To commemorate our second anniversary, we invite you, our loyal readers and friends, to join us this month at Austen Variations. We have grand plans! For February, we intend to share the endearing moments of Jane Austen’s beloved characters as they celebrate their own anniversaries.
Happy Anniversary to the Tilneys from Northanger Abbey!
Henry stepped into the small sitting room at Woodston Parsonage and smiled at the scene before him. His wife was curled up in a chair reading; her eyes were wide and her hand covered her heart. He shook his head and cleared his throat, startling Catherine. She quickly closed the book.
“You frightened me, Henry!”
“You are not reading another Gothic novel, are you?”
She looked down, but Henry could readily distinguish her pink cheeks.
“Do you think it so wrong of me to read such novels?” she asked with a look of dismay.
Henry chuckled. “I simply do not understand why you find them so enjoyable.”
Catherine looked up and shrugged her shoulders. With a sly smile, she said, “I suppose it is because I find them delightfully frightening.”
“That is certainly an answer, although I do not fully understand it.”
“Was there something you wanted?” she asked.
“Oh, yes! I came to tell you that I have a surprise for you, my lovely Catherine.” Henry had a teasing glint in his eyes.
“For me?” Catherine jumped to her feet and ran over to her husband. “What is it? May I see it?”
Henry put up his hands. “It is not something you can see… just yet.”
She began fingering his neckcloth and tilted her head. “You know I will not rest until you tell me what it is.”
Henry leaned over and kissed his wife. “And I will not tell you because it is far too much fun to watch you try to figure it out and squirm when you cannot.”
Catherine let out a sigh. “Will you give me a hint?”
Henry pinched his brows and rubbed his jaw. “Hmm, perhaps I can.” He wrapped his arms about his wife. “At the moment, I shall only say that it is something you will receive on our anniversary.”
A smile lit Catherine’s face. “Our anniversary? Oh, it is an anniversary gift! Then I must not try to guess. But how shall I wait two full weeks? Is it something I have always wanted? Will you tell me that?” Her eyes lit with anticipation.
He leaned it and pressed his nose to hers. “Hmm. I cannot say it is something you have always wanted, but it is something you often think about.”
Catherine giggled. “I cannot imagine what it is! Why do you like to tease me so?”
Henry fingered a stray curl and let it go. “Perhaps, my dear Catherine, it is because I love you so.”
In the two weeks leading up to their anniversary, Catherine was able to discover a few things about her surprise. They were going to go on a short journey and she would not be able to bring this surprise home. While that disappointed her, she still looked forward to it with great anticipation.
The day finally arrived, and they set out for their unknown destination early in the morning. Henry told Catherine it would be about a three-hour ride in the carriage. Since their marriage a year ago, they had taken day excursions around the country, enjoying the scenery and a picnic lunch, but other than when they visited her family, they had never before travelled somewhere and stayed overnight. Henry told her they would spend two nights at an inn. Catherine was greatly looking forward to it.
As the carriage traversed through the countryside, Catherine kept watch out the window. She could not describe her life as being one filled with adventure, but she enjoyed being married to this wonderful man. She was happy. So very happy.
She stole a glance at her husband, who was reading his Bible. He had a look of peaceful contentment on his face. As she studied him, he suddenly looked up.
“Is something amiss, my dearest?” He tilted his head and smiled.
Catherine felt her heart quaver as it always did whenever he smiled like that at her. His deep blue eyes twinkled and a small dimple appeared on one side of his face.
She shook her head quickly. “No, I was just thinking how happy I am.”
“I am glad. And you have made me the happiest of all men.”
She bit her lip. “Shall I get my surprise today?”
“Not today, but tomorrow.”
She rubbed her hands together. “I cannot wait!”
They finally reached the inn after travelling through lovely farmland, woods, and passing an occasional pristine lake. When the carriage stopped, Catherine looked out the window.
“Is this the inn?” She turned to Henry and exclaimed, “Look at the beautiful flower garden! This is the happiest place I have ever seen! It is charming!”
“I hoped you would like it,” Henry said with a smile. “Shall we?”
They stepped out of the carriage and walked slowly, admiring the array of flowers. Catherine occasionally leaned over to smell a fragrant rose or gardenia. She sat down on a bench near a small pond and turned to her husband. “How did you know about this place?”
Henry sat down beside her as their luggage was brought into the inn. “My family had acquaintances who lived nearby. I always thought I would like to stay here one day.”
Catherine reached over and took his hand. “I am most grateful for your friend.”
“Let us go inside so you can freshen up and we can get something to eat. We shall relax today and walk about the grounds. I have secured a phaeton and we shall take a tour of the countryside tomorrow.”
The next day dawned with a bright blue sky scattered with an occasional white puffy cloud sailing by. A basket with fruit, bread, and cheese had been prepared for the couple, and they set out for their touring adventure.
“It is such a lovely day, Henry.” Catherine looked about her as she pulled a stray curl away from her face blown there by a slight breeze. “Do you have a particular destination or are we just travelling at your whim?”
Henry looked down at her with a mischievous grin. “I had hoped to see if there was something still here. We shall see. It should be just up around the next bend.”
Catherine turned her head to follow the direction he pointed, eager for the first glimpse. She wondered if it could be another pristine lake, a forest glen, or possibly an expansive flower garden.
As the phaeton climbed a slight hill and turned, Catherine gasped. Off to their right, down a lonely dirt road, stood an old house. Catherine shivered.
“I certainly hope that is not what you were looking for!” She snuggled closer to her husband. “It looks very old!”
“And deserted!” Henry said with a soft laugh. “Even more decrepit than I remembered.”
When Henry reached the road and turned onto it, Catherine wrapped her arm tightly about his. “You are certainly not thinking of going into it, are you?”
“No, but both of us are going to go inside.”
“But it cannot be safe. It looks so…”
Catherine nodded mutely.
Henry hopped down from the phaeton and helped his wife, who could not keep her eyes off the house. Several windows were broken, and sashes and doorframes hung askew. Weeds and monstrous bushes surrounded the house, and as they walked up to the steps, she could see several were missing. She tugged Henry’s arm to halt him.
“Oh, Henry. I do not think we should go in.”
“There is nothing to worry about, my dearest.”
Catherine looked up at him and winced.
“Besides, if something does happen, I am here to protect you!”
Her brows lowered at this and she paled. “But there are things… some things we would never be strong enough to conquer.”
Henry chuckled. “Like those in your gothic novels?”
Catherine looked down. “I know you enjoy teasing me, but still…”
“Come! It will be fun!”
They took the creaky stairs, mindful to keep from stepping on the missing boards. The front door handle was missing, so Henry was able to easily push it open. Catherine held tightly onto his arm as he did.
They stepped inside. Straight ahead was a staircase, and to the right was a large room. They stepped into that room, which had long, heavy window coverings, making it quite dark. A long rip in one of the coverings let in just enough light to enable them to see cobwebs everywhere, indicating years of neglect. As they walked in, Catherine screamed.
Henry turned. “What is it?”
“I just walked into one of these horrid webs!” Catherine exclaimed, pulling it from her face.
Henry smiled and pulled the remainder from her hair. “There! I have performed my first rescue!” He turned and looked around. “Come! Let us continue our tour.”
The next room they came to had a few pieces of furniture, covered in white protective sheets, which in turn, were covered in layers of dust and dirt. This room had no window coverings so it was much brighter.
A portrait hung on the wall, drawing their attention. As they walked closer to it, Catherine shivered.
“He looks positively sinister!” she said. “I would not be surprised if he murdered everyone in his family and buried them somewhere in this house.”
Henry laughed. “Now, Catherine, remember how your imagination played tricks on you when you first came to Northanger Abbey?”
Catherine shuddered. “I was so foolish to think your father killed your mother, and I regret it every single day!”
Henry took her hand and patted it. “And I regret my father’s inexcusable actions towards you every single day.”
A loud thud from upstairs drew their attention, prompting Catherine to smother her face in Henry’s chest. “What was that?” she whispered in a shaky voice.
“It is most likely the wind banging a shutter against the house.”
Catherine peered up at him. “There is no wind, Henry. It is perfectly calm outside.”
“Then we must go see!”
“No!” Catherine exclaimed, holding on to him tighter.
“Come! It will be nothing. Let us go back to the staircase.”
“Oh, Henry. I am not so certain we should do this.”
When they came to the staircase, Catherine gasped again and recoiled. “Henry, look! The wall candle is lit! It was not lit when we first entered the house. I know I would have noticed it! Why would a candle be lit in an abandoned old house?” Her breathing quickened and she put one hand over her heart.
“I cannot answer that, my dear, but it is fortuitous because I can take the candle and we shall now have light!”
Catherine looked at her husband in disbelief. “You must not touch it! Do you not see that someone – or something – is here! We must leave at once!”
Henry shook his head. “No, my dearest. I am most curious, are you not?”
A look of dismay and uncertainty crossed her face. “Of course I am curious, but…”
“Good! Just hold onto me tightly.”
Catherine reluctantly obeyed, and they took the stairs slowly. Catherine looked about her as they did, listening and watching for anything out of the ordinary.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Henry leaned over and kissed his wife. “See? All is quiet and safe up here.”
They walked along the narrow passage way and came to a door. Henry tried to open it, but it was locked.
“I wonder what is in here,” Henry said in a alightly apprehensive voice.
“I am certain it is nothing, and if it is something, we must not try to go in.” Catherine’s eyes suddenly widened. “Perhaps it is a secret passage!” She covered her mouth as she gasped. “Perhaps this is where the man in the portrait hid the family he killed.”
Henry laughed. “You must realize, Catherine, that a secret passage usually does not have a door leading into it.” He turned the handle one more time, but this time, it opened.
Catherine tensed as Henry slowly pulled open the door. They stared into the darkness.
“Good thing I have the candle. Come, let us explore!”
Henry had to give a couple tugs on his wife’s arm before she followed him in. They stepped inside the room, and it seemed colder than the rest of the house had been. There did not appear to be any windows, so without the candle it would have been completely dark.
As Henry moved the candle around the room, Catherine noticed an old chest. She left Henry’s side and walked over to it. She tried to lift the lid, but it was stuck.
“What do you suppose is in there?” Henry asked as he walked over to help her.
“Oh, it could be any number of things!” she said, her eyes wide with wonder. The lid loosened with Henry’s help, but it still would not open completely. “It could hold a diary with all the names of the people that were killed and how they were killed. It could hold a piece of clothing from each of the victims. It could…” Catherine looked up to see that her husband was smiling. “Or it could just be an old trunk.”
When the lid finally gave way, Henry stood up, holding the candle above it. Catherine looked around and felt a great sense of disappointment to see it was empty, but as she looked up sheepishly at her husband, a noise was heard at the doorway. They both turned and saw a figure standing there in the dark. When Henry quickly moved towards it, the candle went out.
Catherine screamed! “Henry! Do not leave me! We must get out! Someone is here!”
Henry came back for Catherine and the two of them rushed down the stairs and outside.
“Are you all right?” Henry asked, holding Catherine tightly against him.
“Oh, it was absolutely horrid!” she exclaimed. She took in several deep breaths. She was certain Henry could feel the clamouring of her heart against his chest.
He stood holding her for several minutes, and then Henry lifted up her face with his hands. “Catherine, there is someone I would like you to meet.”
He looked back towards the house, and Catherine followed his gaze. A young man was walking towards them.
“Catherine, this is my good friend, Albert Hawthorne. Albert, may I present my wife, Catherine Tilney?”
Catherine looked confused. “Do you mean you were the one in the house making all those things happen?” She looked up at Henry and then down, shaking her head. “I cannot believe you would do such a thing!”
Mr. Hawthorne stepped forward. “Oh, Perhaps I went too far. I hope you were not too frightened.”
Henry looked back at his wife. “Oh, dearest Catherine, you know I would not do anything to intentionally alarm you. Albert is the good friend I told you about. When my family would visit his, we would often come and explore the house. I thought it would be fun if you could have your own gothic adventure.” He stroked his wife’s cheek. “I am sorry if you were frightened. Pray, forgive me if it was wrong of me to think you would enjoy it.”
Catherine slowly looked up, and the fear and dismay on her face had been replaced by a wide smile. “Oh, I think it was the most delightfully frightening thing that has ever happened to me!” Ignoring Mr. Hawthorne, she wrapped her arms about her husband and pressed her lips to his.
They went back for a proper tour of the house. Mr. Hawthorne told them what he knew of it, and although there was nothing sinister in any of its history, Catherine could imagine other stories that might have taken place – without mentioning them to either of the men.
They then went to Mr. Hawthorne’s home and met his family, spending the remainder of the day there.
On the way home, Henry looked at his wife tenderly. “I do hope you were not unduly frightened. It would pain me to know you were upset by it.”
Catherine shook her head and smiled. “Oh, no! It was quite fun. It was the most perfect anniversary surprise. At least I now know why those things happened. I could not figure out why you were not perplexed by that lit candle!” She laughed. “But my dear, there were a few things missing.”
“Were there?” He looked at her with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh, yes! A howling wind with branches crashing against the house, a violent storm with lightning and pounding thunder, and rain beating down on the roof.” She looked at him sheepishly. “Certainly you could have arranged for those things!”
“Oh, my dear!” Henry laughed. “I do ask quite a few things of the good Lord, and have received many an answer, but I believe asking for those things would have been a little too much!”
Catherine smiled and snuggled close to her husband. “I suppose.” She paused and then added, “Happy anniversary, Henry. Thank you for my surprise. I hope you know how much I love you.”
Henry smiled back and wrapped his arm about her. “I love you, too. Happy anniversary, my dearest Catherine.”
I hope you enjoyed Henry’s anniversary surprise for his wife. Share with us any ‘unusual’ surprises you have received as a gift.