A Clandestine Correspondence
From the final chapter of Northanger Abbey:
...they parted, endeavouring to hope that such a change in the General, as each believed almost impossible, might speedily take place, to unite them again in the fullness of privileged affection. Henry returned to what was now his only home, to watch over his young plantations, and extend his improvements for her sake, to whose share in them he looked anxiously forward; and Catherine remained at Fullerton to cry. Whether the torments of absence were softened by a clandestine correspondence, let us not inquire.
24 April, 1798
My dear Miss Morland,
I send this letter with no little fear that it will be returned unread. Despite your kind assurances, upon two days' sober reflection I realize that I have been foolish to expect a young lady like yourself, so sweet and lively, capable of engaging the affection of any man of discernment, to wait an indefinite period to be married. I am especially foolish to expect you to wait for the approbation of a man who has treated you in such an abominable way as my father.
Do not think that I am censuring the decision of your parents in any way. Were I in their position, I believe my behavior would exactly correspond to theirs. They are excellent and honourable people, and I cannot expect them to sanction their daughter's union to a man whose family has offered their hospitality and then driven her from their door. When I think of you alone in that post-chaise my heart breaks. Eleanor has told me how bravely you climbed in and drove away. I assure you, Miss Morland, it would not have happened had I been at the Abbey. I would have driven you to Fullerton myself, in spite of my father's commandments, or prevented your expulsion entirely. I should be ashamed of the way I felt when my father told me what he had done; those emotions do not speak well of me as a respectful son, or as a clergyman. I trust that time will allow the anger to dissipate, hopefully to be replaced with your love.
I end this epistle with a heavy heart, uncertain of my reception. My hope is that, no matter what the outcome of this separation, you are aware that my regard is as steady and certain as the coming of dawn each morning. Until I hear from you again, my dearest Catherine, I remain,
Your most affectionate and devoted servant,
27 April, 1798
My dear Mr. Tilney,
You are correct in stating that my parents are most excellent people. When your letter arrived, I was taken aback when I recognized your hand on the direction; my mother stood nearby, and I know that she suspected its origin, yet she bid me only to take it away and read it. I ran out of the house to the orchard, where I have spent much solitary time lately, and devoured every word.
I hope that you do not think that all women are like Isabella Thorpe, ready to break her solemn word to her fiancé on the slightest provocation. You may be sure, sir, that my affection for you is unwavering, and that I am prepared to wait as long as necessary for our union. I trust to Providence, and to the good offices of your father, that our wait will not be long. Despite the unfortunate event that ended my visit to Northanger Abbey, and despite the suspicions which I now blush to recall, I cannot think your father entirely at fault. I place as much blame at the door of Mr. Thorpe, whose exaggerations were the mischief that caused General Tilney's misapprehensions.
Have you seen Miss Tilney? Please give her my fond remembrances. I sent her a note when I arrived at Fullerton, both to return some money she had lent me for the trip as well as to fulfill a promise to let her know that I had arrived safely. It was a difficult letter for me to write; I still felt the pain of our separation and the manner in which it transpired. I am afraid that the letter may have caused your sister to think that I found her at fault. If you are in correspondence with her, please tell her that I bear her no ill will, and never have. I knew that my abrupt dismissal from the Abbey was not her doing.
Do not be afraid to write to me. I will meet the post myself every day, and I think my parents will not closely examine those letters that I receive. And please, my dearest Mr. Tilney, know that I remain always,
The Rev. Mr. Tilney,
30 April, 1798
My dearest Catherine, for dearest you are,
My joy upon receiving your letter knows no bounds. I have read it and re-read it. I am surprised that the ink has not worn quite away. I should not have doubted you, my love. Your warm heart could never hold a grudge. I count myself as the most fortunate man in the world to have secured your affection. As long as your parents do not deny us this correspondence, I believe I can stand our separation for a time. But not for a long time.
My sister sends her love. I am indeed in correspondence with her. Paternal disapproval requires that I use a round-about method to which I am ashamed to admit. Your fears are ungrounded, my love; she was all gratitude for your note, and the affectionate wishes contained therein. I hope that they stay for some time at Lord Longtown's. I have no little pain when I think of her, alone at the Abbey with my father. I must turn my mind to find a way to relieve her burden. If I am ever able to turn my mind from thinking of you.
I wish that you were here with me, my Catherine. You haunt my house like a ghost, the most lovely and friendly shade that one could imagine. Many times over the past week I have found myself in conversation with you, in spirit of course, at least most of the time. I fear that my housekeeper is beginning to think me quite mad. She walked into my study this morning as I read your letter yet again, and I am afraid that I voiced my thoughts aloud, although I do not remember doing so. I looked up to see her staring at me as if I had grown a second head. If our separation goes on much longer, the poor woman may feel compelled to flee into the night.
Excuse me while I read your letter once more. I must confess that I return to it less for the content than for the fact that it was once in your hands; those hands that I held in the woods between your father's house and Mr. Allen's, those hands that trembled when I offered myself to you, those hands that caressed my hair when we kissed—no, my love, I had better not dwell on such things lest I do run mad. Know that I think of you constantly, that I feel your absence keenly, that I pray daily for my father's change of heart. And know, my dearest Catherine, my love, that I remain always,
yours most affectionately,