in Bath another three weeks.
Eleanor thus had her opening to broach her own news. She had no sooner informed Miss Morland of their shortened stay—and observed the gratifyingly honest dismay in her new friend—than the door opened, and here was the General.
With mixed feelings, Eleanor listened to her father issue the invitation that she ought to have been able to make herself. Though she credited him with excellent intentions and every good feeling, his manner was so odd, so much a mixture of brag and grandness and a hint of obsequiousness that Eleanor was hard put to understand his motivation.
He finished by informing Miss Morland that he had finished his ride by a call in Pulteney Street long enough to ascertain the consent and good will of the Allens.
At last he paused, giving Eleanor her opportunity to add her voice, and Miss Morland departed, saying that she would write to her parents in Fullerton at once.
* * *
At the theater one night, when Eleanor walked outside the box to get some air, she encountered Frederick and Miss Thorpe loitering in one of the corners. As she waited for a passing string of ladies, she was the unwilling auditor of a half-whispered conversation, Frederick saying, “Your bravery equals your fidelity.”
“Bravery!” exclaimed the young lady, with a toss of her feathers. “You may leave off quizzing. I care naught for the buzz of all the old tabbies; there is nothing amiss in an engaged woman, who is granted freedoms denied a mere girl, in exchanging pleasantries with anyone she pleases. You may save your talk of bravery for a better moment. I believe I would dare anything for a worthy object, for I carry my notions very high.”
“As high as the flags flying in those cheeks? Oh, brave colors,” Frederick whispered.
Eleanor at last was able to get through, and away, contempt warring with an impulse to laugh.
Over the course of the next few days, both brother and sister observed Frederick laying siege to Isabella Thorpe, which sight could only contribute to their wish to be away. Frederick was to stay—he and the General had argued, and as often happened, continued in silence toward the other, each expecting the other to give in. Frederick removed to the White Hart to stay out the remainder of his leave, which left Henry and Eleanor to see him only in company.
They did not discuss what they saw. There was no point. Eleanor hoped that her elder brother would not bring misery to two households, but Henry—better acquainted with his brother’s ways—observed enough to suspect that while Frederick hoped to win the young lady’s favor long enough to entertain him for the remainder of his stay, the young lady’s sights were quite firmly set on a wedding ring. This affair would come to nothing.
But he had counted without Miss Morland’s observations, and on their last walk to Sydney Gardens, while Eleanor lingered behind a little ways so that Mrs. Hughes would not be left stranded while she exchanged farewells with a lady of her acquaintance, Henry and Miss Morland walked on ahead toward the heart of the labyrinth.
Henry found himself hard pressed by Miss Morland, who was troubled on behalf of her brother as well as her friend. Finding himself unwilling to furnish honest Miss Morland an honest answer about her friend’s character, he assured her that James and Isabella must see into each other’s hearts more clearly than anyone else.
He saw the relief as well as the belief in Catherine Morland’s face, and guilt stirred within him. She believed him implicitly. He vowed that he would never lie to her even indirectly again.
* * *
The General, in hurrying everyone unnecessarily, caused them to depart late, but through all that Eleanor appreciated how Catherine Morland kept her sunny disposition. Everything was new to her—everything a delight. True, she was a different creature, polite and subdued, when the General favored her with his ponderous flattery, but this was much the same as their own behavior to their father.
The first half of the journey was the best, for the young ladies were able to speak with only the restraint required by good manners—and the presence of Miss Blake—but once they reached Petty-France the enjoyment ended for Eleanor.
Of all the people forced to endure the long two hours, while the General issued streams of orders and sent waiters and ostlers scurrying, Eleanor was the chief sufferer, Henry rather thought. He hated seeing that expression of pale endurance in her face, so familiar from life at Northanger; in looking upon his sister, he understood how gradually that expression had smoothed away during their stay in Bath. Even after poor Charles was called away, her disappointment had been severe, but there had been all the distractions of Bath to aid her.
Seated next to Eleanor Miss Morland looked awed, and then subdued, as the long minutes ticked by; she politely pushed a crumbled muffin around her place, in a charitable effort to seem as if she wished to eat the repast that none of them wanted.
At last the General gave the order to prepare for departure. The postilions and coachmen filled the courtyard as they readied the curricle and coach.
When the young ladies had tied on their bonnets and adjusted each other’s pelisses, the General gestured for Eleanor to be handed into the coach, then turned to Miss Morland, saying with a forced geniality, “Miss Morland, perhaps as the day is still fine, you might like to take my place in the curricle? I understand that you are a fine judge of the scenic, and you will thus be able to view as much as the Gloucestershire country as possible.”
Henry blushed at this blatant attempt to force them together. Without the slightest vestige of self-consciousness, Miss Morland moved obediently to stand by the wheel of the curricle, where the footman handed her up.
Henry mounted up and took the reins, and as the coach rolled ponderously out of the inn court, Henry set himself the task of thanking Miss Morland for being his sister’s guest. His slight emphasis seemed to go by without notice, until it struck him that Miss Morland was entirely unaware of his father’s efforts on her behalf.
His amore propre had never yet been protected by another’s innocence. He had to smile in self-mockery at that, which gave way to a better feeling when he saw his passenger’s happy smile of anticipation as she settled her muff upon her lap.
They left the village behind and entered the countryside. Miss Morland looked about eagerly, seeing nothing that did not interest her, but her chief delight seemed to be settled on her expectations of Northanger Abbey.
He could not resist spinning out a ridiculous tale, which she listened to with shining eyes and parted lips. When they reached Northanger Abbey just as the threatening rain began in earnest, though they arrived well after the chaise, he reflected that the journey had never passed so rapidly.
Catherine sprang out, spangled and splotched with rain. Again, she demonstrated no airs and graces—no exclamations about her hair, or her hat, or a pretense at such frailty that the advent of rain might cause her to expire. Instead, she looked around with obvious wonder as Eleanor greeted her.
Eleanor was delighted to see Henry and Miss Morland arrive with smiles of enjoyment. She had suffered for her brother in being forced so publicly into what could have been an awkward situation. But it seemed to have answered.
Grateful to Miss Morland for her tranquil, easy personality, she led her into the drawing room, and tried to see her home through her eyes. Was that disappointment? Eleanor glanced around the room, which was scrupulously tidy, the furniture elegant, the old-fashioned fireplace enclosed with an excellent stove, decorated with Mother’s treasured French china above it.
“It’s twenty minutes of five,” the General roared in his field voice.
Poor Miss Morland positively jumped. Eleanor flew to the door, beckoning to her guest, and leading her quickly upstairs to as to lose no time.
“We are on the same hall,” she explained as they hurried past Eleanor’s door. “Here you are,” she said, hiding her self-consciousness. This had been Charles’ room during his visits. It was not the largest or most elegant of guest rooms, being the last room in what was once the nursery wing. The grand guest rooms had always been reserved for the titled and elder guests, but Eleanor had thought that Miss Morland might prefer to be located near her, rather then housed all alone in the far wing.
“You needn’t make any great alteration in your dress,” she said, hoping that Catherine understood the hint, and hurried back to the landing—where she met Henry just coming up the stairs.
“I gather you had a good journey?” Eleanor asked.
“In spite of the manner in which it was arranged,” Henry said grimly.
“Given that, I cannot account for her expression on entering the drawing room—did you say something to her? Have I been remiss?”
“You have not. You must blame me for the fall of her countenance,” Henry said with a soft laugh. “Miss Morland was so plainly eager to encounter an abbey of the sort Mrs. Radcliffe and her sister authors depict in their stories that I could not resist making up a ridiculous tale. Perhaps she took some of my nonsense and built expectations upon it. It is entirely my own fault.”
Eleanor did not know whether to laugh or to scold him. “That is much what happened with Lady Alice on her first visit, remember that? At least I did not make up blood-curdling histories about Northanger!”
Henry laughed. “Lady Alice would not have appreciated them. I suspect she was hoping for evidence of real history—skeletons from the Civil War, or immured nuns from bad King Harry’s day, or other equally cheerful subjects. No one would ever accuse Lady Alice of the frivolity of novelistic imaginings.”
Though Eleanor dearly loved Alice, she had to smother a smile here—then a noise from below sobered them both. “I came up here to urge you to hurry—he is in want of dinner.”
“I’ll see if she wants help,” Eleanor said, and fled.
She found Miss Morland exploring the big chest in the corner, her gown half-tied, but at a word she completed her toilette in exemplary haste, and together they sped to the other side of the house, where they found the General pacing impatiently.
However, once he had thundered his order for dinner to be served at once, his mood altered, and he even went so far as to scold Eleanor for hurrying Miss Morland, arrived so obviously out of breath. The two young ladies exchanged glances, and Eleanor knew Miss Morland for an ally.
Dinner passed well enough, and once the ladies left the General Henry and walked to the drawing room, Eleanor said, “I have been looking through my books for something we can read together, if you like.”
“Oh, that would be capital!”
As the wind rose steadily outside, they sorted the books and plays into piles: those to read, those to consider, and a smaller pile to be returned to the shelves.
Back in the dining room, the General said to Henry, “The Allens—excellent people—clearly regard Miss Morland in light of a daughter, and so they may rightly claim an interest in her future. I satisfied myself of that in my call. From anything they say, the Morlands appear to be sensible people, and in short, everything is satisfactory. She’s a simple girl, and I believe you can conclude the business and get her safely engaged before she leaves Northanger.”
Henry inclined his head, which he knew his father took as acquiescence. But he was hard put not to resent this interference in his life. He would make his own choice of bride—and unlike Frederick, he was not forced to look to the General for his menus plaisirs. He was lucky enough to possess his own independence—a considerable one, thanks to his mother. He despised those who sought to marry money, without any consideration for better feelings.
He knew the General meant well by them all. Like any responsible parent, his first wish was to see his children successful in life. But Henry could not get his father to see that their definitions of success were fundamentally different; any attempt was certain to be scoffed at and dismissed as a vagary of “Parson Sobersides.”
The General having carried his point, he suggested they join the ladies. As Eleanor and Miss Morland had set about making up their piles of books to read, Henry remained silent, though he endeavored to separate his resentment from their young guest, so patently unaware of his father’s machinations.
This employment was interrupted once or twice by the General, who had no interest in books of any kind. He appeared only long enough to satisfy himself that their guest was suitably entertained, until it got quite late, and the ladies went up to retire.
The next morning, Henry was the first awake, and therefore the first downstairs. Miss Morland appeared next in the breakfast chamber, and again without any vestige of self-consciousness.
Henry never permitted himself to make personal remarks to young ladies. In his very first visits to private balls and local assemblies he had witnessed how Frederick’s careless compliments raised hopes in the innocent, and sparked an equivalent spate of nonsense in those who knew what they were about. He sometimes thought he could happily go through life without ever again hearing a female referred to as a divinity or an angel—terms he thought better left to their proper sphere within the walls of the church.
He found himself more conscious of his rule than he ever was in a ballroom, and knew the cause: Miss Morland was so pretty in her simple white lawn morning gown with the rose sash tied above her waist, loose curls gently bouncing around her face as she advanced to the table, that he fell back on his old habit of teasing.
They were in a fair way to establishing a lively exchange when his father entered, and managed to dampen all enjoyment. Eleanor entered just as the General dropped a jocular hint about the need to order new dishes. The only person not rendered self-conscious was Miss Morland herself—she looked puzzled and uncomfortable.
Henry rose from the breakfast table, aware of a sudden impulse to speak to Miss Morland right there, so strong was the instinct to shelter her from his father’s awful machinations. “I had better summon my horse,” he said. “I must get to Woodston before noon.”
As he spoke, the wistful expression of disappointment in Miss Morland’s countenance struck him even more forcefully.
In short, he saw quite plainly that Miss Morland—who had been hinted, encouraged, and even tricked, into forming a union with that Thorpe fellow (exactly the loud sort of rattle that young ladies seemed to respond to the most)—preferred him.
He had already tossed restlessly through a bad night on her behalf—and, knowing himself craven, required a retreat in order to marshal his wits, and restore rationality to his outlook.
He took his leave of them, and rode away.
* * *
Eleanor knew that pomp and military parade would replace rationality and delicacy, but she trusted in her friend to see only the good. And in this, she was not disappointed: Miss Morland’s ready interest was apparent, and she said nothing that was not praise. Further, when pressed to compare Northanger’s garden and succession houses to those of the Allens, her honest answers made it plain that these amiable people lived as modestly in the country as they had in Bath. Eleanor saw her father listen with contemptuous glee, of which (she was grateful) Miss Morland remained unaware as she looked where pointed.
Eleanor’s reward came at last, when the General tired of a walk he seldom actually took, in spite of his words, leaving the girls to ramble through Eleanor’s favorite grove. Though a lifetime of suppressing her feelings had become habit to Eleanor, even she must occasionally given vent, and on seeing Miss Morland’s genuine enthusiasm for the grove, though it was yet too early for much beyond the tiny swells of buds, she confessed, “This was my mother’s favorite walk.”
Miss Morland’s countenance changed at once. Encouraged, Eleanor soon shifted from the walk to her mother herself, and seeing the genuine, even eager interest in her guest, thence to her portrait. They had just canvassed this subject when they found themselves rejoined by the General.
Eleanor could not help but notice the instant repression of Miss Morland’s spirits, which was so like her own that she vowed to exert herself in protecting Miss Morland as much as possible from the noise and parade of her usual life.
It was she who suggested a tour of the house—the environs having been thoroughly investigated—but once again the General saw fit to offer himself as guide. This tour was even more painful for Eleanor as her father took praise of every dimension and ornament into his own hands, after relating an exhaustive history that could hold no interest to anyone but himself.
But when they came near the rooms dearest to Eleanor—rooms she could not enter for several years after her mother’s death—her father shut the door and informed them that they must be ready for refreshments. She had just enough time to whisper her regrets to Miss Morland before they were escorted back to the dining room.
The following day was Sunday, and Eleanor, sitting next to her friend in church, saw the direction of her eyes toward the handsome monument to her mother—and was exceedingly gratified to see a mist of tears in Miss Morland’s eyes.
She was equally gratified when requested the next morning, after the General had gone out of doors, to continue their tour—after first visiting the portrait of Mrs. Tilney. But scarcely had they reached the gallery than the General hallooed for Eleanor, and once again they were obliged to abandon their tour.
Eleanor ran downstairs as fast as she could, in hopes of preventing Miss Morland from hearing any more of the rude military parade then she had to.
“When I rode out to inspect the home farm fence I spied Squire Benwick and his wife out for an airing. They returned last night, and I invited them to dine with us tonight, so if that note to Lady Carlton is to be sent by today’s post, you must sit to it now.”
Eleanor did not protest that the note of congratulations could have waited another day; if Lady Carlton had been a mere Mrs. Carlton, the next delivery would have sufficed. Knowing that Miss Morland had plenty to read, if she had not work in hand, Eleanor obeyed and went to the library to execute his command.
* * *
It was good to be home among his own things. But as he sat down to his dinner, he could not prevent himself from glancing across the table and imagining Miss Morland’s bright, happy gaze there. What would she talk about? Right now, her every enthusiasm was bound up in the reading of horrid novels full of wild storms, secret heirs and passages, and mysterious tombs, or jaunts outside to learn the requirements of the picturesque.
It would be easy to remark on her ignorance, but it was no worse than he and Charles had been at the same age, and Eleanor with her delight in absurd plays, no matter how badly written. Miss Morland, young as she was, demonstrated a quickness of observation, a steadiness of principle, and a care for others that certain much older members of Henry’s family lacked to a significant degree.
It was far too easy to imagine her turning her enthusiasm, principles, and sympathies to parish matters.
At this he got up and moved to his book room to review the sermon he had written before leaving Bath. But an exasperated period of dipping his pen then holding it suspended above his paper without comprehending any of the words there caused him to rise again.
The dogs, who had disposed themselves on the hearth, rose to follow him as he walked about the quiet house, a branch of candles in hand. This was absurd. As absurd as his vow at the age of fifteen that he would never marry?
That had been made when he began to be aware of the faults in his father as a husband, and how their mother had strained herself to deflect, explain, soften, and guide. Henry had sworn never to put himself, much less some unknown female, into such a position. Over the years that vow had softened to “someday”—a vague time that receded like the famed mirages of the tales as each year advanced.
Disgusted with himself, he marched back to the book room, the dogs’ nails ticking upon the polished marquetry of the floor, and scowled down at his sermon on 2 Corinthians 6:6, concerning patience, kindness, and love.
What did he know of any of these? He tossed the preposterous pages into the fire, pulled out his Bible, opened it, and began anew.
Sunday’s service did a great deal to calm his spirit with the soothing liturgy he knew so well, echoing antiphonally down the centuries, and after it there were the parishioners who each expected their meed of attention.
The day flew by, and before he sat down to dinner again, he resolved to execute his remaining affairs so that he might ride back on the morrow, instead of Tuesday, as he had half-promised.
By mid-morning on Monday, he rode into Northanger to find the General out riding, and Eleanor shut up with the housekeeper, going over the accounts.
“Where is your guest?” he asked.
Eleanor glanced at him in mild surprise. “I left her reading in the breakfast room, but she might have taken a walk to the grove.”
Henry thanked her and retreated, his intention to go to his room to remove his greatcoat and riding boots. But when he reached the top of the stair, he nearly ran into Miss Morland, whose countenance was pale as any heroine in one of her favorite romances.
Divided between surprise and laughter, he inquired as to what had drawn here there, and as they walked away, put polite questions. Scarcely had he finished spouting some nonsense about Miss Thorpe’s problematical promise to write from Bath when curiosity brought him back to Miss Morland’s purpose in a part of the house where no one went.
The answer took him aback—it was no accident, it was nothing more, or less, than curiosity about their mother, which he soon divined was inspired by the fantastical events of silly novels.
Those rooms, which he had avoided for the better part of nine years—memories—Miss Morland’s mistaken suppositions—on nearly any other subject he would have laughed and teased, but old feelings erupted into an outburst worthy of his father, and when he tried to catch himself up short, and inquire in a more rational voice, “Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” she whirled without answering and fled to her room.
He stood there in dismay. The slight sound of a half-suppressed sob echoing down the passage struck him with the force of a blow, and he turned away, utterly disgusted with himself.
It was his fault—all of it.
He had put those absurd ideas into her head during their journey to Northanger—he had mocked and teased to maintain a distance that she had never attempted to bridge—and worst of all, much the worst, he knew that a kernel of truth lay in her surmises.
He retreated to his room to change out of his riding clothes, and went downstairs at a quarter to five, sick with regret, and half-expecting that Miss Morland would avoid him altogether, and he would be forced to confess his stupidity to Eleanor, which he knew would only hurt her.
But when the clock struck five and the General marched in, Miss Morland appeared behind him, her face paler than before, her gaze on the ground.
“Are you well?” Eleanor asked her. “May I order you a tisane?”
“Thank you, I am perfectly well,” was the quiet reply.
Henry said with all the warmth and tenderness he could muster, “Pray allow me to escort you into the dining room, Miss Morland.” He slid his hand under her elbow, and his heart smote him again when he felt the trembling she tried valiantly to hide.
All through dinner he resolutely set aside cognizance of his father’s smug complacency, and his own turmoil, as he exerted himself to win back the regard that until now he had taken for granted. Until this day he had—with every bit as much unconscious arrogance as either Frederick or the General could ever have displayed at their most careless of others—assumed that the choice was his whether or not to acknowledge her innocent, ardent regard.
Now that he had lost it, he saw its value. He might not be able to restore himself in Miss Morland’s honest, uncritical eyes—but he could, at least, make every effort to comfort a fellow creature, the cause of whose hurt lay at his door.
Before the covers were removed, Eleanor turned his way. “Since you are here, would you like to put forward our reading of The Rivals?”
“I am at your service,” Henry said. “And hey day, with no other gentlemen present, I may not only read my favorites, Bob Acres and Sir Lucius, but can try my hand with the heroes.”
“Whereas I shall relinquish the fun of Mrs. Malaprop to our guest,” Eleanor said, smiling.
“Oh, I am happy to read anything,” Miss Morland responded, reviving a little. “I am happy with any small part—I will so enjoy hearing it.”
“Ah, but with only three of us, there are plenty of roles to go around,” Eleanor said.
Henry had always loved reading aloud, and his profession required a talent in that direction. But until now, he had seldom striven as hard to read well, creating vastly different voices for each character. He watched Miss Morland’s face as carefully as the mariner watches the barometer until her sober countenance lightened to politeness, and from there to interest, and at last he won a laugh.
* * *
Eleanor noticed an alteration in her brother, a smiling consideration in place of his old habit of mocking nonsense. He listened with Catherine spoke, even haltingly, as she explored new ideas—and when the three walked out, Eleanor found herself on one side of Henry instead of in the middle.
The general hilarity was a heady pleasure, and yet she was aware of the ache that never was quite gone: in just this manner three had walked about talking and laughing in a similar manner. Charles’s absence rendered him ever more present, if only in Eleanor’s mind.
A fair succession of days ensued; the only metaphorical clouds on her horizon were few. She dreaded Catherine’s discovery of her father’s determination to put her together with Henry, for she knew that would cast her young friend into an unhappy self-consciousness, and create the very awkwardness that ought to be determined against. She also sighed inwardly each day when there was no letter from Charles beside Henry’s plate.
The third was a regret that she dared not give voice to. Nary a day went by without Catherine wondering when she would hear from Isabella Thorpe. Here, Eleanor was aware of her own hypocrisy in nodding and smiling at blithe statements like, “Isabella is so firm, and promised so faithfully to write,” without believing a word of it.
Yet the morning arrived when at last Catherine came downstairs to find that she, too, had a letter, and with a smile Henry handed it to her.
While Catherine gazed in disappointment at what she said was her brother’s hand, Eleanor broke the seal of hers and cast her eyes in haste down the page. It was short—Alice writing personally to beg Eleanor to end the boredom of her half-mourning by a nice long stay in the old manner.
She pocketed her letter. Putting Alice off and explaining about their guest must be carefully worded, but must be addressed later. From the lengthening of Catherine’s face, and the paleness of her complexion, it seemed her letter brought bad news.
The General entered, and all discussion ceased as he settled at the table to read the newspapers.
Once they were again alone, Catherine shared her letter. It was immediately apparent to both Henry and Eleanor that James Morland—of whom little had been seen during their shortened stay in Bath—was as straightforward as his sister, and possessed an equally honest and tender heart.
The only surprise here was James and Catherine Morland’s united conviction that Miss Thorpe would soon marry Captain Frederick Tilney instead. United in disbelief, Henry and Eleanor pretended surprise until Henry could not prevent himself from remarking, “I am afraid she will be very constant, unless a baronet should come in her way. That is Frederick’s only chance. I will get the Bath paper, and look over the arrivals.”
Eleanor smothered a laugh, Catherine expressed surprise, then her eyes narrowed in the way they were coming to recognize as her intelligence comprehended this new experience, and all that was left was to tease Catherine gently into her customary good humor.
* * *
How long did the General wish their guest to stay? Eleanor found that she would be happy if Catherine stayed on indefinitely, but there was her letter to be answered.
“You may return an answer by and by,” the General said. “You are to be commended for not throwing away the old friend in favor of the new—you exhibit your customary good taste in that—but after all, the marquis might as easily have invited us all. I certainly would be in favor of seeing Frederick dancing attendance on the widow rather than wasting time and money in Bath—but then he is soon off to Portugal, so least said soonest mended.”
The General later dropped another of his hints by saying to Henry, “When next you go to Woodston, we might surprise you there some day or other, and take our mutton with you. Hey?”
Henry’s emotions on hearing this were such a mix that he did not know how to respond. He must leave Northanger earlier than he had planned in order to prepare for this visit—but he would be showing Catherine the home that he had imagined her walking in.
He saw his disappointment reflected in her face when he presented himself to the young ladies to say farewell. He could not help a smile, which carried him through his parish meeting, the house cleaning, and even bathing the dogs, so that they, too, would look their best.
He scarcely heard his father’s distinctive mixture of brag and apology when the chaise brought them at last to Woodston. His attention was on Catherine, who looked about her with sparkling eyes, lips parted—and just after his father made some insinuation about the smallness of the parsonage, she spied the dogs gamboling forward, tails wagging, and dropped to her knees on the dusty road, hands out to ruffle muzzles and heads, and permit herself to be sniffed.
Catherine Morland loved dogs. It would be practicing upon the reader, who has labored this far in my tale, to insist that this was the turning point in Henry’s emotions. He himself was unaware of any such dramatic realization. Her admiration had disarmed him first, her well-being had become important hard on that, and by the end of the Woodston visit—in spite of his father’s well meant, but ill-timed, hints, which only succeeded in silencing Catherine’s softly spoken pleasures in all she saw—Henry found the house profoundly empty after she had gone out of it.
* * *
The Monday following the successful visit to Woodston produced the long-awaited letter from Isabella Thorpe.
Its absurdities could not even practice upon Catherine. Delighting in the assumption that, at last, they were done with the Thorpe family, Henry and Eleanor united in drawing Catherine’s attention to better things—enabled greatly by the General’s sudden decision to visit London in order to argue his man of business out of paying the universally excoriated new Income Tax.
Upon his departure, a mood of hilarity lightened the abbey. Though it cost Eleanor a pang in recognizing it, the conversations, laughter, and lengthened meals whenever they wished to sit down would only have been bettered with the presence of Charles Bantry, who was ever more on Eleanor’s mind as it had been so long since Henry had received a letter.
Though the mood was holiday, Henry still must return to Woodston to meet the not-very-arduous demands of duty. Catherine and Eleanor filled the hours with talk, reading, and shared work that could be got through the faster with two needles plying.
Such felicity could not last, of course, as they were aware: the General would be gone only a week, and Henry feared there could be no good reason for the delay in what had always been regular letters.
His fears proved true. Saturday’s post brought the following:
My dear Tilney:
You will know whether or not to put this into the Hands of one who is always close to my Heart, for I have nothing to say that is not ill tidings.
I would not have Writ at all, but for the general news that must reach you by the next Morning Post, which will state that my Uncle St. Aidan is no more. What the newspaper will not say is that he managed to get to the brandy, which—after insisting his Man bring a meal of wine-cooked Pheasant and Jam Roly-Poly, or be turned off without a Character—brought on another apoplexy, from which he did not recover.
But before this—a fortnight ago—my Cousin Waldo returned to Whitby Tor, and within a week, overturned all my orders, rid himself of any servant who said him nay, and sent me to the right-about. I have been in London since, endeavoring to recover my old post, which had been given to someone Else in my Absence, but my Mother—who drinks her tea with the Housekeeper every day—has seen fit to keep me apprised of the goings-on there.
At the rate Waldo is spending I have little faith in his having any Inheritance left by the time the solicitors have finished the Accounts, but that is no longer my concern. I have only to add that the Duke has today assented to the marriage of his daughter to Waldo, and however ill done it was arranged—with his father scarcely cold—it has been Accomplished. The papers will announce it within a short time after the news about my Uncle’s death.
As soon as Mourning comes down from the Hatchments—for in that, at least, there is a pretense of Decency—Waldo will make a bride of those fifty thousand pounds.
I leave it to your Discretion whether or not to share this doleful report with E, but for certain I rely on you to convey my best wishes for her continued good health, and yours. Perhaps by next year I will have regained enough of my position to win Two Weeks of freedom: for now, that is the hope I live for.
Henry walked from room to room in the parsonage, debating with himself what he ought to do. Badly as he wished to protect Eleanor from ill news, he knew she would not thank him for withholding this letter for an instant longer than needful.
She seldom brought up Charles’s name, but Henry had not been unaware of Eleanor’s wistful glances at certain spots along their favorite walks, and he had caught her in reverie while gazing at the chair Charles had always occupied, if everyone else was in speech.
No, Charles was always in Eleanor’s mind, and it was better to know than to wonder. Besides, he thought as he rang the bell for the his man. Though it did not do to say, there would be a substantial benefit to Eleanor in having the news over with, before the General’s return. If she chose to share it with Catherine, she would be assured of ready and sincere commiseration, Henry was confident of that—and by the time Henry was able to return to Northanger on Monday, perhaps they could compose a return answer between the three of them, and have it sent before the General returned.
When his valet arrived, Henry said, “Here is a guinea for Thomas. He is to get this to Miss Tilney today, and he may stay over at Northanger and return Monday.”
He knew that Thomas, at just turned fifteen, would regard this duty more in the nature of an adventure, especially if he would get two nights away from stable chores out of it. And so, confident that he had done all that was necessary, he turned his mind back to parish matters, knowing that he would see Catherine and Eleanor in two days.
But at the very time that Thomas set out, from another direction entirely, a chaise-and-four bowled along the lanes, its sole occupant so dark in mood that the two men-servants had each been relieved to be ordered to ride on top with the postilions.
At Northanger, Eleanor and Catherine had lingered so long over their supper that it was very late when they quit the room at last. As they were walking out, the house bell rang, accompanied by sounds from the drive. They glanced at one another in wonder. It could not be Henry. He had his church duties on the following day.
“Frederick often arrives suddenly like this,” Eleanor said. “I will go and see.”
Catherine nodded and retreated to her room. She had no wish to meet Captain Tilney, though she would perform that politeness if Eleanor wished.
Eleanor sped downstairs.
The first person to reach her was Thomas, covered with dust and tired, but sanguine about the half of a meat pie and the remains of the treacle-cup that the cook was at that moment bringing out. He surrendered the letter.
Eleanor, recognizing the handwriting, leaned against the wall right where she was, her heart beating fast. For Henry to send along a letter like this boded nothing good, she was certain—and she was right.
She had just read it through a second time when further noise awakened her to the fact that Thomas was not the only arrival. She had only a moment to prepare herself before she heard her father’s voice, “Haloo there, William! Bart! Where is your mistress?”
“Here I am, Father,” Eleanor called, pocketing the letter. “We—we did not expect you back thus . . .”
“No, and a fine trouble I’ve been put to,” he replied sharply. “First of all, I will not have that girl under my roof a minute longer than I must. We have been practiced upon in the worst way!”
“Girl? Practiced upon?”
“Yon Morland female—curse it, Eleanor, she has taken us for fools, but not for long. I’ve sent word for a hackney coach to be here by seven tomorrow, and she will be on it or I’ll not answer for the result.”
“But . . . but what am I to say? To tell her?” Eleanor’s head swam, and she groped for the end of the table, as the room seemed to be in motion.
“You may tell her we are all going to Hereford to visit the Longtowns. And Monday’s post will contain a letter from you, making it so. At least, you will accept of your friend’s generous invitation,” he added in a biting voice.
He walked out and slammed the door behind him, leaving Eleanor trembling where she stood. Charles distant for a year or maybe longer—Henry away—the friend she had hoped so strongly to soon call sister, to be turned out like a thieving servant.
She made her way up the stairs one at a time, sick at heart, her stomach roiling, and her reward for obedience was to see the brightness of Catherine’s eyes, her happy smile, reduced to a mirror of her own bewilderment.
The very worst moment of all came the next morning at six, when Eleanor entered Catherine’s bedchamber and with her own hands, helped Catherine finish packing her trunk, after which she begged Catherine to write to her, care of Alice Longtown.
Catherine threw back her head and replied with offended dignity that if she was not allowed to receive a letter she ought not to write—but the pain, bewilderment, and shame that agonized Eleanor must have shown in her face for scarcely had Eleanor managed to get out words accepting Catherine’s rebuff than Catherine’s own tears started in eyes already red from much weeping, and she said in her own sweet voice, “Oh, Eleanor, I will write to you indeed.”
This made it somewhat easier for Eleanor to bring from under her apron the purse she had filled, in case Catherine possessed not the wherewithal to get herself to Fullerton. The two hugged silently, each aware of the other’s suppressed tears harshening their breathing, and Catherine whispered a greeting for “her absent friend,” walked out, and soon was gone.
Eleanor did not wait to hear the carriage roll away. She ran straight up to her room, locked the door, and retired to bed. Her father, if he dared to enter the church with such un-Christian behavior—and Sunday travel, too, forced upon the visitor he himself had invited!—so fresh to his discredit, might go alone.
* * *
Henry managed not to exclaim, sent the boy on to Woodston, and rode further until he recognized his father upon his favorite hunter.
“What is this I hear, sir: you have sent Miss Morland away?”
“And your sister is soon on her way to Manydown. I’ve sent an express to the marquis, saying that we have affairs in Herefordshire, and I expect that we will have our invitation by evening. So go back and pack your trunk, and arrange things with your curate.”
“May I ask why this sudden start? What could Miss Morland have done to deserve such treatment?”
“Practiced upon us to the most prodigious degree,” the General roared; in the distance crows lifted, cawing, from a field. “I was given to understand that she came from wealth, and expected more from the Allens—lies. All lies. The Morlands are as numerous as they are pitiful, and Allen himself no better than a merchant, all display with nothing behind it.”
“Miss Morland,” said Henry, “never spoke a word about her circumstances in all the ten weeks of our acquaintance.”
“Very sly, I call it, very sly indeed. Never a word of correction—when I think of what might have happened—”
“What will happen,” Henry said quietly.
The General gave a start so that his horse sidled, snorting. “What did you say?”
“At one time you as much as ordered me to pay court to the lady. It is my honor, and I must add, my heartfelt pleasure, to obey. I planned to offer that heart to her this very week.”
“You will do no such thing,” the General declared, choler purpling his cheeks. “I tell you, you will pack a trunk and we’re off to Manydown. Where, if your brother is too willful to court that widow, you may put that silver tongue of yours to some use—”
“No,” Henry said.
“You do not dare to defy me,” the General shouted.
“I consider myself honor-bound to offer myself to the lady, if she will have me, “ Henry said. “She has done nothing wrong. Whatever source you gained your intelligence from was obviously not known to her, or to her family—”
“It was no less than the very chap who was to become a connection to the Morlands, more fool he. He furnished the initial intelligence himself not long after my arrival in Bath, and I met up with him again at my club yesterday. Thorpe, I believe the name is. He said he had been greatly mislead by these Morlands, who are the worst sort of encroachers—”
Henry stated incredulously, “John Thorpe? If he said the sun was at noon I’d order my nightcap laid out, and candles to be lit.”
The General roared, “I will not be practiced upon! Go pack your trunks!”
“I will return to Woodston, but not to prepare for Herefordshire,” Henry stated. “I’ll pack a bag for a journey to Fullerton, for at least one of us must do justice to a lady innocent of any wrongdoing.”
“Go and be damned,” the General shouted, whipped his horse into motion, and galloped back in the direction of Northanger.
* * *
Dear Miss Tilney:
Herewith please find the sum you so Thoughtfully Advanced to me. I wish to thank you most gratefully for Everything, and to send you a thousand good wishes of a most affectionate heart—
* * *
I write in haste, assuming that you are already on your way to Longtown. This will no doubt chase you, and I wish you to hear from me why I am not joining you.
I met our Father on the outskirts of Lower Macomb, where he demanded I join you in this foolish journey, and when I refused, kindly took it upon himself to supersede Providence in declaring my eventual Fiery Fate.
The real reason behind this present Madness? It seems while we were in Bath the General swallowed a vast deal of humbug from John Thorpe about Miss Morland’s expected wealth and importance—I strongly suspect during those days when Miss Thorpe was laying siege to James Morland. The General met up with Thorpe whilst in London, who since the break with the Morlands offered far worse humbug in order to Traduce them.
I expect the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes—and I would sooner put my question to Captain Kidd the Pirate than I would to any Thorpe—but whatever it may be, the General’s original intent was good, and I am in the next few minutes taking to horse to ride to Fullerton. If Miss Morland has it in her Heart to forgive me—and I am sanguine enough to believe that of so good a Heart as ever lived—when next I write it shall be as an engaged man.
* * *
Your dearest, kindest, Brother encouraged me to Write to you, and I did so wish to apologize for the Coldness of my last. He has been here to Fullerton to Declare himself, and to Explain. I will say nothing of one who is your Parent, but I am very sorry for Everything.
In the course of Conversation, your Brother ventured to hint that I am not the only one Disappointed through unworthy Cause but I will say nothing more, lest it only succeed in giving you added Pain.
I wish more than ever I could see you and talk to you now, but I am very glad you have a friend in the Lady Alice to whom I will direct this letter—and so I will move on to better things . . .
[omitted four crossed pages of repeated encomiums about Henry and Woodston]
. . . and we are agreed that it is no more than Just that my Father insists we cannot Marry until General Tilney gives his Consent. It is proper, and my Father is reasonable—he said nothing to forbid a Correspondence, though a betrothal cannot be made Official, and My mother drop’t a Hint that if I put my efforts to learning Housekeeping—she said I would be a sad Housekeeper, but there is nothing like Practice—she would look the Other way if any letters arrive from Woodston.
So as soon as I close this, I shall write to him, and then Address myself to this basket of Richard’s Shirts.
Your devot’d friend,
Eleanor handed the letter to Alice, who read in silence, as a thin spring rain tapped against the window of the ladies’ morning room at Manydown.
Presently she laid it on the table. There was nothing to be said about the General, who had of course been issued his invitation, and was at that moment no doubt following and flattering the marquis in the billiards room on the other side of the house. The marquis might not think much of Captain Tilney as a husband for his female relations, but he did like being followed and flattered—and the General looked well on horseback, and as a extra man at table and balls.
“Your Catherine seems a good-hearted, genuine girl,” Alice said finally. “Henry has chosen well—as have you. But there is a great deal of absurdity in the world, and it seems you both are destined to feel it.”
Eleanor could only nod. She knew that Alice, for her part, had endured some of the same absurdity in her own father’s prejudice against Irish titles. But faced with the prospect of his daughter passing twenty-five years of age with no other offers in view, he had finally given in.
Alice picked up her tambour. “I will also add, from my own experience, that a little wait is no bad thing. Our three years of delay has only strengthened the bond between Patrick and me. Miss Morland, not yet eighteen, and your brother, a year younger than myself, are full young.”
But to this Eleanor could not agree. She cast aside her net box to say with pent-up passion, “But weeks turn into months, and months to years. That is my experience. I would not wish that on anyone.” Her soft voice had gone unsteady.
Alice, seeing the tears that Eleanor would not let fall, wisely turned the subject.
* * *
In real sorrow, Eleanor bade her friend good-bye, and internally bade farewell to the steady stream of letters she had been receiving from Woodston and Fullerton respectively. Catherine had proved to be as faithful a correspondent as she was a friend, and although there must be little of interest to report in a village so quiet—with not much to do beyond walk over the hill to call on the Allens—Catherine exerted herself to make her reports as interesting as she could. At least there was a steady stream of books to report on, for Henry’s letters invariably arrived in Fullerton within a slim parcel from booksellers.
Henry had returned to his previous habit of writing weekly to Charles Bantry, who said little of himself, but wrote about all the news of London that he thought Eleanor might like to hear—no picture exhibition, concert, or new publication went unnoticed on her behalf.
She arrived back at Northanger alone, with no company than her father, whose temper was as uncertain as ever. She had kept all those letters ribbon-tied in her trunk, and these must be her only solace. She read them every evening, and was thinking them over one day a week later as she walked head-bent through the grove, which was in full leaf.
The sound of horse hooves only caused her head to lift briefly. That could not be Henry, who remained banished. If it was Frederick, unaccountably returned from Portugal, she would hear enough of it over dinner; if a servant, it would be on estate business.
Consequently she was startled to glimpse a figure emerging through the dappled light from the other direction. A few quiet footsteps on the gravel, and a clear shaft of afternoon sunlight spilled over the outline of a man.
Every lineament of that form—the worn greatcoat, the angle of shoulder, the turn of wrist as he approached, the lock of unruly brown hair on that dear, familiar brow—
He swept his hat off, as a tender smile lit his tired face. “Eleanor.”
“What—how—” She looked about wildly, afraid the General would emerge from the shadows, shouting threats.
“Forgive me for coming straight to you, splashed with mud from the road,” he began.
“As if that mattered,” she flashed, her heart beating hard. “Charles, what brings you? Or dare I ask?”
“I am come to tell you either way,” he said with a brief lift of the corners of his lips into the semblance of a smile. “If a duke will sanction the sudden appearance of a suitor for his daughter’s hand, in spite of all the rules of decorum, then so, I flatter myself, will a general.”
“I don’t understand.”
They reached one another, and he drew off his gloves, threw them into his hat, then set the hat on a nearby mossy tree stump. Then he held out his hands, and she walked into them. His arms closed around her, and she pressed her cheek against his heart—which beat as fast as hers—as she breathed in the mingled scents of horse and smoke and her own dear Charles.
“I shall get the worst over at the outset,” came his husky voice from somewhere over her head. “Though undoubtedly the papers will say ‘mishap’ the truth is that Waldo discovered a rival at his latest mistress’s lodging, got into a drunken brawl—from all accounts it cannot be dignified as a duel—fell over a chair and broke his neck. Since I was in London, the solicitors let me know by nightfall.”
“Then—you are . . .”
“Now St. Aidan, for whatever good that will do me,” he said in that same tone of irony. “And, by God, there is a deal of work to be done to wrest something from the wreckage. I can only guess that Waldo, living in expectation of that fifty thousand pound dowry he was to get along with his bride, was driving the estate to the devil—the house half ruined by his friends, most of the servants having quit—rents tripled, prompting . . . oh, but you do not need to hear any of that.”
“I do,” she said, looking up into his face. “If I am to be your helpmeet, I need to hear it all.”
He smiled at last, then bent down to kiss her. She kissed him eagerly, then, breathless, said, “When did this happen?”
“Two days ago. Almost the first thing I did was to take to horse and come straight to you. But before that I wrote to my mother with some orders that, I trust, will go a ways toward setting things to rights.”
“Surely the servants will come back now?”
“That is what I hope. Eleanor, there is a prodigious amount to be done, and everything at once. I can only stay long enough to settle things between us. Though I have inherited all these other duties, my first is to you. But once we reach an understanding, I must return.”
She forced herself to step away, giving a half-laugh, half-sob when she saw the mud blotches down her walking gown. “Then, pray, let us go inside at once.”
He agreed—but had to kiss her again, as a man who had the right.
Hand in hand they turned toward the house. The General, who had also heard the approach of an arrival, had just come in from the stable after questioning the servant there, and gaining no satisfactory answer. “Sir, it was a gentleman, not from these parts.”
The General had not recognized the horse being brushed down, and was at that moment considering whether to send the footman to search for the newcomer who was so remiss as to avoid the master of the house, when the door opened, and in walked his daughter, her gown splattered with mud, her hair awry, holding tightly to the hand of a man in boots and greatcoat—
“Bantry?” he exclaimed in no pleasant voice.
“No,” Eleanor said, her chin lifted. “Lord St. Aidan.”
Later, she would be glad that no one except the two of them had been there to witness the astonishing change of expression in the General’s face as he worked this out—the instant smile of high glee would have offended anyone with a modicum of proper feeling.
“Well, well,” he said. “How does this come about? Come in, come in. I’ll ring for the footman to take your coat—”
Charles was strongly inclined to laugh, but he could see the distress the General’s exposure caused his daughter, so he restrained himself, saying only, “Forgive me, sir, I cannot stay. There is a deal of work awaiting my attention at Whitby Tor. I came to make my offer to Miss Tilney.”
“And I have accepted,” Eleanor stated firmly.
“Of course, of course,” the General stated with a broad smile. “Come, at least drink a glass in congratulation.”
For Eleanor’s sake, Charles assented. The General’s mood stayed genial, even celebrative, but he at least had enough good manners not to crow over the deaths of the previous two St. Aidans. As soon as he could, Charles rode away again, leaving the General alone with his daughter.
“We must hold the wedding here, of course,” he said, rubbing his hands. “The Longtowns will insist on being present, and the Lady Frasers as well.”
Eleanor listened, and smiled, and assented, but within herself was forming her own plans.
* * *
Over the familiar roads they traveled, neither having ever imagined the direction their lives would take. Charles was there to greet them, looking happy and busy. Eleanor rejoiced to discover that the late Waldo Bantry’s depredations upon house and estate had not been as extensive as first feared. He had not had time enough for that.
As Charles had hoped, once news spread through the village and parish of the new viscount’s accession to the title, most came flocking back, many bringing family or friends needing a position so that once again order could be restored.
Eleanor, Henry, and Charles walked through the rooms choosing hangings and furnishings, Charles wanting the work in hand so that his bride would come to a house ready to receive her.
At the height of summer, when everything was in bloom and Northanger Abbey looked its best, the house filled with friends and relations. Henry—permitted to relax his banishment for this day—officiated at the ceremony that transformed his sister to Lady St. Aidan, and the General, brimming with self-importance, led the bows to “Her Ladyship.”
They stayed a day or so, as everything belonging to Eleanor was prepared for transport—including the portrait of her beloved mother, who, she trusted, smiled down from heaven in approval.
Before she and the viscount left in their new chaise to take her to her new home, they interviewed the General in the book room, with no one else present.
He began with, “So when shall I come to Whitby Tor, eh, to see what you’ve done with the place?”
“Pray understand this,” Eleanor said, trembling with emotion. “Before that happens, Henry’s own wedding must be well in train, if not concluded.”
“What is this?” the General asked, scowling.
“My meaning should be clear, Father,” she said. “But if it isn’t, I speak of your consent to his marriage to Miss Morland.”
“What?” The General’s brows drew together. “You dare make conditions?”
“I do.” Next to her, Lord St. Aidan gave a decisive nod. Though he had yet to meet the mysterious Miss Morland, the word of his friend and his wife were enough for him. “You must also know that Mr. Thorpe was no more truthful about her poverty than he was about her wealth.”
“What has she?” the General asked suspiciously.
“Henry was not in a position to inquire, and possesses too much delicacy to put questions to friends and neighbors—” Her tone of scorn utterly bypassed the General, who was at that moment thinking ‘Lady St. Aidan’—“but suffice it to say that her family is as respected in Fullerton as the young lady is by all her friends.”
“Respectable,” the General repeated, in his own tone of scorn. “Well, Henry may be a fool if it likes it. I shall write and inquire.”
Eleanor put no great faith in that promise, but assented, and so she and Charles made their first journey as man and wife to her new home.
Just as Northanger Abbey was at its best surrounded in the verdure of summer, Whitby Tor, which Eleanor had early come to love because Charles was there, was resplendent in summer. The buildings were beautiful, every window gleaming, the lawns immaculate, even the lake placid in the balmy summer airs. The entire household had turned out in their best Sunday clothing to welcome the new Lady St. Aidan. More than half of them Eleanor was glad to be able to greet by name.
Her Miss Blake, so long timidly hiding upstairs away from the noise of military men, had now attained the pinnacle of her own desires: she was the head of her ladyship’s own servants, and as the housekeeper was a genial woman, found herself in a better place than she had ever expected.
As summer began to wane, and the General made noises about being invited for the shooting season, Eleanor wrote back to remind him of his promise.
When the General saw how it was to be, he employed someone on his own to inquire into the particulars of Fullerton. He discovered that that fool Thorpe had been as wrong about the Morlands’ poverty as he had been about their wealth—furthermore, the Allens’ estate, a considerable one, was not entailed on anyone. Mentally adding that to the three thousand pounds that Mr. Morland had promised his daughter, the General at last summoned Henry, and in pompous ceremony provided his consent.
“I have written a letter,” he said, “to Mr. Morland, which I trust will make all plain. You may take it to him yourself.”
* * *
The General’s letter was exactly as risible a pompous epistle as he had expected, but there on the page in the midst of all the parade of nothing-sayings was the consent he had stipulated.
And so, as the last of the leaves were falling, he performed an office he had not yet done in his many years as parson of Fullerton’s church: married one of his own children to the man of her choice.
Everything conspired to make it the happiest of days. Sarah, as bridesmaid, gained a new gown that she had not made herself, Mrs. Allen noted that her silk was the finest in the room, and the town of Fullerton felt itself singled out by the arrival of Lord and Lady St. Aidan in a chaise that half the young boys in town had to gather around to inspect and admire: its fine blazoned side-panels, handsome sword case, and two pairs of matched bays were, all agreed, the best ever met with, and far superior in interest to any wedding.
Catherine became Mrs. Tilney mere months after her dear friend Eleanor had relinquished the name, instead of the years she had feared. Younger brother Richard gifted his sister and her husband with one of the new puppies, who—being a female—Henry and Catherine had every expectation would be welcomed among the three faithful canine friends waiting for their new mistress in Woodston Parsonage.
And so the three of them drove from the Morland house after the joyous wedding breakfast, mistily watched by Eleanor, who was already conspiring with Charles in how soon they could lure the two away from Woodston.
As soon as they were out of sight of all their well wishers, Catherine thoughtfully covered the eyes of the puppy lying somnolent on her lap and smiled up at Henry, who carefully removed her bonnet, set it with his hat beside him, and took her in his arms for a lingering, exploratory kiss.