"Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;"
— Lysander, Midsummer Night's Dream (William Shakespeare)
"O Emily! these are moments, in which joy and grief struggle so powerfully for pre-eminence, that the heart can scarcely support the contest!"
― Valancourt, The Mysteries of Udolpho (Anne Radcliffe)
"But if the fates deny to me this prayer for my true wife, my constant mind must hold me always so that I can not return ― and you may triumph in the death of two!"
― Orpheus, Metamorphoses (Ovid)
The day Catherine Morland gave up her maiden name forever was a happy time for all concerned. She herself beamed with all the happiness of a full and grateful heart. The parson who performed the ceremony took joy in seeing his eldest daughter so well situated. His wife was glad all of the younger Morland boys and girls sat through the ceremony with nary an interruption. Their neighbor Mr. Allen believed the young lady had never looked better; his wife knew it to be true, as she had personally seen to the bride's apparel. The special guests of the day, the Viscount and Viscountess, beamed in mutual appreciation for a wedding day they might finally share with their favorite brother.
As for the groom himself, Henry Tilney was in such high spirits he warred between speechlessness and fluidity and only managed to keep from delivering the minister's part of the marriage custom by keeping his eyes fixed upon Catherine's, offering every comment he wished to make through raised brows and earnest smiles. His reward for these efforts was to inspire her to laughter just as they were declared man and wife, and to take his first kiss as her husband when said peals rose to her lips.
There was only one cause for concern during the festivities, occurring when the couple turned to sign the marriage registry. As Catherine dipped her pen to sign her legal address for the first time, the candles upon the altar smoked and sputtered as if a wind had blown through the church, and one went out altogether, dropping a full dollop of wax where the bride had stood but a moment before. "I hope we are not due for more frost," Doctor Skinner whispered to his wife in concern, "for there have been far too many colds this winter already."
Later at the wedding breakfast there were so many toasts to make, and so much gaiety to be shared, that it is a wonder the happy couple were able to eat at all. Afterward, their departure was delayed by the announcement that as the coach was being prepared, two of the wheels were found to have cracked and would need to be replaced. This unpleasant development cast a slight pall over the family until someone proposed dancing. Partners were taken, a line formed, and Miss Sally paid her tutor the compliment of performing upon the spinet with excellence. The general felicity ensured no one quite realized when the newly married Tilneys made their escape, as Henry led his wife for a walk amid the shrubbery.
The couple was overcome with the desire to release all the words so patiently withheld during the day's events. Metaphors, similes, quotations, and aphorisms threaded their conversation in such rapidity that no one listening could have understood much of it; and yet they were as happy conversing as during the joining of their hands. The following must suffice to summarize more rationally what was said with far less order, and many more sentences of tangential quality:
"I now see books are only half truths; for no novel has ever captured what I feel now."
"But my dearest, loveliest, and altogether sanest Catherine, must you doubt the sagacity of the authors we share such appreciation of? For I confess I have never done them justice in their expression of a lover's ardor till now."
"But do you not think it wiser to look to poetry in such matters? I have of late come to love a sonnet nearly as much as a hyacinth."
"And that by which we call a rose, though not endeared to you yet, must be just as sweet as the words describing it, whether in verse or prose. Do not so disdain the pleasure of your youth merely because you have gained a matron's grace."
"Oh as to that, I never can. Even when I try to apply myself to better things I must always love a horrid tale."
"Such steadfastness is a great comfort to me, for if you can still appreciate the merits of a Valancourt then the faults of a Henry may not serve to drive you away."
"Oh! nothing could ever make me leave your side now that we are wed."
This virtuous repetition of her troth was enough to still even their verbosity and would have led to a further repetition of their joined lips, had they not been interrupted by the appearance of Catherine's young sisters running by, begging her to join them in play again. Here it must be observed that for the first time in their acquaintance, Catherine delivered a statement of more hyperbole than truth, for she was quickly persuaded to give chase to the girls, leaving the husband she had just promised never to abandon for more maidenly pursuits. Henry only laughed seeing her run so freely and wished he had his dogs to join the spectacle, unable to recognize the danger of this further digression from reality in a day already marked by several.
It was not until he saw a different figure altogether run after the Morland girls that his frivolity was cut short. The man appeared of a sudden, leaping down from a horse in an oversized groomsman's habit and calling with lusty yells, "D—n stupid filly, and d—n bees that chase horses, and d—n the trouble I've had getting back into a narrative I ought to have played a more prominent role in." And seeing the astonished Catherine turn at his voice, the man called, "Heyho Miss Morland, here I am at last, and I shan't take no for an answer now that the Tilneys have abandoned you: here's my hand, let's dance a jig and call it square."
"Mr. Thorpe?" was her startled cry, forcing Henry to realize it was indeed his would-be rival, raised from the mortification of a barely passing mention in Chapter 30 and no appearance whatsoever past that number halved. Not enduring the practice of his brethren heroes in needing to seriously consider his ostensible villain during the chief of his courtship, Henry must be forgiven for reacting a bit slowly, as he was at first given to think it a ridiculous joke. But he was awakened from this stupor by Thorpe lunging to grasp Catherine in a clumsy embrace. She pulled back in fright as his nails pricked her skin, causing the other girls to scatter in terror and cry for help.
Henry started forward but was hampered by the horse collapsing before him in a lathered exhaustion, clearly taxed beyond all reasonable bounds by the fiend sprinting after Catherine, who had taken to her heels and fled along the familiar green slope. Wishing for far less dramatic stakes, and that he had worn proper boots rather than the more fetching buckled shoes purchased for his nuptials, Henry leapt over the poor beast and ran after them.
Being in far better shape than his opponent, he soon caught Thorpe by the coat's sleeves. "Hey now, unhand me, what's your confounded interest here?"
"Aside from the duty any gentleman of breeding or conscience should feel seeing a lady so harassed," Henry said, not releasing his grip on the struggling man one bit, "I must insist as her husband that you remove yourself from this place at once, as your presence is neither requested nor welcome."
"Husband eh? Thought that was a bit of hullabaloo from Morland, wanted to get a little of his own back after abandoning Belle so foolishly. Do you mean to say you went and married that bit of baggage even after the General was so hot and bothered by her?"
"I do not feel the need to explain myself further; you must look to others for that office. I will only say again that you must either leave of your own volition, or by my appealing to the local authorities who will force you to. Either way, there is no cause for you ever to grieve the Morlands, or Mrs. Tilney, again." So saying, he shoved him back toward the road, and had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Thorpe trip over his coat tails to land in a patch of briers, making him look even more outrageous than before, and with all the suffering so long denied readers waiting to see him finally driven dumb by his own absurdity.
After this classical if ungenteel act of heroism, Henry went in search of Catherine, calling her name with assurances that all was well. Not being tutored by previous experience in the forms of an epic, Henry did not understand these pronouncements must always prove premature. At last he found her by a small cistern, and no sooner had he spied her face than he was made aware of his own folly, for she was dreadfully pale and still, barely acknowledging his happy greeting.
"Come no closer!" she whispered instead, her own eyes fixed on the ground with such fascination that Henry must direct his gaze down as well, and was startled anew to discover a snake circling the ground around Catherine's feet.
"It can not be too dangerous, for it is the wrong season and area for vipers," he reasoned aloud, confident in his Oxford education of all dangers spiritual and natural. "But I will drive it away so you will not be bothered."
"No!" Catherine wailed, stopping him with the terror in her voice. "It is an asp, and will strike the first of us who attack it."
"But Catherine, use your reason, consider the county we are in, the unlikelihood of such a beast being brought all the way from Egypt to torment us here. Remember that we are in Christian England, not pagan Rome or Cyprus. It is probable, is it even possible for the nemesis of Cleopatra to threaten us?" So saying he took out the pen he always carried, and would have attacked in the tradition of Saint George had Catherine not reached out her hand in alarm.
"Foolish or not, it is too dangerous: please will you not go and fetch someone to kill it!"
"And think you my pen is no mighty sword?" he asked knowingly, and a hint of irritation at the cruel tricks played upon them. "Really Mrs. Tilney, I think your husband may take on one lowly reptile, there is no need to involve more people in this farce than necessary."
He turned back to the creature, its eyes glinting with mischievous malevolence. With some hesitation Henry wondered if he had misjudged the beast's nature, and decided to use his hat along with his utensil to ward it off. Kneeling, he tried to shoo it on, and began to catch the spirit of their plight in acknowledging it would not scare as easily as should be expected. Instead it rose high and spread its hood, making Henry wonder whose ideas were being admitted into this bizarre horror, so that he was again slow to react to the threat before him as it drew back to strike.
Before it could sink its teeth into Henry's outstretched arm a slippered foot came crashing down on its head, and he looked up in admiration at this daughter of Eve fulfilling that fallen matriarch's divine purpose. As if in answer to this unspoken heresy, the snake turned and acted according to its prophesied role, biting the heel of she who had bruised it, then slithering off into the grass. Catherine cried and swooned, prompting Henry to rise and catch her in his arms. Picking her up, he rushed back to the Fullerton Parsonage with his bride, calling to any who heard to fetch the doctor.
What followed was as somber and painful as had previously been all gaiety and joy. Every attention was given to the suffering lady, and all hearts turned to prayer as she was ministered to. Sobs took the place of laughter in the children, and Mrs. Morland found it necessary to remove them completely from the house, accepting Mrs. Allen's invitation of refuge. The eldest brother James was so distraught on hearing of his former friend's disgraceful part in the affair that he had to be consigned to bed as well, faint with misery and shame. Henry found himself sharing an awful vigil with Mr. Morland, his sister and her noble husband, none of whom knew how to console him.
When Doctor Skinner at last came downstairs, his look alone bore his tidings. "I am afraid there is nothing else I can do for her. It would be best for you to see her now, if you will at all."
Henry had enough presence of mind to ask Eleanor to accompany him, worried she would be denied a second relation's valediction after missing their mother's passing. Yet it was clear when they entered the room that any parting words must be on their side alone; the lady moved not at all, nor breathed.