Mr. Gilfil's Love Story, by George Eliot

Chapter 6

The next morning, when Caterina was waked from her heavy sleep by Martha bringing in the warm water, the sun was shining, the wind had abated, and those hours of suffering in the night seemed unreal and dreamlike, in spite of weary limbs and aching eyes. She got up and began to dress with a strange feeling of insensibility, as if nothing could make her cry again; and she even felt a sort of longing to be down-stairs in the midst of company, that she might get rid of this benumbed condition by contact.

There are few of us that are not rather ashamed of our sins and follies as we look out on the blessed morning sunlight, which comes to us like a bright-winged angel beckoning us to quit the old path of vanity that stretches its dreary length behind us; and Tina, little as she knew about doctrines and theories, seemed to herself to have been both foolish and wicked yesterday. Today she would try to be good; and when she knelt down to say her short prayer — the very form she had learned by heart when she was ten years old — she added, ‘O God, help me to bear it!’

That day the prayer seemed to be answered, for after some remarks on her pale looks at breakfast, Caterina passed the morning quietly, Miss Assher and Captain Wybrow being out on a riding excursion. In the evening there was a dinner-party, and after Caterina had sung a little, Lady Cheverel remembering that she was ailing, sent her to bed, where she soon sank into a deep sleep. Body and mind must renew their force to suffer as well as to enjoy.

On the morrow, however, it was rainy, and every one must stay indoors; so it was resolved that the guests should be taken over the house by Sir Christopher, to hear the story of the architectural alterations, the family portraits, and the family relics. All the party, except Mr. Gilfil, were in the drawing-room when the proposition was made; and when Miss Assher rose to go, she looked towards Captain Wybrow, expecting to see him rise too; but he kept his seat near the fire, turning his eyes towards the newspaper which he had been holding unread in his hand.

‘Are you not coming, Anthony?’ said Lady Cheverel, noticing Miss Assher’s look of expectation.

‘I think not, if you’ll excuse me,’ he answered, rising and opening the door; ‘I feel a little chilled this morning, and I am afraid of the cold rooms and draughts.’

Miss Assher reddened, but said nothing, and passed on, Lady Cheverel accompanying her.

Caterina was seated at work in the oriel window. It was the first time she and Anthony had been alone together, and she had thought before that he wished to avoid her. But now, surely, he wanted to speak to her — he wanted to say something kind. Presently he rose from his seat near the fire, and placed himself on the ottoman opposite to her.

‘Well, Tina, and how have you been all this long time?’ Both the tone and the words were an offence to her; the tone was so different from the old one, the words were so cold and unmeaning. She answered, with a little bitterness — ‘I think you needn’t ask. It doesn’t make much difference to you.’

‘Is that the kindest thing you have to say to me after my long absence?’

‘I don’t know why you should expect me to say kind things.’

Captain Wybrow was silent. He wished very much to avoid allusions to the past or comments on the present. And yet he wished to be well with Caterina. He would have liked to caress her, make her presents, and have her think him very kind to her. But these women are plaguy perverse! There’s no bringing them to look rationally at anything. At last he said, ‘I hoped you would think all the better of me, Tina, for doing as I have done, instead of bearing malice towards me. I hoped you would see that it is the best thing for every one — the best for your happiness too.’

‘O pray don’t make love to Miss Assher for the sake of my happiness,’ answered Tina.

At this moment the door opened, and Miss Assher entered, to fetch her reticule, which lay on the harpsichord. She gave a keen glance at Caterina, whose face was flushed, and saying to Captain Wybrow with a slight sneer, ‘Since you are so chill I wonder you like to sit in the window,’ left the room again immediately.

The lover did not appear much discomposed, but sat quiet a little longer, and then, seating himself on the music-stool, drew it near to Caterina, and, taking her hand, said, ‘Come, Tina, look kindly at me, and let us be friends. I shall always be your friend.’

‘Thank you,’ said Caterina, drawing away her hand. ‘You are very generous. But pray move away. Miss Assher may come in again.’

‘Miss Assher be hanged!’ said Anthony, feeling the fascination of old habit returning on him in his proximity to Caterina. He put his arm round her waist, and leaned his cheek down to hers. The lips couldn’t help meeting after that; but the next moment, with heart swelling and tears rising, Caterina burst away from him, and rushed out of the room.

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