Northanger Abbey. Part 69

Northanger Abbey. Not very fond of her


To be found there, even by a servant, would be unpleasant; but by the general (and he seemed always at hand when least wanted), much worse! She listened — the sound had ceased; and resolving not to lose a moment, she passed through and closed the door. At that instant a door underneath was hastily opened; someone seemed with swift steps to ascend the stairs, by the head of which she had yet to pass before she could gain the gallery. She had no power to move.

With a feeling of terror not

very definable, she fixed her eyes on the staircase, and in a

few moments it gave Henry to her view. ‘Mr. Tilney!’ she ex-

claimed in a voice of more than common astonishment. He

looked astonished too. ‘Good God!’ she continued, not at-

tending to his address. ‘How came you here? How came you

up that staircase?’

‘How came I up that staircase!’ he replied, greatly sur-

prised. ‘Because it is my nearest way from the stable-yard to

my own chamber; and why should I not come up it?’


 

Catherine recollected herself, blushed deeply, and could

say no more. He seemed to be looking in her countenance

for that explanation which her lips did not afford. She moved

on towards the gallery. ‘And may I not, in my turn,’ said he,

as he pushed back the folding doors, ‘ask how you came

here? This passage is at least as extraordinary a road from

the breakfast-parlour to your apartment, as that staircase

can be from the stables to mine.’

‘I have been,’ said Catherine, looking down, ‘to see your

mother’s room.’

‘My mother’s room! Is there anything extraordinary to

be seen there?’

‘No, nothing at all. I thought you did not mean to come

back till tomorrow.’


 

‘I did not expect to be able to return sooner, when I went

away; but three hours ago I had the pleasure of finding noth-

ing to detain me. You look pale. I am afraid I alarmed you

by running so fast up those stairs. Perhaps you did not know

— you were not aware of their leading from the office s in common use?’

‘No, I was not. You have had a very fine day for your

ride.’

‘Very; and does Eleanor leave you to find your way into all

the rooms in the house by yourself?’

‘Oh! No; she showed me over the greatest part on Satur-

day — and we were coming here to these rooms — but only’

— dropping her voice — ‘your father was with us.’


 

‘And that prevented you,’ said Henry, earnestly regarding

her. ‘Have you looked into all the rooms in that passage?’

‘No, I only wanted to see — Is not it very late? I must go

and dress.’

‘It is only a quarter past four’ showing his watch — ‘and

you are not now in Bath. No theatre, no rooms to prepare for.

Half an hour at Northanger must be enough.’

She could not contradict it, and therefore suffered her-

self to be detained, though her dread of further questions

made her, for the first time in their acquaintance, wish to

leave him. They walked slowly up the gallery. ‘Have you had

any letter from Bath since I saw you?’

‘No, and I am very much surprised. Isabella promised so

faithfully to write directly.’


 

‘Promised so faithfully! A faithful promise! That puzzles

me. I have heard of a faithful performance. But a faith-

ful promise — the fidelity of promising! It is a power little

worth knowing, however, since it can deceive and pain you.

My mother’s room is very commodious, is it not? Large and

cheerful-looking, and the dressing-closets so well disposed!

It always strikes me as the most comfortable apartment in

the house, and I rather wonder that Eleanor should not take

it for her own. She sent you to look at it, I suppose?’

‘No.’


 

‘It has been your own doing entirely?’ Catherine said

nothing. After a short silence, during which he had closely

observed her, he added, ‘As there is nothing in the room in

itself to raise curiosity, this must have proceeded from a sen-

timent of respect for my mother’s character, as described by

Eleanor, which does honour to her memory. The world, I be-

lieve, never saw a better woman. But it is not often that virtue

can boast an interest such as this. The domestic, unpretend-

ing merits of a person never known do not often create that

kind of fervent, venerating tenderness which would prompt

a visit like yours. Eleanor, I suppose, has talked of her a great deal?’

‘Yes, a great deal. That is — no, not much, but what she

did say was very interesting. Her dying so suddenly’ (slowly,

and with hesitation it was spoken), ‘and you — none of you

being at home — and your father, I thought — perhaps had

not been very fond of her.’


 

To be continued

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