A Clandestine Correspondence

May

Fullerton Parsonage,
3 May, 1798

My dearest Henry,

I thank you for your letter, sir. I hope that you are happy and in health. I think of you constantly as well. I also think about the time we spent in the woods, walking to Mr. Allen's house. I try not to think of it often, however; my mother has found me crying so many times that she has spoken to me rather severely. Strangely enough, it is easier for me, knowing that as I am thinking of you, you may be thinking of me.

Please send my love to Eleanor. I can hardly censure your round-about method of contacting her; our own correspondence is barely within the realms of propriety! I take consolation from the fact that we both consider ourselves as engaged. The promises we made to one another, that day in the woods, are as sacred as our wedding vows will be. No, you are right, it is best not to dwell on (rest of sentence obscured by water spot.)

I called on Mr. and Mrs. Allen this morning. I know that you will be glad to hear that they are both very well. Mrs. Allen had just received a variety of new fabrics that she is having made into gowns, and was happy to have someone with whom to discuss them. You may be pleased to know that her highest approbation of a muslin was that "even dear Mr. Tilney would approve." I could hardly keep my countenance. Of course, I cannot tell her of our engagement, since it has not been sanctioned by our parents, and I am sure that Mrs. Allen had no idea how her innocent statement made me miss you all the more.

I have been keeping busy by helping my mother. I am afraid that when I first returned home, I was so despondent, and missed you so much, that I did not apply myself to my work as I should. However, I have finished Richard's cravats, and I am now working on George's shirts. I have noticed that, since my return from the Abbey, my mother takes pains to instruct me on the proper way to run a household. This is not something that she has done in the past; she said that I was so heedless that there was no point, but I suppose that she has changed her mind. I assure you that I attend her instructions closely. I want to learn so that I may be a good wife to you.

Do you remember the embroidered tapestry that I was working on at the Abbey, the one that you so admired? It is finally completed. My father has undertaken to have it framed, and he said that it shall go with me when I marry.

Reading back over what I have already written, it occurs to me that perhaps my parents are as convinced of our eventual union as we are! Does it not seem so to you, my love?

I must end this letter for now. I could spend the day writing to you, but I fear that my mother requires my assistance. Oh! I miss you so much, dearest Henry! Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your affec (water spot)

C. M.

The Rev. Mr. Tilney,
Woodston Parsonage,
Woodston, Gloucestershire

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Woodston Parsonage,
6 May, 1798

My dearest Catherine,

Thank you for your nice long letter! It pleased me to no end. I dare say that it is the nicest letter that I have ever received. And, of course, I mean the word "nice" in any sense that you care to give it. However, I hope that the water spots that I saw on the page were the result of a rainstorm and a leaky mail coach. You were not weeping again over our separation, were you? Try to be strong, my love, for my sake. It pains me so to think of you unhappy. I suppose that there is no other answer for it--I shall have to cheer you by writing an extremely clever letter. Be sure to tell me by return post if a higher degree of cleverness is necessary. An Oxford man should be equal to whatever is required.

I am indeed delighted to hear that Mrs. Allen considers me an expert on muslin. You may tell her that I am always at her service to assist in making her selections. The dear woman shall be the best-dressed lady in Wiltshire when I have finished with her, and I am sure that Mr. Allen shall be delighted with the economy of her clothing expenditures. In the meantime, my love, I shall simply imagine you in an enchanting spring gown of sprigged muslin, your curls tumbling down your back from beneath that straw hat with the white roses that you wore when we walked round Beechen Cliffa pleasant picture indeed! Depend upon it, I shall retain that image in my mind for some time.

I am also delighted to hear that you apply yourself so diligently to your work. I trust that you will be so attentive to my cravats and shirts someday. You should indeed attend your mother's instructions, but remember that Mrs. Cooke will be here to help you when you take your place as mistress of the parsonage. She asked after you the other day; she said that you were a "very pretty young lady with very pretty manners." I trust that all those "very pretty" compliments shall not turn your head, even if I confess that I agree with them wholeheartedly. And I have no doubts that you shall be a wonderful wife, my love.

I have been considering improvements to the parsonage. Of course, I shall leave the fitting-up of the drawing-room entirely to your discretion. That room shall not be occupied until my beautiful Catherine is here to grace it. However, I must inform you that one of my terriers, Ruby, has taken to sleeping in there, curled up in front of the empty fireplace. You remember how much she liked you when you visited Woodston. Perhaps she is anticipating her mistress' return. Or perhaps she just discerns my moods. I sometimes imagine you in there, comfortable in front of the fire, Ruby at your feet, reading The Mysteries of Udolpho or The Romance of the Forest. Ah, my dear, at last I perceive your motive in accepting my offer: you desire a husband who will not censure your reading material. I may occasionally appropriate it for my own use, however.

Alas, my love, my duties call me away. I assure you that your smiling face shall remain before me as I tend to my parishioners. I can only hope that they will excuse any lapses in my attention this afternoon caused by that lovely vision. Be well, dearest, and write to me soon. Your letters, though delightful, are but a poor replacement for you; but I shall accept them gratefully. Be assured that my most sincere devotion goes with this letter, and that I remain,

yours most affectionately,

H.T.

Miss Morland,
Fullerton Parsonage,
Fullerton, Wiltshire

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Fullerton Parsonage,
10 May, 1798

My dearest Henry,

Good morning, my love! I am happy to report that your letter put me in much better spirits. This beautiful spring morning also contributed to my rally; I have carried my writing-desk out to the orchard, and everything is so green and fragrant! I am learning to love flowers more every day! However, I am afraid that it is not terribly picturesque. There are no ruins round Fullerton, and Mr. Allen keeps his woods so well-groomed, that there is not a moss-covered stump nor dying tree within my sight. But at least I can write to you, and enjoy the warmth and the scents and the singing of the birds.

I must take exception to your vision of me in the drawing-room. I do not mind that you are thinking about me, of course; but I want you to know that I no longer read novels such as Mrs. Radcliffe's. Although you kindly do not mention it, I am sure that you remember the mischief that such books caused, the mistaken assumptions that I made about your family. I do not wish to be tempted into such flights of fancy ever again, so I have resolved to read no more horrid books. I will go into my father's library and find a book of history, or sermons, directly I finish this letter.

You have sent no word of your father. I suppose that it is too soon after his disappointment to expect his change of heart. Is it terribly wicked to pray for such a thing, Henry? To ask God for my dearest wish, to ask Him to make General Tilney realize that our union is a proper one? I fear that I should not make such selfish requests. I would ask my father, but I do not think that he would understand my question. However, I am sure that you understand.

I am already considering the furnishings for the drawing-room. It must be so pleasant there now, with the apple-trees in bloom! I wish that I could sit in there in the cool of the evening, with the windows open to catch their fragrance. I think green-and-white striped wallpaper and green draperies would look very well in that room. They will put me in mind of the apple blossoms all year round.

Give Ruby a kiss for me, and give Bear a pat. He is quite a nice puppy, but are all Newfoundlands so disorderly, sir? And do not forget to keep a kiss--no, several kisses--for yourself. I wish that I were at Woodston to bestow them in person! Until I hear from you again, my love, I remain always,

yours very affectionately,

C. M.

The Rev. Mr. Tilney,
Woodston Parsonage,
Woodston, Gloucestershire

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Woodston Parsonage,
14 May, 1798

My love,

I am pleased to hear that you are in better spirits. Ruby still misses her mistress, and so do I. And you may be assured, madam, that when we are again together, those kisses that you have sent will be returned a thousandfold.

Catherine, if it is wicked to pray for my father to allow our marriage, then I fear that I am no longer in a state of grace. I have prayed daily, nay, several times daily, that he will give us his blessing. I believe that our Lord is a loving Father who will look kindly upon your petition, coming as it does from your faithful heart. Do not fear Him, my love; he wants you, and all His children, to be happy here on the earth that He has created for us. Continue to pray for a resolution to our predicament, and I will continue to do so as well.

You ask if Newfoundlands are all disorderly. I have never owned one before and so cannot say, but I know that Bear is quite a handful. In the past week alone he has chewed my new slippers and a cushion from my study. Mrs. Cooke is forever chasing him out of her little room near the kitchen. It is quite a comical sight: she runs down the passage, waving her broom and shouting at him, "Git out of there, ye devil!" I have heard her muttering about demons and the Old Nick tempting the young when she sees the puppy, leading me to believe that she thinks him the earthly manifestation of Lucifer. If so, then the devil indeed comes to us in the most seductive forms. Even when I find evidence of Bear's latest misbehavior, he looks up at me with those sweet eyes and wags his tail happily and my anger dissipates completely. And they are famous swimmers; my friend Kimball, from whom I purchased the puppy, has several, and they will go into the most freezing, forbidding body of water to retrieve game. Kimball assures me that Newfoundlands outgrow their difficult puppyhood and become excellent, friendly pets. If Bear does not, I suppose that I can always build a kennel for him outdoors.

So you have resolved to read no more horrid books! I am indeed saddened to hear that. I enjoyed Udolpho thoroughly. I do not wish to discourage you from reading history, my dear, or even sermons, but do not eliminate the stories that have previously given you such pleasure. You have learned that these stories are not real, and that such things do not occur in these modern times, and in such a Christian country as England. That does not mean that you cannot indulge yourself in fictional stories. There is nothing wrong with reading purely for pleasure, as long as you understand the difference between novels and reality.

The apple-blossoms are indeed beautiful. I wish that you were here to see them. I shall have to see them for you, I suppose. They reach into the sky like a graceful lady's arms, clothed in delicate white ruffles just touched with green and brown. She holds the little cottage in her arms, nestled carefully so that it will not break. Her perfume, warm and earthy, drifts through the open windows on the soft breeze, bringing a sense of peace and order along with the lovely scent. Surely Adam had such a sight in his garden, at least until the apples grew. Keep that picture in your heart, my love, and keep me there as well; you are in mine, and will be forever. As always, I remain,

yours most affectionately,

H.T.

Miss Morland,
Fullerton Parsonage,
Fullerton, Wiltshire

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Fullerton Parsonage,
17 May, 1798

My dearest Henry,

I have received your latest, and would like to express my appreciation for the kind wishes expressed therein. The thought of those thousands of kisses will sustain me for some time, I am sure.

And thank you for seeing the apple-blossoms for me. You painted a beautiful picture, one which I will carry in my mind until I am able to see them for myself. We have apple-trees here in Fullerton as well; I believe that I have told you that my favorite place to sit is in the orchard. The trees bear so very well, apples and peaches and pears and all sorts of good things. I always look forward to the late summer, when the peaches are so ripe and sweet.

I will take your advice about reading books purely for pleasure. Sarah tells me that The Italian has arrived at the circulating-library, and I should very much like to read it. I hear that it is quite horrid. Mrs. Allen enjoys Mrs. Radcliffe's books as well; perhaps I will procure it and read it to her. She is so kind to me, Henry. Last week, she invited me to accompany her to Salisbury, where she purchased five bonnets! And she already has more than she can ever wear! Oh, and she purchased two more for me, the prettiest bonnets you ever saw. Is that not terribly kind of Mrs. Allen? I believe she sensed somehow that my spirits were low and was trying to entertain me, in her way.

You cannot build an outside kennel for Bear! I will not allow it! That poor puppy, to have to sleep outside, in the cold and rain and snow! No, he will remain in the house with his master and mistress, where he belongs. I must insist on this, sir.

I had a letter yesterday from my brother James at Oxford. Poor boy, he is still despondent over Isabella Thorpe. I wrote to him of the half-truths that John Thorpe told your father. He suspects that Mr. Thorpe told those same stories to his own family, causing Isabella to form an attachment based on exaggerated expectations, as did General Tilney. I find that I share his suspicions. I cannot imagine why Mr. Thorpe would tell such stories, unless it would be to increase his own consequence by exaggerating the consequence of a man whose friendship he claimed. But my heart aches for James. I wish he could be as happy as I, knowing that I am secure in your regard.

Oh, Henry! Suddenly I miss you again, so much! Have no fear, I shall not weep. I grow stronger daily, although the ache in my heart for you does not abate. If it does not make you low, sir, you may imagine that I am there with you, walking among the apple-trees. What else may occur among the beautiful white blossoms, I leave entirely to you. I remain, sir,

your affectionate,

C. M.

The Rev. Mr. Tilney,
Woodston Parsonage,
Woodston, Gloucestershire

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Woodston Parsonage,
21 May, 1798

My own Catherine,

Thank you for your latest, my love. I am glad that you are feeling stronger. I must also thank you for the suggestion about imagining us among the apple-blossoms. After indulging myself in this manner, I assure you that my dreams last night were sweet indeed. Unfortunately, my mind keeps straying back to those dreams, and I find this morning that I am quite unable to concentrate on any task more complicated than writing to you.

Do not fret overmuch on your brother's misfortunes. He has learned a valuable lesson, about himself and about human nature. It will serve him well in his chosen profession. He is a young man, and a rational one; I'll wager that he recovers admirably and finds another young lady who will return his affection as warmly as he could wish.

So you insist that Bear remain in the house, do you? I hope that you are prepared for such adventures as I have had. A few nights ago I woke suddenly to find myself nose-to-nose with a panting, drooling, hairy creature, who had not only climbed up onto the bed but also had placed his paws on my chest and his cold, wet nose under my chin. He was delighted that he was able to wake me, and thought that a game of fetch was just the thing in which to engage in the middle of the night. When I tried to dissuade him, he ran around the bed-chamber in circles, barking. Finally, he jumped back on the bed and fell asleep stretched out across my legs, so that I was unable to move. I suspect that perhaps Mrs. Cooke's assessment of Bear's character is not entirely fantastic. But if Mrs. Tilney wants him in the house, then in the house he remains!

What a kind gesture, to read The Italian to Mrs. Allen. It is indeed a very horrid book, my love, and I am sure that you will both find it quite entertaining. I suppose that Miss Sarah will also participate in these reading sessions? Will Mr. Allen be able to survive having three thoroughly frightened females in his house? You may tell him that I do not envy him.

I must return to my neglected duties, my love. Since I am spending more time in Woodston, I am devoting more time to my parishioners. They are such wonderful people; I am sure that you will love them, and that they will love you as I do. Be well, Catherine, and know that I remain

your devoted

H.T.

Miss Morland,
Fullerton Parsonage,
Fullerton, Wiltshire

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Fullerton Parsonage,
24 May, 1798

My dearest Henry,

I have received your latest, sir, and I thank you for it. I am sorry that my last caused you to be distracted from your duties. I will attempt to confine myself to the mundane and everyday in this letter, that you not be tempted into dissipation. It will be difficult, however; I must confess that I am often distracted from my own work by thoughts of you.

I am encouraged by your opinion of James' eventual recovery from heartbreak. When I think about the infamous way that Isabella treated him, I become very angry. I know that this is not a proper attitude for a lady and a Christian, and I am praying for the grace to forgive her. But it is so hard, Henry, especially when I receive James' heartbroken letters. I try to do for him what you so kindly did for me: write cheerful letters, in order that he may forget his sadness. It was certainly beneficial in my case. Have I thanked you properly, my love? If not, I will do so when next we meet.

How I laughed at your story about Bear! He seems such a sweet puppy! I am sure that his misbehavior will stop when he is a little older. I was a very active, wild little girl myself, and I can attest to the improvements that age bring. Perhaps that is why I like Bear so well; he reminds me of myself as a girl. How is my Ruby? I hope that she does not pine. Do not forget to give her a kiss for me, every day.

I have procured The Italian from the circulating-library but have not had an opportunity to pay a call on Mrs. Allen to read it. Sarah will indeed participate in the reading; we will take turns. It is all I can do not to open it and start reading without them! I must confess that I did glance through it. It seems very horrid indeed! I do not expect Mr. Allen to be about when we are reading. I am afraid that Mrs. Radcliffe's works are not to his taste at all.

I am pleased to hear that you are spending more time with the members of your parish. My father visits his parishioners regularly, and I know that they appreciate it greatly. My mother also calls on them, particularly the sick and the poor, to bring them some soup or some clothing, or just to comfort them. I have begun to accompany her on these calls. I will continue to do so when I come to Woodston, if that is acceptable to you, sir.

Reading back over what I have written, I realize that I am keeping very busy lately! And of course I am still helping my mother with the household duties as much as I am able. However, fear not that I lack time to think of you. Henry, you are always in my mind, and in my heart. Until I hear from you again, I remain

forever your own,

C. M.

The Rev. Mr. Tilney,
Woodston Parsonage,
Woodston, Gloucestershire

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Woodston Parsonage,
28 May, 1798

My love,

It is very late. The house is completely silent. I sit here by the light of a single candle, thinking of you. Bear is sleeping at my feet--actually, he is sleeping on my feet, and I must confess that they are starting to tingle. You would be amazed at how much he has grown in the few weeks since you visited Woodston. The last I saw your Ruby she was lying in the window-seat in the drawing-room, her little head resting on the sill, looking out into the darkness for--what? I suspect for you, my Catherine.

You are indeed keeping busy, my dear! And such wholesome activities! Of course you may call upon my parishioners, the unfortunate as well as the fashionable. I am delighted that you consider Woodston "your parish," and Ruby "your dog." I consider them yours as well, along with all my worldly goods, and indeed my heart and soul. I need not wait for the vows we shall take.

Have you begun The Italian yet? I expect a full report of your reaction, as well as Miss Sarah's and Mrs. Allen's. A detailed report, my love. I would dearly like to be present for that reading, but I shall depend upon your good will to provide a full description.

At this time of day the world seems full of possibilities. It is all I can do not to lay down my pen, saddle my horse, ride to Northanger Abbey, and demand that my father give his permission for our marriage. But I judge that it is still too soon. He nurtures resentment and insults in his heart, husbanding them as I husband the newly-planted shrubbery in the walk, and he mistakenly believes that you have given him insult by allowing him to believe Thorpe's lies. As if you could even conceive such a thing, my own dear, innocent girl! I will not upset you by speaking of him any longer.

It has now been more than a month since we parted. In that month I must confess that I have, at times, felt despair; felt that we should never be together. But tonight, as I sit here in the quiet dark of midnight, my heart is full of hope. Something shall happen, Catherine, and soon, to bring us together. I know that tonight, as I know my own name, as I know of my love for you. I send all my love with this letter, and I remain,

your own,

H.T.

Miss Morland,
Fullerton Parsonage,
Fullerton, Wiltshire

~ Continued in next chapter