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Higher Standards (complete)

November 19, 2017 02:58PM
Catherine and Henry are my current faves, even when I imagine them doing things that make me frown. This had no peer reviewer. I hope the rest of you can enjoy this one-shot even if you want to shake someone at the end of it, hopefully not me. -NN S

Blurb: Henry Tilney must struggle with the expectations put upon him by his father and others.

Higher Standards



“Tilney.”

It struck him as a miraculous aberration that amid all the noises of a ballroom -- the conversations, the musicians, the smatterings of applause, the barks of imprudent laughter -- a person could clearly hear his own name being spoken by someone with whom he was not actively engaged in conversation. And it was divine providence that had him on guard, because otherwise he would have turned at that sound and have been confronted by someone he wished to avoid.

“Mr. Tilney,” the call repeated. She sounded as if she was getting closer.

He deliberately kept his back to her and began to take calm, unhurried strides in the opposite direction.

He did not want to talk with Miss Morland tonight. He personally had no complaint against her; she was a sweet, mild, and relatively pretty girl, albeit less than clever. She was the sort of person his sister would like for a friend, and after making her acquaintance, Henry had broached the topic of introducing Eleanor to her. Miss Morland was immediately warm to the suggestion as her own circle of acquaintances in Bath was not very large -- and, if Henry was allowed to judge, of a lower caliber than Miss Morland deserved.

And so he had parted with her on friendly terms, with the expectation of arranging the first of many meetings between Eleanor Tilney and Catherine Morland.

And when he had mentioned the girl to Eleanor, she was as interested as he could have hoped. His sister was practically starved for companionship at Northanger with only the servants for any conversation. But their father, the general, caught wind of their plans when Henry did something immoderate, telling a story about Miss Morland that provoked a laugh from Eleanor.

They might have gotten away with silent smiles, but their father was sure to notice the foreign sound of laughter at the Abbey. The general inquired into the source of their mirth. Their initial reticence only provoked greater scrutiny. Through a barrage of questions he was at last able to discover the existence of Miss Catherine Morland. After a detailed interrogation, he was able to deduce that Miss Morland was beneath their social stratum. He ordered his son to drop the connection as being unworthy. Tilneys, he said, had to be discriminating, they had to hold themselves and their friends to a higher standard.

Henry had no intention of obeying at first, but Eleanor made him see the right of it. “If you really like her --” she offered. He was forced to protest that he did not care that much for her per se, it was the principle of the thing. But Eleanor knew how unpleasant it could be to live with the general; if Henry didn't like the girl excessively, it would not be worth it to continue.

And so Henry dropped the connection. When he returned to Bath, he did not seek her out. He did not check the logs for information as to her whereabouts. He passed her a few times on the crowded streets, and gave her a smile that didn't reach his eyes, such a sharp contrast to the open welcome on her own face. After the first few times she finally caught on, and was able to nod at him while maintaining her attention on whoever was talking at her arm.

And that should have been the end of it, except she wanted to speak with him now. Henry did not want to find out why.

“Mr. Tilney.” She sounded closer, practically right behind him.

Did she not know it was impolite to jostle and race through a ballroom? Was she trying to cause a scene? If he didn't do something soon, word would surely reach his father of the young woman who chased him through the Upper Rooms.

“Miss Morland.” He spun around to give her a tight lipped smile. “What a pleasant surprise.”

The insincerity of his words registered on her face like a slap; she was clever enough to recognize that at least. She flushed briefly and forgot her purpose for a moment before dipping into an awkward curtsey which he returned with a stiff bow.

“Mr. Tilney,” she spoke quietly, breathlessly, barely above the din of the room. “I am sorry to bother you. I know you have… been busy with your own amusements. But I need to talk with you about your brother.”

“My brother?” he repeated with a furrow across his brow. “I was unaware that you knew him.”

Her mouth opened and shut a few times before she mentally stumbled across her next words. “I was introduced to him only recently. He is dancing with my friend Isabella tonight.”

“Yes, well, Frederick likes to dance,” he observed.

“He likes to flirt,” Miss Morland stated, then blushed at her candor.

“The two are not mutually exclusive,” Henry told her.

He must have shocked her. The contrast between her cheeks and the rest of her face increased, whether from blushing or paling he could not say.

“He has no business flirting with her,” she eventually countered.

Was he required to explain basic facts to her now?

“If I know my brother, Miss…” he prompted. She had referred to her friend as Isabella, but he didn’t know the woman at all and thus could not address her with such familiarity.

“Morland,” she mumbled with a dark glint in her eye.

His eyes widened. Did she think him an imbecile? Did she not remember that he had already used her name in this ridiculous conversation? “I know your name,” he grit out in frustration. “I do not know the name of your companion, the one with whom my brother is dancing.”

She flinched in embarrassment. “Isabella… Isabella Thorpe… You may call her Miss Thorpe.”

“As I was saying,” he fought the urge to sigh his suffering, “if I know my brother, Miss Thorpe will not suffer his unwelcome attentions for long.”

“He needs to leave her alone right away,” she insisted.

“It is one dance, Miss Morland,” he reminded her. “Surely you know the perils of the ballroom, of being stuck with a disagreeable partner? It lasts for the duration of a set and then you are free to go.”

The look on her face said she took that comment a little too personally, thinking no doubt of having danced with Henry once or twice before he made his escape.

He tried again. “Frederick is not fond of exerting himself. If your friend does not give him encouragement, he will soon seek it elsewhere.”

“Isabella is more than my friend,” Catherine spoke in an angry whisper. “She has just accepted my brother’s proposal of marriage. We are to be sisters. And-and your brother is flirting with her shamelessly.”

She said that last word too loudly. She knew it; Henry knew it. Two other people standing nearby knew it. He glared at them until they returned to their own private conversation.

Silence stretched uncomfortably between them until he snapped it. “What would you have me do, Miss Morland? He is a grown man, not a child to be sent back to the nursery for stealing a sweet.”

“You should speak to him,” she knew. “Tell him to leave Isabella alone. Tell him to find somebody else to dance with. It is your duty.”

“How is it a man’s duty to scold his brother?” he asked. The idea was preposterous.

“Not-not-not scold!” It was her turn to sound indignant. “You are his-his brother. Surely you know how-how to persuade him to show proper be-behavior?”

Frederick Tilney was not the sort of man to be swayed by pleading to his better nature. Even if Henry was motivated to act, he doubted he could discourage his brother with greater speed or finality than Miss Thorpe’s own disinterest.

“No,” he said firmly.

“But-but-but as a minister, do you not have a d-duty to intervene?” He had never noticed her stutter before tonight. It must be related to her present discomfort, both with the topic of conversation and her partner in it. “Is it not your responsibility to-to-to promote harmony within your family and-and-and your community? How can you-you let him per-persist when you know he is wrong?”

“If flirting in a ballroom is a sin, what else do you disapprove of? Smiling on a Sunday?”

“He is wrong, sir,” she said clearly, her stutter suddenly gone. “And so are you, if you turn a blind eye to this.”

He suffered a momentary lightheadedness. Had she just dared to criticize him?

“Who are you, Miss Morland,” he included her name lest she think he had forgotten it again, “that you have a right to say such a thing?”

“No-nobody.” The stutter returned and her eyes dropped. “I am just the-the daughter of a clergyman, and I have observed my father faithfully discharge his obligations to our parish my whole li-life. We are held to a-a-a higher standard, Mr. Tilney. When we see a wrong, we cannot ignore it. We must ri-right it, even if that means we-we must stand up to our family and-and friends.”

He glared at her, narrowing his eyes as she quailed beneath his gaze. As she grew ghostly pale, he felt a warmth creeping up his neck and face. The small voice of his conscience told him she was right but the louder voice of Tilney pride was roaring in his ears. Had he been at Woodston and observed a parishioner acting out of line, he would have found a way to gently coax them back from folly but here, so far removed from his usual sphere and still chafing from his father’s manipulations, it hadn't occurred to him to rein in his brother’s excesses.

But she was right. She was still right, much as it galled him to admit it. He shut his eyes and took a steadying breath or two, seeking calm.

“Miss Morland,” he said at last, “you overestimate my sway with Frederick. He values military service and seniority, neither of which I have. My speaking to him on this topic would probably provoke him to harass your friend all evening. No, if you want him to leave your friend alone, the best way would be for her to put him off. A gushing encomium on the Navy ought to do it.”

He watched hope fail in her eyes. How could she have gotten mixed up with a friend such as that? How could her brother have proposed to such a creature?

“You may need to remind your friend that a man may say many flattering things while dancing but he means none of them. And while your friend may be quite lively and charming, those traits are immaterial to someone like my father, whose rank my brother does respect. As you did not give your friend's name as Lady Such-and-such or even the Honorable Miss So-and-so, and as her name did not remind me of one of the handful of heiresses currently holding court in Bath, I must assume my father will disapprove of his son continuing to flirt with her past an evening. And if she tries to encourage him, it must be with the understanding that marriage will never be his intention,” he said soberly. “If you tell her all that and still she pursues this folly, well, not every young woman is meant to be your friend.”

Catherine’s eyes were practically glittering with tears. For all his cleverness, he didn't think of how his sketch of Miss Thorpe might be mistakenly apply to Miss Morland until her hurt was staring back at him. How was he to extricate himself from this morass now?

Before he could correct her misunderstanding, however, she set her jaw determinedly and spun neatly on her heel. She walked away from him without a by-your-leave.

Henry watched her retreat, wondering why it felt as if he were the one who had been routed.

END
SubjectAuthorPosted

Higher Standards (complete)

NN SNovember 19, 2017 02:58PM

Re: Higher Standards (complete)

M UDecember 11, 2017 04:01PM

Re: Higher Standards (complete)

HazelGNovember 24, 2017 04:42PM

Re: Higher Standards (complete)

KarenteaNovember 20, 2017 06:08PM



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