Meanwhile Mr. Gilfil, who had a heavy weight on his mind, had watched for the moment when, the two elder ladies having driven out, Caterina would probably be alone in Lady Cheverel’s sitting-room. He went up and knocked at the door.
‘Come in,’ said the sweet mellow voice, always thrilling to him as the sound of rippling water to the thirsty.
He entered and found Caterina standing in some confusion as if she had been startled from a reverie. She felt relieved when she saw it was Maynard, but, the next moment, felt a little pettish that he should have come to interrupt and frighten her.
‘Oh, it is you, Maynard! Do you want Lady Cheverel?’
‘No, Caterina,’ he answered gravely; ‘I want you. I have something very particular to say to you. Will you let me sit down with you for half an hour?’
‘Yes, dear old preacher,’ said Caterina, sitting down with an air of weariness; ‘what is it?’
Mr. Gilfil placed himself opposite to her, and said, ‘I hope you will not be hurt, Caterina, by what I am going to say to you. I do not speak from any other feelings than real affection and anxiety for you. I put everything else out of the question. You know you are more to me than all the world; but I will not thrust before you a feeling which you are unable to return. I speak to you as a brother — the old Maynard that used to scold you for getting your fishing-line tangled ten years ago. You will not believe that I have any mean, selfish motive in mentioning things that are painful to you?’
‘No; I know you are very good,’ said Caterina, abstractedly.
‘From what I saw yesterday evening,’ Mr. Gilfil went on, hesitating and colouring slightly, ‘I am led to fear — pray forgive me if I am wrong, Caterina — that you — that Captain Wybrow is base enough still to trifle with your feelings, that he still allows himself to behave to you as no man ought who is the declared lover of another woman.’
‘What do you mean, Maynard?’ said Caterina, with anger flashing from her eyes. ‘Do you mean that I let him make love to me? What right have you to think that of me? What do you mean that you saw yesterday evening?’
‘Do not be angry, Caterina. I don’t suspect you of doing wrong. I only suspect that heartless puppy of behaving so as to keep awake feelings in you that not only destroy your own peace of mind, but may lead to very bad consequences with regard to others. I want to warn you that Miss Assher has her eyes open on what passes between you and Captain Wybrow, and I feel sure she is getting jealous of you. Pray be very careful, Caterina, and try to behave with politeness and indifference to him. You must see by this time that he is not worth the feeling you have given him. He’s more disturbed at his pulse beating one too many in a minute, than at all the misery he has caused you by his foolish tritling.’
‘You ought not to speak so of him, Maynard,’ said Caterina, passionately. ‘He is not what you think. He did care for me; he did love me; only he wanted to do what his uncle wished.’
‘O to be sure! I know it is only from the most virtuous motives that he does what is convenient to himself.’
Mr. Gilfil paused. He felt that he was getting irritated, and defeating his own object. Presently he continued in a calm and affectionate tone.
‘I will say no more about what I think of him, Caterina. But whether he loved you or not, his position now with Miss Assher is such that any love you may cherish for him can bring nothing but misery. God knows, I don’t expect you to leave off loving him at a moment’s notice. Time and absence, and trying to do what is right, are the only cures. If it were not that Sir Christopher and Lady Cheverel would be displeased and puzzled at your wishing to leave home just now, I would beg you to pay a visit to my sister. She and her husband are good creatures, and would make their house a home to you. But I could not urge the thing just now without giving a special reason; and what is most of all to be dreaded is the raising of any suspicion in Sir Christopher’s mind of what has happened in the past, or of your present feelings. You think so too, don’t you, Tina?’
Mr. Gilfil paused again, but Caterina said nothing. She was looking away from him, out of the window, and her eyes were filling with tears. He rose, and, advancing a little towards her, held out his hand and said, —‘Forgive me, Caterina, for intruding on your feelings in this way. I was so afraid you might not be aware how Miss Assher watched you. Remember, I entreat you, that the peace of the whole family depends on your power of governing yourself. Only say you forgive me before I go.’
‘Dear, good Maynard,’ she said, stretching out her little hand, and taking two of his large fingers in her grasp, while her tears flowed fast; ‘I am very cross to you. But my heart is breaking. I don’t know what I do. Good-bye.’
He stooped down, kissed the little hand, and then left the room.
‘The cursed scoundrel!’ he muttered between his teeth, as he closed the door behind him. ‘If it were not for Sir Christopher, I should like to pound him into paste to poison puppies like himself.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50