Catherine realizes that she has not seen her friend Isabella in several days, nor has she missed her very much, because she has been so preoccupied with her trip to the abbey. When she does run into Isabella in the Pump-room, Isabella pulls her aside. Isabella seems to be watching the doors to see who will come in. Catherine, trying to tease Isabella in the way that Isabella has accused her of doing in the past, says that Isabella should not be impatient for James, who will soon arrive back in Bath. Isabella says that she is not looking for James—she would never want to cling to James. Catherine is sure that Isabella is looking at the door as if she expects someone, but Isabella says she is just looking about absent-mindedly.
When Isabella was attempting to use Catherine as a support to move her courtship with James forward, she said that she knew that Catherine would have said that Isabella and James were meant for one another if she had heard them talking. Catherine was unpracticed in this kind of teasing banter then, but is now hoping to master it. Isabella’s motivations have changed, however. Catherine’s ability to understand the motives of others will be tested again as she tries to understand Isabella’s changed behavior.
Catherine asks what Isabella wanted to speak to her about. Isabella reveals that she has had a letter from her brother and says that Catherine must be able to guess what it is about. Catherine cannot guess. Isabella says that Catherine need not pretend she does not know that John is in love with her. Catherine is astonished, and Isabella chastises her for this pretended ignorance. John’s letter asked Isabella to convince Catherine to marry him, and said that he spoke to her about marriage and she encouraged him. Catherine vehemently denies that she knew John thought of her as a potential wife. She does not even recall having the conversation during which he thought that she encouraged him, and begs Isabella to believe her to be sincere and to tell her brother in whatever way is proper that she does not see him that way.
This marks the second time that Catherine has been unaware of a courtship underway, but this time she is the one being courted. Catherine dislikes John Thorpe and has put up with him politely because he is her brother’s friend. The reason she has had to put up with so much of him, though, is because he considered himself to be courting her, but he is too rude to show anyone the kind of consideration that would have signaled to Catherine that he was actually interested in her.
Catherine says that Isabella knows that John is not the man whom she has feelings for, but says that they will still be sisters. Blushing, Isabella says “there are more ways than one of our being sisters.” She then says that she thought it a bad idea on John’s part, for they would not have enough money if they were to marry. She says John must not have received her last letter. Catherine asks Isabella if she believes her that she never meant to lead John on. Isabella says that she cannot judge that, as sometimes people get carried away by a flirtation and give more encouragement than they really mean to give. “What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next,” Isabella says. Catherine says this was never the case between her and John, but Isabella is hardly listening. Isabella says she would not want Catherine to hurry into an engagement, as this is a great mistake, and young men are very inconstant and might be just as happy without the woman they had set their mind on marrying. She says she does not place her brother’s happiness above her friends’, and that Captain Tilney says that “there is nothing people are so often deceived in, as the state of their own affections.”
Catherine indicates that she prefers Henry Tilney to John, and Isabella, thinking of Captain Tilney, hints that they may become sisters-in-law if they marry the two Tilney brothers. Isabella has clearly also realized that the Morlands do not have enough money to make her or John’s fortunes and has written to John about this, but John has not received this letter. Catherine does not understand any of this, nor does she understand that Isabella, in saying that Catherine may have accidentally led John on, is really describing her own situation with James. Her declarations of love for James have been replaced by quoting Captain Tilney on the fickleness of affection. As usual, Isabella displaces the blame for her own behavior onto men in general. She is beginning to be inconstant towards James, so she says that men in general are inconstant towards women.
At this moment, Captain Tilney enters the room. Isabella says he will not see them, but she fixes her eyes on him and he approaches them. Captain Tilney sits on Isabella’s other side and begins to flirt with her, saying they are always being watched “in person or by proxy,” that he wished her heart were independent, and that her blooming cheek torments him. Catherine is jealous for her brother and proposes that she and Isabella take a walk, but Isabella says she is very tired, and that she must wait for her sisters.
Catherine knows that an engaged woman should not listen to another man say these things, and that a man should not flirt with an engaged woman in this way. It is a breach of good manners, modesty, and taste, as well as a breach of loyalty to her brother. To make matters worse, Captain Tilney refers to other occasions when he has tried to convince Isabella to spend time alone with him.
Catherine will not sit and listen to this flirtation, though, and with great uneasiness she leaves Captain Tilney and Isabella sitting alone together. She feels sure that Captain Tilney is falling in love with Isabella and that Isabella is unconsciously giving him encouragement. She thinks it impossible that Isabella could knowingly encourage him, as her love for James is certain, but she wishes that Isabella had not talked so much about money and seemed so happy to see Captain Tilney.
Even Catherine can see that the way Captain Tilney and Isabella are flirting is inappropriate, but she does not trust herself to judge them as doing something immoral. Instead, Catherine believes that they both must be behaving this way out of ignorance – Captain Tilney must not know that Isabella is engaged and Isabella must not know what signals her behavior is sending.
For her own part, Catherine does not feel flattered, but rather feels amazed that John would have thought “it worth his while to fancy himself in love with her.” She hopes that many of the things Isabella said in their conversation will never be said again.
Although Catherine has thought little about others’ motivations up to this point, she now thinks that John Thorpe was not really in love with her and must have thought that he had something to gain from pretending to be. Catherine is beginning to grow less innocent and naïve.