Catherine at Woodston

Finally the day came, and Catherine awoke, filled with a pleasure so intense it might almost be called joy, at the thought that today she would see that place that was home to Henry Tilney, and that might be, if only her dearest wishes had any hope of realisation, one day home to herself also. She leaped from her bed, full of happiness and eager to be on her way, her eagerness tempered somewhat when her examination of her wardrobe failed to offer any insight as to which gown might be most appropriately worn on a day on which she must look her best, appearing both as a prospective rector's wife in the eyes of any locals that she might meet, and as a desirable woman to make his wife in the eyes of Henry. However, she did eventually select a gown, and in such good time as to not try the General's patience by being late for breakfast. She sat and drank her tea in an agony of anticipation, wondering whether this tedious meal would ever be at an end, and yet fearful lest some unanticipated gaucherie on her part should serve to lower her in Henry's eyes, at which thought she almost wished she could counterfeit some form of illness that might confine her to her chamber, and bring Henry, filled with, she hoped, loving consideration, to her side, maybe even so disconcerting him at the sight of her on a bed of woe that he spoke what she believed and hoped was in his heart. But before she could bring herself to take such desperate measures as to moan in agony and fall on the table, apparently in a faint, breakfast was over, and it was time to don their travelling clothes and make their way to the main entrance of the Abbey, outside which a coach awaited, ready to convey them to Woodston.

Catherine entered the coach with mixed feelings. Though she was delighted to be finally on her way to see Henry's residence, in as far as she could be delighted given her still un-banished fear of committing some terrible indiscretion, she had to admit that she would have been happier in herself if the General had not been a part of the party, or if some means could have been found to make him take a seat on the outside of the carriage, while she and Eleanor had a comfortable coze on the inside. For, it must be acknowledged, Catherine still found herself somewhat nervous of the General, not, as in the past, because she suspected him of the fearful crimes of a Montoni or some other Gothic villain, but rather because when in his company she always felt constrained, and she had noticed that his children seemed to feel the same, or at least, they were never so comfortable together when the General was one of the party as when he was not; and today particularly Catherine had hoped that Henry might feel unconstrained in expressing his feelings. But it was not, at least, for the present, to be, so Catherine, suspending her hopes on the faint prospect that at some time in the forthcoming day she might be thrown alone into Henry's company, readied herself to bear, as best she could, the General's company.

Fortunately for Catherine's self-possession, which was nearly hopelessly tried by the General's strange way of complimenting her and her family as if she were a great heiress, and not merely the daughter of a family moderately well to do, all journeys do eventually come to an end, and to her delight she saw that they had pulled up outside a moderately sized, yet elegant house, outside of which stood Henry, ready to greet them. Having handed down first Catherine, then his sister, leaving Catherine to ponder deeply over the vexed question of whether there had been a perceptible pressing of her hand when it lay in his, or whether his attentions were merely those one would expect of any well-bred man when faced with visiting ladies, he waited while his father, the General, extracted himself from the coach. The General was, doubtless, it could be read in his features, in his posture, in his very mode of being, about to dominate events and to start dictating where the party should go and whence they should cast their gazes, but before he could start to dictate the enjoyment of the day, he was taken aback when Henry said,

'My father, I am afraid I must ask you to forgo the pleasure of overseeing this visit, as I had this day received from Frederick a letter containing within what he says are many important papers requiring your attention. I have put these in my study, which I place at your convenience as a place for you to carry out these regrettable labours.'

The General was clearly startled, as he was un-used to anything standing in the way of his proceeding exactly as he thought fit, but as he acknowledged that important papers must be read, he did not rebuke his child, but rather, with a well-mannered acceptance, made his way into the study, where his great works could be carried out in peace. This left Catherine, Eleanor and Henry together, able to plan their own time, and served only to raise Catherine's spirits, as signifying that the oh so hoped for privy meeting with Henry might yet happen after all. She was contemplating the prospect of this with a certain degree of pleasure, considering which of many ways of saying 'yes' she might choose to adopt, when Henry broke in upon her imaginings by saying, most mundanely,

'So, ladies, how do you wish to pass your time here? You, Eleanor, have been here before, but Miss Morland has not, and I am sure you would agree that therefore her wishes should be paramount. Therefore, Miss Morland, what do you wish to do?' Well, there was only one thing Catherine could wish to do, or, more exactly, one thing that did not require a certain amount of rehearsal of Henry to ensure it came off precisely, for she was a heroine, and heroines can do but one thing on coming upon a strange house, so she said,

'Oh, Mr Tilney, I want to explore.' Henry smiled, as if he had expected nothing else, so leading them into the house, he said,

'And explore you shall. Eleanor and I shall have a quiet time together while you discover all my darkest secrets. All I ask is that you stay clear of this room,' he indicated, 'In which my Father sits, and that you do not judge me on the incompleteness of finish you will find about the house. Some rooms are empty, some partly furnished, for I have not lived here long, and it requires another touch than mine to complete the picture.' Catherine was so overcome by the implications inherent within this speech that she very nearly said 'Oh Henry, of course I will', but, realising that he had not, in fact, asked the all-important question, she limited herself to blushing becomingly, saying,

'Thank you,' and taking herself off in the direction of the main corridor that led to the back of the house, leaving Henry and Eleanor together to discuss she knew not what.

Catherine soon discovered that the front part of the house, consisting of the living apartments, was made up of the study, which was forbidden to her, an unfurnished, but large, room and a drawing room in which she surprised Eleanor in the act of saying how delighted she was at some action Henry had apparently decided to undertake, the nature of said action remaining unclear, as Eleanor cut off her speech as soon as she saw Catherine, coloured and said,

'I was just saying, Catherine, how fine the view is from this room; do you not agree?' and Catherine was so taken up with picaresque raptures at the prospect that she entirely forgot to wonder at what it was Eleanor had been speaking of when she had opened the door. But such surface scratchings as these were not sufficient to quiet Catherine's heroic spirit. She wanted to know more than merely what the public rooms were, and so she proceeded down the long, narrow corridor that clearly led to the servants' part of the house. Picking on a promising looking door, she turned the knob and opened it, to hear a voice saying,

'And he's brought down the young lady as Mr Henry . . . why here she is now. How do you do ma'am?'

Catherine found herself confronted by two women, one of about her own age, who was clearly the maid, and an older who she had little difficulty in identifying as the cook. Which was confirmed when, after she stammered,

'Very well, thank you, and you?' the older woman replied,

'We are well thank you. You, I am sure, must be Miss Morland; allow me to make the introductions. I am Mrs Edgars, cook and general housekeeper, and this is Ellen, the maid. Say how d'you do, Ellen.' Ellen curtseyed and said,

'How d'you do ma'am.' Mrs Edgars continued,

'I am hoping that you find all to your liking, Ma'am, and have no complaints about the way the house is run?'

'Why no,' said Catherine, somewhat puzzled, 'And why should I?' Mrs Edgars smiled and said,

''Why should I?' she asks, as if what she wants don't matter, as if what she wants isn't more important than what any other wants. If you, ma'am, are content with my housekeeping, then I need have no fears of the master or any others complaining.'

This speech puzzled Catherine more than somewhat. Mrs Edgars appeared to be implying that Catherine had some authority over this house, and the servants within it, whose possession set her apart from all other women. And yet, Catherine could not comprehend what that authority might be. What was there that made her wishes so important to Henry's servants? Why should they care about her? That is, unless, Catherine found herself thinking, almost with trepidation, as if fearful to follow this thought to its natural conclusion, they had some reason to believe that she did, or would have, some position of authority over them. Which meant, she thought, contemplating this idea with a kind of joyful awe, joy at what it implied for her happiness, and awe at the fact that Henry was so serious in his intent, that he had prepared his servants for her coming not merely as a guest, but as a prospective mistress. So he did want to marry her, after all. She could scarcely contain her joy: in fact she could not, and she quickly found herself weeping. Mrs Edgars, who was not to know that they were tears of joy, hurried to her side, saying,

'Oh, ma'am, I did not mean to upset you. Come, sit down and Ellen will make you a nice cup of tea, and then we can have a nice little chit-chat together about the way we run the house.' And so she proceeded to describe everything that she thought her new mistress ought to know about the day-by-day running of the house, the keeping of the books, and all those little problems that inevitably beset any enterprise, regardless of its size.

Catherine did not hear much of this. As she sipped her tea she was almost wholly taken up with contemplation of the beautiful thought that Henry did indeed want to make her his wife. She had hoped as much, even gone so far as to almost believe as much, but she had never received absolute proof that he saw her as more than a friend. Now she knew better: a man may toy flirtatiously with a lady's affections, though she thought Henry too well mannered to do such a thing, but no amount of flirtatious toying could possibly involve telling one's servants to treat the object of the flirtation as if she were their mistress. At least, not unless the man in question was titanically selfish and cruel, qualities which Catherine indignantly denied Henry could possibly manifest. Which all meant that it was not a matter of whether Henry would ask her to be his wife, it was simply a matter of when, which meant that the sooner she managed to engineer a tete-a-tete the better. Catherine believed strongly that it was better to have all things clearly set out between people, whether they be debts, plans to visit some place of amusement, or contracts to engage in holy matrimony, and so she felt it was her incumbent duty to give Henry the opportunity to clarify the situation between them, so that rather than stay in this, in some ways delightful, in many other ways somewhat vexing, state of anticipation, they could agree to be married and, as soon as was proper, experience the eternal bliss of wedded life together.

By the time Catherine had reached this point in her thoughts, Mrs Edgars was beginning to run down. In fact, Catherine, now returned fully to communion with the world around her, clearly heard her say,

'But, ma'am, if there's one thing you can fix, let it be the heating. For the fires in this house, they're laid out strangely, and there's places where there's no warmth, no matter how many fires we try to lay. Of course, it doesn't matter when so many rooms are unused, but when you're, I mean, when they're all used . . .' she tailed off. Catherine thought hard, but try as she might nothing occurred to her. However, contemplation of her glorious future had filled her with resolution, with determination to act, to prepare for her long and, she was certain, happy residence here. So she said,

'I do not know how to answer that, and will not until . . . I mean, can you give me a plan of the house, so I can consider it?' Mrs Edgars was immediately spurred into action,

'Of course, ma'am, what a good idea. Here,' she took a piece of paper and a stub of pencil and started to draw, recounting as she did, 'Here's the master's study, and the drawing room, and the large empty room, and here we are, and here's your . . . the lady's privy room, or so we thought, I hope you don't mind our presumption in . . .'

'Oh, not at all,' said Catherine, taking the plan, 'I am sure I, I mean the lady, will be entirely happy with all of your arrangements. But I must go; I wish to speak with Mr Tilney.'

'Of course, ma'am,' said Mrs Edgars, 'I look forward to seeing you as mistress here.' Catherine's heart was too full on hearing this for her to do more than blush and run from the room. She did, admittedly, once in the corridor, jump from foot to foot while chanting,

'I'm going to marry Henry, I'm going to marry Henry,' but she soon regained control of herself, to the point where she was merely deliriously happy, and skipped back to the main part of the house, where she found Henry, alone in the hall-way. 'Oh Henry,' she began, filling the conversational void with babble for fear that if she did not she might do something that would embarrass both of them, such as discussing who was going to have which bed-chamber once they were married, 'I met your cook, and she told me all about the house, and she gave me a plan, so I can remember it and think about it, and, and, and,' at which point Henry interrupted and said, with unwonted seriousness,

'I am glad that went well, but there is something very important that we must discuss.' Taking her hand he continued, 'Miss Morland, Catherine, will you . . .' But then, at the critical moment, and just as Catherine was about to say 'Yes', so as to clarify her position as regards his proposal without further ado, thus sparing him the effort of asking a question they both knew the answer to, the door to the study opened and General Tilney emerged. Seeing his son holding Catherine by the hand he looked, strangely, displeased, almost as if, Catherine thought, he had taken against the idea of a match between them, or the idea of any connection between her and his family, which seemed at variance with his former treatment of her. However, he did not explain and said merely,

'Yes, weighty business indeed in those papers. Henry, I am afraid that Eleanor and I must be back to the Abbey at once.' Then he turned and looked coldly at Catherine, 'Miss Morland, however, will be leaving us.'

Henry released Catherine's hand, sending through her a cold thrill of fear that after all, at the moment she had thought would seal her felicity, an unanticipated, unanticipatable disaster had left her hopes in ruins, and turned to his father, saying, in tones questioning rather than obedient,

'And what, I pray, do you mean by that?'

'I mean,' said the General, 'That the time has come for our connection with Miss Morland to be ended. It has been based, as I have learned, upon pretence, and with that pretence exposed, I see no way in which we can or should continue to associate with her.' Catherine quailed at the implications of these words: an end to her association with the Tilneys meant an end to her association with Henry, which surely ruled out that happy future as his wife that she had been so gaily imagining but moments before. She knew not what the General meant when he spoke of pretence, but his words were such as to leave her in little doubt that he had no intention of allowing her to marry his son. However, the son had other ideas. He said,

'I know not, father, what you mean by saying that our acquaintance with Miss Morland is based on pretence, but no matter how great your anger, even you cannot for one moment consider her personally to blame. I could say much more as to the propriety of your judging one you know to be simple and unassuming based on the reports, I surmise, of some unknown party passed to you by Frederick, but I will not. Instead I will say this. Catherine,' he addressed Catherine, who had been standing, desolated and alone, feeling that she had nothing left for which to live, and took her hand again, 'Will you do me the honour . . .' General Tilney, perceiving the tenor of this speech, and hardly able to believe it, interrupted,

'Am I to understand that you are about to make an offer to this – person – when I have explicitly told you that your association with her is at an end?'

'Yes you are,' said Henry, before returning his attention to Catherine and saying, 'Catherine, will you be good enough to consent to . . .' The General, who had turned bright red, gobbled like a turkey cock, and revealed his true motivation by saying,

'But she has no money. The fortune that I had been led to believe was hers is naught.' Henry looked on his father, almost with contempt, and said,

'I had never expected her to bring me any fortune save herself. And that is sufficient, for as you know, in terms of money, I have enough for two. So Catherine,' returning his attention once more to Catherine, who throughout all these exchanges had grown more and more distraught, as at one moment she seemed about to achieve true felicity, only at the next to have the cup dashed from her lip, 'Will you ma . . .' The General, now desperate, interrupted Henry in mid word, crying out,

'I forbid it!' Henry merely said,

'And I care for naught should you forbid it ten thousand times, for I know my own mind, and I believe I know this lady's. Catherine, will you marry me?'

At last, the question for which Catherine had waited so long, and the time for the response which she had spent so long planning, had come, but now, so disordered was she by the turmoil of passions created by events since the General's entry into the hall-way, that all her intentions of wit and fashion were as nothing, and she simply threw herself onto Henry's breast and burst into tears. Henry put an arm around her, comforting her, and said, quietly,

'I shall take that as yes,' before turning his attention to his father and saying, 'Father, I can only repeat what I have earlier said to my sister. Prepare for your daughter, and such a daughter as you must delight in: open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise. This is no intriguer intent on achieving high status by marrying into your family by means of a pretence of wealth. Even you can see the artless affection she feels for me. And I ask you, father, could I do better in a wife?'

The General was placed in a quandary, as he would have liked to answer that ten thousand pounds was preferable in a wife to any amount of artless affection, but even he realised that this was scarcely an honourable position to admit to, at least nakedly, and try as hard as he might, he could not find any way of expressing his monetary theory of matrimonial affection in a way that would not make him seem rather petty, especially when Catherine's conduct so clearly showed that, despite the serious demerit of not being the possessor of ten thousand pounds, she did have a strong affection for his son. He was forced to resort to silence, until Henry, perhaps reading some of this from his troubled demeanour, said,

'Sir, I beg you, speak to her yourself, if you have any doubts as to how good a daughter she will make you,' then gently said to Catherine, 'My dear, you must speak to my Father now, but fear not: I am promised to you and I will not break that promise, even should he order that I do so.' Catherine, very nervously, took herself from her place of comfortable repose on Henry's breast and, drying her eyes, turned to face the General, who said, in a discomfited manner,

'So, Miss Morland, what have you in the way of wealth that will make you fit to be wedded to my son?' Catherine blinked, as the notion that extent of her love for Henry should be linked to her financial resources was not one that had ever crossed her mind. She did not know how to answer, and so was utterly honest, saying,

'I know not what my wealth is. Why should it matter?' which led the General back to his quandary, as he could not, he felt, reveal how mercenary were his true motives. However, he hoped that by suitably insidious questioning he could persuade Catherine that she was not fit to be Henry's wife, so he made his starting gambit by asking,

'And so, if you have nothing, what makes you think you are fit to be my son's wife?' Catherine knew the answer to that one, and immediately responded,

'Oh, I am sure I will make him a very bad wife,' which started the General by its very frankness, and left him wondering if the game was already won, but then she continued, 'But I love him; I have loved him with all my heart since first we met, and I shall do my best to be a good wife, if wife he wants me to be, because I could not bear to be a bad wife to one I love so much.' And this disarmed him. What could he say to that? The transparency of her love for Henry was such that even he could see it, as well as the open honesty of her resolve to be the best wife she could. Could a reasonable father ask for more? The General adjudged, to his own bitter regret, that he could not, and thus all that was left to him was to find some graceful way of conceding defeat without the appearance of so doing. Fortunately, his son knew him well enough to have guessed that this was what was passing through his mind, and so offered him a means for doing so, saying,

'So, father, I ask you, can I do any better? Surely none can love me so well, or be so guileless in their desire for my well-being? Is that not worth any number of thousands of pounds?' The General, of course, could not agree, but as he dared not admit it, he said,

'Maybe so, my son. Come Miss . . . Catherine, let me welcome you as my daughter.'

Catherine stood for a moment absolutely still, unable to believe that the General had truly said what she imagined he had. But, try as she might, she could not refigure his words in any way other than as implying that he approved her marriage to Henry. Filled with a sudden joy, she first curtseyed, then took his proffered hand, then flung her arms around him and kissed him, then drew away from him and said,

'It's true? It's true. I'm going to marry Henry. I must tell everybody: Eleanor, Mrs Edgars, the maid, my parents. I'm going to marry Henry, I'm going to marry Henry, I'm. . .' with which she skipped off in search of people to whom to break the glad, if unsurprising, news.