Catherine had never been very good at sitting still or at focusing on a task, but Mrs. Morland now observes her to be more fidgety than ever before, and much sadder than she has ever been. She chides Catherine for thinking only about Bath and failing to be useful, saying she has had a great deal of pleasure and now she must be content, although her home is less grand than Northanger. Mrs. Morland says she knows of an essay about young girls who have been spoiled by meeting people who are richer than their own families are. Catherine tries to focus on her needlework, but after a few minute sinks into thought. Mrs. Morland immediately goes to get the book containing the essay.
Mrs. Morland has nothing but the best intentions for her daughter, and sincerely wants her to grow into a productive and grounded young woman who makes the best of every situation. She does not realize, however, the extent to which Catherine has already had these growing experiences while away from home. She believes Catherine is having the reaction of a spoiled child who has returned from a fancy adventure tired and cranky, not a young woman in love.
When Mrs. Morland returns to the room, she is surprised to find a strange young man there. Henry Tilney rises to meet her, saying that he had come to make sure Catherine had gotten home safely. Mrs. Morland welcomes him warmly, without holding his father’s behavior against him. Mrs. Morland makes small talk with Mr. Tilney, who is glad to be received without rebuke, but cannot yet say why he has really come. Catherine is silent, but her mother can see that she is happier, and hopes this visit will improve her mood.
Although Henry may only have come, as he says, to make sure Catherine is safe, this shows that he is an honorable gentleman, dedicated to upholding the code of conduct that his father flouted. Mrs. Morland’s inability to judge when two people are in love recalls Catherine’s obliviousness to James and Isabella’s relationship in Bath. Mrs. Morland may be an adult, but she is still innocent to what is going on in other people’s hearts and minds.
Eventually Mrs. Morland runs out of small talk and everyone falls silent. Mr. Tilney, for the first time addressing Catherine, asks if the Allens are home and, blushing, if she will show him the way to their house. Catherine’s younger sister Sarah says the Allens’ home can be seen from the window, but Mrs. Morland understands that Mr. Tilney may want to explain his father’s behavior to Catherine in private, and allows Catherine to accompany Mr. Tilney.
Henry produces a pretext for being alone with Catherine, but the inexperienced young Sarah’s straightforward statement of fact nearly ruins this chance for Henry to talk to her sister. Although Mrs. Morland still does not suspect that her daughter is in love, she at least has the social sense to understand that Henry wishes to speak to Catherine.
Henry wants to explain his father’s conduct, but is more eager to explain his own feelings. He assures Catherine of his affection for her, and asks her if she feels the same way about him and will marry him. They both know the answer to this question very well. The Narrator explains that it was Catherine’s partiality for Henry that attracted him to her in the first place, which is a very unusual circumstance for a heroine and very undignified for her.
The heroines of most Sentimental novels are beloved for their beauty and goodness, and they do not fall in love with men before men have fallen in love with them. But Austen subverts this trope somewhat, as it is the trust that Catherine put in Henry and her obvious liking for him that drew him to her. He saw that she would loyally love him and so he reciprocated.
They spend a very brief visit at the Allens. On their walk back to the Morlands’ home, Henry explains that his father had told him two days before that she had been sent away and he should not think about her anymore. Catherine is grateful that Henry kindly asked for her hand in marriage before he told her that his father would not approve of it.
If Henry had started by telling Catherine that he did not have his father’s permission to marry her, she might have felt she had to refuse him because only a marriage with parental sanction would be appropriate (particularly for someone as concerned with what is “proper” as Catherine is).
Henry explains that the General had mistakenly believed Catherine to be very rich, and had therefore wanted her to marry Henry. When he discovered his error, he turned her out of his house. Weeks before, the General had seen Henry and Catherine speaking at the theater and had asked John Thorpe about Catherine’s wealth and connections. At that time, Thorpe thought that his sister would soon marry James, and he hoped to marry Catherine himself, believing her to be wealthier than she really was. Thorpe always inflated the wealth and importance of anyone he was connected to, and, in his vanity, made Catherine out to be even wealthier than he himself believed her to be. He also assured the General that she was likely the heiress to all that the Allens possessed. The General had no reason to doubt what Thorpe said, especially since he could see that Thorpe intended to marry Catherine himself. When the General then saw that Henry was interested in Catherine, he set about trying to encourage the match.
The combination of John Thorpe and General Tilney made for a perfect storm of hypocrisy. Although the General often spoke hypocritically himself, he failed to see why John Thorpe would do so in this situation and took him at his word. Thorpe both believed Catherine to be wealthy and habitually exaggerated everything he said to make himself look more impressive. He talked to the General about Catherine in the same way as he talked to Catherine about his horse. Both men cared for money and status above all else, and saw Catherine as a way to gain a larger fortune or improve their status in the world.
The General later ran into John Thorpe again in London. Thorpe was by that time angry at Catherine’s refusal of him and even angrier at having found himself unable to reconcile James and Isabella, so he told the General the exact opposite of what he had said before. John told the General that, after at first offering James and Isabella a liberal amount of money, Mr. Morland turned out to have nothing to give. Thorpe said that he himself had uncovered that Mr. Morland was a social-climber and not respected in his neighborhood, and that the Allens had chosen a different heir. The General then rushed back to Northanger and expelled Catherine.
As always, John Thorpe had no compunction about contradicting himself. He was willing to tell the General the opposite story without wondering how this impacted his own credibility in the General’s mind. It seems that Thorpe had first brought James Morland home to meet his family in the hopes that James would fall in love with Isabella. The initial misunderstanding about the Morlands’ fortune likely sprang from Mrs. Thorpe, who knew that the Allens were wealthy and that the Morlands were their friends.
Henry did not explain all of this to Catherine at that moment, but he told her enough to make her feel that she had “scarcely sinned against his character” when she had thought the General to have murdered his wife. Henry is embarrassed to explain this to Catherine, and he had been extremely indignant when he heard what the General had done. The General, whose children usually never defied him, had been shocked to find Henry determined to disobey his order to forget about Catherine. Henry had felt himself bound in honor to Catherine. He had been told to win her heart, and he believed he had won it, and his conscience would not allow him to abandon her now. He had refused to go with his family on the trip that his father had hastily planned to have an excuse to send Catherine away. Instead, Henry had gone straight home to Woodston and left the next day for Fullerton.
Catherine has grown to understand how much pain can be caused by run-of-the-mill unkindness and bad behavior like the General’s—not just dramatic cruelty like that found in novels. Henry’s proposal to her despite his father’s prohibition seems to her just as beautiful an action as any that a hero in a Gothic novel might do to rescue a heroine from harm’s way. Unlike the General, who cares for money above all else, Henry has a strong sense of honor, which is based on society’s code of conduct and morals. As far back as when Henry told Catherine that a dance is like a marriage contract, he has showed his belief in the importance of loyalty to love. Now, her love for him has earned her his loyalty.