Mr. Gilfil's Love Story, by George Eliot

Chapter 16

Before night all hope was gone. Dr Hart had said it was death; Anthony’s body had been carried to the house, and every one there knew the calamity that had fallen on them.

Caterina had been questioned by Dr Hart, and had answered briefly that she found Anthony lying in the Rookery. That she should have been walking there just at that time was not a coincidence to raise conjectures in any one besides Mr. Gilfil. Except in answering this question, she had not broken her silence. She sat mute in a corner of the gardener’s kitchen shaking her head when Maynard entreated her to return with him, and apparently unable to think of anything but the possibility that Anthony might revive, until she saw them carrying away the body to the house. Then she followed by Sir Christopher’s side again, so quietly, that even Dr Hart did not object to her presence.

It was decided to lay the body in the library until after the coroner’s inquest tomorrow; and when Caterina saw the door finally closed, she turned up the gallery stairs on her way to her own room, the place where she felt at home with her sorrows. It was the first time she had been in the gallery since that terrible moment in the morning, and now the spot and the objects around began to reawaken her half-stunned memory. The armour was no longer glittering in the sunlight, but there it hung dead and sombre above the cabinet from which she had taken the dagger. Yes! now it all came back to her — all the wretchedness and all the sin. But where was the dagger now? She felt in her pocket; it was not there. Could it have been her fancy — all that about the dagger? She looked in the cabinet; it was not there. Alas! no; it could not have been her fancy, and she was guilty of that wickedness. But where could the dagger be now? Could it have fallen out of her pocket? She heard steps ascending the stairs, and hurried on to her room, where, kneeling by the bed, and burying her face to shut out the hateful light, she tried to recall every feeling and incident of the morning.

It all came back; everything Anthony had done, and everything she had felt for the last month — for many months — ever since that June evening when he had last spoken to her in the gallery. She looked back on her storms of passion, her jealousy and hatred of Miss Assher, her thoughts of revenge on Anthony. O how wicked she had been! It was she who had been sinning; it was she who had driven him to do and say those things that had made her so angry. And if he had wronged her, what had she been on the verge of doing to him? She was too wicked ever to be pardoned. She would like to confess how wicked she had been, that they might punish her; she would like to humble herself to the dust before every one — before Miss Assher even. Sir Christopher would send her away — would never see her again, if he knew all; and she would be happier to be punished and frowned on, than to be treated tenderly while she had that guilty secret in her breast. But then, if Sir Christopher were to know all, it would add to his sorrow, and make him more wretched than ever. No! she could not confess it — she should have to tell about Anthony. But she could not stay at the Manor; she must go away; she could not bear Sir Christopher’s eye, could not bear the sight of all these things that reminded her of Anthony and of her sin. Perhaps she should die soon: she felt very feeble; there could not be much life in her. She would go away and live humbly, and pray to God to pardon her, and let her die.

The poor child never thought of suicide. No sooner was the storm of anger passed than the tenderness and timidity of her nature returned, and she could do nothing but love and mourn. Her inexperience prevented her from imagining the consequences of her disappearance from the Manor; she foresaw none of the terrible details of alarm and distress and search that must ensue. ‘They will think I am dead,’ she said to herself, ‘and by-and-by they will forget me, and Maynard will get happy again, and love some one else.’

She was roused from her absorption by a knock at the door. Mrs. Bellamy was there. She had come by Mr. Gilfil’s request to see how Miss Sarti was, and to bring her some food and wine.

‘You look sadly, my dear,’ said the old housekeeper, ‘an’ you’re all of a quake wi’ cold. Get you to bed, now do. Martha shall come an’ warm it, an’ light your fire. See now, here’s some nice arrowroot, wi’ a drop o’ wine in it. Take that, an’ it’ll warm you. I must go down again, for I can’t awhile to stay. There’s so many things to see to; an’ Miss Assher’s in hysterics constant, an’ her maid’s ill i’ bed — a poor creachy thing — an’ Mrs. Sharp’s wanted every minute. But I’ll send Martha up, an’ do you get ready to go to bed, there’s a dear child, an’ take care o’ yourself.’

‘Thank you, dear mammy,’ said Tina, kissing the little old woman’s wrinkled cheek; ‘I shall eat the arrowroot, and don’t trouble about me any more to-night. I shall do very well when Martha has lighted my fire. Tell Mr. Gilfil I’m better. I shall go to bed by-and-by, so don’t you come up again, because you may only disturb me.’

‘Well, well, take care o’ yourself, there’s a good child, an’ God send you may sleep.’

Caterina took the arrowroot quite eagerly, while Martha was lighting her fire. She wanted to get strength for her journey, and she kept the plate of biscuits by her that she might put some in her pocket. Her whole mind was now bent on going away from the Manor, and she was thinking of all the ways and means her little life’s experience could suggest.

It was dusk now; she must wait till early dawn, for she was too timid to go away in the dark, but she must make her escape before any one was up in the house. There would be people watching Anthony in the library, but she could make her way out of a small door leading into the garden, against the drawing-room on the other side of the house.

She laid her cloak, bonnet, and veil ready; then she lighted a candle, opened her desk, and took out the broken portrait wrapped in paper. She folded it again in two little notes of Anthony’s, written in pencil, and placed it in her bosom. There was the little china box, too — Dorcas’s present, the pearl ear-rings, and a silk purse, with fifteen seven-shilling pieces in it, the presents Sir Christopher had made her on her birthday, ever since she had been at the Manor. Should she take the earrings and the seven-shilling pieces? She could not bear to part with them; it seemed as if they had some of Sir Christopher’s love in them. She would like them to be buried with her. She fastened the little round earrings in her ears, and put the purse with Dorcas’s box in her pocket. She had another purse there, and she took it out to count her money, for she would never spend her seven-shilling pieces. She had a guinea and eight shillings; that would be plenty.

So now she sat down to wait for the morning, afraid to lay herself on the bed lest she should sleep too long. If she could but see Anthony once more and kiss his cold forehead! But that could not be. She did not deserve it. She must go away from him, away from Sir Christopher, and Lady Cheverel, and Maynard, and everybody who had been kind to her, and thought her good while she was so wicked.

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