Catherine spends the next day, a Sunday, at church, where she sees a monument to Mrs. Tilney. Catherine feels it is horribly hypocritical of the General to sit in front of this monument to the wife he tortured, but knows that villains like the General are often callous in this way. She does not let the monument convince her that Mrs. Tilney is not being held prison in Northanger Abbey; she has read of burials being staged.
Catherine now suspects the General of hypocritically playing the dignified widower when he is in fact his wife’s torturer. Catherine, who never sees through hypocrisy no matter how poorly disguised, now thinks she has uncovered the truth about a hardened criminal.
The next day, while the General takes his morning walk, Catherine asks Eleanor to show her Mrs. Tilney’s room. First, they go to look at Mrs. Tilney’s portrait, which surprises Catherine because it does not resemble her children. As they move towards Mrs. Tilney’s room, the General suddenly returns and shouts for Eleanor. Catherine runs to her room in fear. Visitors arrive, however, and Catherine goes to the drawing room to find a happy scene. Eleanor explains that her father had wanted her to answer a note, and Catherine feels safe from the General’s rage.
A mother in a Gothic novel would be likely to look just like her children, so Catherine is surprised by the lack of resemblance. She interprets the General as wanting to prevent Catherine from seeing Mrs. Tilney’s room for sinister reasons. More likely, because the room has not been redecorated in almost a decade, it does not meet the General’s standards for conspicuously fashionable and expensive interiors.
The next day, Catherine decides to spare Eleanor the danger of being caught by the General again by going to explore Mrs. Tilney’s room alone. She thinks it will be easier to search for proof that Mrs. Tilney is being held hostage without Eleanor there to see what she is doing. Wanting to make this exploration before Henry returns the next day, she decides to go immediately. Entering, she sees a cheerful and tidy room that is part of the abbey’s newer construction. The surroundings make her doubt her theory that the General harmed his wife, and she feels embarrassed at how far she let her imagination run away with her.
Catherine naively believes that crimes can only occur in an old, derelict space like the abbeys and castles in which Gothic novels are set, and she expects Mrs. Tilney’s room to look this part. The tidiness and modernity of the room immediately brings her to her senses, just as seeing the recent laundry bill in the chest had, and she needs to do no further exploration to realize she has invented everything.
Catherine is about to return to her room when she hears footsteps coming and is surprised to see Henry ascend the stairs. They are astonished to find each other there. Catherine, very embarrassed, says she came to see Mrs. Tilney’s room. He asks if there is something interesting to see there. Catherine replies that there is not, adding that she did not think he would return until the next day. Henry asks if Eleanor leaves her to explore on her own, and Catherine responds that Eleanor showed her most of the house but that then the General came, so she couldn’t go on.
Catherine has broken the rules of proper behavior by wandering through her host’s house unattended. She is very embarrassed, but also too truthful to make any false excuse about how she came to be where she is. She tells the truth, but does not give any explanation for why General Tilney’s arrival prevented her from seeing Mrs. Tilney’s room, which would involve accusing him of a terrible crime.
Catherine begins to say that it is late and she must dress for dinner, but Henry counters that it isn’t late. For the first time, Catherine wishes to be away from Henry. He asks if she has had any news from Bath. Catherine replies that she has not, and is very surprised, because Isabella promised “faithfully” to write. Henry quibbles a bit with her use of the word “faithfully,” then steers the conversation back to Mrs. Tilney’s room. He praises the comfort of the room, then asks if Eleanor sent Catherine to look at it, which Catherine denies. Henry says it is unusual for someone to take such interest in someone she never knew, even if Mrs. Tilney was a wonderful woman. Henry asks if Eleanor talked about his mother much, and Catherine equivocates, first saying yes, then saying no, then saying that it was very interesting that she had died so suddenly, with none of her children at home, and she thought perhaps that the General had not been fond of Mrs. Tilney. Henry asks if she inferred from this that there had been neglect or worse.
Catherine tries to make a passable excuse so that she can escape the awkward situation without explaining herself, but Henry is determined to gently force an explanation from her. He already knows Catherine well enough to be sure that she knows she has done something outside of the norm and that she will not lie to him about it. Cornered, Catherine says as little as possible to still suggest to Henry what drove her to visit Mrs. Tilney’s room. He understands how influenced her sensibility is by Gothic novels and makes the connection between her excitement to come to an abbey and her search for evidence that the General is a “Montoni.”
Catherine looks more directly into Henry’s eyes than she ever has before. Henry explains that his mother’s illness was sudden, although she had suffered from the illness before, but that he and Frederick had been by her side and seen that she had gotten the best medical care available. Catherine asks if General Tilney grieved. Henry says he is sure his father loved his mother, and that although his father can have a bad temper, he grieved for her. Catherine says she is very glad to hear this. Henry says that it seems she has surmised something horrible, but that she ought to remember where they live and when, and think for herself based on her own understanding of the values of their society. She should consider whether such terrible crimes could go undiscovered in such an interconnected world. “Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” he finally asks. Catherine runs off to her room in tears.
At this climactic moment, Catherine is made painfully aware of how foolish she has been. But instead of getting angry with her, Henry explains the facts of the situation and tells her that she must learn to think for herself. This is what Catherine has been hesitant to do, sometimes because she fears her inexperience will lead her to do the wrong thing and sometimes because she places too much trust in the sincerity and wisdom of others. By admitting that his father has a bad temper, Henry instructs her to see the nuances in people’s characters. He also indicates that her upbringing as a respectable young woman can guide her as she interprets the world around her.