• The Mask of ZorroFilm Review: The Mask of Zorro (1998)

    Director: Martin Campbell

    Release date: 1998

    Plot summary: As California is freed from the Spanish in 1821, the legendary Zorro (aka don Diego de la Vega) is captured, his wife is killed and his daughter taken by his ennemy to be raised as his own. 20 years later, de la Vega escapes from his jail and trains a young bandit, Alejandro Murrieta to become his successor as the masked hero.

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    (read chapter 4)


    Chapter 5

    The Old Wing

    part 1


    Catherine spent the rest of the day absent-mindedly reading a book in the parlour–she took extra care in choosing a history book from the Abbey's library–while Eleanor embroidered tiny flower patterns on a white veil and Henry tended to some letters. To her relief, there was no occasion for her to be alone with him–altho' she suspected that he actually made sure that no such occasion should happen. She felt very grateful for it. After a quiet supper, he read some famous sermons to their small party, which reading he finished quite late in the evening, whereupon they all went to bed.

    Catherine was just about to enter her bed when someone knocked on the door.

    “Catherine, it's me, Eleanor. May I come in for a moment?”

    Catherine put on her dressing gown and hurried towards the door. Her friend entered in quite an agitated spirit. She opened her mouth to speak but did not seem to find her words. Alarmed at her friend's apparent distress, Catherine led her to the bed and had her sit down.

    “What is it, Eleanor? Has something happened? Take a deep breath and please hasten to deliver your seemingly terrible news.”

    “Oh, Catherine, how can I tell you this?” Eleanor paused to compose herself, then spoke again. “My father has recollected a previous engagement that takes us all away from the Abbey tomorrow first thing in the morning. You are to leave at dawn.” She paused again.

    “Well, Eleanor, there is no need for you to be so upset about the whole thing. Abrupt as it is, I do not feel offended in the slightest way. I shall make sure my trunk is ready...”

    “That is not all” Eleanor interrupted her. “You shall travel post.” She paused for a moment, then added in a whisper: “No servant shall accompany you.”

    Catherine sat back as the information sank in. No servant. This was very unusual for such a grand house, not to supply their guests with a proper care during such a long travel as that between Northanger Abbey and Fullerton. And travelling post, with strangers, could be a dangerous business, especially for a lonely young woman such as Catherine. This could not be the usual way Captain Tilney treated his guests–he who was so intense about being fashionable and good-mannered in every occasion. She concluded that this must be the expression of some discontent on his behalf. He had felt offended–in whatever way, she could not tell–by something Catherine had said or done, and he obviously wanted her out of the Abbey as soon as possible. Perhaps there was even no previous engagement to honour. Actually, there probably wasn't.

    Eleanor broke the silence.

    “My dear Catherine, I beg you not to take offence at such an insulting behaviour. I cannot agree with such a treatment of your person, and Henry has been very vehement in the defense of your being, at least of your safety, but all this has been in vain. You must be gone. Have you any money to pay for your travel?”

    “Money... I had not thought of that! As I was in Bath, the Allens paid for all my expenses, so much so that I believe I forgot to pack my purse when leaving Bath!”

    “Well, in that at least I can help you.” Eleanor handed her a small purse.

    “Dear Eleanor, what did I do to make the General so angry at me? Please, tell me... Is it because Henry found me in his study? I merely went therein to have  a look at your mother's portrait and...”

    “Dear Catherine, do not fret about that. You are nowhere to blame in the matter. I know my father's motives, and believe me, they do him no credit.”

    Eleanor left on these laconic words. Catherine immediately started to pack her things, her body as agitated as her mind. If it was not about the General's study, could it be that Henry had told his father about their conversation? This was very unlikely, as Henry had always been very affectionate towards her and had never shewn any sort of connivance with his father. He may not have believed her, but he had most probably kept their words to himself.

    As she was reaching for her green muslin gown in the cupboard, an idea dawned upon her. What if he had  seen her talk with Mr Collins? She had seen nobody in the street, but there must have been people in the shops and the houses. They had therefore probably been seen together. What if, then, the General had pieced things together? He may–rightfully–suspect her of knowing too much.

    But what did she know, exactly? She knew that Mrs Tilney and Mr Collins had been in love. They had planned to elope with her children. He had given her the emerald ring. But she was not come and had died. The General had insisted on a closed casket, probably in the attempt to hide something, but what could it be? And now, he, in his turn, had a lover. He had given her the emerald ring, but where had he found it? On his dead wife's body? Catherine thought she was going to faint from terror as much as exertion, when she heard a sound outside the room. Someone was walking in the corridor towards her door. Her agitated mind jumped to horrifying conclusions and, believing that they were coming to murder her, she crept under the bed. After a few seconds, however, she realised–with much relief– that the steps were now drawing away in the opposite direction. They had only passed by her door.

    Her spirit cooled down instantly. All of a sudden, she felt very ridiculous. How could she have imagined that someone in the Abbey could be willing to murder her? She now resisted a violent urge to laugh at herself for being so silly. Being composed again, she started to feel that her mind was working normally again. And this again-normally-working-mind started to wonder about the steps. Who could be walking in this corridor at such an ungodly hour? Knowing that she had nothing to lose–she would be gone in the morning anyway–and therefore feeling very daring all of a sudden, she tiptoed to the door, very cautiously opened it and peeped out in the corridor. A person was walking away, at some distance, with a candlestick. It was a man and he was rather tall, albeit entirely bald. Catherine could not mistake his features: it was Mr Hughes, the butler, and he was just opening the door towards the old wing.

    Unable to repress her curiosity, she very carefully followed him. As she stepped in the old wing, she held her breath, remembering what had happened the last–and only–time she had been there. She had been so obsessed with the circumstances of Mrs Tilney's death lately that she had totally forgot about the ghost–or whatever inhabited the old wing.

    The man stopped in front of a door. He fetched a bunch of keys from his pocket, opened the door and entered the room.

    “Did you finish your supper, ma'am?”

    Catherine was astounded: someone was actually living in the old wing!–which explained, then, the sobs, and probably the howling as well, that she had heard in this place.

    “Yes, Hughes, you can take the tray away. Have you brought me the picture I asked for, this time?”

    It was a woman's voice; she must have been around fifty years-old. Catherine's heart started to beat considerably fast and loud.

    “No, ma'am, the General has forbidden it.”

    Without further ado, Mr Hughes came out of the room, carrying a tray in his hands. He closed the door, locked it back, and walked back in Catherine's direction. She had not anticipated this move and felt terrified at the idea of being discovered, but the place was so dark that she decided to just stand as silently as possible against the wall, which actually proved to be an excellent strategy, as the butler passed by her without even noticing that something was wrong. She waited for a minute after he was entirely gone before rushing towards the woman's room's door.

    “Ma'am, are you in there?” she asked as quietly as possible, yet loud enough to be sure to be heard from the other side.

    “Who's there?” the woman answered.

    “My name is Catherine Morland. I am a friend of Henry and Eleanor Tilney. Are you alright?”

    “Oh, Henry, Eleanor!” the woman cried. “How are they?”

    “They are very fine indeed, ma'am.”

    “Thank God for your reassuring news, Miss Morland. I have not been able to set eyes on them for so many years... My poor children...”

    Her children? Catherine exclaimed: “Are you Mrs Tilney, then?”

    “Yes, indeed, I go by this infamous name, altho' I very much wish I did not.”

    Catherine tried to open the door. Naturally, it was locked, so she tried to pull harder. She suddenly felt a sense of urgency.

    “The door is locked and well locked, my child” Mrs Tilney said. “I have often tried to open it, every time in vain.”

    “How long have you been in this room? It cannot be...”

    “I have been here for many years, so many that I am not sure how many anymore.”

    “But why? Why does Mr Hughes keep you secretly locked away in the old wing?”

    “He only does as his master bids him to.”

    “So the General knows about your predicament?”

    “He is the very instigator of it!”

    “But why does Mr Hughes agree to keep you a prisoner here?”

    “He knew my husband from infancy, and the devil was always a favorite of his. There is nothing he would not do if the General ordered him to.”

    “How horrible!” Catherine exclaimed. “But we must let you out as quick as possible. How can this be made?”

    “Indeed, child, I have no idea. I suspect that the only key to my room is the which Mr Hughes uses. The General is a very clever creature. He would not be clumsy enough to keep a spare key for you to find.”

    “Then, I must find someone who can help me.” Catherine decided. “Wait for me, I shall return promptly.”

    As swiftly–yet carefully–as possible, Catherine went back to her own room. The corridor of the old wing, with its prisoner and horrid secrets, was too frightening for her to think clearly. She must find someone. But she did not know anybody in the area! Or did she? She thought of Mr Collins. He would be, of course, most willing to help her deliver his long-lost lover from her fiendish husband. But he lived several miles away, and it was all dark outside. How could she hope to find the way to his house in the dark, let alone be admitted in his presence and come back before dawn? Surely, she must act very quickly, because if, come dawn, she was nowhere to be found in the Abbey, the General would necessarily suspect that something was amiss, and who could tell what would then happen? He may, in an outburst of rage, harm his wife. After all, Catherine did not know why he was so intense about her leaving the Abbey immediately.

    So fetching Mr Collins was impossible. Was there not someone closer-by? A servant, perhaps? No, she did not know any of them; besides, they may decide to give their allegiance to their boss and employer, for fear of losing a good position in a prominent house.

    Catherine then thought of Eleanor. Surely, her friend would want to help her free her mother, but what more than Catherine could she do? If they could not have access to the key, the door must be smashed open, and that required some strength. Only a man could do it.

    “Henry!” she exclaimed. “Why have I not thought of him before?”

    Without thinking any longer, she rushed out of her room and into Henry's.

    “Henry! Henry! You must wake up this instant!”

    The young man woke up with a start. “What is it?... Who is there?”

    “Henry, it is me, Catherine.”

    “Catherine! What are you doing in my chambers?” He looked at her–his bedroom was oriented in such a way that the rays of the moon shone right through the window onto the distressed girl, whom he could therefore very clearly see, in her white sleeping gown–and looked away immediately. “Catherine, you are not decent!”

    “There is no time for such trifling matters. Come this instant! The most terrible thing has happened, or rather, has been revealed... But there is no time to explain, you must come!” And without giving him time to protest or react in any way, she seized his wrist and pulled so hard that he stood up and started to follow her. As they were walking hastily out of the room, he composed himself again.

     “Catherine, will you stop! What is the matter? You are delirious!”

    “There is not time to explain, lest he shall discover us and kill her!” she urged him–quite deliriously indeed.

    “Kill her? My poor friend, you must have just awoke from the most terrible  dream and your agitation makes you unable to tell reality from imagination.” He stopped walking, thus stopping Catherine's hasty progression as well.

    “Henry, I am not dreaming!” she pleaded. It then occurred to her that, altho' he did not believe what she was endeavouring to tell him, Henry was now genuinely concerned about her health and her mental state. She had his complete attention; which meant that she did not need to drag him anymore. He would probably follow her wherever she may go, for fear that she may hurt herself. She therefore let go of his hand and started running towards the door to the old wing.

    “Catherine, stop this madness!” Henry shouted as he followed her quickly.



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    (read chapter 3)


    Chapter 4

    A Decisive Discovery


    Catherine felt very weak in the morning. She could barely stand up and it was insisted upon by her affectionate Henry that she should have breakfast in her room. It was also decided without her consent, that she would be excluded from the morning walk, so as to have time to recover.

    While sipping her tea, alone in her bed, she conjured up the unbearable images from her dream behind her closed lids. Was her vivid imagination playing tricks on her? Or had she really dreamed about the General somehow murdering his wife? And yet, was it so odd an idea? After all, there was a bad reputation about this accident, and if the General had a lover, this might have been motivation enough to kill his wife...

    As one of the maids entered the room to check up on her, she decided to inquire about this possibility. Nonetheless, she would have to be smart about it.

    “Thank you very much, my dear, for checking up on me amidst your other duties. I must say, everybody at the Abbey has been so kind to me! And yet, taking care of such grand a place must be difficult. Has all the staff been here long?”

    “Well, I don't know about all the others, I myself arrived quite recently, Miss.”

    “I reckon some of the staff are quite old. Perhaps they have known the previous owner, the General's father. Or perhaps at least his wife, before she had her accident...”

    “Oh, I do not think so many of them have known this time, Miss. Except for Mr Hughes, the butler. He has known the General as a child, I am sure, but none of us maids have known Mrs Tilney. I heard most of the staff was replaced after her death. Even the housekeeper had to go. The General probably needed to make some changes, in order to make it bearable to go on living in a place where such a tragedy had happened, and to bring up his three children alone... Will you need anything else, Miss?”

    Catherine thanked her, but she could not help being a little disappointed at hearing that the General's mistress did not yet work at the Abbey when he was supposed to have murdered his wife for love of her. And anyway, if he had pushed her down the stairs, would he have had a reason to hide the body from his children? There should have been no marks indicating whether the fall was accidental or intentional.

    Catherine shuddered as she realised that she should not have been able to make such a guess; she should not be so knowledgeable about murders. Her books really had a bad influence on her imagination after all.

    Feeling a little better–now that she did not suspect the General of murder anymore–she decided to get out of bed. Her eyes fell on the chest key and she realised that she had not returned it to the General's desk. He was bound to notice that it was missing, and she might get in trouble. She had better hurry up and put it back in its original place.

    She sneaked into the General's office, and tried to put the key in the exact location and position as she had found it. As she was making for the door, it sprang open, and Henry appeared before her. His face was the very expression of surprise.

    “Catherine, what can you be doing here?” he exclaimed. “You cannot be ignorant of the fact that this is my father's study. His private study.”

    “Of course”, she hesitantly replied. “But... Eleanor told me about your mother's portrait here, and I wanted to have a look. I must confess it never occurred to me that it may be a problem. I am very sorry.”

    “I can see that”, Henry said with an indulgent smile. “Well, since you seem to be better, would you care to accompany me for a walk in the park?”

    Catherine was relieved. Henry was such a comprehensive and forgiving person! Yet, as they walked near the maze in which she had overheard the General and the maid, she could not help but feel uneasy again, and decided to confide in Henry about some of her apprehensions.

    “Is it not quite strange that your father never married again, after you mother passed away so early?”

    That was very blunt, and Henry looked a little resentful.

    “Well, I guess he must have loved my mother more than he cared to show us. Or perhaps he found no match to his high expectations.” After a pause, he smiled and added: “At least, he did not impose an awful mother-in-law onto us, as it is the case in many of your novels, to be sure.”

    Catherine was grateful for his attempt at putting her at ease, despite her frank speech, but could no longer bear to keep too many secrets.

    “Henry, I have a confession, but you must promise me not to be angry or mad at me for being the messenger.”

    “How could I ever be mad at you, my dear Catherine?” he replied, intrigued.

    “Well... Yesterday, as you were in the village with Eleanor, and the General was supposed to be visiting a neighbour...”

    “Well? The suspense is killing me, Catherine.”

    She drew a long breath and spoke in one block: “Henry, your father was not away, I heard him talk to a maid, concealed in this very maze, and they seem to be having a secret affair!”

    Henry marked a pause. For some moments, he seemed unsure how to react. Then, to Catherine's astonishment, his face became red, his eyes cold and his voice sharp, as he almost shouted: “How dare you make such accusations? About someone who has shown only kindness and respect to you? I know that your favorite pastime consists of reading about love affairs, betrayals and treasons, and I must admit that I may have played a role in all this, by voluntarily teasing your imagination about monsters and secrets, but I took you for a reasonable creature, Catherine. You are necessarily mistaken, and I am very disappointed in your attitude. Perhaps it is possible to read too many novels, after all.”

    Our poor heroine could bear no more. She turned her back and ran as fast as she could towards the house, through the living room and up the stairs to her room.

    She lay on the bed, her body shaken with sobs, and cried there for a long while. When her eyes hurt so much that crying was not worth it anymore, she wiped her tears away with her sleeve and sat on the bed, trying to breath calmly. She was thus facing the bedside table, on which a bunch of papers were neatly stacked. Of course! The old laundry lists! Despite her wet eyes and sleeves, a faint smile appeared on her face. How could she have been so obsessed with opening an old chest? How could she have been so excited by the discovery of some old sheets of paper? Henry was right. She had been too much influenced by her books, in every move she had made at the Abbey.

    She took the sheet on the top of the stack. She had never seen this one. A maid must have dropped the pile as she was cleaning and put them hurriedly back on the table, not noticing that she had altered their order. The feeling of the paper felt rather different from the others. It was softer. The colour was also different. It was lighter. As she looked at the text, she saw that the handwriting was different too. And so was the content. It was not a laundry list; it was a letter:


    31 October

                    My dear Georgiana,

    I cannot wait to see you again. I miss you in my heart, in my mind and in my bones. Without you, I do not feel complete. It is with as much pleasure as sadness that I read each of you letters. The pleasure arises from reading from you, of course; anything related to you brings me more happiness than anything in the world. The sadness, however, stems from your news being addressed to me in a letter, rather than in person. 


    Catherine was stunned. So the General did love his wife very much, at least at the beginning! She went on reading.


    But as I read your last letter, I found myself hoping that this sadness would soon be an artefact of the past. It is madness to proceed with our plan, but as we have discussed it, there seems to be no other option, if we wish to allow ourselves–and your children–to know any moment of true happiness on this Earth.


    “Your children”? Was it not odd not to refer to Frederick, Henry and Eleanor as their children? And what plan could he be referring to? Catherine's eyes eagerly went on devouring the letter.


    Therefore, I will be waiting for you and your children to-night, at midnight, at the foot of the stone cross at the entrance of the village. Make sure to be there on time, lest we should miss the post. (Catherine held her breath.) Do not bring any luggage with you, they would only slow you down. When we arrive in our lodgings in town, I shall provide for our whole new family. As a token of my affection, please accept this ring. It shall give you the courage to leave to-night.


    I cannot wait to hold you in my arms, safe from the nasty influence of your tyrannical husband.


    With all my love, and even more



    “C.C.”? Those were not the General's initials! And anyway, “safe from the nasty influence of your tyrannical husband” clearly refered to the General's attitude towards his wife!

    Catherine was so stunned that she almost screamed. Georgiana Tilney had a lover and they had planned to elope! For a few moments, she was not able to think. Then, as the information sank in, she started to connect it with the other pieces of information that she had been able to gather. The coffin had been closed. She had assumed that the goal had been to conceal some incriminating marks, but what if the coffin was actually empty? What if the General had pretended that his wife had had an accident in order to hide the fact that she had eloped with a mysterious C.C.?

    Yet, something was amiss in this theory: the letter clearly mentioned bringing the children with them. Had Georgiana actually eloped without taking them with her? Would she really have been capable of abandonning her children to so cruel a man that she was endeavouring to escape from his influence at all possible cost?

    Instead of feeling that this new clue was leading her in the direction of the truth, Catherine felt more and more perplexed and lost. She decided to get some fresh air and walked to the village.

    As she was exiting the hat shop, there was only one man walking in the street. As there was nothing else to catch her eye, she allowed herself to examine his countenance; he was rather handsome–tho' he must be her parents' age–and his attire identified him as a wealthy landowner. As he walked by her, a shimmer caught her eye. At the ring finger of his left hand, she saw a magnificent golden ring adorned with a huge emerald. Without thinking, she exclaimed:

    “It is the same ring!”

    The man stopped and looked at her. “I beg your pardon?”

    Catherine blushed. “Oh, I'm sorry, sir, never mind me. I could not help but notice this ring you are wearing on your left hand. I am quite sure I saw a similar one yesterday.”

    “This is quite impossible. This ring is indeed part of a pair, but I know exactly where the other piece is, and whom it belongs to. By the bye, I don't even know who you are.”

    “My name is Catherine Morland. I am visiting the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey.”

    For a second, the man's face showed some annoyance, but he put himself together and smilingly answered: “And I am Charles Collins, Northanger Abbey's closest neighbour, so to speak.”

    Catherine gasped. “Mr Charles Collins? Then your initials would be C.C...”

    “Yes, indeed.” Mr Collins's face showed signs of perplexity.

    Catherine's mind was thinking very fast, recollecting all the elements. C.C. was Henry's mother's lover. But Charles Collins was Eleanor's sweetheart. Could she be in love with an older man? In such a case, Catherine would probably understand the General's reticence, but she could not imagine her friend in such a situation. No, this Charles Collins was not Eleanor's Charles Collins. Perhaps he was his father, though.

    Was this Mr Collins Georgiana's lover, then? According to the letter, he had given her a ring. Could this be this ring? This would explain how he could be sure of the location of the second ring, and why he had made it clear that he knew whom it belonged to. It belonged to his mistress, Georgiana! And this also explained the General's refusal of marrying his daughter to the son of the man who had eloped with his wife!

    Her vivid thoughts were interrupted by Mr Collins. He suddenly seemed agitated, as if shaken by the thread of his own reflections.

    “May I enquire as to where you think you saw my ring's counterpart?”

    “It belongs to a maid of the Abbey.”

    “A maid?” he exclaimed. “That damned devil! He gave it to a maid?”

    “Who? The General?”

    “Yes!... How did you know I was referring to the General?”

    “Well, I heard him talk to the maid about the ring.” Catherine realised that she was being very indiscreet. And yet, she was finally getting some answers and could not be compelled to stop. “But how did the General get hold of the ring? You gave it to his wife on the night you flew away together.”

    “How do you know that, young lady?” Mr Collins's voice was shaking with agitation.

    “I found the letter you wrote to her on that very night. The letter that you signed C.C.”

    Mr Collins sighed and seemed to calm down. “You seem to already know too much, there is no point in hiding the truth from you. I did give the ring to Georgiana on the night we were supposed to elope, but that we never did. I waited for her at the cross and she never came. I thought she had changed her mind, but the following day, I heard about her accident. She did not come because she was dead!”

    Catherine gasped. She realised that it was just as Henry had told her: broken hearts, betrayals, treasons, fear and death. All the features of her horrid novels could be found in the real world, after all.

    “But is it not very odd that she should have had her accident on that very night? Do you think she fell because she was rushing down the stairs?” She bit her lip for saying too much. It was most indelicate to suggest that the love of his life might have died because she was rushing to meet him.

    A dark veil fell upon his eyes. “If this be the case, I shall feel guilty forever. But she was such a cautious person. I cannot resign myself to think that she ran down the stairs. To be entirely honest, I have always wondered whether she had not, let's say, been somehow helped down the stairs.” Catherine looked horrified. “But you must not talk about this to anybody, Miss Morland. I should never have confided thus in a stranger, but you already knew so much... And, to be entirely honest, I am quite grateful that I could finally let it all out. But now, I must part with you. You should not be seen in my company, if you wish to retain the General's favour. Good-day, Miss Morland, and good-bye.”

    He bowed and hurried away before she had time to think of making a move. In seconds, she found herself alone in the street and decided to proceed back to the Abbey, altho' she could not compose herself. She had learnt so many horrible things which she would never have imagined to be possible. She wondered how she would ever be able to face Henry again, after their quarrel and his accusations, and now that, in all probability, she knew much more about his parents than he did. But then, should she tell him what she knew? No; he would never believe her.


    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 4



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  • ThorFilm Review: Thor (and Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok)

    Director: Kenneth Branagh

    Release date: 2011

    Plot summary: After a handful of Frost Giants, Asgard's former ennemies, broke into Asgard's vaults on the day Thor was to become king, Odin banishes his son from Asgard for endangering the realm by provoking Laufey, the Frost Giants' king. He is sent to Earth in a mortal form and shall only recover his powers and the use of his hammer - although he doesn't know it - when he becomes worthy of them. Meanwhile, Thor's mischievous younger brother, Loki, uncovers a hidden truth about his birth and family...


    I had better say it straight away, this is a very positive review of Thor (2011) written by a newly-found super-fan of Loki Film Review: Thor (and Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok) ... However, I shall endeavour to remain as neutral as possible in my analyses, but I cannot promise to refrain from inserting smileys and personal comments between parentheses on the way... sorry!


    /!\ SPOILER ALERT /!\

    As my purpose in this review is mainly to analyse the tools of myth-making, the plot and the characterization of the different characters throughout the film, I will need to tell much of the plot, punchlines, and the like.

    Lire la suite...

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    (read chapter 2)


    Chapter 3

    A Growing Uneasiness


    The following day, Catherine felt rather tired. She did not feel like having a long walk through the grounds, so Henry suggested that they simply sit on a stone bench under a tree in order to benefit from the sunlight and the warm breeze. Catherine was very happy and touched by this sweet attention. But her strange experience from the preceeding night, as well as her dreams, or rather nightmares, kept haunting her. In broad daylight and educated company, she felt a little silly about her terror from the previous night, without yet managing to make herself completely at ease. She finally decided to try to know more about the supposed ghost she thought she had heard. As she knew that talking about the old wing was never done in the Abbey, because of Henry's mother accident, and anyway, mentioning it would be admitting to having done something forbidden, she finally asked:

    “When we were coming to Northanger Abbey, you said that the house held secrets.”

    “Did I? And have you discovered any dreadful revelation yet?”

    Catherine shuddered, but her answer was calm. “No. But I'd like to know what you meant.”

    “I think that shall have to remain a secret, miss Morland. A secret, once explained, loses all of its charms and all of its danger to him. Why don't you imagine the worst thing you can, and write your own gothic romance about it?”

    Catherine thought to herself: “Well, I'm already imagining far worst than you could imagine... But I shall not tell you about it. Let it be my secret.”

    Henry continued: “Northanger Abbey would make a very good title, do not you think?”

    “Now you are mocking me.” Catherine complained. After a pause, she added: “But I cannot help feeling that this house is not a happy one. You once said that you envy me my happy childhood. That there is no envy or jealousy between my siblings and I. I feel no such thing between you and Eleanor either. And yet, you seemed very genuine when you talked about it.”

    “Indeed, this has never really been a happy house, ever since my mother died.” He paused for a few moments, and added nostalgically: “And even before then.”

    Henry did not develop further and Catherine felt that he would not, should she even urge him to. She decided to drop the matter, but Henry spoke again: “My sister is not happy. I trust you remember Mr Charles Collins. He is a rich neighbour of the Abbey and a good friend of mine, and he is a lot more than that to my sister. But our father has refused to sanction the match. He has a very strong dislike about his father, even tho' neither Eleanor nor I could ever understand why. And yet, Eleanor must marry the heir to a rich estate.”

    “And you?” Catherine felt compelled to ask.

    “Well, if I am to retain my father's favour, I must marry a fortune too.”

    “And shall you?” She uttered faintly.

    He smiled: “I always hoped I would be lucky, and the girl I would fall in love with would come with a fortune attached.”

    “And... if she should not?”

    Henry looked perplexed for a second. Then, he replied with his usual enigmatic smile: “Then, that would be a very stern test of my character.”

    Eleanor then came with a bunch of letters, and said that she was willing to take advantage of the weather to walk to the village in order to post them. Catherine still felt too tired for such a long walk, but she also felt guilty that Henry should miss it for her sake. She insisted so much upon his accompanying his sister that he finally surrendered and went away.

    Catherine thus found herself alone and decided to explore the Abbey on her own, or at least, the authorized part of it. After all, she had entered the old wing, hoping to find the key matching the old chest, but perhaps this key was to be found in some other room. After half an hour of wandering from parlours to chambers, she arrived in the servants corridor. She knew that she should not be here and was turning away when some kind of brief shimmer caught her attention. At the other end of the corridor stood a maid. She was putting an item in her pocket. Catherine did not have much time to observe it, but it seemed to be a golden ring decorated with a huge emerald. Catherine was shocked for a moment. How could a servant possess such an item? Was it stolen? Then, she realised that only Eleanor might wear such expensive jewels in the Abbey, and she possessed nothing of the sort. At such a distance, perhaps she had been mistaken. Perhaps it was just a normal-sized ring the maid had inherited from her grand-mother or a remote uncle. Anyway, Catherine hurried away in order to make sure not to bother the servants.

    As she was heading back to the main entrance hall, she noticed a painting to which she had not particularly paid attention before. It was a portrait of the three Tilney children. The boys were teenagers and Eleanor was quite young, perhaps six or seven. They were all wearing very pretty outfits but something was strange; something was missing. The merriment. Even in formal family portraits, children are usually at least smiling, if not playing. But no, these children were only sternly posing. They even had a quite severe air on their face. They were not happy. And they were obviously beeing well-behaved, as they had probably been ordered. Suddenly, Catherine realised that this must have been drawn very shortly after their mother's death. No wonder they did not feel like smiling. And yet, it seemed to Catherine that there was more than just that to their air. Even beyond the loss of their mother, those children did not look happy.

    Catherine walked away, feeling more and more uneasy. This reminded her of several things she had been told since she had come to Northanger Abbey. And even before. Eleanor was obviously not happy–that is, except when she was with Henry or Catherine. She was not now, and she had already not been back when the painting had been made. At that time, it could have been that she simply missed her mother, but Catherine felt that it was already related to the General's tyrannical behaviour. Their attitudes on the painting were, if not a concrete proof, at least a good clue. And now, Eleanor was still unhappy, and it was definitely related to her father's tyranny. Why did he deny her the love of a very rich man? Catherine felt very sad and sorry for her friend. She wished something could be done to help her. She whished someone knew what to do. It occurred to her that this person might–should–have been her mother, this mother whose absence was so difficult to bear. But she also remembered Henry's words: “Indeed, this has never really been a happy house since my mother died. And even before then.” Indeed, would their mother, were she alive, be capable of shielding her children from their father's tyranny? Or would she rather be his prisoner herself? Was she ever happy with the General?

    Catherine felt now a very strong urge to see her portrait hanging in the General's study. She had a feeling that the expression she would discover there would be exactly the same as those of her children after her death. An expression of inside death and desolation. She knew that the General was gone to visit a neighbour this morning. He was not supposed to come back before tea. And Henry and Eleanor were gone to the village. It would certainly be a long time yet before they came back. So Catherine decided to sneak into the General's study. She had to know.

    Catherine's heart was beating very fast as she silently opened the door. Just as she had expected, everything in the room was neat and at the peak of fashion. She could not help hearing Mrs Allen's voice in her head: could she visit this room, she would probably talk about it for a year.

    The portrait was hanging on the wall above the mantlepiece. There she was. Georgiana Tilney. She was wearing a close-bodied gown made of madras. As the portrait was very tall, Catherine first spent some time watching every minute detail of the dress, which was level with her eyes. Eventually, her gaze went up and she discovered the lady's features. She was very impressed by her beauty. Indeed, Georgiana Tilney was very handsome; her face was very much like Eleanor's, but she had Henry's tender eyes. Or rather, he had her eyes. And yet, as tender as they might look, those eyes were also–and foremost–imbued with sadness. Georgiana's face was characterized by an expression of sweetness, shaded with sorrow, and tempered by resignation.[1]

    Catherine felt her eyes fill with tears and looked away. This is how she caught sight of a very old item on the General's desk. A key. A very old key! Made of rusty metal, exactly the same colour as the lock on the chest in her room. Without thinking, she took hold of it and went away. Back in her room, she rushed and opened the old chest, only to find it almost empty, except for a few worn-out sheets of paper. Feeling excited about their looking very antique, she grabbed them and took them with her on the bed, in order to read them in the natural light of this sunny day. What ancient and horrid secret was she going to discover?

    Great was then her disappointment when she realised that she was only looking at one-century-old (or so) laundry lists! Why had anybody felt the need to keep those lists? And moreover, to keep them locked away, while keeping the key in yet another room?

    Hearing the clock ring twelve and still not having heard of her friends' return, Catherine decided to wait for them in the park. She had noticed a baroque maze close to Eleanor's mother's favorite shrubbery, where she had not yet been. Since it was not very far from the house, she decided to have a look. The maze happened to be much bigger than she had expected, and she very soon lost herself. Feeling tired again, she sat on a bench to take some breath. She was starting to doze off when she was awakened by voices behind her. She instinctly turned around but could not see anyone. They were on the other side of the hedge that stood behind her. There was a man and a woman. The woman was saying that she did not have much time, that she should very soon go back to the house to make the beds. It was a maid. The man's voice then replied:

    “I am the one paying you wages so that you make those beds. If I want you to spend time with me instead, why bother to argue?” Catherine's heart beat wildly. It was the General's voice! He was not gone to a neighbour's after all...

    The maid giggled. “I always keep your gift with me, you know. I love it so much! It is both beautiful and refined. I feel like a great lady when I wear it. What a pity I can only do so when I am alone in my room.”

    “This ring is a token of my affection, but you know that we cannot let anyone know about it... or us” the General replied.

    Catherine held back an exclamation of surprise. So it really was a gorgeous ring she had seen earlier! And the General had a secret lover! Could this be the secret Henry had been talking about?

    As she hurried back towards the house, for fear of being discovered, she almost bumped into Henry who was actually looking for her. He found her in a state of agitation, but misled by his partial knowledge of the facts, misinterpreted it as mere symptoms of her lack of sleep. She did not dare contradict him and went back into the house with him. The rest of the day was spent quietly in the parlour and Catherine tried to forget about her day by absorbing herself in a novel, which she continued reading in her bed that night. It was the story of a man who slowly poisened his wife in order to then marry his mistress. She was so caught up with the story that she did not realise that the night was greatly advanced and finally dozed off.

    And suddenly, she was in the old wing again. It was dusk. She was standing by the stairs. A beautiful lady was standing next to her. The lady was wearing a chemise à la reine, a somewhat shapeless gown made of thin white muslin loosely draped around her body and fastened with a pink sash below the chest. It was the kind of gown Catherine's mother used to wear when she had met her father. That is how she understood that she was now gone around twenty years back in time. She looked at the lady's face. It was Georgiana Tilney. Something moved behind Catherine. It was the General. He passed through her as tho' she were a ghost. He looked very strict and stern. When she saw him, the lady started to talk. Catherine could not hear the words, but she seemed very upset, pointing at the General with an angry finger. The General replied quite vehemently. He was obviously trying to speak louder than her. The General became more and more passionate. He grabbed her arms and shook her, very much like he had done to Catherine in her previous dream. And suddenly, he let go. Mrs Tilney started to fall backwards, very slowly. Behind her, Catherine did not see anything but the abyss of the dark, ancient stairs. Mrs Tilney screamed as she was swallowed by the darkness. The scream echoed for a while, sounding more and more like the howling wind. And then, Catherine woke up with a start.


    [1] quoted from The Mysteries of Udolpho


    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 3


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