Posted on: 2010-11-17
On the evening before their setting out for Northanger Abbey, Eleanor Tilney was preparing for bed when there was a light tapping on her door, and her brother's voice requesting admission. She bid him enter, glad that he had come to see her. Something had been bothering him through dinner, she felt sure.
He came in with a smile, but a rather brooding look just the same, and sat down with a thoughtful frown on his brow. "What is it, Henry?" she asked him with concern.
He leaned forward. "Eleanor, have you been able to discover any reason yet for our father's unaccountable approbation of Miss Morland?"
She shook her head. "No, indeed. Although…" she trailed off hesitantly.
"Yes?" he prompted her.
"Although I have sometimes wondered…" she played with her hairbrush "… if he has lately perhaps began to realize how lonely I have been, and saw that Miss Morland would be a companion so unexceptional as to cause him no concern of her every scheming for position or money." She looked at her brother hopefully, but he shook his head.
"No," he said. "I wish it were so indeed, but there is more to it than that." He stood up, and turned to the fireplace. "Eleanor, our father has asked--no, he has ordered me, for it was as close to an order as makes no difference, to do everything in my power to attach Miss Morland."
"Henry!" she exclaimed, in lively astonishment. "Truly?" He nodded, without looking at her. "Then--" she stood up herself, watching him very closely, "--he means you to marry her?"
"So it would seem," he answered drily. A short silence ensued, while Eleanor thought hard.
"Perhaps," she suggested, "it may be true that her family does have more money than we have been aware; or that she has some other kind of prospects. It would be like her not to mention it, and to consider it of no consequence."
"Yes," he answered. "That's true." Restlessly, he began to wonder about the room from one point to another, stopping to finger and touch what was at hand, and then to move on again. Eleanor, aware that they were treading on very delicate ground, thought it best to sit back down at her dressing table, and resume brushing her hair. But she watched in the mirror.
"She is a sweet girl," she finally ventured.
"What?" He looked up from his abstraction. "Oh, yes." A momentary smile flickered wryly across his face. "Yes, she is the sweetest girl in the all the world."
He prowled on, and more silence ensued. "You know she admires you," observed Eleanor quietly. His only acknowledgement of that was a deepening frown. "With a very little encouragement she would love you."
He jerked his shoulders in an angry gesture. "This puts me in a intolerable position!" he burst out. "Of all the young women I should the least like to impose on--not that I would wish to impose on any woman--the one I would be the most loath, the most unwilling to risk harming would be Catherine Morland. Upon my word, I would be a cad to trifle with a girl like that--a girl as artless and bright and transparent as sunbeam!"
When Eleanor didn't answer him, he glanced over at her impatiently. "Well? Don't you agree?"
"Of course," she said, "but, Henry--would it be trifling?"
His head came all the way around at that, and he met her gaze. He understood perfectly well the implication of her question, he could not deny it, but she saw that he did not know how to answer her. Wisely choosing to remain silent, she returned to her hair, waiting patiently while he tried to work through the thoughts and emotions that were warring within in.
"What if--" he sank down on the edge of her bed, looking suddenly tired. "What if our father were to have one his sudden changes of mood? What if she--says something unfortunate, or he discovers some other woman who he thinks would be better for me, what then? Don't you see that until I can understand what is the source of his current approval, there can be no certainty of it continuing indefinitely?"
She sighed, and came to sit next to him, taking his hand reassuringly. "I do understand your concerns--none better! But I will venture to say that whatever our father's faults, he has never sought to force you into any union before. Not even with that heiress in London--what was her name?"
"Miss Stuart," he said, grimacing.
"Though, to be sure, he did offer you encouragement, he did not order you to pursue her. Indeed, I cannot imagine him doing so with any woman without some very strong reason, and while I admit that it would be more comfortable if we knew it…" She shrugged expressively. "I cannot give her friendship up for that. She is too dear to me already."
"No, indeed," he affirmed, his face softening, as he returned the pressure of her hand.
"I would also venture to declare that sure no woman alive is less likely to give offense on any account that my dear Catherine."
He laughed a little. "Again, you are quite right. She is the best little soul in all of England, isn't she?"
"Indeed she is," she affirmed warmly, but with a look so full of meaning that he laughed and flushed.
"Would you like it, El?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.
"Very much--but not if you wouldn't."
"I?" He ran a hand through his hair. "I hardly know what I want right now." He stood up again and went to her window, looking down into the street where the lamps were burning. "When I first met her I never thought…."
"She's not clever," he said.
"No, but neither is she at all deficient," she responded quickly.
"No, that's true. And she has a willingness--an eagerness to learn that is very pleasing, doesn't she? Her appreciation for beautiful things is genuine, and her taste is good, when it is directed a little."
"I imagine, brother," said Eleanor, amused, "that Miss Morland will be happy to be directed by you in whatever way you may choose. In a very short time, you may look forward, if you choose, to a wife that perfectly agrees with you on every important subject."
"Do you think that's what I want?"
"Don't you?" She looked at him archly. "I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that it did not require the orders of our father to convince you to pay her quite marked attentions."
He blushed again at that. "I'm afraid you're right. It has been quite wrong of me, I suppose, and I never intended to… but to have a pretty girl look at you so, and hang on your every word, is more than most men can resist. It seemed like I could not be so unkind as to treat her coldly, when she was so eager and warm--and yet unpretending, unasking, just hoping, and grateful…."
"Just so," remarked his sister, repressing a laugh.
But he was now wrapped in his own thoughts. "I suppose it's because we have always been brought up in an atmosphere of ambition and pride, that I never imagined there could be a woman so completely free from either of those things. As far as I can tell, she has no thought that is not both honorable and sincere; she sees goodness and kindness and honesty everywhere, and hardly knows how to even impute a bad motive to anyone, even when her own sense of rightness tells her their behavior is wrong."
"A pure heart, in fact," said Eleanor softly.
"A pure heart," he echoed. There was a momentary silence. "She hasn't any idea of a joke, of course."
"No, but I suppose she's never heard anyone talk such nonsense before you."
He had to laugh at that, and came back into the room, and seated himself by her again. "Most likely not." Then he saw the familiar gleam in her eye, and shook his head at her. "It's all very well for you to laugh at me, Eleanor, but this is serious. If I do this--if I--make her love me," he said the words with some difficulty, "then there will be no turning back. You do see that, don't you?" He took her hand. "I could never in honor draw back, having once purposely engaged her affections. No matter--" he left the sentence hanging.
Eleanor studied his face. "What is that you are afraid of, Henry?" she asked softly. "That my father will withdraw his consent, or that you won't be able to love her in return?"
For a long minute he did not answer her, but only frowned in thoughtful introspection. In his mind's eye he was seeing Miss Morland's fresh young face, her bright eyes sparkling at his attentions, and that sweet, unaffected smile directed wholly at him. He remembered the little line that appeared between her eyebrows when she was trying to sort out something he had said to her, and the delightful way she blushed when she realized he was complimenting her--although half the time she never did realize it, so modest was she. They had spent many hours in each other's company at this point, and her conversation had never bored him yet. "I suppose," he said slowly, "that if I'm not afraid of the latter, then I shouldn't be afraid of the former, either."
"And are you afraid of the latter?" asked his sister, watching his face closely.
He looked at her hand resting in his, and gripped it. "No," he said suddenly, with a quiet smile. "No, I don't suppose I am."
Posted on: 2010-11-29
Riding back to Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney enjoyed all the gratifying reflections available to a man deeply in love, who has the certainty of his love being returned. His thoughts, in particular, dwelt warmly on the events of the preceding week. In the absence of the General, he and Eleanor and Catherine had been so merry and relaxed, so happy and free, as to confirm him completely in his every desire where Miss Morland was concerned. He thought of her now, laughing and adorable, her dark eyes shining, and her whole countenance so suffused with happiness and love, that he had felt the strongest desire to take her in his arms.
How he had come, by insensible degrees, to feel the degree of ardent attachment that he did toward the young lady, he himself could hardly say. What began as a simple liking for a sweet and innocent girl had long since increased to high regard, to a positive enjoyment in her company. Her own undisguised admiration for him, his sister's love, his father's preference, had all worked in her favor, and made him disposed towards loving her. But in the end it was just her, herself--her warm heart, her integrity, her beautiful, artless sincerity and innate appreciation of all things good and lovely--it was her who had attracted him. Her character had come as something of a revelation to him, made previously so cynical by his own parent's relentless ambition. Northanger was not the same place with her there. Surely no one had ever been so happy in those walls since his mother died--or perhaps even before.
Topping a hill, he saw Northanger in the distance before him, and urged the horse on, his heart quickening. He wondered where he would find her; in the garden, most likely, wondering amid the flowers. Then as he began to draw near, another horseman came into view, riding from the direction of the stables. As he closed the distance, Henry was surprised and vexed to see that it was his father. Why he wasn't due back from London for another day!
The General pulled his horse around as to ride with Henry, and with a sinking heart he saw the set, angry look of the older man's face. What now? "This is unexpected, sir. I thought you were still in London."
General Tilney interrupted him unceremoniously. "I have come to tell you that Miss Morland is gone."
"What?" he demanded incredulously.
"She was a conniving adventuress, and I have sent her away. You and I and Eleanor remove to Herefordshire tomorrow." He glowered sternly at his son. "You are to think no more of her, you understand? She was unworthy of us. She--" he paused a moment, struggling with his overmastering rage. "She is never to be mentioned in my presence again!"
"Never, you hear?"
Henry straightened in his saddle, grasping his reigns. "Sir, I must demand an explanation!"
"This conversation is over. You will obey me!" His father spurred his horse and galloped back.
For a full minute Henry stared after him in thunderstruck silence, as confusion, anger and fear warred within him. He came suddenly to himself, with one coherent thought. Eleanor. I must see Eleanor.
Coming into the house he went immediately in search of his sister, not even casting off his riding cloak. He found her in her sitting room, looking pale and heavy-eyed as if she had been crying. She started up at the sight of him. "Oh, Henry, thank God you've come!" she cried. "I've been in misery!"
Henry grasped her hands. "What happened, Eleanor? Is she really gone? Father said--"
She drew one hand across her eyes, with a shuddering half-sob. "It was terrible. He came--oh, late last night! We were preparing for bed already. He was so angry, and he said--the most dreadful, unjust things about Catherine! Then he told me--he made me tell her--" she shut her eyes, clasping her hands. "Oh, heavens, shall I ever forget it? The shame, the guilt! Of all the things he has made me do, Henry, this was the worst!"
"What?" Henry was almost frantic with anxiety and impatience. "What was it?"
She opened her eyes. "She was sent away, Henry, like--like a criminal, almost, the very next morning, at dawn, in--a hired chaise, with not even a servant to accompany her!"
"What?" She saw him grow pale and clench his jaw with anger.
"No excuse offered her, no explanation but an engagement she must know to be invented!" She shuddered again. "If I had not thought to give her money she would not have had even enough to get home. She would have been stranded, alone, and unprotected!"
As she had spoken, he cast his hat on the table, and began stripping off his gloves and cloak. There was a look on his good-natured face which she had never seen before. "How did she take it?" he asked.
"So graciously! Indeed, she was far too good! But she felt it--I could see she felt it most bitterly. I do not know which of us was more stricken. She kept asking what she had done to offend the General."
"She?" he burst out in suddenly fury. "what she had done to offend him? By--everything, he shall answer for this!" He turned sharply toward the door, rage and purpose in his every move.
"Henry!" she cried entreatingly. He paused. "He will cast you off! I know he will!"
Henry came back to her, taking her hands and saying in a quieter voice, "I am sorry for it, for your sake. When I thinking of leaving you here, alone with him--! But would you have me abandon her? It would be treating her even worse than my father has done."
Her hands returned the pressure of his. "No, indeed. You are quite right."
He smiled a crooked smile. "I love her, Eleanor. And I have made her love me, which is more important. Did I not say there was no turning back? I am bound to her by every tie of honor as well as affection." His eyes turned back to the door. "For your sake, and for filial duty I have borne with his every whim and caprice these years, but I cannot do so now, even for you."
"No, no! I do not wish it, truly I do not. I could bear anything to have Catherine as a sister."
"Then you shall--if her parents will ever let me near her, that is." He let go her hands to embrace her, then left the room with out any further comment.
General Tilney was in the library. Henry walked in without knocking and said without preamble, in an even, but dangerously constrained voice, "I have come, sir, to demand an explanation for your despicable treatment of Miss Morland."
The man started; a mottled red rose to his face. "I said you were not to speak of her!"
Henry clenched his hands. "How dare you treat her so! She who was under your protection! Turning her out without consideration, or civility, or even dignity!"
"She did not deserve consideration or civility from me. She imposed on us, masquerading as an heiress, concealing her miserable origins!"
He stared at him. "Are you mad, sir? Miss Morland never claimed to be an heiress--and her origins are certainly not miserable!"
The color came back the General's face; with difficulty he controlled himself, and coming to Henry, laid a hand on his shoulder. "She took you in, son, just like she took me in. You were most unhappily deceived! But I discovered the imposture in time, and now she is gone, you must put her out of your thoughts."
Henry shook off his hand. "I will do no such thing! Have you lived under the same roof as her for an entire month, and still know so little of her character? She never lied! She never pretended to any regard she did not feel! She would be incapable of such a thing! If anyone deceived you, it was not her!"
"I tell you, you will forget her!"
"I will not!"
The General's eyes started from his face; his voice shook with rage. "How dare you defy me?" he cried. "How dare you question me! Do you think that I would even for a moment have tolerated her presence in my house if I knew her true situation? But I know it now! Her family is destitute and scheming and necessitous! She came to Bath for no other purpose than to secure a wealthy husband!"
"That's absurd!" cried Henry. "She is an honest, respectable, virtuous young woman who you ordered me to court!"
"Because she was passing herself off as an heiress!"
"She was not!" He nearly clutched his hair in his frustration. "I never believed her to be an heiress! Eleanor never believed her to be an heiress! Only you believed it, sir, and I am sure she never told you it was so!"
"Silence! I will not be defied!"
"No!" Their voices continued to rise by incremental degrees as the argument grew hotter, each man facing the other with tension in his every muscle, glaring at each other in an unyielding clash of wills. Never had Henry looked so much like his father as he did at that moment. "I will not give way! You ordered me to attach her; I obeyed your orders, and now I am bound to her in honor as well as affection! I will not desert her!"
"You will have nothing more to do with her, or you will never set foot in this house again!"
"Then it is fortunate I am not dependant on you!" Henry's mouth was drawn into a tight line. "You may not have a sense of honor, but I do, and I will not abandon an innocent, virtuous woman because of your caprice! I will marry her, if she will still have me. I only pray that her family may not despise me for your treatment of her!"
"Her family despise us?" the General gasped. "Get out! Get out before I horsewhip you!"
Henry turned on his heel and went, but at the library door he paused, and looked back for a moment at his father's already turned back. "Sir," he said in a calmer voice, "if you would but listen to reason you will see that neither she nor her family is what you think them! They are not rich, but neither are they destitute--"
General Tilney turned his head and glared at him. "Get out," he repeated, through his teeth.
Henry bowed. "I hope you may change your mind, sir. You will always be welcomed at Woodston." There was no response, and he went out the door.
In the hall, Eleanor waited for him with his cloak and hat and gloves. Neither sibling said anything as he put them on, and in silence they walked together out the back door, to the stables. A surprised stable hand hurried to re-saddle Henry's horse, and they stood together, hands clasped, cherishing what they knew to be their last moments together for perhaps a long time.
"He will calm down eventually," said Eleanor finally, quietly.
"I know," said Henry.
"Nothing is harder for him than to admit that he has been wrong, but I cannot think he truly desires to be estranged from you."
"Once he realizes it as inevitable--and has placated his pride with a sufficient show of resistance--then I will speak to him, and maybe he will listen."
Henry flicked her cheek affectionately with one finger. "Don't get yourself in trouble for my sake, El. It's going to be hard enough for you anyway."
She could not deny that, so just clung to his hand more tightly, and smiled as brightly as she could manage, but there were tears in her eyes, and a few in his as well. The boy led up his horse, and he sighed. "I wish I could take you with me."
"I wish I could go with you. But--" she glanced behind her at the house. "He is still our father, Henry. He needs me, in a way." She saw his anxious face, and smiled again. "I will be well, brother. I am accustomed to my life here. I will miss you, but not, I trust, for too long."
"I hope you may be right." He sighed again. "I do not know what I will find when I reach Fullerton. Her parents may be rightfully very offended. I do not know when Catherine and I may--"
She squeezed his hand. "I have given her a way to write to me, through my maid. She must let me know how things stand as soon as possible. I think, though--I think her parents are kinder than ours, Henry. They will not stand in the way of their daughter's happiness."
"If it could be called happy to marry into this family," he said with some bitterness.
"She will be very happy to marry you, because she loves you, as you well know. And you will be happy, for you will have the sweetest and truest little wife in the world."
He could not but smile at the bright image these words conjured up. "Will you be happy, Eleanor?"
A shadow crossed her face. "Perhaps someday, if I am very fortunate," she said quietly. Then more cheerfully, "And I will be happy knowing you are happy."
He wrapped his arms around her, and they stood like that for some time, until, from the direction of the house, they thought they heard the sound of General Tilney's voice, calling Eleanor's name.
"I must go," she whispered, drawing back.
"Yes." He kissed her swiftly on the cheek, and watched her hurry back to the house before mounting his horse, and riding away, back to Woodston, and then, beyond, Fullerton, and Catherine.