• Short Stories

     

    Short Stories

    Index:

    Short Stories Mrs Johnson's brownish 19th century literature book (by me)

    Short Stories The Lovers of Reading Abbey (by The Royal Shrimp)

    Short Stories The Mystery of Northanger Abbey (by me)

  • Mrs Johnson's brownish 19th century literature book

    A realist short story

     

    (about this short story / context of writing)

    It was a chilly yet sunny Wednesday morning and Group 2 was attending Mrs Johnson’s literature class in room E104, on the first floor of the faculty building which looks like a comb. The atmosphere in the classroom was quite studious. Most of the students were taking an active part in the class, asking or answering questions, while taking notes at the same time, some with the old-fashioned pen-and-sheet method, some others on their laptop.

    Suddenly, Mrs Johnson threw a piece of chalk at a girl sitting in the front row. She explained that it was the illustration of a quote in Lord Jim by Conrad: “Facts, facts, as if facts could explain anything!”.

    “If I asked you to describe what just happened, you would say what I did, but you wouldn’t be able to explain why I did it. So the question remains: are facts really relevant?”

    What she did not tell the students, though, was that in the previous hour Group 1 had been very hard to manage and she just felt the need to punch a student in the face... Throwing a piece of chalk at one and covering the reason with some half-literary half-historical justification seemed the best she could do about it right now.

    The student Mrs Johnson thus used as a scapegoat was Sophie Delormes. Sophie was a very little girl, a little plump, with round cheeks like a hamster’s. She had blond-ish hair – the result of not taking care of her ginger colour. That morning, she was wearing a short black skirt under an orange sweater which had belonged to her mother in the 80s. Her hair was loose and kept behind her ears with a polka dot bow. She knew people would think she had no sense of fashion whatsoever, but she could not care less about other people’s opinion about her clothes. Or rather, she did not want people to think of her as a fashion driven person. Sophie loved clothes but hated fashion. In general, she liked to have things her way and almost made it a life motto to be slightly different from other people. She always had to be the girl with the strange clothes. She always had to be the girl who cooks or bakes things nobody had ever heard of. She always had to be the clever kid at home, and of course, the student professors love best.

    When Sophie felt the piece of chalk hit her shoulder, she was a little surprised. But was then totally satisfied with Mrs Johnson’s explanation, which she hastily and ostensibly wrote down and underlined twice with her sparkling-pink pen. “Mrs Johnson is a wonderful professor” she thought. “I absolutely have to ask her to be my dissertation advisor. But a lot of students probably ask her every year. Maybe I should wait a little and show her what a great student I am!”

    At the end of class, she went to the professor’s desk.

    “Mrs Johnson, I have done some research for my oral presentation, and there is a book which could, I think, be very useful, but it is not in the university library and I couldn’t find it online either. Would you happen to know where I may find it?”

    Of course, Sophie knew Mrs Johnson owned a copy of the book. One of her friends who attended another of Mrs Johnson’s classes had told her.

    “Well, Sophie, it so happens that I have it in my office. I guess I could lend it to you... on the very strict condition that you take great care of it! As you said, it is very hard to come by nowadays.”

    Sophie followed Mrs Johnson to her office, took the book, and then joined her friends for lunch at the cafeteria. When she arrived, the place was awfully crowded. She bumped into three students and two cafeteria staff before spotting her friends, and then again into two other students before managing to reach the table. The last collision resulted in her losing balance and falling down on the floor. Tiffany, Sophie’s best friend – a tall brunette on very high heels –, helped her gather her things and they finally sat down. As the others had already bought and eaten their lunch, Sophie decided to skip lunch and just take a hot chocolate – because her friends all took a coffee.

    After lunch, Tiffany and the other girls had an English history class, but Sophie had a free period – why take all the mainstream classes when she could wait two hours to attend a seminar about the introduction of western furniture, such as the chair, in early modern Japan, and its consequences? She decided to go to the library and work on her literature oral presentation. She was so absorbed by this task, that she almost forgot about her early modern Japan class. When she looked at her cellphone, it was only two minutes before the beginning of the next period. She hastily put the books back on the shelves – not necessary on the right ones – and rushed out of the library.

    After class, Sophie met with Tiffany at the tramway station. They were invited at Valentin’s party. Valentin was in Tiffany’s class. He always wore black clothes and makeup, but insisted on the fact that he was not a Goth and did not listen to metal music. Sophie had a soft spot for him.

    As the tramway arrived, Sophie exclaimed: “Wait! I have to put on some makeup before we arrive!” and rushed to the nearest toilet. Indeed, while she usually did not wear makeup – as most girls do –, she always drew a beauty spot at the corner of her eye with eyeliner. She thought it made her look different and cultivated, as beauty spots were particularily fashionable in the 18th century. Needless to say that at such an hour, the toilets were very crowded. Sophie elbowed her way through the crowd with some difficulty to the mirror. She then put her bag on the edge of the washbasin and tried to draw the beauty spot, but she had to erase it and draw it again three times before it was perfectly shaped and located. At that moment, Tiffany burst in and angrily pointed out that they were going to be late, and that for once, she was not to blame, since she had not even tried to rearrange her makeup, as she always did – and as usually made them late. She unceremoniously grasped Sophie’s bag and burst out.

    When they finally arrived at the party, there was nothing left to eat already, but a lot left to drink. After two beers, Tiffany spotted a man she felt like flirting with, and Sophie was left alone with her diet coke in a corner. Valentin passed by. “Nice bow” he winked at her. That is how they got to talk. After twenty minutes of passionate chatting through which they discovered that they had so many things in common, Valentin asked  Sophie her phone number in order to invite her to his friend’s band’s concert.

    “Ah, but I left my phone somewhere...” he said.

    “Never mind” she replied. “I’ll take your number and text you mine. Let me get my phone”, and she started to rummage in her bag. After thirty seconds of unsuccessful search, Sophie started to panic – she might lose a one-time opportunity to have a date with someone who understood and resembled her so much that it might be the start of a lifetime relationship – and turned the bag upside down, scattering books, pens and snacks on the floor, until she finally found her phone and entered Valentin’s number.

     

    *****

     

    When Sophie got back home, at around 2 o’clock in the morning, she was very tired but very happy. She had finally talked to her crush, and even got his phone number and a further invitation. She lay down on her bed and tried to remember the entire day. Her good luck had started when she had had the marvellous idea to borrow Mrs Johnson’s book. She reached for the book in her bag... and did not find it. She turned the bag upside down again, but the book simply was not there. Sophie instantly started to panic, but almost immediately calmed herself down. She must think rationally. Where might she have lost it? Retracing her steps backwards in her head, she remembered the first turning upside down of her bag. She must have left it at Valentin’s!

    Feeling releaved, she texted him “Have you found an old brownish 19th c. literature book? Sophie”. The answer came straight away. “Nope. But I have found your pocket mirror. Meet me at 8:25 in the students’ hall.” Very disappointed, Sophie mechanically replied “OK”. In any other circumstances, she would have been jumping throughout her apartment with happiness and even calling Tiffany to brag about Valentin asking to meet her, but now, all she could think of was the lost book.

    Lost book... books! The library. She must have put the book on the shelf along with the others. Feeling releaved once again, she decided to go to the library first thing in the morning and went to bed.

    The following morning, she arrived in front of the library at 8:20. The library opened at 8:32. Sophie rushed to the second floor, rack 23, and looked at every book. She had indeed misplaced some of them, but Mrs Johnson’s book was not there.

    Sophie could feel panic coming again. She decided to skip her first period – she was already very late anyway – and went to the lost proprety desk. On the way, she received a text message. “If you couldn’t make it, you should have told me. I was late in class because of you. Valentin”. Of course, because of the lost book, she had totally forgotten about Valentin’s rendez-vous, and she was still so concentrated on her problem that she did not even answer him. When she arrived at the lost property desk, they told her they had found no such book. She left her phone number and waited for her next class – British civilisation, a new course about the Brexit.

    During the following days, the lost book became an obsession for Sophie. Every morning, she would skip her first period to go to the lost property desk, although they assured her they would call her right away if they heard about her lost book. When she attended class, she could seldom concentrate on her work and got several reprimands, both because of her failing work and her non-attendance. After a week, she finally lost all hope of finding the book again. The whole plan was originally designed in order to impress Mrs Johnson so that she would agree to be Sophie’s dissertation advisor. Admitting losing her precious book would put an end to Sophie’s hopes in this regard. Therefore, she had to find a way not to tell Mrs Johnson. She had to find another copy of the book.

    Skipping her second period as well as the first one, Sophie went to the computer room and started to browse all types of online shops. She remembered that she had found no copy of the book on the internet when she had searched for it one week before, but desperation gave her more determination. However, the task was even harder, because she now had to find the exact same edition as the lost book. Afer three hours of search, Sophie clicked on a link on the twentieth page of her original google search, and there it was. Finally. Not only the book, but the exact same book. Sophie almost cried out with joy but remembered at the last moment that she was not at home. Then, her eyes went up to the price – 800€ – and her heart sunk. Not only did she not have 800€, but she highly depended on a scholarship to attend university – scholarship she was on the verge of losing because of her frequent non-attendance.

    Sophie had no choice. The book might be sold at any moment. She had to earn a lot of money in a very short time. She had to find a job. She opened a new google search and spent two other hours browsing adds, until she found this:

     

    Fast-food cashier wanted ASAP

    35hours/week

    possible overtime work

     

    Sophie rushed out of the room without even turning the computer off and called the fast food company. Luckily, the manager did not want to spend time interviewing people and really needed someone as soon as possible for this job, so Sophie was asked to come the next morning for her first day at work.

    Of course, Sophie was supposed to attend two classes on the following day, but she would have to skip them, notwithstanding the threat of her losing her scholarship. When she got home that night, she checked the location of the fast food and her heart sunk again. She would have to take two buses – at least one hour drive – to go to her work. She texted her friends to ask them to take notes in class on her behalf, and went directly to bed.

     The following month was very hard for Sophie. She would wake up very early every morning, take two buses, work in a filthy and noisy fast food all day, take two more buses in traffic hours, get home, read her friends’ notes about the day’s classes, eat Japanese instant noodles or a burger from work and go to bed. She was more and more exhausted and depressed.

    After two weeks, the dean summoned her in his office.

    “Miss Delormes, you have skipped almost all your classes in the last three weeks. I know you attend Montaigne university on a scholarship based on your low income. The scholarship board has reached out and wants to cancel your scholarship. I asked them to wait until I met you. Miss Delormes, Sophie, what is wrong with you? Your record shows that you were doing perfectly well until three weeks ago.”

    “Mr Dean, sir, I promise you I would never skip class if it was not for a very urgent matter!” Sophie exclaimed. “I have come across some personal difficulties, which led me to skip some classes, but I am confident that everything should be back to normal within one week. Do you think the board would consider giving me one more week?”

    “Well, I can’t promise anything on their behalf, but considering your straight-A profile, I will do my best to convince them. But Sophie, hear me out, one week, not one day more.”

    Quite oddly, the next week, Sophie actually started to feel better. By then, she had grown accustomed to her routine. She now used her commuting time to read her friends’ notes, so that she could have some free time before going to bed. She had also grown accustomed to her work, which became less and less tiring. And most importantly, she knew that it was only a matter of days before it all went back to normal. At the end of her third week of work, she had earnt enough money to buy the book online. She asked for her money, quit her job and purchased the book, and went back to class the following day.

    At the beginning of literature class, Mrs Johnson addressed her:

    “Ah, Sophie, I’m glad to see that you are back and well. Just in time for your oral presentation next week”.

    Sophie panicked.

    “Yes, of course” she mumbled with a forced smile. She had been so focused on finding the book back that she had totally forgotten about the oral presentation. And about her big plan to impress Mrs Johnson. When she got back home that evening, she started to work on the topic at once. If she worked hard every night, she would certainly be ready by the following week. But there was still a problem. The book had not been delivered yet. And since Mrs Johnson knew that she was supposed to have it, she would notice it if Sophie did not use it.

    Sophie therefore spent the week panicking about her oral presentation and frenetically checking the mail, sometimes five times a day, just in case. The book was finally delivered the morning of the day before her presentation. One might think it was just in time, but it actually was a very big and dense volume, written, of course, in the smallest letters Sophie had ever seen. She would never have time to read it entirely and add a few extracts in her presentation in only one evening. She must stay home all day. She even stayed awake all night and finished her preparation five minutes before she left for school.

    During her presentation, Sophie was very tired and stressed. She kept mumbling and making mistakes. When it was finally over, Mrs Johnson said:

    “Well, Sophie, I am sorry to say that this is very far from your best work. You, who are always very confident when speaking in class, could not get one sentence right. And I am a bit disappointed. I thought you would base your work upon the book I lent you, but you only used it in a very anecdotal way. I am aware that you have had some serious troubles, lately, but if you were not ready, you should have asked me to reschedule your presentation. Really, I am disappointed in you.”

    This was a big blow to Sophie’s spirits. Not only had she spent a tremendous amount of time on a presentation which did not deserve better than an average grade, but she had also lost her chance to impress Mrs Johnson. Even more depressing was the news that Mrs Johnson apparently was already very impressed with her work and would have probably agreed to work with Sophie on her dissertation without further need for Sophie to prove her worth.

    But this was not the last disappointment in Sophie’s day. As she was crossing the students’ hall, she came across the dean. When he caught eyes on her, his face instantly turned as red as a tomato. He changed his direction and rushed towards her, obviously very angry.

    “Miss Delormes! I just got a call from your scholarship board. You missed class yesterday! After all my pleading, they had finally agreed to wait. But you did it again! And you got what you deserve. They just told me they cancelled your scholarship. I really hope it was worth it.”

    And he went away as quickly as he had come. Sophie was astounded. How could she have forgotten about the threat of the scholarship board? How could she have risked her whole curriculum for one presentation? This was all because of Mrs Johnson’s book. A book she had not really needed. A book she had borrowed only to impress her professor. Because she could not stand to be mainstream. Because she felt a pathological need to be different, to be better than the others. Because she could not bear to exist without existing in other people’s eyes. And the more she reflected on it, the clearer it became. She still did not know how or where she had lost the book, but everything she had done that day was because of her compulsive need to be special. She had lingered in the library until the last minute before class to give herself the impression of being very studious. She had laid her bag in plain sight in a public toilet because she could not go to Valentin’s party without her 18th century beauty spot – which he had taken no notice of. She had frenetically turned her bag upside down at the party because she absolutely had to get the number of the boy who was different. And during all those moments, never had she thought about the precious book in her bag being within easy reach of anybody around. She had clearly lost it because of her attitude. And not only the book. She had also lost her opportunity to have a good grade for her literature class. She had also lost Mrs Johnson’s respect. And she had also lost Valentin’s friendship, since she had never texted him back. And she had even lost – quit, rather – the job that she was now going to need to pay her bills.

    And yet, the more she thought about that cursed day, the more she wondered. Where had she lost the book? She could remember vividly the image of her things scattered on Valentin’s floor, because he had helped her pick her stuff up, and the book was not there. She also could clearly remember that she had never lost sight of her bag in the toilet, because the girl behind her was a little scary and she did not trust her entirely. Actually, that was the reason why she had to draw her beauty spot three times, because she kept concentrating on the bag instead of the eyeliner. Going further backwards, she tried to picture her study desk in the library. She could picture five books opened on the desk. And then, she could picture exactly where she had put each one back. But none of them was the book.

    Sophie reached in her bag for her research sheets. As always, she had conscientiously written down the titles of all the books she had used that day, in order not to forget anything in her bibliography. And the book was not there. She had forgotten to use it.

    Sophie was still astounded, but the reason for it had changed. She was not reflecting about her behaviour anymore. She was genuinely wondering: “Where did I lose the book?” At that precise moment, she heard a high pitched voice calling out to her.

    “Sophie, Sophie!” It was Tiffany’s voice. Tiffany reached her and handed her a plastic bag. “Finally I see you again!” She exclaimed. “I haven’t seen you in weeks! Where have you been? And you didn’t answer most of my text messages. I was dead worried! But I hear that you’re back to class and such, so I’m glad you finally got everything alright. By the way, look what I found in one of my purses yesterday. It’s an old book about 19th century literature. I’m not taking any literature class, so it can’t be mine. And it took me some time to solve this puzzle, believe me. But I said to myself: ‘What would Sherlock do? Observe and deduce.’ And that’s what I did. The purse I found the book in, I have not used it once this month, because it does not match my leather jacket. So, when was the last time I used it? I remember it very clearly, because Mr Dawson complimented me on my shoes that day. The shoes that match the bag. Aren’t you stunned at my deduction skills? And then I remembered that I helped you gather your stuff on the cafeteria floor at lunch time, and I must have put it in my purse by mistake. Mystery solved! I hope you found a way to manage without it...” 

     

    Marie A.


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  • The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     by The Royal Shrimp

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     

    (about author and writing context)

     

    Part 1

    Anne Thompson was one of the most beautiful teenage girls of her town. Her eyes had an almond shape and had a deep blue tone. They were as deep as the ocean. She also had long and thick black eyelashes. Her face had an oval shape and she had rosy cheeks and freckles on her temples and nose. Her lips were a bit plump with a really light purple shade. She had very dark hair that amplified her really pale skin tone, as pale as her grand-mother’s china. She looked like a beautiful porcelain doll dressed with a muslin dress. She usually wore some muslin dresses that were tight under her breast. That day her dress had a lilac tone which was matching her lips.

    Anne was eighteen years old and was the pride of her family. She had nine brothers and sisters and was the oldest. They were all living together in a small town called Canterbury in the county of Kent. She wasn’t as much open as one could think. This girl was pretty discrete and withdrawn. Despite her fresh beauty and her natural kindness, she never really had friends. Only the men were turning and focused on her during some random walk in the town. This was a behavior that she qualified of rude. However she had always been really interested in books. That was her only real pleasure in life. The first book she really loved was the “Tales of Canterbury” by Geoffrey Chaucer. She read it because she lived in Canterbury. Then she read all the other books in the library. She loved gothic novels full of murders because she felt the same feelings as the main characters. And then she imagined stories in her head about fair women who were saved by respectful gentlemen.

     

    It was the beginning of January 1912 and it was rainy. Anne was invited by her neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham to spend a few weeks in London. During this trip, she met in Harrod’s Charlotte Hamilton who was a pretty nineteen-year-old girl. She had fair hair, and blue eyes and was looking for a muslin dress for a ball. Anne also met her brother, the charming Frederick, who was twenty. Frederick was pretty tall and had blue eyes and fair hair. He had a beautiful and seductive smile, with two lovely dimples. He was always wearing some dark fitted coat that made him slim. They became friends and slowly Anne fell in love of Frederick and vice-versa. One day after a walk in a park, he decided to introduce her to his father, General Hamilton. During this dinner, the General invited her to spend time in their Abbey, Reading Abbey in the county of Berkshire.

     

    A few days later, Anne arrived at Reading Abbey. The journey was correct and she spent as usual all the trip reading gothic novels, especially one with a murder and an investigation in it. The first feeling she had about the Abbey, was not a good one. She felt that it was not very congenius and cozy. Actually this place was cold. Everything was dark and massive and every piece of furniture was made in a really gloomy wood. One of the maids brought her to her bedroom. It was like the rest of the Abbey, cold without any light and any happiness. She didn’t expect this feeling, and she felt really uncomfortable in this place. Just before she changed her outfit, someone knocked on the door. When Anne opened it, she saw Charlotte who just wanted to tell her that the dinner would be served at six and a half pm, and she recommended her never to be late especially for lunch or dinner time. Her father was really strict especially about the hours.

    At twenty-five past six, she went down the stairs and arrived in front of the dining room where Frederick and his father were standing. Charlotte and Emma weren’t there. At twenty-five to seven, the sisters arrived.

    “We apologize for being late, father, I was helping Emma with her dress”

    “Well, the next time you’re late, you won’t be able to take a dinner”, said General Hamilton abruptly.

    Anne was very afraid of the General, and she thought that it was unfair that her friend got punished. Just because Charlotte wanted to help her sister, she arrived late and both had to be punished. She didn’t say anything but she looked at Frederick who seemed to agree with her.

    The dining room wasn’t cozier than the other rooms of the Abbey. It was a really big place with a very long table and next to it, there was a fire place. Apparently General Hamilton thought it was really important to have a lot of space to invite people, even if Frederick had already told her that it’s been a long time since he saw a guest.

    “My dear guest, I wanted to tell you something very important that my son probably never told you about the abbey…” said, the general.

    “Yes sire, indeed I don’t remember anything about that.”

    “For your safety, it is absolutely forbidden to go to the old wing of our home”.

    Anne didn’t really understand why it was forbidden to go to the old wing, but she would never ask why, especially to the general. He wasn’t gentle and his behaviour with his children wasn’t correct for Anne. She decided to ask Charlotte a few questions about it during a walk, the next day.

    After this frosty dinner, everyone went to sleep and Anne did some nightmares: she dreamt that a woman was killed by a mysterious man there; then she dreamt about a demon living there. She didn’t sleep much and spent a horrible night. When she woke up, she couldn’t help thinking that her dreams were somehow connected to the mysterious old wing.

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     

     


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  •   The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 2

     

    The next day, Charlotte proposed to seat outside in front of the garden. She wanted to know if everything was alright for Anne and how she had found her first day at the Abbey. Anne thought it was really delicate from Charlotte to take care of her like that. During their exchange, Charlotte’s friend asked her some questions about the allusions that her father had made about the “old wing”:

    Do not worry about me, honestly I am very happy to be here! I just didn’t know what to say about what your father told me yesterday evening during the dinner…What is this “old wing”?”

    Oh yes, I’m sorry my dear, I forgot that my father didn’t explain to you what it is. The “old wing” is, as you can tell by its name, the oldest part of the Abbey. My father doesn’t let us go there because it’s where my mother died. She fell in the stairs because one of the steps was broken; therefore it’s too dangerous for us to go there. My father used to sleep there and after the accident, he changed his bedroom and now he sleeps on the modern wing.”

    I’m sorry for you! I imagine it was a shock for you to go to funeral.”

    Oh actually I never really had precise memories of my mother. I was too young, it happened twelve years ago.”

    I understand now, but I’m sure your father would be happy to tell you something about your mother!”

    Unfortunately, the rare moments when I want to know her a bit more, my father doesn’t seem to pay intention to me, I’m sure he loved her but I think her death hurt him so bad that he can’t speak about her.”

    I’m very sorry for you Charlotte.” Anne thought that the behaviour of the General was weird. “Why doesn’t he want to talk about it?” She thought. “Perhaps something terrible happened. Perhaps he’s hiding a secret!”

    Anne knew that it wasn’t polite to insist on this topic but she was a curious girl and wanted to visit the Abbey by herself. Obviously she wanted to go to the “old wing”. Because she was very fond of gothic novels, she was really attracted to this type of places. She made sure nobody followed her and during the next night, she woke up at three am to visit it. When she got near, she heard some strange sounds and muffled noises coming from the back of the wing. She was really scared and rushed to her bedroom where she hid herself under the blanket. She thought:

    This place is not a good one. Oh my god, there is a ghost or a spirit which haunts the Abbey!” Suddenly, she remembered her dream about the woman who was pushed in the stairs. What if it was the General’s wife? What if he had killed her?… The ghost! Sure! It must be her spirit that she had heard in the old wing. She must have sent her this dream in order to get revenge.

     

    The next morning she woke up very tired, she had never ever had such a night. She did horrific nightmares where she dreamt again that there was a murder in the Abbey and so the spirit of this person was coming back to haunt the place.

    After the breakfast, Anne had a walk in the garden with Frederick and Charlotte. Emma wasn’t there because she was with her governess. Anne spent all of her time thinking about what had happened the night before. This feeling continued to fill her brain and soul, the rest of the week.

    One day, all the family had to go to Reading because they had to do something really important. Anne had to stay at the Abbey. Therefore she decided to investigate a little bit about the old wing. She was really curious and spoke to Emma’s governess, Mary Mc Cormick.

    Mary was really sweet and patient. She was from Scotland and was twenty-five years old. Together, they spent a lot of time discussing about themselves. They became good friends and when Anne thought it was the right moment to speak about the history of the Abbey she asked her questions about it:

    My dear friend, I don’t want to be indiscreet but do you like the life you live in this place? I mean, the General doesn’t seem to be someone charming and helpful.”

    Indeed he isn’t. This job was recommended by one of my good friends who lives in London. She told me that it wasn’t the best job ever but that it was well-paid. The first time I saw the Abbey, I thought it was haunted by some spirits or something. Sometimes during the night I just thought I heard some noises which were coming from the old wing. However I think it was because I was a little bit immature. Obviously ghosts are not real!” said Mary, laughing.

    To be totally honest with you, I had the same feelings as you. Do you know what exactly happened this night twelve years ago in the old wing?”

    Unfortunately, I can’t help you sweetie, I wasn’t there when it happened. But I agree with you, there is something wrong about this place.”

    Do you think the general loved his wife?”

    I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I didn’t really notice any kind of love or sweet feelings in him when he speaks about her. I mean it’s very rare when he does it. And I also have never seen a portrait or a painting of his wife. Emma asked me one day if I could describe her mom because she was a little baby when she passed away. And apparently her father has never ever shown her a portrait of her mother…”

    Oh, really? It’s a bit strange.”

    But I recommend you to speak with Mrs. Murphy. She was here when the accident happened.”

    Thank you for helping me!”

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 2


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  • The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 3

     

    After that, she left the room and decided, as Mary had suggested her, to talk to Margaret Murphy who was the housekeeper of the Abbey. She wasn’t beautiful and didn’t seem to be kind. She was just strict like her job. Mrs. Murphy was little and had a hooked nose. Anne found her in the corridor:

    Good morning Mrs. Murphy!”

    Good morning Miss Thompson. May I help you with something?”

    Yes sure, Frederick told me a lot of sweet things about his mom and I wanted to know how she was. Therefore, do you know where I can find a portrait of her?”

    Sadly, Miss, I can’t help you. The only portraits which were in this house disappeared after the terrible accident. I think it’s because General Hamilton wasn’t strong enough to see the face of his wife.”

    I totally understand, I’m sure he loved her very much!”

    To be honest they didn’t spend much time together, the General preferred to stay in his office.”

    Mrs. Murphy, we need your help in the kitchen, Catherine burnt herself!” told a masculine voice.

    Oh! Mr. Swan, remember me to fire her before Christmas!”

    Of course, Mrs. Murphy!”

    After this exchange, Margaret Murphy walked quickly down the stairs to go to the kitchen, but Mr. Swan stayed with Anne.

    My goodness! It’s impossible now to have good employees!”, he sighed, exasperated, “However, I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation with Mrs. Murphy. I’m Matthew Swan, the butler of this house. Can I do something for you?”

    Anne was thinking about what Mrs. Murphy had told her before. Apparently the General was selfish and not very open. Anne thought that it was really strange that the General who was supposed to love his wife spent his time in his office or didn’t want to give details about their relationship to his own daughter.

    Oh yes actually I was looking for a portrait or a drawing of Mrs. Hamilton. Charlotte told me a lot of sweet memories of her mom.”

    Fortunately for us there is not portrait of this woman in the Abbey.” said the butler abruptly.

    Really? But she seemed to be very close to her children.”

    She spent too much time with them. When the General invited some friends she preferred to stay with her children. Do you know how precious General Hamilton is? He tried pretty much everything to keep her attention on him but she was blind. He was too patient with her. She also didn’t worry enough about the etiquette!” said he irritated.

    Anne thought: “It’s strange that he’s so aggressive when he speaks about his Mistress. Butlers never ever speak ill of their employers. Moreover, she died twelve years ago and he still has so much anger towards her! Such an angry man may very well have killed the person he hates!” The butler could have pushed her down the stairs. And he just had to say that it accidently happened. She thanked Mr. Swan and went down the stairs. She just had to know if he was here the night Mrs. Hamilton died. And Anne knew perfectly where to go to have her answer.

    She rushed to the kitchen where Mrs. Murphy was healing Catherine and asked her if the butler was in the Abbey during the terrible night. Unfortunately for Anne, Margaret Murphy told her that he wasn’t there. Mr. Swan was going back in his family when it happened. Too bad, Anne really believed her theory was true!

     

    During the rest of the week, Anne did lots of nightmare about that. She imagined different scenarii about the death of Frederick’s mother. Because the butler wasn’t there, it must be someone else. But who did it? She wasn’t much ready to imagine the General pushing his wife in the stairs. The General couldn’t do that! She was his wife! They were married! How could he decide to kill her? After a few days of thought, she continued to investigate what she was calling in her head “The inquiry of Reading Abbey”. Anne needed to find someone who knew Mrs. Hamilton well. Someone who had been the witness of something. In general, people didn’t pay attention to the servants. They usually saw or heard things! She looked at the window and saw the garden. She immediately thought: “The flowers! Mrs. Hamilton must love flowers! And Mr. Swan told me that she usually spent lots of time with her children. Children love to play outside!” She went in the garden and across a path, she met the gardener who was a kind person. He was pretty tall and had thin hands. She couldn’t resist asking him some questions about the Abbey. He didn’t tell her as many clues as she was expecting but she discovered that Mrs. Hamilton loved yellow roses and that it was forbidden to plant these because General Hamilton couldn’t stand it. But he also told her, that he caught Frederick’s mom with some yellow roses a few times.

    Anne immediately thought that somebody obviously offered roses to the mother. But who could it be? She thought that it may be a lover or something like that!

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 3

     


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  • The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 4

     

    Anne was very upset with this investigation. While she was looking the next day for a portrait of the mother, she arrived in the General’s office. It was an austere place. Everything was dark and organized. She didn’t find anything expect a mysterious key that was on his desk. She noticed that it was pretty old; therefore it must open an old chest or something where the General kept some secrets. He may not have killed his wife, however, there was something shady about him. She took the key and brought it back in her room. Despite her fear, Anne woke up during the night, walked down the stair and tried to find the matching chest in the house. While she was walking discreetly in the corridor, she heard a conversation between two men in the General’s room. She immediately recognized the butler’s voice. Indeed the General and the butler where together in the middle of the night in the General’s bedroom! Anne was shocked about what she discovered. Both were speaking about their relationship.

    You know how much I love you. I don’t want to be separated from you.” said Mr. Swan.

    If you continue to do your duty, there is no reason for us to be separated.” answered the General.

    I will do everything for you, my love.”

    Anne understood that they had an affair together! General Hamilton was in love with Matthew Swan!

    She was petrified and decided to go back to her room. She didn’t sleep, she couldn’t! Anne didn’t really know if Frederick or Charlotte or any other member of the family knew about it! She was sure that if Frederick knew something he would have told her. He loved her. And did it have anything to do with Mrs Hamilton’s murder?

     

    The next night Anne wanted to find some proofs about what she was suspecting. She was upset about this murder! Mrs. Hamilton couldn’t fall down the stairs! If, as the General told her, the old wing was old and dilapidated, why did she have her room there? The Abbey must have an architect or a plan where there were dates of buildings and repairs. She did the same thing as the previous night, but she heard some footstep noises which were coming from the corridor of the old wing. She was intrigued: Was someone supposed to be awake in the middle of the night? Who could it be? Everyone was supposed to be asleep.

    She tiptoed to the old wing and saw a masculine outline. The man was wearing a black fitted coat and some white gloves!

    The only person that could wear gloves in the Abbey was the butler, Mr. Swan!

    Anne didn’t understand what was going on. The General forbade anyone to go there. Therefore why did the butler go in the old wing in the middle of the night? There must be something there that was hidden or something like that.

    She came back in her room and saw the mysterious key that she had found previously. She decided to find the matching chest during the next day. Maybe she could go in General Hamilton’s room. It was the place where she imagined that she could find much clues.

     

    During the following day, she slipped inside Frederick’s father’s room. She began to search in the drawer of a closet. However she didn’t find anything. Suddenly, she saw that there was an old chest which was in front of the bed. She came nearer and noticed that it matched the key. Despite her fear, she began to turn the key and opened the chest. She found in it very aged papers. Anne thought that it was some parchments or something like that, which was talking about the Abbey. Indeed it wasn’t. The chest contained one a-century-old laundry lists.

    Anne was really disappointed about that. She believed that it would be something interesting.

    As usual, she came back in her room, put the old key on the table next to her door and read one of her novels. At eleven o’clock, someone knocked on her door. It was Frederick who wanted to know if everything was alright. Unfortunately for Anne, she was a very bad liar and he saw the old key on the table:

    Why do you have this key? Where did you find it?” said he.

    Oh! I found it in your father’s office…”

    Excuse me?”

    Frederick, I think there is something wrong in this Abbey and I try to find what it is.”

    I’m sorry but I think your read too many novels! This key is from a chest that belonged to my grand-mother. And you are not allowed to search in my father’s room!” said he really angrily, “I am very disappointed about you!”

    Anne was shocked about this conversation. But her goal was to absolutely find the secret of this Abbey. When she was walking to go in the dining room for lunch she stopped in front of Mr. Swan’s room. In front of this room, in the corridor, there was a yellow petal from a rose. She didn’t believe what she saw. It was impossible! Instantly, she remembered that the gardener had told her that it was forbidden to have yellow roses in the Abbey because the General couldn’t stand them! So why was there a yellow petal in front of the General’s lover’s room? Anne must investigate about those flowers. She decided to go downtown to see if there was a flower shop who sold yellow roses. They may know something!

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 4

     


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  •  

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey

     

    The Lovers of Reading Abbey - part 5

     

    Actually, there were three flowers shops in the main street of Reading. Anne went in the first shop and asked if they sold yellow roses. They didn’t, neither did the second shop. But the third one did! With her charming smile she asked the owner of the shop who bought yellow roses. He told her that there was only one person. His name was John Wolf, and he lived in a beautiful house near Reading.

    Anne immediately deduced that this John Wolf was obviously Mrs. Hamilton’s lover!

    She went to his house which was real pretty and welcoming. She found him in his garden and introduced herself as Frederick’s friend. Then Anne asked him a few questions about the General:

    Just before I visit you, I went downtown to find the only flower shop which sells yellow roses. The owner told me that you were the only person who buys them. Reading Abbey is a mysterious place and I’m sure that there is something strange about the death of Mrs. Hamilton. I found some clues and I’m searching for proofs. The gardener told me that it was forbidden to have yellow flowers in the Abbey, but he happened to see Mrs. Hamilton with some. I was thinking that she may have a lover who gave her the roses.”

    To be completely honest with you, your suspicions were right. Indeed I was Susan Hamilton’s lover. It’s me who sent her yellow roses because she was not allowed to buy any by herself. I’m really surprised that I’m not the only one who thinks that there is something wrong with this Abbey. Twelve years ago, Susan and I met and we fell in love. She was one of the most incredible creatures I had ever seen in my life. We decided to elope with her three children during the night she died. We had an appointment at the exit of the town, but I never saw her coming. During the following day, I learnt that she died because of a broken step.”

    Anne was shocked about what she was hearing. The husband might have been jealous of her lover and decided to kill her. He could have pushed her in the stairs.

    And what do you think about the General? I mean, he scares me a lot!”

    I always thought that it was him who killed my Susan. Who else could it be?!”

    Yes of course he was one of my suspects! But, I mean, if you are the only person who buys yellow roses, why did I find a yellow petal in front of Mr. Swan’s room?”

    Mr. Swan? Oh yes I understand now. Matthew is the brother of the man you spoke to in the flowers shop. He only told you who buys what in his shop, but his brother doesn’t need to buy them. But it makes no sense, why did he have yellow roses? He never ever liked Susan! Unless… Do you think it’s insane to believe that she is still alive? ”

    Suddenly, Anne remembered the noises that she heard when she just arrived in the Abbey and realized something terrible. The noises weren’t simple noises like a crack or something. No, they sounded like a female voice! Therefore if Susan was alive, she must be in the old wing. And if the butler wasn’t there, the night the accident happened, the General must be guilty! He wasn’t brave enough to kill her, so she became his prisoner. Therefore Mr. Swan brought her food every night when everyone was asleep. It explained everything! General Hamilton could live his love story with the butler without any witnesses. There was just one strange thing. Why did Matthew have yellow flowers? Anne thought that he must have some remorse and brought her very often some yellow roses, so she can keep some hope.

    I’m so sorry to interrupt you but I have to go. It’s almost night and every one must be waiting for me. I think I have the answer to your question, sir.”

     

    She rushed at the Abbey. After dinner, she waited in her bedroom until everyone fell asleep, and ran to the old wing. There, in a big bedroom, she found Mr. Swan with Mrs. Hamilton who was crying.

    You! I knew it was you!” Anne cried.

    When the butler heard the sound of Anne’s voice, he left the place as fast as he could. Anne didn’t pay attention to it because she had to save Mrs. Hamilton. The prisoner told her the whole story, exactly the same as Anne had imagined in her head.

    The “savior” went to Frederick and Charlotte’s rooms, and woke them up! In ten minutes, everyone in the Abbey was awake. They all rushed, including the General, to the old wing. Everyone was shocked about what they saw. It was the first time Emma saw her mother. Mrs. Hamilton was tired but really happy and relieved to finally meet her children again.

    The reunion was short because they heard someone screaming in the kitchen. Indeed it was Catherine who had found Mr. Swan hanged. He had committed suicide because he felt too ashamed about what he had done. Actually, when he had escaped from Anne, he was too scared to run away and had so many regrets, therefore he had killed himself. However just before, he had written a letter to the family where he said that he was sorry and he had remorse. He didn’t want to hurt anyone but because he loved the general so much, he did everything he told him to do. Everyone was focused on the corpse and the letter. The General took advantage of this mess to run away from the Abbey. The family decided to go to the police who started to look for him.

    Frederick felt very embarrassed and suggested to bring Anne back in her family. However, she refused. Frederick’s mother was really afflicted and they needed some help to start afresh. Therefore, Anne decided to stay. It was a new opportunity for them to spend time together and on the 31st of March, they finally got married.

    The police finally found out that General Hamilton had bought a ticket for the boat named The Titanic. The boat had just left Southampton on the 10th of April 1912, two days before, at a quarter past twelve.

     

     

    THE END

     


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  • The Mystery of Northanger Abbey

    Based on and adapted from

    Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

    and Jon Jones's film adaptation thereof

     

     

    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 1

     

    (about this short story)

     

     

    Chapter 1

    Bath

     

    When Mr and Mrs Allen invited Catherine Morland to come with them to Bath, very little did the eighteen-year-old girl suspect that she was going to become an heroine, very much like the heroines of all the Gothic novels she spent so much time reading and dreaming about.

    Catherine Morland was the eldest of ten children. She was of average beauty and divided her time between reading and helping her mother take care of the younger children. As a child, she had not been particularly fond of books, though. She would rather spend her time outside, running in the meadows, playing cricket or riding a horse. It was only when she turned fifteen that she discovered the pleasure of reading. She then devoted most of her free time to reading all the books that she could find in her father's, neighbour's and circulating libraries. Of late, after she had been through all the history books, she had been particularly drawn to Gothic novels. She had just began The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

    The Allens were the Morlands' wealthiest neighbours in Fullerton. They were quite a common pair. They never seemed to agree on anything but would spend most of their time together. Mrs Allen was a real chatterbox. She always had something to say about fabrics, ribbons and fashion in general, while Mr Allen would express his perpetual exasperation by sighing every two minutes.

    “We are going to Bath because of Mr Allen's health,” said Mrs Allen, “but I expect to make some purchases in the finest shops while we are there, especially concerning muslins”. (Mr Allen sighed) “And it was Mr Allen who pointed out that dear Catherine could benefit from such an introduction into society”. Addressing Mrs Morland while turning her back to Mr Allen who was still sighing, she added “and you need not worry about her gowns, I am sure we will find everything we need once we arrive there.”

    So it was settled. Catherine was to go to Bath with the Allens in their chaise-and-four. There, she would live with them. Her father gave her some money, but Mr Allen declared that he had too much money, even to spend on Mrs Allen's muslins, and that as a guest, Catherine should not use a penny during the stay. They set off a fortnight later, and after a two-day-long journey, arrived in their hired lodgings in Bath.

    After a tremendous week spent shopping and trying new gowns, the ladies were finally ready to appear in society. To that purpose, they went to the Rooms. It was then Catherine realised that the only introduction she could get from the Allens was her physically entering Bath. They had absolutely no aquaintance whatsoever in the place, and this situation made Catherine very uncomfortable while sitting in a corner of the Tea Room. She could not talk to anybody without being properly introduced, but she did not know anybody who could possibly introduce her. After a few moments, she begged Mrs Allen to go back home. As they were exiting the room, a young man bumped into Mrs Allen.

    “Oh!” she cried. “Catherine, do take this pin out of my sleeve.” Then adressing the gentleman, “It was not your fault, sir. Tho' I'm afraid it has torn a hole, already. Which is very sad, because it is a favorite gown. It cost but nine shillings a yard!”

    “Nine shillings?” the gentleman replied. Casting a conniving smile in Catherine's direction, he added “That is exactly what I should have guessed.”

    “Do you understand muslins, sir?”

    “I understand them very well. My sister has often entrusted me in the choice of a gown.”

    “Well, and I can never get Mr Allen to tell one of my gowns from another” Mrs Allen sighed.

    The gentleman then very politely excused himself.

    “I should not let you talk to him, Catherine” Mrs Allen whispered, “as he is a stranger. But he has such an understaning of muslins.”1

    The gentleman then came back, accompanied by the Master of Ceremony, who introduced him as Mr Henry Tilney. This formal introduction was very important because it now officially allowed the two ladies to converse with the gentleman, according to the rules of society. Catherine felt very grateful to him for rescuing them from public shame, and was genuinely surprised when Henry Tilney asked her “Might I request the pleasure of the next dance with you?” The two young persons then spent the evening in the Ball Room, sometimes dancing, sometimes talking, most of the time both at once. Mr Henry Tinley was the son of General Tilney. He had an older brother, Captain Frederick Tilney, and a younger sister, Eleanor. As the second son of a quite wealthy family, he was bound to become a clergyman, which career pleased him very well. But the most interesting piece of information Catherine learnt that evening was that his family lived in a place called Northanger Abbey.

    Abbeys were of course supposed to house monks–or nuns–, but when king Henry VIII had had a lot of them closed, many monastic buildings had been bought by wealthy families to live therein. Northanger Abbey was one of those very ancient places. Catherine could picture it just like the castle of Udolpho: “though it was now lighted up by the setting sun, the gothic greatness of its features, and its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object. As she gazed, the light died away on its walls, leaving a melancholy purple tint, which spread deeper and deeper, as the thin vapour crept up the mountain, while the battlements above were still tipped with splendour. From those, too, the rays soon faded, and the whole edifice was invested with the solemn duskiness of evening. Silent, lonely, and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign.”2

    Later that evening, as she related all this to the Allens, she had the confirmation from Mr Allen that Northanger Abbey was a very grand and old place indeed.

    “Is it haunted?” she asked.

    “No doubt, my dear, these abbeys usually are” was his reply. Catherine could not tell whether he was serious or just messing with her juvenile, naive and very easily impressed mind.

    After such a delightful evening, Catherine expected Henry Tilney to call on her in the next days, but he never showed up and she did not meet him anywhere. She realised that he must have left Bath and felt very sad about it. Not only was he the only aquaintance that she had acquired in Bath, but she was also very eager to see him again and learn to know him better. She could not help thinking that her situation looked quite as in Cinderella, except that he had suddenly disappeard and was nowhere to be found, and she was desperate to find him. However, he had left no item in his flight that might be of some help in her research.

    This helpless situation even led her to make the strangest dreams, in which the characters of her life in Bath embodied the characters of the horrid novels she was reading. Many times did she dream that Henry Tilney had been abducted by a vampire or a ghost to lure her into his lair, which perfectly matched Ann Radcliffe's description of the castle of Udolpho. She would find Henry in a bleak dunjeon, clad in chains and rags. She would then wake up with a start.

    Fortunately, a few days later, Mrs Allen happened to bump into an old friend, which bumping brought more introductions and acquaintance into Catherine's social life in Bath. For some time, she befriended one of Mrs Allen's friend's daughters, Isabella, but eventually decided against this friendship when her new friend once told her “I am not altogether happy to learn that you are acquainted with the Tilneys. The whole family has a terrible reputation, something very strange about the mother's death”. Indeed, how could Isabella dare to speak ill of somebody she was absolutely not acquainted with–and was so charming and had rescued her from public infamy without even knowing her?

    It was only a fortnight later, though, before she saw Henry Tilney again, in the Ball Room. Her heart leapt with joy, but her instantly drawn smile as quickly sank when she saw that he was in the company of a young lady. They seemed to be quite close indeed. He then saw her and they came forward to meet her.

    “Miss Morland, allow me to introduce Eleanor, my sister.”

    Catherine was immediately relieved. Of course it was his sister! They spoke together for five minutes, before a young man came to talk to Henry. Catherine then had a good opportunity to talk to Eleanor.

    “You can't imagine how surprised I was to see your brother again! I felt so sure of his being quite gone from Bath.”

    “Oh yes, when he saw you before, he was here to engage lodgings for us. He only stayed the one night. But he has told me so much about you that I could not wait to meet you and I begged him on our arrival to come straight to the Ball Room.”

    After five more minutes of common talk, the words Udolpho and horrid stories were spoken, and the two young ladies discovered that, in addition to a very deep affection for Henry, they also shared an insatiable interest for Gothic novels. This was the beginning of a very long friendship. The two friends also both liked country walks very much and endeavoured to take one every morning without rain, which happened, fortunately, very often that year. When Henry was free of any other engagement, he would very gladly join them. As a friend of Henry and now Eleanor as well, Catherine was invited several times to dine with General Tilney. She felt very honoured, of course, and always attended these dinners with a great pleasure, but she could not help having mixed feelings towards the General. He was quite a handsome man, with very good manners. He could afford very fine lodgings in a very fashionable part of the city and had a very good taste for music and theater. But he was also a very strict man, especially when it came to dinner hours. “That must come from his military experience”, Catherine thought, and she would not have let it particularly bother her were it not for the strange looks she saw Henry and Eleanor exchange whenever the General mentionned money, marriage or fashinable things in general. His children seemed quite uncomfortable with their father's opinions, but never dared say so. They also seemed to always make sure not to mention a certain Mr Charles Collins, whom Eleanor confessed to Catherine she liked very much, altho' Catherine could not understand why her two friends endeavoured so heartily not to speak of him before their father.

    Another member of the family that Catherine found quite hard to like was Captain Tilney, the General's eldest son. He joined them in Bath after a few weeks and never showed any interest in Catherine. Indeed, he barely talked to her on their first encounter.

    “Do not let my brother offend you, miss Morland”, Henry told her, “that is how he is, I am afraid. Indeed, he was already ill-mannered as a baby.”

    “How could you know what he was like as a baby? Catherine asked in amazement. “When he was a baby, you were nothing at all!”

    “Sure enough”, he answered with a conniving smile. After a pause, he added “My mother told me of it.” He then smiled again, but Catherine could not help but notice that this smile was much less jovial than earlier and wondered about it. Actually, it was quite a sad smile. No wonder of course, since Henry had lost his mother. Still, that was such a long time ago. But since Henry made no further mention of his mother and never showed a sad smile again, she soon forgot about it and simply enjoyed the company of her new but very dear friends.

    She had not known the Tilneys for more that four weeks when the General decided to quit Bath. Henry and Eleanor were to go back to Northanger Abbey with him, and Catherine felt her heart sink in her chest when they told her so. Great was then her surprise, and theirs, when the General stepped forward and told her very solemnly: “Miss Morland. I am afraid we must leave Bath very soon. I have one request, though. Can you be prevailed on to quit the scene of public triomph and oblige us with your company at Northanger Abbey?”

    Catherine needed a few moments to understand the words, and a few more to think of what to say. Her reply was thus: “Well, sir, if Mr and Mrs Allen agree to it, it would be an honour.”

    And this is how Catherine Morland set off to the place where she was bound, altho' she had no idea of it herself, to become a true heroine.

     

    1Many dialogues are directly quoted, or slightly adapted, from the movie Northanger Abbey by Jon Jones, 2007, some of which are, in their turn, adapted from Jane Austen's novel.

    2Quote from The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, 1794

     

    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 1


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  •  

    (read chapter 1)

     

    Chapter 2

    Northanger Abbey

     

    Eleanor rode in the chaise-and-four with the General, while Henry and Catherine rode together in the curricle. Frederick had decided to stay in Bath before he was to join his regiment. After a few hours of quiet travel, Henry exclaimed:

    “Now! Look there!”

    Catherine turned her head towards the direction he was pointing at, and there it was. Northanger Abbey. She was instantly awe-struck at the sight of so spectacular a building. Like Udolpho, it was made of grey stones and looked very antique and melancholy. Tho' it had been a monastic building, the battlements on top of the high walls made it look like a fortress from another time. “Silent, lonely, and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign.” Catherine remembered by heart from her book.

    “It is exactly as I imagined” she said. “It is just like what we read about.”

     “Ah yes, novels. Are you prepared, then, to encounter all of its horrors?” was Henry's amused reply.

    “Horrors? Is Northanger haunted then?” cried Catherine, somewhat bemused.

    “Well, that is the least of it. Dungeons and sliding panels, skeletons, strange, unearthly cries in the night that pierce your very soul.”

    “And vampires? Do not say vampires. I could bear anything, but not vampires!”

    Henry laughed, obviously gently mocking her. Becoming serious again, he added: “Well, I have to say, there is a kind of vampirism. No, let us just say that all houses have their secrets, and Northanger is no exception.”

    By then, they had arrived in front of the main entrance. Henry helped Catherine alight from the carriage and they joined Eleanor and the General on the first steps.

    “Welcome to Northanger Abbey, miss Morland!” exclaimed the General. “As you can see, it is but a modest country house. It was bought by our family under the reign of queen Elizabeth, and has been improved here and there since. As you will see when Eleanor shows you the house, the Western and Eastern wings date back to the 14th century. The Southern wing, at the foot of which we are standing, was added by my father. It is very modern inside, but he insisted on using the same style as the rest of the buildings for the outside parts.” He paused to let Catherine note the details of the impressive wall. “And to finish with, the Northern wing, on the opposite side of the building, is very ancient. It dates from the 12th century and used to be the monks' refectory and dormitory. You will not, though, have the possibility to see it, for it is a very old and dangerous place. My wife and I used to have our appartments there, but she died of an accident in the stairs which are very old. I have moved to the modern wing since, and have allowed no one to go there, for fear of losing another member of this family...” Henry and Eleanor glanced at each other with embarassed looks. Catherine assumed that they were ashamed of the very detached tone in which the General talked about their deceased mother. The General added: “Well, dinner will be served very soon. Let us all go to our rooms and meet in the hall at five o'clock.”

    The group then dispersed. Eleanor shewed Catherine to her room, which was on the first story of the Eastern wing. It was vast and very modern indeed. It had been decorated with taste, perhaps a decade ago, no doubt by the General himself. Only one piece of furniture stood out. It was the very old wooden chest at the foot of the bed. It must have been brought there from the old wing, perhaps as a souvenir. Catherine tried to open it but it was locked. She looked for the key in every drawer, every corner of the room and under every single chair, bed and cupboard, but could not find it anywhere. What a shame! She would have loved so much to fold her gowns inside and pretend she was Emily arriving at Udolpho. Altho' she was delighted with the presence of the medieval chest, Catherine regretted not to have been given a more antique and gloomy room, as she felt certain there must be a lot of, especially in the restricted old wing.

    She made sure to be in the hall a few minutes before five, for fear of irritating the General. Dinner was taken in the immense dining room, on whose mantlepiece the family motto was written in latin: fortis cadere, cedere non potest. “The brave may fall, but cannot yield” Henry translated in a whisper between two spoons of soup. Between dinner and tea, the brother and sister shewed the rest of the house to Catherine. Every room was bigger than the preceeding one, and every piece of furniture was huge, modern and fashionable at once. Catherine was also very impressed by the number of staff in the house. In addition to the butler, the housekeeper, the cook and her aid, she saw many maids and footmen, and felt quite sure that she had not seen them all yet. After tea, they spent the evening in the drawing-room, playing sharades about the names of characters and places of Catherine and Eleanor's favorite novels.

    The next morning, the three young persons took a long walk in the park, right after breakfast. The girls, once again, started to discuss what novel they would read next. After a few moments, Catherine turned to Henry and said:

    “I see how you look at us. You must find us very silly to talk about fictional characters all day.”

    “Not at all, my dear miss Morland. Indeed, you are greatly mistaken. I may be bound to become a man of God, but I do not believe that the Gospels only are worth reading. It is my opinion that the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs Radcliffe's works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days--my hair standing on end the whole time. Actually, I do believe that novels are very good for education.”

    “Really? I am afraid I fail to understand why. After all, there are not so many murderers and bad persons in the real world as there are in novels.”

    “Perhaps not so many murders and abductions... But broken hearts? Betrayals? Long-held grudges, schemes of revenge... Fear, hatred and dispair; are they not all part of our lives?”

    “I don't know, I'd like to think not.”

    “Well, then, I hope your expense of life is the exception that proves the rule. But let me assure you that there are more bad persons in the real world than there were in the world you grew up in. I do envy you your happy childhood, Miss Morland. You told me that your parents loved each other very much, and loved all of their children very much as well. I hear neither grievance nor envy when you talk about your siblings. And yet, such families are extremely rare in our world. Your education made you a very naive young lady, who may not be prepared to encounter real families from the real world. But thanks to your horrid novels, you now have a pretty good insight of what human nature can be like, according to the circumstances. That is why, in my opinion, there can be no such thing as reading too many novels.”

    “What an inspiring speech indeed, Mr Tilney!” Catherine exclaimed. “I cannot wait to hear you talk about the Gospels in your own parish if you put only half as much fervour in it.”

    “Thank you very much, Miss Morland. I do hope you will have such an opportunity, one day” he answered, addressing an enigmatic smile to his sister.

    A servant then came to say that a visitor was waiting for Mr Henry in the parlour. Henry went back to the house with him and Catherine stayed alone with Eleanor. They turned to their right and entered a rather melancholy shrubbery.

    “This was my mother's favorite place.” said Eleanor. “I used to walk so often here with her. Tho' I never loved it then as I have loved it since.”

    “Her death must have been a great affliction” Catherine replied quite feelingly.

    “A great and increasing one.”

    “What was she like? Did she look like you?”

    “I wish I could show you her portrait, but it hangs in my father's study.”

    “Were you very young when she passed away?”

    “Yes, very. It happened seventeen years ago. I was only five. Henry was nine, and Frederick eleven.”

    “It must have been very hard. For all of you. I cannot imagine such a pain and I thank God that my parents are still both alive and in good health.”      

    “What was very hard to me, was that I never was allowed to see her body. It may sound silly, or even sick, but I deeply regret not having been given an opportunity to say properly good-bye.”

    “It does not sound silly or sick to me. I think I would feel the same.”

    “Yes. Perhaps it could help me think of her at peace.”

    Those last words, as well as the whole conversation, particularly struck Catherine. “To think of her at peace”. “Never allowed to see her body”. She could not help thinking that something was very odd about Eleanor's mother's death, as Isabella had once told her. Had she been so wrong about it, after all? Be it in Bath or at the Abbey, Henry and Eleanor's mother was never really mentionned among the family, and when she happened to be, it was always wrapped in some kind of strange melancholy. As if some words were not spoken. Important words. Catherine also remembered the time Henry had mentionned his mother's telling him about Frederick's tantrums as a child. His face definitely bore the same kind of suppressed melancholy as Eleanor's just had.

    During the rest of the day, one thing was constantly on Catherine's mind. The old wing. It represented all she had dreamed of finding in Northanger Abbey, and she was denied the very sight of it! How sad! And she felt so sure that the key to her chest must have been forgotten there that she could less and less refrain from having a look at it. At last, she decided to sneak in there at night. She waited for everybody to be fast asleep and tiptoed in the corridor with a candlestick. She had to be very careful and move slowly because the wooden floor was very old and kept creaking under her feet. Fortunately, the door at the end of the corridor onto which her room opened led directly into the old wing. Eleanor had told her so herself. After a yet rather long time, she finally pushed the wooden door and entered the old wing.

    Of course, she could not see anything, apart from the air a few inches around her candle. She stopped and stood there for a few moments, in order to enable her eyes to get used to the darkness. After a minute or so, she started making out a few things. The windows, through which dilapidated shutters a few moonlight rays shone. A very huge cupboard, as big as a monster. The guardrail of the corridor, which seemed to encircle a vast hall. Putting one hand on the guardrail, she started to move forward. After a few steps, she froze again. She had heard a noise. A strange noise. It sounded like the wind howling, but she could feel no air. She waited. Nothing happened. She was starting to move again when she heard another sound. It was much less loud, and sounded like sobs. Was someone there? She listened again carefully, trying not to breath.

    All of a sudden, there was a huge howl, coming out of nowhere. She started and her heart missed a beat. Frightened and panicked, she ran at once, as fast as she could, and only stopped when she had closed the door of her own room. Panting, sweating, she tried to compose herself and to understand what had happened. What was that sound? Was it the wind, or the howl of an animal? She wondered whether it did not sound a little human. And was it related to the sobs? Or perhaps she had imagined the sobs. Perhaps she had been reading too many novels, lately, whatever Henry said about it. She went to bed and tried to sleep, altho' for a very long time, she could not help wondering wether ghosts actually existed. After all, Henry had talked about a kind of vampirism!

    Understandably, Catherine spent a very troubled night. Not until very late could she find sleep, and when she did, it was filled with nightmares. At first, she found herself alone in the shrubbery, in broad daylight. Blinking into the distance, she noticed several persons at the end of the path. As she moved forward, she made out the figures of Henry, Eleanor, Frederick and the General. They were all looking very sad. They were standing around a wooden box. Actually, it was not a box, it was a coffin. It was closed. Catherine knew who was inside. She looked towards Eleanor and her friend begged her “Please, Catherine. I need to see her.”. As she made toward the coffin to open it, the General threw himself in her way. He violently grabbed her wrists and shook her. Henry looked at them and to Catherine's surprise, very calmly said “Please, Catherine. You have to stop”. And suddenly, she found herself in the old wing, surrounded by howling white figures. The ghosts rushed towards her and passed through her as if they had no substance. She was frightened to death and curled up on the floor to protect herself. After a moment, she realised that she was screaming, but she had not noticed it before because her voice had been covered by those of the ethereal creatures.

     

    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 2


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    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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    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.

     

    “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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    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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