She was here! Here at Woodston.
Henry struggled to put on his coat bounding down the stairs and out the door. He rounded the corner, and the breath left his body when he caught a glimpse of her beside an oak tree, which softly swayed in the breeze causing some stray strands of her hair to flutter.
The soft glow of the moonlight revealed the luscious hue of her tresses---like melted chocolate. How he longed to run his hands through it.
Her back was to him. If only she would face him so he could look into those beautiful eyes--- eyes deep enough for a man to drown in.
As if he had willed it, she slowly turned to face him. He was struck anew by her enchanting beauty.
Her hand reached out and she opened her mouth to speak.
He started---something in the dark was pulling her away from him.
He struggled towards her, stumbling---clawing the dirt beneath him---whilst calling her name. His heart felt like it was being ripped straight from his chest.
The fear on her face tore at him, forcing him on. It was no use.
She was gone!
He yelled. “Catherine.”
Henry Tilney jolted awake and sat up. It had all seemed so real. What a terrible nightmare.
Throwing the covers back, he slipped out of bed and down the stairs to the modest study. He poured himself a little brandy and sat in his favorite wing-backed chair near the cold fireplace.
What was it about Catherine Morland that enchanted him so? He closed his eyes and allowed her image to come to him again. As usual, the mere thought of her created a feeling of tenderness in his chest. When he was around Catherine all felt right in the world; it was like coming home.
Departing Northanger Abbey was the hardest, because it meant leaving her. The sky had apparently concurred; for no sooner had he arrived at Woodston than it opened up and poured.
He glanced at the now empty glass in his hand. The feeling of discontent would not leave him.
Thunder rumbled outside. A decision was made.
He returned to his room and dressed. As dawn crested in the horizon, he saddled his horse and made quickly for Northanger Abbey.
There was a chill in the air as he dismounted. He relinquished the reins to the stable boy and rushed towards the entrance of Northanger Abbey. If anything, his feeling of dread had strengthened the closer he had come.
His steps echoed on the stone walk, and the sound only agitated him more. The entrance door opened, and the sight of his sister stopped Henry in his tracks. Eleanor had been crying and her fatigue showed. The look on her face told him all he needed to know, but he had to hear the words out loud.
Eleanor grimaced. “Gone.”
The air left him. The sky above crackled.
Eleanor wrung her hands. “Father sent her home.”
Eleanor told him the whole story then, how Father had returned in a rage, demanding Catherine pack her bags and leave at once.
“Monstrous! What excuse did he give for this outrage?”
“Only that we had an engagement which he had forgotten about. Catherine went without a chaperon in the early dawn.”
Agony swelled inside Henry. His adorable, innocent Catherine. How frightened she must have been.
Eleanor placed a comforting hand on his arm.
“I’m sorry Henry.”
He shook his head in disbelief at his Father’s actions.
“I am obliged to her. She must have been frightened, and I was not there to protect her---Beautiful Catherine. I apologize, Eleanor.”
“You will do no such thing,” intoned General Tilney, his presence looming in the doorway like a dark cloud.
Henry narrowed his eyes. “Do not dare presume to tell me what I will not do! What possessed you, Father, to send her with no chaperon? Why send her away at all?”
“It was the least that could be done for such a scheming and lying chit. In fact it was more than she deserved.”
“Don’t speak of Catherine like that. What did she do that was so horrible?”
General Tilney sniffed as if his time was wasted by such a question. “She is no heiress.”
Henry paused, bewildered. “Of course Catherine is not an heiress. She is a clergyman’s daughter. What would make you assume she had money?”
General Tilney rubbed his fingernails on his coat, giving them a good shine. “An intimate acquaintance of Miss Morland’s, a Mr. Thorpe, divulged the information of her riches to me. However, it seems Miss Morland’s fortune is nothing but a sham. She is no more an heiress than I am a street urchin! Forget her Henry.”
“It is no fault of hers that you believed a fool like Thorpe. Catherine never claimed to be anything but what she is.”
General Tilney’s eyes narrowed in anger. “You will forget her, Henry.”
“No! I will not.” He smiled sadly at his father. “Excuse me I must be departing.”
“Henry, you will cease this foolishness at once. Where do you think you are you going?”
Henry did not turn back. He was too angry to look at his father. “Home. Home to Catherine.”
They carried on the wind, his father’s incensed cries, but Henry cared not. All he cared about was getting to Catherine.
The disgruntled sky threatened to open up, constantly grumbling and rumbling. Henry rode as fast as his horse would allow. The rhythmic movement beneath him was somehow soothing, giving him further time for reflection.
He hadn’t understood how smitten he was with Catherine until now. The first time he met her, in the Lower Rooms of Bath, he had been amused by her innocence. She was fresh and completely different from the insipid women he usually came across. Catherine was only herself, and unconcerned with the riches of the world. He was deeply in love with her before he realized it had begun.
Love. It was a funny thing.
As a clergyman he was not supposed to wish ill on anybody. But the self-centeredness and corruption which oozed from John Thorpe was hard to ignore. He was the type of man who liked to weave a spider’s web of lies, hoping that web glistening with morning dew, might beckon some unsuspecting soul into its trap. Having had the misfortune to observe Thorpe around Catherine, Henry could not say that he had felt at ease---no---he had wanted nothing more than to save her from that man’s clutches. But then Catherine had to learn for herself the dangers of contemptible people.
Despite her misfortunes with the Thorpes, she had proven what he had already known: Catherine was a woman of exceptional character. Even in her innocence she exhibited the kind of grace and maturity which one was born with---it could not be learned.
The sky cracked violently overhead, causing Henry to rein his horse in. A steady rainfall began, increasing in speed until it was pouring down and striking his face like hard stones. He realized he would need to rest for the evening, much to his displeasure.
He stopped at the next inn, where he acquired the appropriate lodgings and requested a hot bath be prepared. When that was ready, he slipped his wet clothes off and laid them in front of the fire to dry. Then he sunk into the steaming water, leaning is head back as he did so. His arms rested carefully on the edge. The heat seeped into his body, relaxing him.
He was just drifting off when he heard a scratching at the window. He furrowed his brow. It was dark outside and rain was pounding against the panes. Perhaps it was nothing.
He sighed and let his head loll back. The scraping came again. It was faint, but this time he was sure he had heard it.
He stood---the water cascading down him---slipped on a robe, and approached the window. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent it was only a tree branch manufacturing noise with a little assistance from the wind.
Henry laughed---a rich, deep laugh. How Catherine would have delighted in his Gothic imaginings. He placed his hand on the panes---feeling the cool glass ---and as he stared out at the storm his reflection stared back at him, beckoning him to consider something else entirely.
Catherine would have loved the adventure, but did she love him?
The burning question. Love. It was an exciting adventure, and yet, if love was not returned? He let the thought linger like an aging fine wine---tasting and savoring---as he contemplated.
There was no question as to his affection for Catherine Morland.
Turning from his reflection in discontent, he walked briskly to the bed, slipped under the covers and closed his eyes in an attempt to sleep.
“Henry? Why have you not come for me?”
“Catherine,” Henry cried. He heard her voice, but saw only darkness.
“Catherine, why cannot I see you?”
“Henry, I am here. Where are you?”
Standing at the edge of a forest he looked and willed himself to see her, but alas still nothing. He tried to enter the forest, but something prevented him. Turning around quickly, he beheld Catherine’s appearance near the tree line.
Praise, he thought. He was walking towards her, but a shadow crossed between them. She began to struggle as the shadow forced her farther and farther away from him.
He ran, but it was no use. He yelled for her. The darkness had taken her again.
Henry awoke in a cold sweat as dawn broke. The desire was strong to see Catherine, if only to assure himself that she was well and, just as importantly, that she returned his affection. He dressed in his now-dry clothes from the night before. In the haste to leave Northanger Abbey after realizing the extent of his father’s poor hospitality there had not been the opportunity to properly prepare for this trip.
He partook of a breakfast of kidney pie and coffee before acquiring his horse from the stables and setting off. The morning was cool and calm after the storm from the night before. The roads were wet, and he was finding his breeches painted with mud. He cared not a wit, for each step brought him closer to Catherine.
Dusk was beginning to crest and his anticipation came to a climax when he finally arrived in the tiny village of Fullerton. After inquiring from one of the passing town folk as to the location of the Morland’s, he set in the direction on foot, choosing instead to stretch is tired muscles and to hopefully quell some of the nervous energy in him.
From behind an oak in the bend of the road, the residence of the Morland’s came into view, showing it to its best advantage. While it was a small home it radiated the affection of the family within, reminding Henry of what he hoped for with Catherine at Woodston.
In his moment of reflection he had failed to notice what was around the bend.
Henry froze. His breath stuck in his throat as he saw her. She had made the trip from Northanger Abbey ---alone---and arrived safely home.
His hands suddenly felt clammy, and sweat formed on his brow. He, Henry Tilney, was nervous. But then perhaps he should be since he was about to make a fool of himself over a woman who might not even return his affection.
He turned around and paced back and forth, muttering to himself and trying to work up the courage to approach her. If it had been any other time, he would have been amused, but he had never wanted something so much in his life. It was ironic when he thought about it. He had his parish and his parishioners and his sister Eleanor, but it all seemed not quite right without Catherine.
The soft lilt of laughter had him peering around the oak again. Catherine was snickering at something one of her siblings had said. Yet, her amusement did not quite reach her eyes. As he looked closer, dark circles were evident denoting lack of sleep. Guilt at his Father and the urge to comfort her ripped through him as he unconsciously moved forward.
Suddenly her head lifted towards him and their eyes locked.
He took a cautious step toward her, which seemed to shake Catherine from her shock. She quietly told her siblings to go indoors, never taking her eyes from his. Then she straightened and folded her hands demurely in front of her. Her face was devoid of emotion. That concerned him, as he was used to always knowing what she thought.
Henry scowled. He did not like this at all, but he also had not come all this way to tuck tail and run.
He felt a shift in the temperature, which only seemed to rise as he came closer. Yet Catherine remained as she was, fixated on his face. Henry stopped just inches from her, and it took every ounce of his willpower not to take her into his arms.
He opened his mouth, but he ended up looking more like a fish as he found it difficult to articulate his thoughts out loud.
“Good day, Mr. Tilney. I am well thank you for inquiring.”
Henry looked at her, startled. Then he noticed the glint in her eye. She was teasing him. The corners of his mouth curled in amusement.
“Good day, Cath-er-ine.” He purposely drew out her name and, as he did so, he saw something spark in her luminous gaze. It almost looked like hope. Could she have been waiting for him?
Testing his luck, he took one of her small hands into his larger one. There was no resistance. He regarded their joined hands with an air of anticipation of things to come. Lifting his head and fixating his gaze on Catherine’s face, his nervousness slipping away.
“Catherine. You must allow me to apologize for my father’s actions.”
She shook her head. “No. It is not you who must apologize. I was in error…I who…”
He silenced her with a finger on her lips.
Henry had a wicked thought as he removed his finger from her pert mouth and carefully, purposely, dragged it along her cheek. It was her blush and the hitch in her breath that gave her away.
“Catherine, I am going to kiss you.” He said it slowly, giving her time to deny his request. The anticipation was going to be the death of him. Now that he was here, he was finding it hard to restrain himself.
He leaned in about to kiss her when she abruptly withdrew from his embrace. He growled in frustration.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Surely it cannot be just to apologize for your father?”
He glanced at their still joined hands.
“Catherine, you must know.”
She shook her head.
“I came for you.” There! He had said it!
Before he knew what was happening, she launched herself into his arms and kissed him.
He smiled against her mouth. She loved him. The temperature had risen to burning levels as she pressed herself further into his embrace. She was eager and, dare he say, almost wild in her passion. It took what little will power he had left to tear himself apart from her. He laughed at her squeal of protest, but he had to ask her one thing.
“Catherine will you do me the greatest honor by becoming my wife?”
As she breathed his name, he felt a surge of triumph and no small amount of happiness. Her lips met his again and he took her passionate response as an affirmative to his proposal.
She was his Catherine. He was home.
****Photo used for story cover at the top of the page is of Eilean Donan Castle which is located in the rugged, wild and romantic Scottish Highlands.
A special thanks to Meredith Esparza of Austenesque Reviews for inviting me to participate.
Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Austen novels. As a special treat to my visitors during Austenesque Extravaganza and to my long time followers, and because I just love this book,
I will be giving away ONE copy of Emily C.A. Snyder's Nachtsturm Castle.
This giveaway is international.
ENDS August 20th.
ENDS August 20th.
ALSO, There is another giveaway on my blog to win a copy of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. This giveaway ends August 31st.