Mr. Gilfil's Love Story, by George Eliot

Chapter 19

The sad slow week was gone by at last. At the coroner’s inquest a verdict of sudden death had been pronounced. Dr Hart, acquainted with Captain Wybrow’s previous state of health, had given his opinion that death had been imminent from long-established disease of the heart, though it had probably been accelerated by some unusual emotion. Miss Assher was the only person who positively knew the motive that had led Captain Wybrow to the Rookery; but she had not mentioned Caterina’s name, and all painful details or inquiries were studiously kept from her. Mr. Gilfil and Sir Christopher, however, knew enough to conjecture that the fatal agitation was due to an appointed meeting with Caterina.

All search and inquiry after her had been fruitless, and were the more likely to be so because they were carried on under the prepossession that she had committed suicide. No one noticed the absence of the trifles she had taken from her desk; no one knew of the likeness, or that she had hoarded her seven-shilling pieces, and it was not remarkable that she should have happened to be wearing the pearl earrings. She had left the house, they thought, taking nothing with her; it seemed impossible she could have gone far; and she must have been in a state of mental excitement, that made it too probable she had only gone to seek relief in death. The same places within three or four miles of the Manor were searched again and again — every pond, every ditch in the neighbourhood was examined.

Sometimes Maynard thought that death might have come on unsought, from cold and exhaustion; and not a day passed but he wandered through the neighbouring woods, turning up the heaps of dead leaves, as if it were possible her dear body could be hidden there. Then another horrible thought recurred, and before each night came he had been again through all the uninhabited rooms of the house, to satisfy himself once more that she was not hidden behind some cabinet, or door, or curtain — that he should not find her there with madness in her eyes, looking and looking, and yet not seeing him.

But at last those five long days and nights were at an end, the funeral was over, and the carriages were returning through the park. When they had set out, a heavy rain was falling; but now the clouds were breaking up, and a gleam of sunshine was sparkling among the dripping boughs under which they were passing. This gleam fell upon a man on horseback who was jogging slowly along, and whom Mr. Gilfil recognized, in spite of diminished rotundity, as Daniel Knott, the coachman who had married the rosy-cheeked Dorcas ten years before.

Every new incident suggested the same thought to Mr. Gilfil; and his eye no sooner fell on Knott than he said to himself ‘Can he be come to tell us anything about Caterina?’ Then he remembered that Caterina had been very fond of Dorcas, and that she always had some present ready to send her when Knott paid an occasional visit to the Manor. Could Tina have gone to Dorcas? But his heart sank again as he thought, very likely Knott had only come because he had heard of Captain Wybrow’s death, and wanted to know how his old master had borne the blow.

As soon as the carriage reached the house, he went up to his study and walked about nervously, longing, but afraid, to go down and speak to Knott, lest his faint hope should be dissipated. Any one looking at that face, usually so full of calm goodwill, would have seen that the last week’s suffering had left deep traces. By day he had been riding or wandering incessantly, either searching for Caterina himself, or directing inquiries to be made by others. By night he had not known sleep — only intermittent dozing, in which he seemed to be finding Caterina dead, and woke up with a start from this unreal agony to the real anguish of believing that he should see her no more. The clear grey eyes looked sunken and restless, the full careless lips had a strange tension about them, and the brow, formerly so smooth and open, was contracted as if with pain. He had not lost the object of a few months’ passion; he had lost the being who was bound up with his power of loving, as the brook we played by or the flowers we gathered in childhood are bound up with our sense of beauty. Love meant nothing for him but to love Caterina. For years, the thought of her had been present in everything, like the air and the light; and now she was gone, it seemed as if all pleasure had lost its vehicle: the sky, the earth, the daily ride, the daily talk might be there, but the loveliness and the joy that were in them had gone for ever.

Presently, as he still paced backwards and forwards, he heard steps along the corridor, and there was a knock at his door. His voice trembled as he said ‘Come in’, and the rush of renewed hope was hardly distinguishable from pain when he saw Warren enter with Daniel Knott behind him.

‘Knott is come, sir, with news of Miss Sarti. I thought it best to bring him to you first.’

Mr. Gilfil could not help going up to the old coachman and wringing his hand; but he was unable to speak, and only motioned to him to take a chair, while Warren left the room. He hung upon Daniel’s moon-face, and listened to his small piping voice, with the same solemn yearning expectation with which he would have given ear to the most awful messenger from the land of shades.

‘It war Dorkis, sir, would hev me come; but we knowed nothin’ o’ what’s happened at the Manor. She’s frightened out on her wits about Miss Sarti, an’ she would hev me saddle Blackbird this mornin’, an’ leave the ploughin’, to come an’ let Sir Christifer an’ my lady know. P’raps you’ve heared, sir, we don’t keep the Cross Keys at Sloppeter now; a uncle o’ mine died three ‘ear ago, an’ left me a leggicy. He was bailiff to Squire Ramble, as hed them there big farms on his hans; an’ so we took a little farm o’ forty acres or thereabouts, becos Dorkis didn’t like the public when she got moithered wi’ children. As pritty a place as iver you see, sir, wi’ water at the back convenent for the cattle.’

‘For God’s sake,’ said Maynard, ‘tell me what it is about Miss Sarti. Don’t stay to tell me anything else now.’

‘Well, sir,’ said Knott, rather frightened by the parson’s vehemence, ‘she come t’ our house i’ the carrier’s cart o’ Wednesday, when it was welly nine o’clock at night; and Dorkis run out, for she heared the cart stop, an’ Miss Sarti throwed her arms roun’ Dorkis’s neck an’ says, “Tek me in, Dorkis, tek me in,” an’ went off into a swoond, like. An’ Dorkis calls out to me — “Dannel,” she calls — an’ I run out and carried the young miss in, an’ she come roun’ arter a hit, an’ opened her eyes, and Dorkis got her to drink a spoonful o’ rum-an’-water — we’ve got some capital rum as we brought from the Cross Keys, and Dorkis won’t let nobody drink it. She says she keeps it for sickness; but for my part, I think it’s a pity to drink good rum when your mouth’s out o’ taste; you may just as well hev doctor’s stuff. However, Dorkis got her to bed, an’ there she’s lay iver sin’, stoopid like, an’ niver speaks, an’ on’y teks little bits an’ sups when Dorkis coaxes her. An’ we begun to be frightened, and couldn’t think what had made her come away from the Manor, and Dorkis was afeared there was summat wrong. So this mornin’ she could hold no longer, an’ would hev no nay but I must come an’ see; an’ so I’ve rode twenty mile upo’ Blackbird, as thinks all the while he’s a-ploughin’, an’ turns sharp roun’, every thirty yards, as if he was at the end of a furrow. I’ve hed a sore time wi’ him, I can tell you, sir.’

‘God bless you, Knott, for coming!’ said Mr. Gilfil, wringing the old coachman’s hand again. ‘Now go down and have something and rest yourself. You will stay here to-night, and by-and-by I shall come to you to learn the nearest way to your house. I shall get ready to ride there immediately, when I have spoken to Sir Christopher.’

In an hour from that time Mr. Gilfil was galloping on a stout mare towards the little muddy village of Callam, five miles beyond Sloppeter. Once more he saw some gladness in the afternoon sunlight; once more it was a pleasure to see the hedgerow trees flying past him, and to be conscious of a ‘good seat’ while his black Kitty bounded beneath him, and the air whistled to the rhythm of her pace. Caterina was not dead; he had found her; his love and tenderness and long-suffering seemed so strong, they must recall her to life and happiness.

After that week of despair, the rebound was so violent that it carried his hopes at once as far as the utmost mark they had ever reached. Caterina would come to love him at last; she would be his. They had been carried through all that dark and weary way that she might know the depth of his love. How he would cherish her — his little bird with the timid bright eye, and the sweet throat that trembled with love and music! She would nestle against him, and the poor little breast which had been so ruffled and bruised should be safe for evermore. In the love of a brave and faithful man there is always a strain of maternal tenderness; he gives out again those beams of protecting fondness which were shed on him as he lay on his mother’s knee. It was twilight as he entered the village of Callam, and, asking a homeward-bound labourer the way to Daniel Knott’s, learned that it was by the church, which showed its stumpy ivy-clad spire on a slight elevation of ground; a useful addition to the means of identifying that desirable homestead afforded by Daniel’s description —‘the prittiest place iver you see’— though a small cow-yard full of excellent manure, and leading right up to the door, without any frivolous interruption from garden or railing, might perhaps have been enough to make that description unmistakably specific.

Mr. Gilfil had no sooner reached the gate leading into the cow-yard, than he was descried by a flaxen-haired lad of nine, prematurely invested with the toga virilis, or smock-frock, who ran forward to let in the unusual visitor. In a moment Dorcas was at the door, the roses on her cheeks apparently all the redder for the three pair of cheeks which formed a group round her, and for the very fat baby who stared in her arms, and sucked a long crust with calm relish.

‘Is it Mr. Gilfil, sir?’ said Dorcas, curtsying low as he made his way through the damp straw, after tying up his horse.

‘Yes, Dorcas; I’m grown out of your knowledge. How is Miss Sarti?’

‘Just for all the world the same, sir, as I suppose Dannel’s told you; for I reckon you’ve come from the Manor, though you’re come uncommon quick, to be sure.’

‘Yes, he got to the Manor about one o’clock, and I set off as soon as I could. She’s not worse, is she?’

‘No change, sir, for better or wuss. Will you please to walk in, sir? She lies there takin’ no notice o’ nothin’, no more nor a baby as is on’y a week old, an’ looks at me as blank as if she didn’t know me. O what can it be, Mr. Gilfil? How come she to leave the Manor? How’s his honour an’ my lady?’

‘In great trouble, Dorcas. Captain Wybrow, Sir Christopher’s nephew, you know, has died suddenly. Miss Sarti found him lying dead, and I think the shock has affected her mind.’

‘Eh, dear! that fine young gentlemen as was to be th’ heir, as Dannel told me about. I remember seein’ him when he was a little un, a-visitin’ at the Manor. Well-a-day, what a grief to his honour and my lady. But that poor Miss Tina — an’ she found him a-lyin’ dead? O dear, O dear!’

Dorcas had led the way into the best kitchen, as charming a room as best kitchens used to be in farmhouses which had no parlours — the fire reflected in a bright row of pewter plates and dishes; the sand-scoured deal tables so clean you longed to stroke them; the salt-coffer in one chimney-corner, and a three-cornered chair in the other, the walls behind handsomely tapestried with flitches of bacon, and the ceiling ornamented with pendent hams.

‘Sit ye down, sir — do,’ said Dorcas, moving the three-cornered chair, ‘an’ let me get you somethin’ after your long journey. Here, Becky, come an’ tek the baby.’

Becky, a red-armed damsel, emerged from the adjoining back-kitchen, and possessed herself of baby, whose feelings or fat made him conveniently apathetic under the transference.

‘What’ll you please to tek, sir, as I can give you? I’ll get you a rasher o’ bacon i’ no time, an’ I’ve got some tea, or be-like you’d tek a glass o’ rum-an’-water. I know we’ve got nothin’ as you’re used t’ eat and drink; but such as I hev, sir, I shall be proud to give you.’

‘Thank you, Dorcas; I can’t eat or drink anything. I’m not hungry or tired. Let us talk about Tina. Has she spoken at all?’

‘Niver since the fust words. “Dear Dorkis,” says she, “tek me in;” an’ then went off into a faint, an’ not a word has she spoken since. I get her t’ eat little bits an’ sups o’ things, but she teks no notice o’ nothin’. I’ve took up Bessie wi’ me now an’ then’— here Dorcas lifted to her lap a curly-headed little girl of three, who was twisting a corner of her mother’s apron, and opening round eyes at the gentleman —‘folks’ll tek notice o’ children sometimes when they won’t o’ nothin’ else. An’ we gathered the autumn crocuses out o’ th’ orchard, and Bessie carried ’em up in her hand, an’ put ’em on the bed. I knowed how fond Miss Tina was o’ flowers an’ them things, when she was a little un. But she looked at Bessie an’ the flowers just the same as if she didn’t see ’em. It cuts me to th’ heart to look at them eyes o’ hers; I think they’re bigger nor iver, an’ they look like my poor baby’s as died, when it got so thin — O dear, its little hands you could see thro’ ’em. But I’ve great hopes if she was to see you, sir, as come from the Manor, it might bring back her mind, like.’

Maynard had that hope too, but he felt cold mists of fear gathering round him after the few bright warm hours of joyful confidence which had passed since he first heard that Caterina was alive. The thought would urge itself upon him that her mind and body might never recover the strain that had been put upon them — that her delicate thread of life had already nearly spun itself out.

‘Go now, Dorcas, and see how she is, but don’t say anything about my being here. Perhaps it would be better for me to wait till daylight before I see her, and yet it would be very hard to pass another night in this way.’

Dorcas set down little Bessie, and went away. The three other children, including young Daniel in his smock-frock, were standing opposite to Mr. Gilfil, watching him still more shyly now they were without their mother’s countenance. He drew little Bessie towards him, and set her on his knee. She shook her yellow curls out of her eyes, and looked up at him as she said — ‘Zoo tome to tee ze yady? Zoo mek her peak? What zoo do to her? Tiss her?’

‘Do you like to be kissed, Bessie?’

‘Det,’ said Bessie, immediately ducking down her head very low, in resistance to the expected rejoinder.

‘We’ve got two pups,’ said young Daniel, emboldened by observing the gentleman’s amenities towards Bessie. ‘Shall I show ’em yer? One’s got white spots.’

‘Yes, let me see them.’

Daniel ran out, and presently reappeared with two blind puppies, eagerly followed by the mother, affectionate though mongrel, and an exciting scene was beginning when Dorcas returned and said — ‘There’s niver any difference in her hardly. I think you needn’t wait, sir. She lies very still, as she al’ys does. I’ve put two candle i’ the room, so as she may see you well. You’ll please t’ excuse the room, sir, an’ the cap as she has on; it’s one o’ mine.’

Mr. Gilfil nodded silently, and rose to follow her up-stairs. They turned in at the first door, their footsteps making little noise on the plaster floor. The red-checkered linen curtains were drawn at the head of the bed, and Dorcas had placed the candles on this side of the room, so that the light might not fall oppressively on Caterina’s eyes. When she had opened the door, Dorcas whispered, ‘I’d better leave you, sir, I think?’

Mr. Gilfil motioned assent, and advanced beyond the curtain. Caterina lay with her eyes turned the other way, and seemed unconscious that any one had entered. Her eyes, as Dorcas had said, looked larger than ever, perhaps because her face was thinner and paler, and her hair quite gathered away under one of Dorcas’s thick caps. The small hands, too, that lay listlessly on the outside of the bed-clothes were thinner than ever. She looked younger than she really was, and any one seeing the tiny face and hands for the first time might have thought they belonged to a little girl of twelve, who was being taken away from coming instead of past sorrow.

When Mr. Gilfil advanced and stood opposite to her, the light fell full upon his face. A slight startled expression came over Caterina’s eyes; she looked at him earnestly for a few moments, then lifted up her hand as if to beckon him to stoop down towards her, and whispered ‘Maynard!’

He seated himself on the bed, and stooped down towards her. She whispered again —‘Maynard, did you see the dagger?’

He followed his first impulse in answering her, and it was a wise one.

‘Yes,’ he whispered, ‘I found it in your pocket, and put it back again in the cabinet.’

He took her hand in his and held it gently, awaiting what she would say next. His heart swelled so with thankfulness that she had recognized him, he could hardly repress a sob. Gradually her eyes became softer and less intense in their gaze. The tears were slowly gathering, and presently some large hot drops rolled down her cheek. Then the flood-gates were opened, and the heart-easing stream gushed forth; deep sobs came; and for nearly an hour she lay without speaking, while the heavy icy pressure that withheld her misery from utterance was thus melting away. How precious these tears were to Maynard, who day after day had been shuddering at the continually recurring image of Tina with the dry scorching stare of insanity!

By degrees the sobs subsided, she began to breathe calmly, and lay quiet with her eyes shut. Patiently Maynard sat, not heeding the flight of the hours, not heeding the old clock that ticked loudly on the landing. But when it was nearly ten, Dorcas, impatiently anxious to know the result of Mr. Gilfil’s appearance, could not help stepping in on tip-toe. Without moving, he whispered in her ear to supply him with candles, see that the cow-boy had shaken down his mare, and go to bed — he would watch with Caterina — a great change had come over her.

Before long, Tina’s lips began to move. ‘Maynard,’ she whispered again. He leaned towards her, and she went on.

‘You know how wicked I am, then? You know what I meant to do with the dagger?’

‘Did you mean to kill yourself, Tina?’

She shook her head slowly, and then was silent for a long while. At last, looking at him with solemn eyes, she whispered, ‘To kill him.’

‘Tina, my loved one, you would never have done it. God saw your whole heart; He knows you would never harm a living thing. He watches over His children, and will not let them do things they would pray with their whole hearts not to do. It was the angry thought of a moment, and He forgives you.’

She sank into silence again till it was nearly midnight. The weary enfeebled spirit seemed to be making its slow way with difficulty through the windings of thought; and when she began to whisper again, it was in reply to Maynard’s words.

‘But I had had such wicked feelings for a long while. I was so angry, and I hated Miss Assher so, and I didn’t care what came to anybody, because I was so miserable myself. I was full of bad passions. No one else was ever so wicked.’

‘Yes, Tina, many are just as wicked. I often have very wicked feelings, and am tempted to do wrong things; but then my body is stronger than yours, and I can hide my feelings and resist them better. They do not master me so. You have seen the little birds when they are very young and just begin to fly, how all their feathers are ruffled when they are frightened or angry; they have no power over themselves left, and might fall into a pit from mere fright. You were like one of those little birds. Your sorrow and suffering had taken such hold of you, you hardly knew what you did.’

He would not speak long. Lest he should tire her, and oppress her with too many thoughts. Long pauses seemed needful for her before she could concentrate her feelings in short words.

‘But when I meant to do it,’ was the next thing she whispered, ‘it was as bad as if I had done it.’

‘No, my Tina,’ answered Maynard slowly, waiting a little between each sentence; ‘we mean to do wicked things that we never could do, just as we mean to do good or clever things that we never could do. Our thoughts are often worse than we are, just as they are often better than we are. And God sees us as we are altogether, not in separate feelings or actions, as our fellow-men see us. We are always doing each other injustice, and thinking better or worse of each other than we deserve, because we only hear and see separate words and actions. We don’t see each other’s whole nature. But God sees that you could not have committed that crime.’

Caterina shook her head slowly, and was silent. After a while — ‘I don’t know,’ she said; ‘I seemed to see him coming towards me, just as he would really have looked, and I meant — I meant to do it.’

‘But when you saw him — tell me how it was, Tina?’

‘I saw him lying on the ground and thought he was ill. I don’t know how it was then; I forgot everything. I knelt down and spoke to him, and — and he took no notice of me, and his eyes were fixed, and I began to think he was dead.’

‘And you have never felt angry since?’

‘O no, no; it is I who have been more wicked than any one; it is I who have been wrong all through.’

‘No, Tina; the fault has not all been yours; he was wrong; he gave you provocation. And wrong makes wrong. When people use us ill, we can hardly help having ill feeling towards them. But that second wrong is more excusable. I am more sinful than you, Tina; I have often had very bad feelings towards Captain Wybrow; and if he had provoked me as he did you, I should perhaps have done something more wicked.’

‘O, it was not so wrong in him; he didn’t know how he hurt me. How was it likely he could love me as I loved him? And how could he marry a poor little thing like me?’

Maynard made no reply to this, and there was again silence, till Tina said, ‘Then I was so deceitful; they didn’t know how wicked I was. Padroncello didn’t know; his good little monkey he used to call me; and if he had known, O how naughty he would have thought me!’

‘My Tina, we have all our secret sins; and if we knew ourselves, we should not judge each other harshly. Sir Christopher himself has felt, since this trouble came upon him, that he has been too severe and obstinate.’

In this way — in these broken confessions and answering words of comfort — the hours wore on, from the deep black night to the chill early twilight, and from early twilight to the first yellow streak of morning parting the purple cloud. Mr. Gilfil felt as if in the long hours of that night the bond that united his love for ever and alone to Caterina had acquired fresh strength and sanctity. It is so with the human relations that rest on the deep emotional sympathy of affection: every new day and night of joy or sorrow is a new ground, a new consecration, for the love that is nourished by memories as well as hopes — the love to which perpetual repetition is not a weariness but a want, and to which a separated joy is the beginning of pain.

The cocks began to crow; the gate swung; there was a tramp of footsteps in the yard, and Mr. Gilfil heard Dorcas stirring. These sounds seemed to affect Caterina, for she looked anxiously at him and said, ‘Maynard, are you going away?’

‘No, I shall stay here at Callam until you are better, and then you will go away too.’

‘Never to the Manor again, O no! I shall live poorly, and get my own bread.’

‘Well, dearest, you shall do what you would like best. But I wish you could go to sleep now. Try to rest quietly, and by-and-by you will perhaps sit up a little. God has kept you in life in spite of all this sorrow; it will be sinful not to try and make the best of His gift. Dear Tina, you will try; — and little Bessie brought you some crocuses once, you didn’t notice the poor little thing; but you will notice her when she comes again, will you not?’

‘I will try,’ whispered Tina humbly, and then closed her eyes.

By the time the sun was above the horizon, scattering the clouds, and shining with pleasant morning warmth through the little leaded window, Caterina was asleep. Maynard gently loosed the tiny hand, cheered Dorcas with the good news, and made his way to the village inn, with a thankful heart that Tina had been so far herself again. Evidently the sight of him had blended naturally with the memories in which her mind was absorbed, and she had been led on to an unburthening of herself that might be the beginning of a complete restoration. But her body was so enfeebled — her soul so bruised — that the utmost tenderness and care would be necessary. The next thing to be done was to send tidings to Sir Christopher and Lady Cheverel; then to write and summon his sister, under whose care he had determined to place Caterina. The Manor, even if she had been wishing to return thither, would, he knew, be the most undesirable home for her at present: every scene, every object there, was associated with still unallayed anguish. If she were domesticated for a time with his mild gentle sister, who had a peaceful home and a prattling little boy, Tina might attach herself anew to life, and recover, partly at least, the shock that had been given to her constitution. When he had written his letters and taken a hasty breakfast, he was soon in his saddle again, on his way to Sloppeter, where he would post them, and seek out a medical man, to whom he might confide the moral causes of Caterina’s enfeebled condition.

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