Northanger by Night, by Laura Hansen of Northanger Soapworks.
You arrive at Northanger Abbey at sunset, a full two hours later than you expected. Your stomach is rumbling as you hadn't packed enough to eat. In the five years since your sister's marriage to Mr. Tilney, you were never invited to visit the Abbey and with the prospect of a house party, no less, you are beside yourself with excitement and truly believe that you are, as Wordsworth wrote, "a maid whom there were none to praise." Your time has come. Your time has arrived.
You alight from the carriage, stiff and travel weary, but you dare not stretch in front of your father's manservant. //Decorum. Always, decorum.// Indeed, the final words of your mother's favorite book on etiquette will not be forgotten this year or next. Yet another reason you are thrilled to be at Northanger and away from your mother!
The heavy door creaks open after your second knock and an aged butler invites you in. "Who may I say is calling, Madam?"
"I'm here to see Mrs. Tilney. Is she about?"
"Indeed, she is in the drawing room with the other guests. Right this way."
He leads you through a majestic corridor full of tapestries and busts of lions. You are quite intimidated when you finally reach the drawing room and see your sister Catherine there.
"My dearest Sarah! I was beginning to worry, it has grown so dark. Were there any difficulties along the road?"
"Yes. A problem with the wheel, as Seth informed me. I don't know the details, but a man was fetched from the nearest village." What you do not say is that you were so engrossed in your Mrs. Radcliffe novel that you barely noticed the time passing.
Catherine leads you to your room and leaves you to freshen up after your journey.
What will you do next?
[[Change into an evening gown and rejoin the party. You are eager to be noticed.->rejoin party]]
[[The enormous chest at the foot of the bed catches our eye. You must investigate before the light is gone.->investigate]]
[[You wash your face and remove your bonnet, then go off in search of the kitchen. Supper is not for hours yet and you missed afternoon tea. Your stomach rumbles again, making the decision for you.->kitchen]]
You glide into the receiving room with your sister, and the introductions begin. So many beautiful ladies and handsome gentlemen, and all extremely courteous. Catherine leads you on a circuit around the room, and you feel you have met everyone except for a particular gentleman who is watching the pair of you. You do not think Catherine has noticed.
You lean in to whisper, "Don't look now, Cathy, but a man is staring at us. I think he might wish for an introduction." A thrill courses through you at the excitement. An admirer already? You can barely contain your excitement, and it is all you can do not to jump and clap at once.
Catherine asks for a description, and she immediately responds, "That's John Thorpe. I can't understand what he's doing here, I'm certain he would not be on the guest list as he has not been a good friend to the Tilneys, or to me."
"Oh, I do recall you speaking of the Thorpes in regard to James. The sister treated him abominably. But was the brother so very bad?"
"He proved himself a deceitful liar. I will not introduce you to the likes of him." Catherine speaks quite forcefully, and you begin to wonder if you should not ignore him as well.
Your thoughts are interrupted by a terrible crashing sound from upstairs. Several guests begin talking at once, others rise from their seats and begin to look around in concern.
"Excuse me, Sarah, I see Henry going to investigate. I shall see if I may be of assistance to him." Catherine leaves your side and not one minute later you see Mr. Thorpe approaching.
What will you do?
[[You wait patiently for him to reach you, eager to meet him. After all, five years has passed and you are certain he is a changed man.->wait patiently]]
[[You dart behind the guests, slipping into another room to avoid speaking to him.->avoid Thorpe]]You take off your bonnet and traveling coat and lay them down upon the bed, all the while keeping your eye on the door should a maid arrive.
When none appears, you kneel down next the chest and slide your fingers under the lid and lift. The lid moves a fraction of an inch, but a latch prevents it from opening. You squint your eyes, the light fading fast, searching for any sort of release mechanism.
Ah--you found it, a small protruding keyhole that unlatched the lid when pressed.
A terrible creaking sound floods your senses, and you nearly drop the lid and head down to the drawing room. You try once more, lifting it quickly this time, and to your utter dismay you discover the chest is empty but for a single book.
You lean forward, letting the weight of the lid rest upon your shoulder as you reach into the depths of the chest. The book is quite large, and you struggle to lift it out of the chest. With persistence, you succeed.
The book is not unknown to you. Indeed, the Salisbury circulating library you visit once per month has never had an available copy as the demand was high and you are not in the good graces of the proprietor.
You open the cover and read the title page.
//The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Interspersed With Some Pieces of Poetry//
You hug the book to your chest, alive with the chills coursing through your body.
Everything forgotten, you lay on the bed and crack open the heavy volume to read.
Some minutes pass when you hear a scratching at the door. Ignoring it does no good, and the soft scratch turns to a loud knock. You hear Catherine's muffled voice through the door, "Sarah, are you ready?"
You hide the book under a pillow and go and unlatch the door. Catherine smiles sweetly, then says, "Will you come down with me?" Her eyes flick downward, and she takes in your unchanged gown.
Your desire to mingle downstairs evaporated the moment you saw the book in the chest. You do some quick thinking, and respond. "I'm feeling suddenly tired. Perhaps I'll lay down for an hour or two and join you before supper. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience and I hope this won't spoil the evening for you."
Always quick to smile, Catherine does not disappoint you now. "Of course, dearest. I know only too well how tiring the journey from Fullerton to Northanger can be. I'll fetch you before supper so you don't miss it."
You mutter something in thanks, and close the door with only a small pang of guilt. You quickly change into your evening gown of blue muslin with silver trim and remove the book from the bed.
Chills whisper over your skin as you read further into the mystery. Oh, dear Valancourt! What a romantic hero he makes, would that he were real.
You are looking up, smiling with that thought, and hear a carriage arriving below your open window. You set down the book and approach the window. From behind the curtain, you see a tall man step down from the coach. His blue coat reflects the firelight, and your intake of breath is loud enough to be heard below.
The man looks up. Caught, you look full upon him for only a moment, still lost in daydream of Valancourt, and allow yourself to wonder about this new arrival. Then, as a lady must, you step back.
[[Will you go down and claim your Valancourt?->meet the new man]]
[[Or will you wait until supper, and let chance determine whether you see him again?->wait until supper]]A servant passing in the corridor gives you directions to the kitchen, and you head there quickly before the sound of your rumbling tummy alerts anyone to your presence.
You find the cook and several assistants busy at work preparing for the upcoming meal. As you don't wish to be a bother, you ask simply if you could have an apple or two. Such a request is easily granted, and you find yourself sitting at the kitchen table with a knife, preparing your apples for consumption.
The overall business of the kitchen is nothing like you've seen at Fullerton, and you forget your task numerous times only to remember again when your tummy rumbles once more.
You have finished one apple and begin working on the next when several men enter the kitchen. You watch them walk over to a large pot and serve themselves a bowl of soup, then sit down together at a long table to eat.
Ah! There was soup? You move to stand, only to see a gentleman in a blue coat enter the kitchen. One so handsome that your breath catches in your throat. Only--you had just popped a bite of apple into your mouth and, unfortunately, you choke and die.
~ ~ ~
You feel your spirit lift from your dead body. You are dreadfully sorry to have died at your sister's party but thankful you no longer feel hungry. As you float about the Abbey, you come across a very interesting lower-level room where two other ghosts are playing cards together. You politely introduce yourself to them, and ask if you might join their game.
"Certainly, Miss Morland, you would be very welcome." The man speaking introduces himself as Mr. Collins, and the lady as Mrs. Tilney. Nothing seems amiss, so you join in. What a merry party.
[[Restart?->beginning]]The choice was made the moment you saw him. You throw open the door and attempt to retrace your steps to the front entry. You did not even stop to search for a bookmark, for who cares for fantasy when there is such a man?
The hallway twists and turns, and the doors at the end of the corridor are too numerous and unfamiliar. You pull open one at random. It heads downward, so you proceed, confident that you have chosen correctly.
When several minutes pass and you have not yet emerged from the descending stairwell, you begin to wonder whether you should retrace your steps. But then the faint tones of music reach your ears, settling your conviction to press on. The music grows louder with every step, until you emerge into a small room. A man dressed in black robes pauses in his flute playing his body facing away from you. He slowly turns his head, taking you in from head to toe in clear inspection of your person.
His manners leave much to be desired, and you struggle to hide your displeasure. "Sir, my apologies for interrupting your practice. You see, I have gone down the wrong passage, but I will be gone in a moment."
You turn to go, but a tug on your sleeve makes you pause to look down. His slender fingers release the fabric and draw slowly back, though he does not fully retract his arm. The pose reminds you of a cat, poised to strike at prey. And how did he cross the room so silently, so quickly? Up close, you can see his robes have a rough rope as a belt, and you begin to suspect his vocation with decided unease.
"Indeed," says the man, "You did not intentionally seek me out? I do wish it were otherwise, that you had heard of me perhaps?"
"I did not. I was on my way to the entry hall to find my sister. And if you'll excuse me I will make my way back." You are not about to explain to this strange monk that you were seeking the admiration of a handsome man.
He darts between you and the exit. "Are you certain my reputation has not brought you to my side? My apologies, but, as you can see, it is a lonely night and I have not had a visitor in years."
You take one step back, hoping to draw him back from the narrow hallway. "I am unaware of your identity, sir, therefore I cannot say for certain whether I have heard of you or not."
"Ah. A most important detail. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Honorable William Collins, the last monk of Northanger Abbey. Any recognition?"
"No, indeed. My sincerest apologies," you say.
"Not even a little? I shall have to do better. Fearsome flute playing is the only tool I have of which to haunt this place."
"Indeed? And are you a ghost, sir?"
"I would be honored if you would think of me thus. Indeed, I would be at your service." As he speaks, his hands gesticulate in the wildest patterns.
You endeavor to say what you must. "Certainly sir. I will forever think of you as Mr. Collins, a most excellent ghost. Now, if you'll excuse me, I do need to return to the Tilneys upstairs."
Mr. Collins appears reluctant to allow you to pass just yet, but a brilliant notion catches your fancy. "I would be happy to deliver a note on your behalf. That would have an excellent effect, don't you think?"
His face lights up with glee. "Indeed it would! You are the cleverest young lady, goodness, I will be but a moment and you shall be on your way." He scurries around you to the writing desk upon which he left his flute, and pulls out a sheet of paper and ink. "I hope you will not think me too frivolous, but ever since Captain Tilney inherited I have long wished to make myself known to him. I consider him my noble patron of the arts, for as you may know, his voice is something beyond this world."
"I have never met the Captain, but I am certain I will be able to find him and deliver your message." You edge backward toward the passage only slightly. After witnessing his remarkably quick movements earlier, you do not wish to anger him.
A moment later, a sealed letter is placed into your palm. He is so eager for you to deliver the letter, that he bids you goodbye without hesitation. You begin climbing the stairs with great haste, eager to escape the mysterious Collins and his lair. Before you reach the top, the flute music resumes, and fades away to nothing.
Panting with exhaustion, you throw yourself into the upper corridor and close the door behind you. You lean heavily against it as you try to regain your breath.
It dawns on you that you still haven't the least notion of how to get to the party, and dwelling on thoughts of your meeting with Mr. Collins is not something you care to do. You select another door. This time, the sound of many voices meets your ears, and you proceed down a new set of stairs. At the bottom, you are lucky enough to bump right into Henry himself.
The moment he recognizes you his face brightens. "Sarah! Catherine and I had nearly given you up. Are you feeling much better?"
Your jumbled thoughts vaguely recall your falsehood from earlier. "Ah, yes. I am looking for your brother Captain Tilney. Is he present? I have something that may interest him."
Henry could not have looked more surprised. "Frederick? Well, he did return not long ago in fact. I'll introduce you."
Leading you through a sea of guests and unfamiliar faces, Henry stops behind a tall fellow in a blue coat. "Frederick, it's high time you met my sister-in-law, Sarah Morland."
As he turns, you are stunned to recognize him as the same man you saw from the upper window, the very man you had come down to meet. //To claim.//
The most proper introductions are made and Henry leaves you with Captain Tilney. His face bears a scar across the cheek, though it was not visible at a distance. You wonder how he came by that scar?
You take a breath and speak. "I have a letter for you sir. A man bid me deliver it to you, though I am unwilling to say more." The letter, which you had grasped so tightly, now passes from your hand to his.
He makes no response except to unseal it in a single efficient movement, and scans the lines within. "Do you know what this letter contains?"
You shake your head.
"Read it for yourself."
//Dear Sir, as my noble patron I beg you to consider this Lady as a suitable partner in the next dance. Your servant in eternal affection, C.//
Your face turns red with embarrassment at the contents of the letter. No doubt he thinks you wrote it yourself. "I do beg your pardon. Please excuse me, sir."
He says nothing, but offers you his arm. Helpless to do anything else, you take it, and are led into an empty ballroom. You stand in silence waiting for the Captain to make some sign or speak his intent.
Then, all of a sudden, the same flute music reaches your ears. The Captain hears it too, and smiles broadly. He guides you into a waltz, and you soon find yourself being spun about.
"Now that the resident ghost of Northanger has seen to our introduction," Captain Tilney said, "I very much wish to discuss a beguiling young lady I spotted in the upstairs window when I arrived."
[[Restart?->beginning]]Good things happen to those who wait, and you do want to read a bit more of Udolpho, so you put away thoughts of the mystery man for the present and relax once more upon the bed to continue reading.
Not many minutes pass before a crashing sound causes you to sit up in alarm.
You sit very still, listening intently. A small scratching sound is coming not from the door to the corridor, but from a closet door you hadn't noticed earlier.
The sound continues and goosebumps cover the flesh of your arms and neck. Frozen with fright, you begin to edge toward the door to the exterior, sliding across the bed to avoid walking near the closet.
Just as your feet touch the ground, the closet door crashes open and a woman steps into the room. Silver haired with pearls about her neck, the regal woman would be dressed most elegantly were it not for the cobwebs covering her gown. Her blue eyes pierce yours. "Why didn't you let me out of the closet, young lady? I nearly ruined this beautiful door. You don't know what high quality doors the Abbey has."
"Excuse me," you say, bewildered, "I was frightened by the sound. I didn't know anybody was in the closet. Were you looking for something?"
The woman considers your question. "Yes. I was looking for my lorgnette as I wanted to visit the opera, but then the door closed behind me. I did find it eventually, but it was all for naught."
"Oh I'm sorry to hear that! Was the opera not to your liking?"
"No, unfortunately I was never able to attend. I fell ill and died. My poor children. And I do feel terrible for stealing my pearls back from Eleanor. I'm afraid she's never come back again. I like to stay in the closet now, where it's cozy. I suppose I should roam the house like a proper specter but it's really very nice in there."
The revelation that this lady was, in fact, the late Mrs. Tilney, should have put you on your guard. But you are dazzled by her tale. "Oh, is it so very cozy indeed? How pleasant."
"Indeed it is. Would you like to see it?"
You would rather not, but hesitate to offend the great lady of this place. "Oh, er, that is...yes! I would be delighted."
You slowly walk toward the closet door where Mrs. Tilney waits. You get close enough to see a beautiful chaise, the kind Mrs. Allan has that is perfect for reading. "Oh! I do understand why you think it cozy. Such a lovely seat."
"Yes, indeed. You must try it. Simply the most comfortable chair I have ever sat upon."
Overcome with curiosity to sit in a chair so comfortable, you slip inside the closet and relax onto the blue velvet seat. "How wonderful!"
Mrs. Tilney smiles widely, her yellowed teeth and bare gums making her look rather frightful. "I am so pleased to hear it. I hope you enjoy your time there."
And the door closes in your face. You try the handle. It is locked! After a few hours of screaming and banging on the door, you finally decide to relax on the chaise. The velvet really is so very soft, and if you are to die of dehydration in a closet, you may as well be comfortable.
Your eyes flutter open, the sunlight blinding you. The heavy tome, Udolpho, is crushing your arm and your fingers have gone numb. The bed is very fine--oh goodness! You sit up, heedless of the pain it brings to your arm. The book drops on the floor with a thud.
You glance at the closet. Firmly resolved, you get up and throw open the door. Inside, the closet is empty of all but a blue velvet chaise.
[[Restart?->beginning]]Mr. Thorpe arrives at your side. His smile makes you feel aflutter. Never before has a man admired you, and what did you come for if not for a bit of adventure?
"You have sought me out, Mr. Thorpe?" you boldly ask.
He laughs loud and deep, true merriment in his eyes. "Jolly good! Then I am already known to you, and yet you still choose to meet me? That bodes extremely well."
He is flirting with you! What will you say next? "Oh, well I know you treated Catherine abominably years ago, but surely you have come here to apologize? Just as soon as she gets back."
"Why, Miss Morland, you know my mind and heart as clearly as though I had given them to you."
You blush. "Do I? I suppose it is the right thing to do."
"It is. I was just trying to decide how to best go about it. Would you let me practice on you? Perhaps in another room where it isn't so noisy."
You are delighted with his plan to apologize and are eager to assist if it means Catherine may be happier as a result. You nod emphatically in response. Together you wander deeper into the Abbey, ending up in a deserted room with sheets and cobwebs everywhere.
"This is perfect," Mr. Thorpe says as he takes it all in, "no one will interrupt my apology-practicing here."
As you look around, you begin to feel uncomfortable. "I don't know, Mr. Thorpe, this room looks like it hasn't been used in a long time. I shouldn't like to trespass in a private place."
"Nonsense Miss Morland! It's not trespassing, we're only borrowing it for a little while. It looks like the bed is clean enough." He sits on the edge of the mattress.
You select a chair, but it creaks dreadfully under your weight and you dare not put your full weight upon it. There is no other place to sit besides the bed. You shan't sit then, and resolve to remain standing. "I will not sit after all, I think."
Mr. Thorpe stands up in concern. "Oh you must take my seat! It is comfort itself. I should be the one standing, as I will be standing when I deliver my apology, it seems only fitting."
You graciously accept, then sit in his place. The warmth left from his body is oddly disconcerting.
The practicing begins. He apologizes to you over and over for mistaking Mr. Tilney's coach for another. He attempts to word it differently each time, making you giggle at some of the variations. Once you have voted on the best wording, he moves onto the next thing he wishes to apologize for--the unfeeling treatment of James by Thorpe's sister.
After a barrage of such intense looks and words, you begin to feel a little heated. Mr. Thorpe instantly is by your side, seated beside you on the bed, showing concern in every look as he touches your forehead attempting to detect fever. The back of the neck and cheeks can also reveal fever...and touches them also. He is so close that you think he might be about to kiss you. But that is most improper, you have barely met the man and your own sister intensely dislikes him...but...oh! Goodness gracious, are you being seduced?
You quickly stand up and step back, awareness dawning. "Excuse me sir, I will return to the party now."
Mr. Thorpe reaches out to stop you from leaving, grabbing you by the arm to prevent you from reaching the door. Just then, the door is thrown open, revealing a man in a blue coat whom you've never seen. In the next instant, everything changes around you. The house disappears and you are standing in a large grassy field.
Your evening gown is transformed into a white flowy dress, your hair wild and curling down your shoulders. The man in the blue coat is now 500 meters away and approaching rapidly on a black stallion, with a greatcoat billowing behind him. Mr. Thorpe has you by the arm and is dragging you as quick as he can toward the forest where his own horse lies waiting. Mr. Thorpe's hair has become very bushy and barbaric looking, with a strikingly villainous air about him.
You don't understand how reality has morphed into a gothic daydream, but you do like your dress immensely, and attempt to twirl as much as possible. Mr. Thorpe snarls fiercely at you to stop, which you finally do after doing it //one// more time.
The rider is nearly upon you now, and your heart thrills with the excitement. He jumps down and draws his sword. "Unhand Miss Morland at once!"
"Never," replies Mr. Thorpe, who throws you to the side and draws his own sword.
A duelish fight ensues, Mr. Thorpe holding his own against the skill of the stranger for a time, then stepping backward, when parry after parry drives him against a tree.
The stranger says to him in a low voice, "You'll leave my house immediately, Mr. Thorpe, and never return. How dare you try to take advantage of this young lady, not only a guest but a member of the family? You ought to be horsewhipped."
"It's what you deserve after what you did to Isabella. You owed her marriage and I want vengeance." Mr. Thorpe spat the last words.
"I never touched her, there was nothing dishonorable on my side. But I should never have flirted with her. I was a foolish boy back then."
Your savior is Captain Tilney? You did think he was something of a scoundrel, but as he was unable to attend your sister's wedding, you have never met. Perhaps a reformed scoundrel then.
Mr. Thorpe looks around, wishing to leave but uncertain where to go in the field. He decides to start walking away all the same.
Captain Tilney helps you to your feet and you gaze into his face for the first time. A scar runs across his cheek. "Thank you, Captain Tilney. I don't know how you knew to look for me."
"Catherine was worried when she found the two of you missing."
"Oh," you say, with embarrassment.
The field vanishes, and you are all back in the dusty room in your normal clothes.
Mr. Thorpe walks into the wall. "Damn it!"
A rather skeletal silver haired lady in pearls and a cobweb-laden gown floats into the room. "What's everyone doing in my room?"
Captain Tilney says, "Hello, Mother."
Mr. Thorpe shrieks, runs from the room, and is never seen again.
[[Restart?->beginning]]You sneak into the next room where an amusing fortune-telling game is being played by a group of ladies. You take an apple and peel it in one long coil, then throw the peel over your left shoulder as you recite the following verse:
//I pare this pippin round and round again,
My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain;
I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head,
My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.//
You laugh as all the other ladies have their turn, and guess who their future sweetheart might be from the letters they make out. When it is your turn, you do your best at peeling, recite the verse, then throw it over your left shoulder.
Concern shows on the faces of the other women, and you worry what letters might be waiting for you. You force yourself to turn and look.
Your apple peel did not land upon the ground at all, but upon a gentleman standing behind you.
You stammer out an apology."I am so very sorry, I had no idea you were there, I beg your pardon."
The man smiles. And plucks the offending peel from his coat. "I rather think it spells a F. Wouldn't you say so?" The ladies behind me titter and cover their mouths.
It could be, but you are to embarrassed to discuss it. "I'm sure I don't know sir."
Catherine appears in the doorway. "There you are Sarah! I was so afraid where you'd gone, I couldn't find you or Mr. Thorpe when I returned just now."
The man spoke. "I disposed of Mr. Thorpe. His presence was most unwelcome. After which I came here and found the letter F thrown upon me in an apple peel."
"How remarkable! Sarah, I don't believe you've met Captain Frederick Tilney, a reformed scoundrel and the best brother-in-law a lady could ever ask for."
Captain Tilney's confidence flickers at the words "reformed scoundrel" but swiftly returns.
"And my name begins with a F," he says. "I suppose you'll want someone else, so I will try to find another Mr. F for you."
His teasing puts you at ease, and you laugh. "I accept your offer of assistance." You decide to take a chance and tease him in return, "I suppose you might do. After all, we are not brother and sister."
His mouth bends into a sly grin. "Indeed we are not."