Mr. and Mrs. Otis are quick to notice Virginia’s absence and they instantly raise a cry of alarm when she can’t be found. A party of gypsies camping on the Canterville Chase grounds are immediately suspected, and Mr. Otis goes out on the hunt for them along with the Duke of Cheshire. They stop along the way, however, to buy the Duke a hat so that he’s properly outfitted for such an excursion (the Duke replies that he doesn’t want a hat; he wants Virginia). Washington is sent out as well with a larger search party.
The word gypsy carries a pejorative meaning that can be understood through this scene. The Romani people were and are nomadic, travelling across the world without a homeland. As permanent outsiders, they have often been stigmatized and persecuted, and the easy association of them with kidnapping would have been typical in Wilde’s time and in many eras prior.
The searchers locate the gypsies, who have no knowledge whatsoever of Virginia but join in the hunt. Back at Canterville Chase, searchers drag the pond and scour the entire property to no avail. Exhausted, Mr. Otis orders everyone back home, where they eat a solemn meal together before retiring to bed. At the stroke of midnight, however, a loud crash resounds throughout the house and Virginia appears at the top of the staircase holding a small ornamental casket. She tells her father that the casket contains beautiful jewels given to her by the ghost of Sir Simon before he passed on. Then she bids the entire family to come and see Sir Simon’s secret chamber, where his brothers-in-law starved him to death.
Calling off the search for Virginia in order to eat a familial meal around the table—or procure a hat—seems bizarre. One should take care not to assign this entirely to the tale’s decorum-obsessed day and age, however. When Lady Dedlock disappears in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, the need to attend to such customs disappears altogether. This abandonment of the proper way of doing things creates a moment of uniquely high drama. Wilde eschews this. Doing so lends a comic note, certainly, but it also should make the reader pause.
The Otis family follow Virginia to the room, where they find a skeleton chained to the wall. Just out of its reach are a jug of water and a plate of food that has turned, long ago, to dust. God, Virginia declares solemnly, has forgiven Sir Simon and allowed him to rest at last. The twins confirm this when they notice the almond tree blooming.