It is, sadly, sometimes not the fate of two lovers to not hasten together to perfect felicity, but instead to bear the torment and heartache of doubt and separation. Such a fate is all the more to be bemoaned when it is brought upon a couple by the capriciousness of a misguided parent, but a very happy Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney had no notion that they were to be subjected to such whims when they optimistically entered the parsonage at Fullerton, intending to request of Mr. and Mrs. Morland their permission to marry. It is not to be supposed that this eminently kind and practical couple would be the ones to throw needless barriers in their daughter's path to happiness, but the abundance of the latter quality which they possessed suggested that such impediments were not needless, after all, but necessary to the preservation of the respectability they so cherished.
Yet before such considerations could be contemplated, the Morlands had first to overcome the shock of Mr. Tilney's most unexpected proposal. One might think that Mrs. Allen would have been so good as to inform them that Catherine had formed a very decided attachment to this young man, but that lady not being the most perceptive, and the Morlands themselves not being ones to indulge in fantasies about highly unlikely pairings, they were taken entirely by surprise. Indeed, when Mr. Tilney first requested a private conference with Mr. Morland, who had only recently returned to the house, it seemed that his reasonable purpose must be to explain the circumstances that lead to Catherine's rude and untimely ejection from his familial home, despite Mrs. Morland's previous protestations that no such explanation was required. The rector braced himself to hear a very unpleasant explanation, for what that was remotely felicitous could possibly explain the General's unaccountable behavior? - but was instead confronted by a most shocking request for marriage. After taking the few needed moments to compose his thoughts, he responded thusly: “Forgive me, Mr. Tilney, for my prolonged silence, but I am afraid I had no notion that you and Catherine had formed such a decided partiality for each other. In fact, following her abrupt removal from your ancestral home, I was rather of the belief that we would not be hearing from any member of your family again. This request, under the circumstances, is most unexpected.”
Henry nodded in understanding, “I fully comprehend what your feelings must be, Mr. Morland. Believe me when I say that my father' s precipitate actions drastically altered the course of courtship that I had previously pursued. As Miss Morland had always been viewed by my father in a most agreeable light - he seemed to court her favor and encourage our association - I hardly expected for his inclinations to take such a decided turn. It seems that the mischief might be laid at the door of one Mr. John Thorpe, with whose family you are unfortunately already familiar. What you may not be aware of, sir, is that this man also had pretensions towards your daughter, apparently born out of a quite mistaken notion of her fortunes. Indeed, I believe it is this misconception regarding the affluence of your family that influenced his sister's behavior towards your son as well. The two are responsible for unaccountable grief and sorrow.” Mr. Morland signaled his agreement, and Henry continued, “Mr. Thorpe, while in Bath, had occasion to regale my father with a massively exaggerated account of Miss Morland's worldly expectations, including a quite unfounded presumption regarding her relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Allen, and it was this, unbeknownst to myself, that persuaded the General to invite her to Northanger. I am sorry to say that my father would not be inclined to show such condescension had he possessed a true notion of her expectations.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Tilney, but being so perceptive regarding General Tilney's values, did you not question this surprising kindness towards one whom, I presume you knew, was not as well dowered as your father expected?”
A pained look crossed Henry's face. “His unusual behavior did indeed take me by surprise, I confess. I even discussed it with my sister Eleanor, and she too could provide no explanation for his unaccountable overtures. All I can plead as an excuse is that I was very taken with Miss Morland, as was Eleanor, who lives an isolated life, and we were both too pleased with our good fortune in securing such an agreeable companion to question my father's motives. It is rare that one meets with such innate goodness and unaffected behavior as your daughter possesses, Mr. Morland. She is a credit to both you and Mrs. Morland, and I naively hoped that it was these qualities that influenced my father's hospitality.”
“I thank you, Mr. Tilney, for the acknowledgment. We are very proud of Catherine, especially considering the presence of mind and fortitude she displayed upon her recent adventure, which I admit to being something of a revelation to my wife and myself. I assume you are about to explain why such attributes were called into action? As pleased as we are to know that they exist, I would not have had them make their debut under such circumstances.”
“No indeed, Mr. Morland. Nor would I. It seems my father had the fortune to run across Mr. Thorpe's path again, this time in London. Now speaking under the influence of both his own and his sister's disappointed hopes, he exaggerated the extent of your family's poverty to a similar extent that he had previously proclaimed your massive wealth. My father, angry that he had been misled and blaming Miss Morland, rather than the creature truly responsible, for his misconception, took his rage out upon her. He hastened homeward and with all expediency expelled her from the house. Thus was she forced to suffer such inhospitality and to travel in such a decidedly unsuitable manner. As soon as I learn of the circumstances, I rushed here, eager to insure myself of her well-being. I can only be thankful that my sister had the forethought to make sure Miss Morland had the funds on hand to pay for her journey, else I know not what might have befallen her at my father's hands.”
“Yes, Mr. Tilney. I cannot but feel a similar degree of gratitude towards Miss Tilney. Yet I am afraid that this account does pose some problems regarding your request. It is not to be supposed, considering his late position, that General Tilney will be prevailed upon to bless such a union as you seek, and I am afraid that I cannot, in good conscious, bless an engagement that is so disagreeable to your parent.”
Though Henry's face fell, he proceeded with firm determination. “I understand your perspective, Mr. Morland, but let me reassure you that my own fortunes are in no way dependent upon my father. I am in possession of a very comfortable living and will inherit a considerable sum secured upon me through marriage settlements. Though my father may withhold these for the duration of his life, which I trust will last for many years, I am fully able to support a wife in the meantime.”
“That is all very reassuring, Mr. Tilney, but money is not my chief consideration. You have shown yourself a considerate and feeling young man; could you really countenance marrying so decidedly against your father's will?”
Henry nodded his head sadly, “I certainly would rather not be in such a situation, but I cannot be hopeful that anything will sway my father's opinion.”
“What of your report? You have now seen with your own eyes that we are not quite the paupers the General believes. Could not your word sway him?”
“I fear that in matters of matrimony, my father is rather mercenary in his beliefs,” Henry blushingly acknowledged.
“Well, we must hope that circumstances intervene to alter his mind. In the meantime, while I welcome your overtures towards Catherine, I am afraid I must withhold my consent to an engagement.”
“I understand your position, Mr. Morland, and while I respect it, I am disappointed.”
“These things have a way of working themselves towards an agreeable conclusion, Mr. Tilney. Do not despair. What is meant to be, will be.”
“Thank you, Mr. Morland. I hope you prove correct.”
They shook hands, a formal gesture which Mr. Morland familiarized by patting the younger man on the shoulder in a comforting gesture. “Let us speak to the ladies. I am sure Catherine has shared your news with her mother, and they must be anxious to learn the outcome of our conference.”
In case there was any doubt, both Mrs. Morland and Catherine rose in a manner most expectant upon the entry of the gentlemen into parlor, and the absence of any of the many other Morlands indicated that mother and daughter had been engaged in private discourse. Catherine stepped forward with a look of anticipation, but upon seeing the serious turn of Henry's demeanor, she held back, a crestfallen look overtaking her expression. Having explained the circumstances to Mrs. Morland, she had been warned by that sage matron not to be overly hopeful of a positive outcome to Mr. Tilney's request, but youthful spirits had lead her, nonetheless, to be most sanguine in her predictions. Surely Mr. Tilney, with his able tongue, would convince her father to give his consent, but it was not to be. Mr. Morland took it upon himself to convey the news to the ladies: “Well, my dears, I have had the very great honor of receiving a request for your hand, Catherine, from this very fine young man who visits us today. Though I would be pleased to bestow you upon such a gentleman as he has proven himself to be, I am afraid that the current opposition of his father to any match of the sort must presently prevent me from providing my consent. However, should the General have a change of heart, I see no objection to such an eligible connection.”
These words seemed to Catherine the loss of all hope, but her mother took the news rather differently. She greeted her husband's announcement as only the mildest set back, her own style of parental care not comprehending how anyone could long oppose the wishes of a beloved child, and while her innate honesty forced her to acknowledge that, "Catherine would make a sad, heedless young house-keeper to be sure," she was quick to supply the consolation of there being nothing like practice. Indeed, a delay in a formal engagement would give her daughter the much needed opportunity to better prepare for the matrimonial state.
As the young people were not engaged, they were not allowed the luxury of a private parting. Catherine was not permitted the solace of bemoaning the state of limbo she and Henry were now thrust into with he who could most understand her emotions, but the Morlands were not so unreasonable as to not prohibit the couple from exchanging a few words out of reach of chaperoning ears.
“I will speak with my father, Catherine. Somehow he must be brought to reason.”
“But how is he to be worked upon, when his prejudices are all so decidedly against me?”
“I do not presently know, but we will somehow find a way to prevail. I know it.” He spoke to reassure not only Catherine, but also to fortify himself. “I will write to you and let you know how all proceeds.”
“Oh, please do! I will look for your letter daily.”
At this heartfelt declaration, Henry's smile returned. This is why he fell in love with Catherine Morland. She made no attempt to feign nonchalance, as a more worldly woman would, or tease him into a state of uncertainty. She was all honesty. “And I shall as eagerly await your response.” Reluctantly they parted, Henry returning 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, while Catherine remained at Fullerton to cry.