Mr. Gilfil's Love Story, by George Eliot

Chapter 18

At twelve o’clock, when all search and inquiry had been in vain, and the coroner was expected every moment, Mr. Gilfil could no longer defer the hard duty of revealing this fresh calamity to Sir Christopher, who must otherwise have it discovered to him abruptly.

The Baronet was seated in his dressing-room, where the dark window-curtains were drawn so as to admit only a sombre light. It was the first time Mr. Gilfil had had an interview with him this morning, and he was struck to see how a single day and night of grief had aged the fine old man. The lines in his brow and about his mouth were deepened; his complexion looked dull and withered; there was a swollen ridge under his eyes; and the eyes themselves, which used to cast so keen a glance on the present, had the vacant expression which tells that vision is no longer a sense, but a memory.

He held out his hand to Maynard, who pressed it, and sat down beside him in silence. Sir Christopher’s heart began to swell at this unspoken sympathy; the tears would rise, would roll in great drops down his cheeks. The first tears he had shed since boyhood were for Anthony.

Maynard felt as if his tongue were glued to the roof of his mouth. He could not speak first: he must wait until Sir Christopher said something which might lead on to the cruel words that must be spoken.

At last the Baronet mastered himself enough to say, ‘I’m very weak, Maynard — God help me! I didn’t think anything would unman me in this way; but I’d built everything on that lad. Perhaps I’ve been wrong in not forgiving my sister. She lost one of her sons a little while ago. I’ve been too proud and obstinate.’

‘We can hardly learn humility and tenderness enough except by suffering,’ said Maynard; ‘and God sees we are in need of suffering, for it is falling more and more heavily on us. We have a new trouble this morning.’

‘Tina?’ said Sir Christopher, looking up anxiously —‘is Tina ill?’

‘I am in dreadful uncertainty about her. She was very much agitated yesterday — and with her delicate health — I am afraid to think what turn the agitation may have taken.’

‘Is she delirious, poor dear little one?’

‘God only knows how she is. We are unable to find her. When Mrs. Sharp went up to her room this morning, it was empty. She had not been in bed. Her hat and cloak were gone. I have had search made for her everywhere — in the house and garden, in the park, and — in the water. No one has seen her since Martha went up to light her fire at seven o’clock in the evening.’

While Mr. Gilfil was speaking, Sir Christopher’s eyes, which were eagerly turned on him, recovered some of their old keenness, and some sudden painful emotion, as at a new thought, flitted rapidly across his already agitated face, like the shadow of a dark cloud over the waves. When the pause came, he laid his hand on Mr. Gilfil’s arm, and said in a lower voice — ‘Maynard, did that poor thing love Anthony?’

‘She did.’

Maynard hesitated after these words, struggling between his reluctance to inflict a yet deeper wound on Sir Christopher, and his determination that no injustice should be done to Caterina. Sir Christopher’s eyes were still fixed on him in solemn inquiry, and his own sunk towards the ground, while he tried to find the words that would tell the truth least cruelly.

‘You must not have any wrong thoughts about Tina,’ he said at length. ‘I must tell you now, for her sake, what nothing but this should ever have caused to pass my lips. Captain Wybrow won her affections by attentions which, in his position, he was bound not to show her. Before his marriage was talked of, he had behaved to her like a lover.’

Sir Christopher relaxed his hold of Maynard’s arm, and looked away from him. He was silent for some minutes, evidently attempting to master himself, so as to be able to speak calmly.

‘I must see Henrietta immediately,’ he said at last, with something of his old sharp decision; ‘she must know all; but we must keep it from every one else as far as possible. My dear boy,’ he continued in a kinder tone, ‘the heaviest burthen has fallen on you. But we may find her yet; we must not despair: there has not been time enough for us to be certain. Poor dear little one! God help me! I thought I saw everything, and was stone-blind all the while.’

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