Mr. Gilfil's Love Story, by George Eliot

Chapter 11

The following Sunday, the morning being rainy, it was determined that the family should not go to Cumbermoor Church as usual, but that Mr. Gilfil, who had only an afternoon service at his curacy, should conduct the morning service in the chapel.

Just before the appointed hour of eleven, Caterina came down into the drawing-room, looking so unusually ill as to call forth an anxious inquiry from Lady Cheverel, who, on learning that she had a severe headache, insisted that she should not attend service, and at once packed her up comfortably on a sofa near the fire, putting a volume of Tillotson’s Sermons into her hands — as appropriate reading, if Caterina should feel equal to that means of edification.

Excellent medicine for the mind are the good Archbishop’s sermons, but a medicine, unhappily, not suited to Tina’s case. She sat with the book open on her knees, her dark eyes fixed vacantly on the portrait of that handsome Lady Cheverel, wife of the notable Sir Anthony. She gazed at the picture without thinking of it, and the fair blonde dame seemed to look down on her with that benignant unconcern, that mild wonder, with which happy self-possessed women are apt to look down on their agitated and weaker sisters.

Caterina was thinking of the near future — of the wedding that was so soon to come — of all she would have to live through in the next months.

‘I wish I could be very ill, and die before then,’ she thought. ‘When people get very ill, they don’t mind about things. Poor Patty Richards looked so happy when she was in a decline. She didn’t seem to care any more about her lover that she was engaged to be married to, and she liked the smell of the flowers so, that I used to take her. O, if I could but like anything — if I could but think about anything else! If these dreadful feelings would go away, I wouldn’t mind about not being happy. I wouldn’t want anything — and I could do what would please Sir Christopher and Lady Cheverel. But when that rage and anger comes into me, I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel the ground under me; I only feel my head and heart beating, and it seems as if I must do something dreadful. O! I wonder if any one ever felt like me before. I must be very wicked. But God will have pity on me; He knows all I have to bear.’

In this way the time wore on till Tina heard the sound of voices along the passage, and became conscious that the volume of Tillotson had slipped on the floor. She had only just picked it up, and seen with alarm that the pages were bent, when Lady Assher, Beatrice, and Captain Wybrow entered, all with that brisk and cheerful air which a sermon is often observed to produce when it is quite finished.

Lady Assher at once came and seated herself by Caterina. Her ladyship had been considerably refreshed by a doze, and was in great force for monologue.

‘Well, my dear Miss Sarti, and how do you feel now? — a little better, I see. I thought you would be, sitting quietly here. These headaches, now, are all from weakness. You must not over-exert yourself, and you must take bitters. I used to have just the same sort of headaches when I was your age, and old Dr Samson used to say to my mother, “Madam, what your daughter suffers from is weakness.” He was such a curious old man, was Dr Samson. But I wish you could have heard the sermon this morning. Such an excellent sermon! It was about the ten virgins: five of them were foolish, and five were clever, you know; and Mr. Gilfil explained all that. What a very pleasant young man he is! so very quiet and agreeable, and such a good hand at whist. I wish we had him at Farleigh. Sir John would have liked him beyond anything; he is so good-tempered at cards, and he was such a man for cards, was Sir John. And our rector is a very irritable man; he can’t bear to lose his money at cards. I don’t think a clergyman ought to mind about losing his money; do you? — do you now?’

‘O pray, Lady Assher,’ interposed Beatrice, in her usual tone of superiority, ‘do not weary poor Caterina with such uninteresting questions. Your head seems very bad still, dear,’ she continued, in a condoling tone, to Caterina; ‘do take my vinaigrette, and keep it in your pocket. It will perhaps refresh you now and then.’

‘No, thank you,’ answered Caterina; ‘I will not take it away from you.’

‘Indeed, dear, I never use it; you must take it,’ Miss Assher persisted, holding it close to Tina’s hand. Tina coloured deeply, pushed the vinaigrette away with some impatience, and said, ‘Thank you, I never use those things. I don’t like vinaigrettes.’

Miss Assher returned the vinaigrette to her pocket in surprise and haughty silence, and Captain Wybrow, who had looked on in some alarm, said hastily, ‘See! it is quite bright out of doors now. There is time for a walk before luncheon. Come, Beatrice, put on your hat and cloak, and let us have half an hour’s walk on the gravel.’

‘Yes, do, my dear,’ said Lady Assher, ‘and I will go and see if Sir Christopher is having his walk in the gallery.’

As soon as the door had closed behind the two ladies, Captain Wybrow, standing with his back to the fire, turned towards Caterina, and said in a tone of earnest remonstrance, ‘My dear Caterina. Let me beg of you to exercise more control over your feelings; you are really rude to Miss Assher, and I can see that she is quite hurt. Consider how strange your behaviour must appear to her. She will wonder what can be the cause of it. Come, dear Tina,’ he added, approaching her, and attempting to take her hand; ‘for your own sake let me entreat you to receive her attentions politely. She really feels very kindly towards you, and I should be so happy to see you friends.’

Caterina was already in such a state of diseased susceptibility that the most innocent words from Captain Wybrow would have been irritating to her, as the whirr of the most delicate wing will afflict a nervous patient. But this tone of benevolent remonstrance was intolerable. He had inflicted a great and unrepented injury on her, and now he assumed an air of benevolence towards her. This was a new outrage. His profession of goodwill was insolence.

Caterina snatched away her hand and said indignantly, ‘Leave me to myself, Captain Wybrow! I do not disturb you.’

‘Caterina, why will you be so violent — so unjust to me? It is for you that I feel anxious. Miss Assher has already noticed how strange your behaviour is both to her and me, and it puts me into a very difficult position. What can I say to her?’

‘Say?’ Caterina burst forth with intense bitterness, rising, and moving towards the door; ‘say that I am a poor silly girl, and have fallen in love with you, and am jealous of her; but that you have never had any feeling but pity for me — you have never behaved with anything more than friendliness to me. Tell her that, and she will think all the better of you.’

Tina uttered this as the bitterest sarcasm her ideas would furnish her with, not having the faintest suspicion that the sarcasm derived any of its bitterness from truth. Underneath all her sense of wrong, which was rather instinctive than reflective — underneath all the madness of her jealousy, and her ungovernable impulses of resentment and vindictiveness — underneath all this scorching passion there were still left some hidden crystal dews of trust, of self-reproof, of belief that Anthony was trying to do the right. Love had not all gone to feed the fires of hatred. Tina still trusted that Anthony felt more for her than he seemed to feel; she was still far from suspecting him of a wrong which a woman resents even more than inconstancy. And she threw out this taunt simply as the most intense expression she could find for the anger of the moment.

As she stood nearly in the middle of the room, her little body trembling under the shock of passions too strong for it, her very lips pale, and her eyes gleaming, the door opened, and Miss Assher appeared, tall, blooming, and splendid, in her walking costume. As she entered, her face wore the smile appropriate to the exits and entrances of a young lady who feels that her presence is an interesting fact; but the next moment she looked at Caterina with grave surprise, and then threw a glance of angry suspicion at Captain Wybrow, who wore an air of weariness and vexation.

‘Perhaps you are too much engaged to walk out, Captain Wybrow? I will go alone.’

‘No, no, I am coming,’ he answered, hurrying towards her, and leading her out of the room; leaving poor Caterina to feel all the reaction of shame and self-reproach after her outburst of passion.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54