Part 10 out of 16
but me. Others that made friends with him always left him."
"Keep to what you feel right, my dear child," said Mrs. Meyrick. "_I_
would not persuade you to the contrary." For her own part she had no
patience or pity for that father, and would have left him to his crying.
Deronda was saying to himself, "I am rather base to be angry with Hans.
How can he help being in love with her? But it is too absurdly
presumptuous for him even to frame the idea of appropriating her, and a
sort of blasphemy to suppose that she could possibly give herself to him."
What would it be for Daniel Deronda to entertain such thoughts? He was not
one who could quite naively introduce himself where he had just excluded
his friend, yet it was undeniable that what had just happened made a new
stage in his feeling toward Mirah. But apart from other grounds for self-
repression, reasons both definite and vague made him shut away that
question as he might have shut up a half-opened writing that would have
carried his imagination too far, and given too much shape to
presentiments. Might there not come a disclosure which would hold the
missing determination of his course? What did he really know about his
origin? Strangely in these latter months when it seemed right that he
should exert his will in the choice of a destination, the passion of his
nature had got more and more locked by this uncertainty. The disclosure
might bring its pain, indeed the likelihood seemed to him to be all on
that side; but if it helped him to make his life a sequence which would
take the form of duty--if it saved him from having to make an arbitrary
selection where he felt no preponderance of desire? Still more, he wanted
to escape standing as a critic outside the activities of men, stiffened
into the ridiculous attitude of self-assigned superiority. His chief
tether was his early inwrought affection for Sir Hugo, making him
gratefully deferential to wishes with which he had little agreement: but
gratitude had been sometimes disturbed by doubts which were near reducing
it to a fear of being ungrateful. Many of us complain that half our
birthright is sharp duty: Deronda was more inclined to complain that he
was robbed of this half; yet he accused himself, as he would have accused
another, of being weakly self-conscious and wanting in resolve. He was the
reverse of that type painted for us in Faulconbridge and Edmund of
Gloster, whose coarse ambition for personal success is inflamed by a
defiance of accidental disadvantages. To Daniel the words Father and
Mother had the altar-fire in them; and the thought of all closest
relations of our nature held still something of the mystic power which had
made his neck and ears burn in boyhood. The average man may regard this
sensibility on the question of birth as preposterous and hardly credible;
but with the utmost respect for his knowledge as the rock from which all
other knowledge is hewn, it must be admitted that many well-proved facts
are dark to the average man, even concerning the action of his own heart
and the structure of his own retina. A century ago he and all his
forefathers had not had the slightest notion of that electric discharge by
means of which they had all wagged their tongues mistakenly; any more than
they were awake to the secluded anguish of exceptional sensitiveness into
which many a carelessly-begotten child of man is born.
Perhaps the ferment was all the stronger in Deronda's mind because he had
never had a confidant to whom he could open himself on these delicate
subjects. He had always been leaned on instead of being invited to lean.
Sometimes he had longed for the sort of friend to whom he might possibly
unfold his experience: a young man like himself who sustained a private
grief and was not too confident about his own career; speculative enough
to understand every moral difficulty, yet socially susceptible, as he
himself was, and having every outward sign of equality either in bodily or
spiritual wrestling;--for he had found it impossible to reciprocate
confidences with one who looked up to him. But he had no expectation of
meeting the friend he imagined. Deronda's was not one of those
quiveringly-poised natures that lend themselves to second-sight.
There be who hold that the deeper tragedy were a Prometheus Bound not
_after_ but _before_ he had well got the celestial fire into
the _narthex_ whereby it might be conveyed to mortals: thrust by
the Kratos and Bia of instituted methods into a solitude of despised
ideas, fastened in throbbing helplessness by the fatal pressure of
poverty and disease--a solitude where many pass by, but none regard.
"Second-sight" is a flag over disputed ground. But it is matter of
knowledge that there are persons whose yearnings, conceptions--nay,
traveled conclusions--continually take the form of images which have a
foreshadowing power; the deed they would do starts up before them in
complete shape, making a coercive type; the event they hunger for or dread
rises into vision with a seed-like growth, feeding itself fast on
unnumbered impressions. They are not always the less capable of the
argumentative process, nor less sane than the commonplace calculators of
the market: sometimes it may be that their natures have manifold openings,
like the hundred-gated Thebes, where there may naturally be a greater and
more miscellaneous inrush than through a narrow beadle-watched portal. No
doubt there are abject specimens of the visionary, as there is a minim
mammal which you might imprison in the finger of your glove. That small
relative of the elephant has no harm in him; but what great mental or
social type is free from specimens whose insignificance is both ugly and
noxious? One is afraid to think of all that the genus "patriot" embraces;
or of the elbowing there might be at the day of judgment for those who
ranked as authors, and brought volumes either in their hands or on trucks.
This apology for inevitable kinship is meant to usher in some facts about
Mordecai, whose figure had bitten itself into Deronda's mind as a new
question which he felt an interest in getting answered. But the interest
was no more than a vaguely-expectant suspense: the consumptive-looking
Jew, apparently a fervid student of some kind, getting his crust by a
quiet handicraft, like Spinoza, fitted into none of Deronda's
It was otherwise with the effect of their meeting on Mordecai. For many
winters, while he had been conscious of an ebbing physical life, and as
widening spiritual loneliness, all his passionate desire had concentrated
itself in the yearning for some young ear into which he could pour his
mind as a testament, some soul kindred enough to accept the spiritual
product of his own brief, painful life, as a mission to be executed. It
was remarkable that the hopefulness which is often the beneficent illusion
of consumptive patients, was in Mordecai wholly diverted from the prospect
of bodily recovery and carried into the current of this yearning for
transmission. The yearning, which had panted upward from out of over-
whelming discouragements, had grown into a hope--the hope into a confident
belief, which, instead of being checked by the clear conception he had of
his hastening decline, took rather the intensity of expectant faith in a
prophecy which has only brief space to get fulfilled in.
Some years had now gone since he had first begun to measure men with a
keen glance, searching for a possibility which became more and more a
distinct conception. Such distinctness as it had at first was reached
chiefly by a method of contrast: he wanted to find a man who differed from
himself. Tracing reasons in that self for the rebuffs he had met with and
the hindrances that beset him, he imagined a man who would have all the
elements necessary for sympathy with him, but in an embodiment unlike his
own: he must be a Jew, intellectually cultured, morally fervid--in all
this a nature ready to be plenished from Mordecai's; but his face and
frame must be beautiful and strong, he must have been used to all the
refinements of social life, his voice must flow with a full and easy
current, his circumstances be free from sordid need: he must glorify the
possibilities of the Jew, not sit and wonder as Mordecai did, bearing the
stamp of his people amid the sign of poverty and waning breath. Sensitive
to physical characteristics, he had, both abroad and in England, looked
at pictures as well as men, and in a vacant hour he had sometimes lingered
in the National Gallery in search of paintings which might feed his
hopefulness with grave and noble types of the human form, such as might
well belong to men of his own race. But he returned in disappointment. The
instances are scattered but thinly over the galleries of Europe, in which
the fortune or selection even of the chief masters has given to art a face
at once young, grand, and beautiful, where, if there is any melancholy, it
is no feeble passivity, but enters into the foreshadowed capability of
Some observant persons may perhaps remember his emaciated figure, and dark
eyes deep in their sockets, as he stood in front of a picture that had
touched him either to new or habitual meditation: he commonly wore a cloth
cap with black fur round it, which no painter would have asked iim to take
off. But spectators would be likely to think of him as an odd-looking Jew
who probably got money out of pictures; and Mordecai, when he looked at
them, was perfectly aware of the impression he made. Experience had
rendered him morbidly alive to the effect of a man's poverty and other
physical disadvantages in cheapening his ideas, unless they are those of a
Peter the Hermit who has a tocsin for the rabble. But he was too sane and
generous to attribute his spiritual banishment solely to the excusable
prejudices of others; certain incapacities of his own had made the
sentence of exclusion; and hence it was that his imagination had
constructed another man who would be something more ample than the second
soul bestowed, according to the notion of the Cabbalists, to help out the
insufficient first--who would be a blooming human life, ready to
incorporate all that was worthiest in an existence whose visible, palpable
part was burning itself fast away. His inward need for the conception of
this expanded, prolonged self was reflected as an outward necessity. The
thoughts of his heart (that ancient phrase best shadows the truth) seemed
to him too precious, too closely interwoven with the growth of things not
to have a further destiny. And as the more beautiful, the stronger, the
more executive self took shape in his mind, he loved it beforehand with an
affection half identifying, half contemplative and grateful.
Mordecai's mind wrought so constantly in images, that his coherent trains
of thought often resembled the significant dreams attributed to sleepers
by waking persons in their most inventive moments: nay, they often
resembled genuine dreams in their way of breaking off the passage from the
known to the unknown. Thus, for a long while, he habitually thought of the
Being answering to his need as one distantly approaching or turning his
back toward him, darkly painted against a golden sky. The reason of the
golden sky lay in one of Mordecai's habits. He was keenly alive to some
poetic aspects of London; and a favorite resort of his, when strength and
leisure allowed, was to some of the bridges, especially about sunrise or
sunset. Even when he was bending over watch-wheels and trinkets, or seated
in a small upper room looking out on dingy bricks and dingy cracked
windows, his imagination spontaneously planted him on some spot where he
had a far-stretching scene; his thoughts went on in wide spaces; and
whenever he could, he tried to have in reality the influences of a large
sky. Leaning on the parapet of Blackfriar's Bridge, and gazing
meditatively, the breadth and calm of the river, with its long vista half
hazy, half luminous, the grand dim masses of tall forms of buildings which
were the signs of world-commerce, the oncoming of boats and barges from
the still distance into sound and color, entered into his mood and blent
themselves indistinguishably with his thinking, as a fine symphony to
which we can hardly be said to listen, makes a medium that bears up our
spiritual wings. Thus it happened that the figure representative of
Mordecai's longing was mentally seen darkened by the excess of light in
the aerial background. But in the inevitable progress of his imagination
toward fuller detail, he ceased to see the figure with its back toward
him. It began to advance, and a face became discernible; the words youth,
beauty, refinement, Jewish birth, noble gravity, turned into hardly
individual but typical form and color: gathered from his memory of faces
seen among the Jews of Holland and Bohemia, and from the paintings which
revived that memory. Reverently let it be said of this mature spiritual
need that it was akin to the boy's and girl's picturing of the future
beloved; but the stirrings of such young desire are feeble compared with
the passionate current of an ideal life straining to embody itself, made
intense by resistance to imminent dissolution. The visionary form became a
companion and auditor; keeping a place not only in the waking imagination,
but in those dreams of lighter slumber of which it is truest to say, "I
sleep, but my heart waketh"--when the disturbing trivial story of
yesterday is charged with the impassioned purpose of years.
Of late the urgency of irremediable time, measured by the gradual choking
of life, had turned Mordecai's trust into an agitated watch for the
fulfillment that must be at hand. Was the bell on the verge of tolling,
the sentence about to be executed? The deliverer's footstep must be near--
the deliverer who was to rescue Mordecai's spiritual travail from
oblivion, and give it an abiding-place in the best heritage of his people.
An insane exaggeration of his own value, even if his ideas had been as
true and precious as those of Columbus or Newton, many would have counted
this yearning, taking it as the sublimer part for a man to say, "If not I,
then another," and to hold cheap the meaning of his own life. But the
fuller nature desires to be an agent, to create, and not merely to look
on: strong love hungers to bless, and not merely to behold blessing. And
while there is warmth enough in the sun to feed an energetic life, there
will still be men to feel, "I am lord of this moment's change, and will
charge it with my soul."
But with that mingling of inconsequence which belongs to us all, and not
unhappily, since it saves us from many effects of mistake, Mordecai's
confidence in the friend to come did not suffice to make him passive, and
he tried expedients, pathetically humble, such as happened to be within
his reach, for communicating something of himself. It was now two years
since he had taken up his abode under Ezra Cohen's roof, where he was
regarded with much good-will as a compound of workman, dominie, vessel of
charity, inspired idiot, man of piety, and (if he were inquired into)
dangerous heretic. During that time little Jacob had advanced into
knickerbockers, and into that quickness of apprehension which has been
already made manifest in relation to hardware and exchange. He had also
advanced in attachment to Mordecai, regarding him as an inferior, but
liking him none the worse, and taking his helpful cleverness as he might
have taken the services of an enslaved Djinn. As for Mordecai, he had
given Jacob his first lessons, and his habitual tenderness easily turned
into the teacher's fatherhood. Though he was fully conscious of the
spiritual distance between the parents and himself, and would never have
attempted any communication to them from his peculiar world, the boy moved
him with that idealizing affection which merges the qualities of the
individual child in the glory of childhood and the possibilities of a long
future. And this feeling had drawn him on, at first without premeditation,
and afterward with conscious purpose, to a sort of outpouring in the ear
of the boy which might have seemed wild enough to any excellent man of
business who overheard it. But none overheard when Jacob went up to
Mordecai's room one day, for example, in which there was little work to be
done, or at an hour when the work was ended, and after a brief lesson in
English reading or in numeration, was induced to remain standing at his
teacher's knees, or chose to jump astride them, often to the patient
fatigue of the wasted limbs. The inducement was perhaps the mending of a
toy, or some little mechanical device in which Mordecai's well-practiced
finger-tips had an exceptional skill; and with the boy thus tethered, he
would begin to repeat a Hebrew poem of his own, into which years before he
had poured his first youthful ardors for that conception of a blended past
and future which was the mistress of his soul, telling Jacob to say the
words after him.
"The boy will get them engraved within him," thought Mordecai; "it is a
way of printing."
None readier than Jacob at this fascinating game of imitating
unintelligible words; and if no opposing diversion occurred he would
sometimes carry on his share in it as long as the teacher's breath would
last out. For Mordecai threw into each repetition the fervor befitting a
sacred occasion. In such instances, Jacob would show no other distraction
than reaching out and surveying the contents of his pockets; or drawing
down the skin of his cheeks to make his eyes look awful, and rolling his
head to complete the effect; or alternately handling his own nose and
Mordecai's as if to test the relation of their masses. Under all this the
fervid reciter would not pause, satisfied if the young organs of speech
would submit themselves. But most commonly a sudden impulse sent Jacob
leaping away into some antic or active amusement, when, instead of
following the recitation he would return upon the foregoing words most
ready to his tongue, and mouth or gabble, with a see-saw suited to the
action of his limbs, a verse on which Mordecai had spent some of his too
scanty heart's blood. Yet he waited with such patience as a prophet needs,
and began his strange printing again undiscouraged on the morrow, saying
"My words may rule him some day. Their meaning may flash out on him. It is
so with a nation--after many days."
Meanwhile Jacob's sense of power was increased and his time enlivened by a
store of magical articulation with which he made the baby crow, or drove
the large cat into a dark corner, or promised himself to frighten any
incidental Christian of his own years. One week he had unfortunately seen
a street mountebank, and this carried off his muscular imitativeness in
sad divergence from New Hebrew poetry, after the model of Jehuda ha-Levi.
Mordecai had arrived at a fresh passage in his poem; for as soon as Jacob
had got well used to one portion, he was led on to another, and a fresh
combination of sounds generally answered better in keeping him fast for a
few minutes. The consumptive voice, generally a strong high baritone, with
its variously mingling hoarseness, like a haze amidst illuminations, and
its occasional incipient gasp had more than the usual excitement, while it
gave forth Hebrew verses with a meaning something like this:--
"Away from me the garment of forgetfulness.
Withering the heart;
The oil and wine from presses of the Goyim,
Poisoned with scorn.
Solitude is on the sides of Mount Nebo,
In its heart a tomb:
There the buried ark and golden cherubim
Make hidden light:
There the solemn gaze unchanged,
The wings are spread unbroken:
Shut beneath in silent awful speech
The Law lies graven.
Solitude and darkness are my covering,
And my heart a tomb;
Smite and shatter it, O Gabriel!
Shatter it as the clay of the founder
Around the golden image."
In the absorbing enthusiasm with which Mordecai had intoned rather than
spoken this last invocation, he was unconscious that Jacob had ceased to
follow him and had started away from his knees; but pausing he saw, as by
a sudden flash, that the lad had thrown himself on his hands with his feet
in the air, mountebank fashion, and was picking up with his lips a bright
farthing which was a favorite among his pocket treasures. This might have
been reckoned among the tricks Mordecai was used to, but at this moment it
jarred him horribly, as if it had been a Satanic grin upon his prayer.
"Child! child!" he called out with a strange cry that startled Jacob to
his feet, and then he sank backward with a shudder, closing his eyes.
"What?" said Jacob, quickly. Then, not getting an immediate answer, he
pressed Mordecai's knees with a shaking movement, in order to rouse him.
Mordecai opened his eyes with a fierce expression in them, leaned forward,
grasped the little shoulders, and said in a quick, hoarse whisper--
"A curse is on your generation, child. They will open the mountain and
drag forth the golden wings and coin them into money, and the solemn faces
they will break up into ear-rings for wanton women! And they shall get
themselves a new name, but the angel of ignominy, with the fiery brand,
shall know them, and their heart shall be the tomb of dead desires that
turn their life to rottenness."
The aspect and action of Mordecai were so new and mysterious to Jacob--
they carried such a burden of obscure threat--it was as if the patient,
indulgent companion had turned into something unknown and terrific: the
sunken dark eyes and hoarse accents close to him, the thin grappling
fingers, shook Jacob's little frame into awe, and while Mordecai was
speaking he stood trembling with a sense that the house was tumbling in
and they were not going to have dinner any more. But when the terrible
speech had ended and the pinch was relaxed, the shock resolved itself into
tears; Jacob lifted up his small patriarchal countenance and wept aloud.
This sign of childish grief at once recalled Mordecai to his usual gentle
self: he was not able to speak again at present, but with a maternal
action he drew the curly head toward him and pressed it tenderly against
his breast. On this Jacob, feeling the danger well-nigh over, howled at
ease, beginning to imitate his own performance and improve upon it--a sort
of transition from impulse into art often observable. Indeed, the next day
he undertook to terrify Adelaide Rebekah in like manner, and succeeded
But Mordecai suffered a check which lasted long, from the consciousness of
a misapplied agitation; sane as well as excitable, he judged severely his
moments of aberration into futile eagerness, and felt discredited with
himself. All the more his mind was strained toward the discernment of that
friend to come, with whom he would have a calm certainty of fellowship and
It was just then that, in his usual midday guardianship of the old book-
shop, he was struck by the appearance of Deronda, and it is perhaps
comprehensible now why Mordecai's glance took on a sudden eager interest
as he looked at the new-comer: he saw a face and frame which seemed to him
to realize the long-conceived type. But the disclaimer of Jewish birth was
for the moment a backward thrust of double severity, the particular
disappointment tending to shake his confidence in the more indefinite
expectation. Nevertheless, when he found Deronda seated at the Cohens'
table, the disclaimer was for the moment nullified: the first impression
returned with added force, seeming to be guaranteed by this second meeting
under circumstance more peculiar than the former; and in asking Deronda if
he knew Hebrew, Mordecai was so possessed by the new inrush of belief,
that he had forgotten the absence of any other condition to the
fulfillment of his hopes. But the answering "No" struck them all down
again, and the frustration was more painful than before. After turning his
back on the visitor that Sabbath evening, Mordecai went through days of a
deep discouragement, like that of men on a doomed ship, who having
strained their eyes after a sail, and beheld it with rejoicing, behold it
never advance, and say, "Our sick eyes make it." But the long-contemplated
figure had come as an emotional sequence of Mordecai's firmest theoretic
convictions; it had been wrought from the imagery of his most passionate
life; and it inevitably reappeared--reappeared in a more specific self-
asserting form than ever. Deronda had that sort of resemblance to the
preconceived type which a finely individual bust or portrait has to the
more generalized copy left in our minds after a long interval: we renew
our memory with delight, but we hardly know with how much correction. And
now, his face met Mordecai's inward gaze as it had always belonged to the
awaited friend, raying out, moreover, some of that influence which belongs
to breathing flesh; till by-and-by it seemed that discouragement had
turned into a new obstinacy of resistance, and the ever-recurrent vision
had the force of an outward call to disregard counter-evidence, and keep
expectation awake. It was Deronda now who was seen in the often painful
night-watches, when we are all liable to be held with the clutch of a
single thought--whose figure, never with its back turned, was seen in
moments of soothed reverie or soothed dozing, painted on that golden sky
which was the doubly blessed symbol of advancing day and of approaching
Mordecai knew that the nameless stranger was to come and redeem his ring;
and, in spite of contrary chances, the wish to see him again was growing
into a belief that he should see him. In the January weeks, he felt an
increasing agitation of that subdued hidden quality which hinders nervous
people from any steady occupation on the eve of an anticipated change. He
could not go on with his printing of Hebrew on little Jacob's mind; or
with his attendance at a weekly club, which was another effort of the same
forlorn hope: something else was coming. The one thing he longed for was
to get as far as the river, which he could do but seldom and with
difficulty. He yearned with a poet's yearning for the wide sky, the far-
reaching vista of bridges, the tender and fluctuating lights on the water
which seems to breathe with a life that can shiver and mourn, be comforted
"Vor den Wissenden sich stellen
Sicher ist's in alien Fallen!
Wenn du lange dich gequalet
Weiss er gleich wo dir es fehlet;
Auch auf Beifall darfst du hoffen,
Denn er weiss wo du's getroffen,"
--GOETHE: _West-ostlicker Divan_.
Momentous things happened to Deronda the very evening of that visit to the
small house at Chelsea, when there was the discussion about Mirah's public
name. But for the family group there, what appeared to be the chief
sequence connected with it occurred two days afterward. About four o'clock
wheels paused before the door, and there came one of those knocks with an
accompanying ring which serve to magnify the sense of social existence in
a region where the most enlivening signals are usually those of the
muffin-man. All the girls were at home, and the two rooms were thrown
together to make space for Kate's drawing, as well as a great length of
embroidery which had taken the place of the satin cushions--a sort of
_piece de resistance_ in the courses of needlework, taken up by any clever
fingers that happened to be at liberty. It stretched across the front room
picturesquely enough, Mrs. Meyrick bending over it on one corner, Mab in
the middle, and Amy at the other end. Mirah, whose performances in point
of sewing were on the make-shift level of the tailor-bird's, her education
in that branch having been much neglected, was acting as reader to the
party, seated on a camp-stool; in which position she also served Kate as
model for a title-page vignette, symbolizing a fair public absorbed in the
successive volumes of the family tea-table. She was giving forth with
charming distinctness the delightful Essay of Elia, "The Praise of
Chimney-Sweeps," and all we're smiling over the "innocent blackness," when
the imposing knock and ring called their thoughts to loftier spheres, and
they looked up in wonderment.
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Meyrick; "can it be Lady Mallinger? Is there a grand
"No--only a hansom cab. It must be a gentleman."
"The Prime Minister, I should think," said Kate dryly. "Hans says the
greatest man in London may get into a hansom cab."
"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Mab. "Suppose it should be Lord Russell!"
The five bright faces were all looking amused when the old maid-servant
bringing in a card distractedly left the parlor-door open, and there was
seen bowing toward Mrs. Meyrick a figure quite unlike that of the
respected Premier--tall and physically impressive even in his kid and
kerseymere, with massive face, flamboyant hair, and gold spectacles: in
fact, as Mrs. Meyrick saw from the card, _Julius Klesmer_.
Even embarrassment could hardly have made the "little mother" awkward, but
quick in her perceptions she was at once aware of the situation, and felt
well satisfied that the great personage had come to Mirah instead of
requiring her to come to him; taking it as a sign of active interest. But
when he entered, the rooms shrank into closets, the cottage piano, Mab
thought, seemed a ridiculous toy, and the entire family existence as petty
and private as an establishment of mice in the Tuileries. Klesmer's
personality, especially his way of glancing round him, immediately
suggested vast areas and a multitudinous audience, and probably they made
the usual scenery of his consciousness, for we all of us carry on our
thinking in some habitual locus where there is a presence of other souls,
and those who take in a larger sweep than their neighbors are apt to seem
mightily vain and affected. Klesmer was vain, but not more so than many
contemporaries of heavy aspect, whose vanity leaps out and startles one
like a spear out of a walking-stick; as to his carriage and gestures,
these were as natural to him as the length of his fingers; and the rankest
affectation he could have shown would have been to look diffident and
demure. While his grandiose air was making Mab feel herself a ridiculous
toy to match the cottage piano, he was taking in the details around him
with a keen and thoroughly kind sensibility. He remembered a home no
longer than this on the outskirts of Bohemia; and in the figurative
Bohemia too he had had large acquaintance with the variety and romance
which belong to small incomes. He addressed Mrs. Meyrick with the utmost
"I hope I have not taken too great a freedom. Being in the neighborhood, I
ventured to save time by calling. Our friend, Mr. Deronda, mentioned to me
an understanding that I was to have the honor of becoming acquainted with
a young lady here--Miss Lapidoth."
"Klesmer had really discerned Mirah in the first moment of entering, but,
with subtle politeness, he looked round bowingly at the three sisters as
if he were uncertain which was the young lady in question.
"Those are my daughters: this is Miss Lapidoth," said Mrs. Meyrick, waving
her hand toward Mirah.
"Ah," said Klesmer, in a tone of gratified expectation, turning a radiant
smile and deep bow to Mirah, who, instead of being in the least taken by
surprise, had a calm pleasure in her face. She liked the look of Klesmer,
feeling sure that he would scold her, like a great musician and a kind
"You will not object to beginning our acquaintance by singing to me," he
added, aware that they would all be relieved by getting rid of
"I shall be very glad. It is good of you to be willing to listen to me,"
said Mirah, moving to the piano. "Shall I accompany myself?"
"By all means," said Klesmer, seating himself, at Mrs. Meyrick's
invitation, where he could have a good view of the singer. The acute
little mother would not have acknowledged the weakness, but she really
said to herself, "He will like her singing better if he sees her."
All the feminine hearts except Mirah's were beating fast with anxiety,
thinking Klesmer terrific as he sat with his listening frown on, and only
daring to look at him furtively. If he did say anything severe it would be
so hard for them all. They could only comfort themselves with thinking
that Prince Camaralzaman, who had heard the finest things, preferred
Mirah's singing to any other:--also she appeared to be doing her very
best, as if she were more instead of less at ease than usual.
The song she had chosen was a fine setting of some words selected from
Leopardi's grand Ode to Italy:--
"_O patria mia, vedo le mura c gli archi
E le colonne e i simula-cri e l'erme
Torridegli avi nostri_"--
This was recitative: then followed--
"_Ma la gloria--non vedo_"--
a mournful melody, a rhythmic plaint. After this came a climax of devout
triumph--passing from the subdued adoration of a happy Andante in the
Che offriste il petto alle nemiche lance
Per amor di costei che al sol vi diede_"--
to the joyous outburst of an exultant Allegro in--
"_Oh viva, oh viva:
Mentre nel monde si favelli o scriva._"
When she had ended, Klesmer said after a moment--
"That is Joseph Leo's music."
"Yes, he was my last master--at Vienna: so fierce and so good," said
Mirah, with a melancholy smile. "He prophesied that my voice would not do
for the stage. And he was right."
"_Con_tinue, if you please," said Klesmer, putting out his lips and
shaking his long fingers, while he went on with a smothered articulation
quite unintelligible to the audience.
The three girls detested him unanimously for not saying one word of
praise. Mrs. Meyrick was a little alarmed.
Mirah, simply bent on doing what Klesmer desired, and imagining that he
would now like to hear her sing some German, went through Prince
Radzivill's music to Gretchen's songs in the "Faust," one after the other
without any interrogatory pause. When she had finished he rose and walked
to the extremity of the small space at command, then walked back to the
piano, where Mirah had risen from her seat and stood looking toward him
with her little hands crossed before her, meekly awaiting judgment; then
with a sudden unknitting of his brow and with beaming eyes, he stretched
out his hand and said abruptly, "Let us shake hands: you are a musician."
Mab felt herself beginning to cry, and all the three girls held Klesmer
adorable. Mrs. Meyrick took a long breath.
But straightway the frown came again, the long hand, back uppermost, was
stretched out in quite a different sense to touch with finger-tip the back
of Mirah's, and with protruded lip he said--
"Not for great tasks. No high roofs. We are no skylarks. We must be
modest." Klesmer paused here. And Mab ceased to think him adorable: "as if
Mirah had shown the least sign of conceit!"
Mirah was silent, knowing that there was a specific opinion to be waited
for, and Klesmer presently went on--"I would not advise--I would not
further your singing in any larger space than a private drawing-room. But
you will do there. And here in London that is one of the best careers
open. Lessons will follow. Will you come and sing at a private concert at
my house on Wednesday?"
"Oh, I shall be grateful," said Mirah, putting her hands together
devoutly. "I would rather get my bread in that way than by anything more
public. I will try to improve. What should I work at most?"
Klesmer made a preliminary answer in noises which sounded like words
bitten in two and swallowed before they were half out, shaking his fingers
the while, before he said, quite distinctly, "I shall introduce you to
Astorga: he is the foster-father of good singing and will give you
advice." Then addressing Mrs. Meyrick, he added, "Mrs. Klesmer will call
before Wednesday, with your permission."
"We shall feel that to be a great kindness," said Mrs. Meyrick.
"You will sing to her," said Klesmer, turning again to Mirah. "She is a
thorough musician, and has a soul with more ears to it than you will often
get in a musician. Your singing will satisfy her:--
'Vor den Wissenden sich stellen;'
you know the rest?"
"'Sicher ist's in alien Fallen.'"
said Mirah, promptly. And Klesmer saying "Schon!" put out his hand again
as a good-bye.
He had certainly chosen the most delicate way of praising Mirah, and the
Meyrick girls had now given him all their esteem. But imagine Mab's
feeling when suddenly fixing his eyes on her, he said decisively, "That
young lady is musical, I see!" She was a mere blush and sense of
"Yes," said Mirah, on her behalf. "And she has a touch."
"Oh, please, Mirah--a scramble, not a touch," said Mab, in anguish, with a
horrible fear of what the next thing might be: this dreadful divining
personage--evidently Satan in gray trousers--might order her to sit down
to the piano, and her heart was like molten wax in the midst of her. But
this was cheap payment for her amazed joy when Klesmer said benignantly,
turning to Mrs. Meyrick, "Will she like to accompany Miss Lapidoth and
hear the music on Wednesday?"
"There could hardly be a greater pleasure for her," said Mrs. Meyrick.
"She will be most glad and grateful."
Thereupon Klesmer bowed round to the three sisters more grandly than they
had ever been bowed to before. Altogether it was an amusing picture--the
little room with so much of its diagonal taken up in Klesmer's magnificent
bend to the small feminine figures like images a little less than life-
size, the grave Holbein faces on the walls, as many as were not otherwise
occupied, looking hard at this stranger who by his face seemed a dignified
contemporary of their own, but whose garments seemed a deplorable mockery
of the human form.
Mrs. Meyrick could not help going out of the room with Klesmer and closing
the door behind her. He understood her, and said with a frowning nod--
"She will do: if she doesn't attempt too much and her voice holds out, she
can make an income. I know that is the great point: Deronda told me. You
are taking care of her. She looks like a good girl."
"She is an angel," said the warm-hearted woman.
"No," said Klesmer, with a playful nod; "she is a pretty Jewess: the
angels must not get the credit of her. But I think she has found a
guardian angel," he ended, bowing himself out in this amiable way.
The four young creatures had looked at each other mutely till the door
banged and Mrs. Meyrick re-entered. Then there was an explosion. Mab
clapped her hands and danced everywhere inconveniently; Mrs. Meyrick
kissed Mirah and blessed her; Amy said emphatically, "We can never get her
a new dress before Wednesday!" and Kate exclaimed, "Thank heaven my table
is not knocked over!"
Mirah had reseated herself on the music-stool without speaking, and the
tears were rolling down her cheeks as she looked at her friends.
"Now, now, Mab!" said Mrs. Meyrick; "come and sit down reasonably and let
"Yes, let us talk," said Mab, cordially, coming back to her low seat and
caressing her knees. "I am beginning to feel large again. Hans said he was
coming this afternoon. I wish he had been here--only there would have been
no room for him. Mirah, what are you looking sad for?"
"I am too happy," said Mirah. "I feel so full of gratitude to you all; and
he was so very kind."
"Yes, at last," said Mab, sharply. "But he might have said something
encouraging sooner. I thought him dreadfully ugly when he sat frowning,
and only said, '_Con_tinue.' I hated him all the long way from the top of
his hair to the toe of his polished boot."
"Nonsense, Mab; ho has a splendid profile," said Kate.
"_Now_, but not _then_. I cannot bear people to keep their minds bottled
up for the sake of letting them off with a pop. They seem to grudge making
you happy unless they can make you miserable beforehand. However, I
forgive him everything," said Mab, with a magnanimous air, "but he has
invited me. I wonder why he fixed on me as the musical one? Was it because
I have a bulging forehead, ma, and peep from under it like a newt from
under a stone?"
"It was your way of listening to the singing, child," said Mrs. Meyrick.
"He has magic spectacles and sees everything through them, depend upon it.
But what was that German quotation you were so ready with, Mirah--you
"Oh, that was not learning," said Mirah, her tearful face breaking into an
amused smile. "I said it so many times for a lesson. It means that it is
safer to do anything--singing or anything else--before those who know and
understand all about it."
"That was why you were not one bit frightened, I suppose," said Amy. "But
now, what we have to talk about is a dress for you on Wednesday."
"I don't want anything better than this black merino," said Mirah, rising
to show the effect. "Some white gloves and some new _bottines_." She put
out her little foot, clad in the famous felt slipper.
"There comes Hans," said Mrs. Meyrick. "Stand still, and let us hear what
he says about the dress. Artists are the best people to consult about such
"You don't consult me, ma," said Kate, lifting up her eyebrow with a
playful complainingness. "I notice mothers are like the people I deal
with--the girls' doings are always priced low."
"My dear child, the boys are such a trouble--we could never put up with
them, if we didn't make believe they were worth more," said Mrs. Meyrick,
just as her boy entered. "Hans, we want your opinion about Mirah's dress.
A great event has happened. Klesmer has been here, and she is going to
sing at his house on Wednesday among grand people. She thinks this dress
"Let me see," said Hans. Mirah in her childlike way turned toward him to
be looked at; and he, going to a little further distance, knelt with one
knee on a hassock to survey her.
"This would be thought a very good stage-dress for me," she said,
pleadingly, "in a part where I was to come on as a poor Jewess and sing to
"It would be effective," said Hans, with a considering air; "it would
stand out well among the fashionable _chiffons_."
"But you ought not to claim all the poverty on your side, Mirah," said
Amy. "There are plenty of poor Christians and dreadfully rich Jews and
"I didn't mean any harm," said Mirah. "Only I have been used to thinking
about my dress for parts in plays. And I almost always had a part with a
"That makes me think it questionable," said Hans, who had suddenly become
as fastidious and conventional on this occasion as he had thought Deronda
was, apropos of the Berenice-pictures. "It looks a little too theatrical.
We must not make you a _role_ of the poor Jewess--or of being a Jewess at
all." Hans had a secret desire to neutralize the Jewess in private life,
which he was in danger of not keeping secret.
"But it is what I am really. I am not pretending anything. I shall never
be anything else," said Mirah. "I always feel myself a Jewess."
"But we can't feel that about you," said Hans, with a devout look. "What
does it signify whether a perfect woman is a Jewess or not?"
"That is your kind way of praising me; I never was praised so before,"
said Mirah, with a smile, which was rather maddening to Hans and made him
feel still more of a cosmopolitan.
"People don't think of me as a British Christian," he said, his face
creasing merrily. "They think of me as an imperfectly handsome young man
and an unpromising painter."
"But you are wandering from the dress," said Amy. "If that will not do,
how are we to get another before Wednesday? and to-morrow Sunday?"
"Indeed this will do," said Mirah, entreatingly. "It is all real, you
know," here she looked at Hans--"even if it seemed theatrical. Poor
Berenice sitting on the ruins--any one might say that was theatrical, but
I know that this is just what she would do."
"I am a scoundrel," said Hans, overcome by this misplaced trust. "That is
my invention. Nobody knows that she did that. Shall you forgive me for not
saying so before?"
"Oh, yes," said Mirah, after a momentary pause of surprise. "You knew it
was what she would be sure to do--a Jewess who had not been faithful--who
had done what she did and was penitent. She could have no joy but to
afflict herself; and where else would she go? I think it is very beautiful
that you should enter so into what a Jewess would feel."
"The Jewesses of that time sat on ruins," said Hans, starting up with a
sense of being checkmated. "That makes them convenient for pictures."
"But the dress--the dress," said Amy; "is it settled?"
"Yes; is it not?" said Mirah, looking doubtfully at Mrs. Meyrick, who in
her turn looked up at her son, and said, "What do you think, Hans?"
"That dress will not do," said Hans, decisively. "She is not going to sit
on ruins. You must jump into a cab with her, little mother, and go to
Regent Street. It's plenty of time to get anything you like--a black silk
dress such as ladies wear. She must not be taken for an object of charity.
She has talents to make people indebted to her."
"I think it is what Mr. Deronda would like--for her to have a handsome
dress," said Mrs. Meyrick, deliberating.
"Of course it is," said Hans, with some sharpness. "You may take my word
for what a gentleman would feel."
"I wish to do what Mr. Deronda would like me to do," said Mirah, gravely,
seeing that Mrs. Meyrick looked toward her; and Hans, turning on his heel,
went to Kate's table and took up one of her drawings as if his interest
needed a new direction.
"Shouldn't you like to make a study of Klesmer's head, Hans?" said Kate.
"I suppose you have often seen him?"
"Seen him!" exclaimed Hans, immediately throwing back his head and mane,
seating himself at the piano and looking round him as if he were surveying
an amphitheatre, while he held his fingers down perpendicularly toward the
keys. But then in another instant he wheeled round on the stool, looked at
Mirah and said, half timidly--"Perhaps you don't like this mimicry; you
must always stop my nonsense when you don't like it."
Mirah had been smiling at the swiftly-made image, and she smiled still,
but with a touch of something else than amusement, as she said--"Thank
you. But you have never done anything I did not like. I hardly think he
could, belonging to you," she added, looking at Mrs. Meyrick.
In this way Hans got food for his hope. How could the rose help it when
several bees in succession took its sweet odor as a sign of personal
"Within the soul a faculty abides,
That with interpositions, which would hide
And darken, so can deal, that they become
Contingencies of pomp; and serve to exalt
Her native brightness, as the ample moon.
In the deep stillness of a summer even.
Rising behind a thick and lofty grove.
Into a substance glorious as her own,
Yea, with her own incorporated, by power
Capacious and serene."
--WORDSWORTH: _Excursion_, B. IV.
Deronda came out of the narrow house at Chelsea in a frame of mind that
made him long for some good bodily exercise to carry off what he was
himself inclined to call the fumes of his temper. He was going toward the
city, and the sight of the Chelsea Stairs with the waiting boats at once
determined him to avoid the irritating inaction of being driven in a cab,
by calling a wherry and taking an oar.
His errand was to go to Ram's book-shop, where he had yesterday arrived
too late for Mordecai's midday watch, and had been told that he invariably
came there again between five and six. Some further acquaintance with
this, remarkable inmate of the Cohens was particularly desired by Deronda
as a preliminary to redeeming his ring: he wished that their conversation
should not again end speedily with that drop of Mordecai's interest which
was like the removal of a drawbridge, and threatened to shut out any easy
communication in future. As he got warmed with the use of the oar, fixing
his mind on the errand before him and the ends he wanted to achieve on
Mirah's account, he experienced, as was wont with him, a quick change of
mental light, shifting his point of view to that of the person whom he had
been thinking of hitherto chiefly as serviceable to his own purposes, and
was inclined to taunt himself with being not much better than an enlisting
sergeant, who never troubles himself with the drama that brings him the
"I suppose if I got from this man the information I am most anxious
about," thought Deronda, "I should be contented enough if he felt no
disposition to tell me more of himself, or why he seemed to have some
expectation from me which was disappointed. The sort of curiosity he stirs
would die out; and yet it might be that he had neared and parted as one
can imagine two ships doing, each freighted with an exile who would have
recognized the other if the two could have looked out face to face. Not
that there is any likelihood of a peculiar tie between me and this poor
fellow, whose voyage, I fancy, must soon be over. But I wonder whether
there is much of that momentous mutual missing between people who
interchange blank looks, or even long for one another's absence in a
crowded place. However, one makes one's self chances of missing by going
on the recruiting sergeant's plan."
When the wherry was approaching Blackfriars Bridge, where Deronda meant to
land, it was half-past four, and the gray day was dying gloriously, its
western clouds all broken into narrowing purple strata before a wide-
spreading saffron clearness, which in the sky had a monumental calm, but
on the river, with its changing objects, was reflected as a luminous
movement, the alternate flash of ripples or currents, the sudden glow of
the brown sail, the passage of laden barges from blackness into color,
making an active response to that brooding glory.
Feeling well heated by this time, Deronda gave up the oar and drew over
him again his Inverness cape. As he lifted up his head while fastening the
topmost button his eyes caught a well-remembered face looking toward him
over the parapet of the bridge--brought out by the western light into
startling distinctness and brilliancy--an illuminated type of bodily
emaciation and spiritual eagerness. It was the face of Mordecai, who also,
in his watch toward the west, had caught sight of the advancing boat, and
had kept it fast within his gaze, at first simply because it was
advancing, then with a recovery of impressions that made him quiver as
with a presentiment, till at last the nearing figure lifted up its face
toward him--the face of his visions--and then immediately, with white
uplifted hand, beckoned again and again.
For Deronda, anxious that Mordecai should recognize and await him, had
lost no time before signaling, and the answer came straightway. Mordecai
lifted his cap and waved it--feeling in that moment that his inward
prophecy was fulfilled. Obstacles, incongruities, all melted into the
sense of completion with which his soul was flooded by this outward
satisfaction of his longing. His exultation was not widely different from
that of the experimenter, bending over the first stirrings of change that
correspond to what in the fervor of concentrated prevision his thought has
foreshadowed. The prefigured friend had come from the golden background,
and had signaled to him: this actually was: the rest was to be.
In three minutes Deronda had landed, had paid his boatman, and was joining
Mordecai, whose instinct it was to stand perfectly still and wait for him.
"I was very glad to see you standing here," said Deronda, "for I was
intending to go on to the book-shop and look for you again. I was there
yesterday--perhaps they mentioned it to you?"
"Yes," said Mordecai; "that was the reason I came to the bridge."
This answer, made with simple gravity, was startlingly mysterious to
Deronda. Were the peculiarities of this man really associated with any
sort of mental alienation, according to Cohen's hint?
"You knew nothing of my being at Chelsea?" he said, after a moment.
"No; but I expected you to come down the river. I have been waiting for
you these five years." Mordecai's deep-sunk eyes were fixed on those of
the friend who had at last arrived with a look of affectionate dependence,
at once pathetic and solemn. Deronda's sensitiveness was not the less
responsive because he could not but believe that this strangely-disclosed
relation was founded on an illusion.
"It will be a satisfaction to me if I can be of any real use to you," he
answered, very earnestly. "Shall we get into a cab and drive to--wherever
you wish to go?" You have probably had walking enough with your short
"Let us go to the book-shop. It will soon be time for me to be there. But
now look up the river," said Mordecai, turning again toward it and
speaking in undertones of what may be called an excited calm--so absorbed
by a sense of fulfillment that he was conscious of no barrier to a
complete understanding between him and Deronda. "See the sky, how it is
slowly fading. I have always loved this bridge: I stood on it when I was a
little boy. It is a meeting-place for the spiritual messengers. It is
true--what the Masters said--that each order of things has its angel: that
means the full message of each from what is afar. Here I have listened to
the messages of earth and sky; when I was stronger I used to stay and
watch for the stars in the deep heavens. But this time just about sunset
was always what I loved best. It has sunk into me and dwelt with me--
fading, slowly fading: it was my own decline: it paused--it Waited, till
at last it brought me my new life--my new self--who will live when this
breath is all breathed out."
Deronda did not speak. He felt himself strangely wrought upon. The first-
prompted suspicion that Mordecai might be liable to hallucinations of
thought--might have become a monomaniac on some subject which had given
too severe a strain to his diseased organism--gave way to a more
submissive expectancy. His nature was too large, too ready to conceive
regions beyond his own experience, to rest at once in the easy
explanation, "madness," whenever a consciousness showed some fullness and
conviction where his own was blank. It accorded with his habitual
disposition that he should meet rather than resist any claim on him in the
shape of another's need; and this claim brought with it a sense of
solemnity which seemed a radiation from Mordecai, as utterly nullifying
his outward poverty and lifting him into authority as if he had been that
preternatural guide seen in the universal legend, who suddenly drops his
mean disguise and stands a manifest Power. That impression was the more
sanctioned by a sort of resolved quietude which the persuasion of
fulfillment had produced in Mordecai's manner. After they had stood a
moment in silence he said, "Let us go now," and when they were riding he
added, "We will get down at the end of the street and walk to the shop.
You can look at the books, and Mr. Ram will be going away directly and
leave us alone."
It seemed that this enthusiast was just as cautious, just as much alive to
judgments in other minds as if he had been that antipode of all enthusiasm
called "a man of the world."
While they were rattling along in the cab, Mirah was still present with
Deronda in the midst of this strange experience, but he foresaw that the
course of conversation would be determined by Mordecai, not by himself: he
was no longer confident what questions he should be able to ask; and with
a reaction on his own mood, he inwardly said, "I suppose I am in a state
of complete superstition, just as if I were awaiting the destiny that
could interpret the oracle. But some strong relation there must be between
me and this man, since he feels it strongly. Great heaven! what relation
has proved itself more potent in the world than faith even when mistaken--
than expectation even when perpetually disappointed? Is my side of the
relation to be disappointing or fulfilling?--well, if it is ever possible
for me to fulfill I will not disappoint."
In ten minutes the two men, with as intense a consciousness as if they had
been two undeclared lovers, felt themselves alone in the small gas-lit
book-shop and turned face to face, each baring his head from an
instinctive feeling that they wished to see each other fully. Mordecai
came forward to lean his back against the little counter, while Deronda
stood against the opposite wall hardly more than four feet off. I wish I
could perpetuate those two faces, as Titian's "Tribute Money" has
perpetuated two types presenting another sort of contrast. Imagine--we all
of us can--the pathetic stamp of consumption with its brilliancy of glance
to which the sharply-defined structure of features reminding one of a
forsaken temple, give already a far-off look as of one getting unwillingly
out of reach; and imagine it on a Jewish face naturally accentuated for
the expression of an eager mind--the face of a man little above thirty,
but with that age upon it which belongs to time lengthened by suffering,
the hair and beard, still black, throwing out the yellow pallor of the
skin, the difficult breathing giving more decided marking to the mobile
nostril, the wasted yellow hands conspicuous on the folded arms: then give
to the yearning consumptive glance something of the slowly dying mother's
look, when her one loved son visits her bedside, and the flickering power
of gladness leaps out as she says, "My boy!"--for the sense of spiritual
perpetuation in another resembles that maternal transference of self.
Seeing such a portrait you would see Mordecai. And opposite to him was a
face not more distinctively oriental than many a type seen among what we
call the Latin races; rich in youthful health, and with a forcible
masculine gravity in its repose, that gave the value of judgment to the
reverence with which he met the gaze of this mysterious son of poverty who
claimed him as a long-expected friend. The more exquisite quality of
Deronda's nature--that keenly perceptive sympathetic emotiveness which ran
along with his speculative tendency--was never more thoroughly tested. He
felt nothing that could be called belief in the validity of Mordecai's
impressions concerning him or in the probability of any greatly effective
issue: what he felt was a profound sensibility to a cry from the depths of
another and accompanying that, the summons to be receptive instead of
superciliously prejudging. Receptiveness is a rare and massive power, like
fortitude; and this state of mind now gave Deronda's face its utmost
expression of calm benignant force--an expression which nourished
Mordecai's confidence and made an open way before him. He began to speak.
"You cannot know what has guided me to you and brought us together at this
moment. You are wondering."
"I am not impatient," said Deronda. "I am ready to listen to whatever you
may wish to disclose."
"You see some of the reasons why I needed you," said Mordecai, speaking
quietly, as if he wished to reserve his strength. "You see that I am
dying. You see that I am as one shut up behind bars by the wayside, who if
he spoke to any would be met only by head-shaking and pity. The day is
closing--the light is fading--soon we should not have been able to discern
each other. But you have come in time."
"I rejoice that I am come in time," said Deronda, feelingly. He would not
say, "I hope you are not mistaken in me,"--the very word "mistaken," he
thought, would be a cruelty at that moment.
"But the hidden reasons why I need you began afar off," said Mordecai;
"began in my early years when I was studying in another land. Then ideas,
beloved ideas, came to me, because I was a Jew. They were a trust to
fulfill, because I was a Jew. They were an inspiration, because I was a
Jew, and felt the heart of my race beating within me. They were my life; I
was not fully born till then. I counted this heart, and this breath, and
this right hand"--Mordecai had pathetically pressed his hand upon his
breast, and then stretched its wasted fingers out before him--"I counted
my sleep and my waking, and the work I fed my body with, and the sights
that fed my eyes--I counted them but as fuel to the divine flame. But I
had done as one who wanders and engraves his thought in rocky solitudes,
and before I could change my course came care and labor and disease, and
blocked the way before me, and bound me with the iron that eats itself
into the soul. Then I said, 'How shall I save the life within me from
being stifled with this stifled breath?'"
Mordecai paused to rest that poor breath which had been taxed by the
rising excitement of his speech, And also he wished to check that
excitement. Deronda dared not speak the very silence in the narrow space
seemed alive with mingled awe and compassion before this struggling
fervor. And presently Mordecai went on--
"But you may misunderstand me. I speak not as an ignorant dreamer--as one
bred up in the inland valleys, thinking ancient thoughts anew, and not
knowing them ancient, never having stood by the great waters where the
world's knowledge passes to and fro. English is my mother-tongue, England
is the native land of this body, which is but as a breaking pot of earth
around the fruit-bearing tree, whose seed might make the desert rejoice.
But my true life was nourished in Holland at the feet of my mother's
brother, a Rabbi skilled in special learning: and when he died I went to
Hamburg to study, and afterwards to Gottingen, that I might take a larger
outlook on my people, and on the Gentile world, and drank knowledge at all
sources. I was a youth; I felt free; I saw our chief seats in Germany; I
was not then in utter poverty. And I had possessed myself of a handicraft.
For I said, I care not if my lot be as that of Joshua ben Chananja: after
the last destruction he earned his bread by making needles, but in his
youth he had been a singer on the steps of the Temple, and had a memory of
what was before the glory departed. I said, let my body dwell in poverty,
and my hands be as the hands of the toiler: but let my soul be as a temple
of remembrance where the treasures of knowledge enter and the inner
sanctuary is hope. I knew what I chose. They said, 'He feeds himself on
visions,' and I denied not; for visions are the creators and feeders of
the world. I see, I measure the world as it is, which the vision will
create anew. You are not listening to one who raves aloof from the lives
of his fellows."
Mordecai paused, and Deronda, feeling that the pause was expectant, said,
"Do me the justice to believe that I was not inclined to call your words
raving. I listen that I may know, without prejudgment. I have had
experience which gives me a keen interest in the story of a spiritual
destiny embraced willingly, and embraced in youth."
"A spiritual destiny embraced willingly--in youth?" Mordecai repeated in a
corrective tone. "It was the soul fully born within me, and it came in my
boyhood. It brought its own world--a mediaeval world, where there are men
who made the ancient language live again in new psalms of exile. They had
absorbed the philosophy of the Gentile into the faith of the Jew, and they
still yearned toward a center for our race. One of their souls was born
again within me, and awakened amid the memories of their world. It
traveled into Spain and Provence; it debated with Aben-Ezra; it took ship
with Jehuda ha-Levi; it heard the roar of the Crusaders and the shrieks of
tortured Israel. And when its dumb tongue was loosed, it spoke the speech
they had made alive with the new blood of their ardor, their sorrow, and
their martyred trust: it sang with the cadence of their strain."
Mordecai paused again, and then said in a loud, hoarse whisper--
"While it is imprisoned in me, it will never learn another."
"Have you written entirely in Hebrew, then?" said Deronda, remembering
with some anxiety the former question as to his own knowledge of that
"Yes--yes," said Mordecai, in a tone of deep sadness: "in my youth I
wandered toward that solitude, not feeling that it was a solitude. I had
the ranks of the great dead around me; the martyrs gathered and listened.
But soon I found that the living were deaf to me. At first I saw my life
spread as a long future: I said part of my Jewish heritage is an
unbreaking patience; part is skill to seek divers methods and find a
rooting-place where the planters despair. But there came new messengers
from the Eternal. I had to bow under the yoke that presses on the great
multitude born of woman: family troubles called me--I had to work, to
care, not for myself alone. I was left solitary again; but already the
angel of death had turned to me and beckoned, and I felt his skirts
continually on my path. I loosed not my effort. I besought hearing and
help. I spoke; I went to men of our people--to the rich in influence or
knowledge, to the rich in other wealth. But I found none to listen with
understanding. I was rebuked for error; I was offered a small sum in
charity. No wonder. I looked poor; I carried a bundle of Hebrew manuscript
with me; I said, our chief teachers are misleading the hope of our race.
Scholar and merchant were both too busy to listen. Scorn stood as
interpreter between me and them. One said, 'The book of Mormon would never
have answered in Hebrew; and if you mean to address our learned men, it is
not likely you can teach them anything.' He touched a truth there."
The last words had a perceptible irony in their hoarsened tone.
"But though you had accustomed yourself to write in Hebrew, few, surely,
can use English better," said Deronda, wanting to hint consolation in a
new effort for which he could smooth the way.
Mordecai shook his head slowly, and answered--
"Too late--too late. I can write no more. My writing would be like this
gasping breath. But the breath may wake the fount of pity--the writing
not. If I could write now and used English, I should be as one who beats a
board to summon those who have been used to no signal but a bell. My soul
has an ear to hear the faults of its own speech. New writing of mine would
be like this body"--Mordecai spread his arms--"within it there might be
the Ruach-ha-kodesh--the breath of divine thought--but, men would smile at
it and say, 'A poor Jew!' and the chief smilers would be of my own
Mordecai let his hands fall, and his head sink in melancholy: for the
moment he had lost hold of his hope. Despondency, conjured up by his own
words, had floated in and hovered above him with eclipsing wings. He had
sunk into momentary darkness,
"I feel with you--I feel strongly with you," said Deronda, in a clear deep
voice which was itself a cordial, apart from the words of sympathy. "But
forgive me if I speak hastily--for what you have actually written there
need be no utter burial. The means of publication are within reach. If you
will rely on me, I can assure you of all that is necessary to that end."
"That is not enough," said Mordecai, quickly, looking up again with the
flash of recovered memory and confidence. "That is not all my trust in
you. You must be not only a hand to me, but a soul--believing my belief--
being moved by my reasons--hoping my hope-seeing the vision I point to--
beholding a glory where I behold it!"--Mordecai had taken a step nearer as
he spoke, and now laid his hand on Deronda's arm with a tight grasp; his
face little more than a foot off had something like a pale flame in it--an
intensity of reliance that acted as a peremptory claim, while he went on--
"You will be my life: it will be planted afresh; it will grow. You shall
take the inheritance; it has been gathering for ages. The generations are
crowding on my narrow life as a bridge: what has been and what is to be
are meeting there; and the bridge is breaking. But I have found you. You
have come in time, You will take the inheritance which the base son
refuses because of the tombs which the plow and harrow may not pass over
or the gold-seeker disturb: you will take the sacred inheritance of the
Jew." Deronda had become as pallid as Mordecai. Quick as an alarm of flood
or fire, there spread within him not only a compassionate dread of
discouraging this fellowman who urged a prayer as one in the last agony,
but also tie opposing dread of fatally feeding an illusion, and being
hurried on to a self-committal which might turn into a falsity. The
peculiar appeal to his tenderness overcame the repulsion that most of us
experience under a grasp and speech which assumed to dominate. The
difficulty to him was to inflict the accents of hesitation and doubt on
this ardent suffering creature, who was crowding too much of his brief
being into a moment of perhaps extravagant trust. With exquisite instinct,
Deronda, before he opened his lips, placed his palm gently on Mordecai's
straining hand--an act just then equal to many speeches. And after that he
said, without haste, as if conscious that he might be wrong--
"Do you forget what I told you when we first saw each other? Do you
remember that I said I was not of your race?"
"It can't be true," Mordecai whispered immediately, with no sign of shock.
The sympathetic hand still upon him had fortified the feeling which was
stronger than those words of denial. There was a perceptible pause,
Deronda feeling it impossible to answer, conscious indeed that the
assertion "It can't be true"--had the pressure of argument for him.
Mordecai, too entirely possessed by the supreme importance of the relation
between himself and Deronda to have any other care in his speech, followed
up that assertion by a second, which came to his lips as a mere sequence
of his long-cherished conviction--"You are not sure of your own origin."
"How do you know that?" said Daniel, with an habitual shrinking which made
him remove his hands from Mordecai's, who also relaxed his hold, and fell
back into his former leaning position.
"I know it--I know it; what is my life else?" said Mordecai, with a low
cry of impatience. "Tell me everything: tell me why you deny?"
He could have no conception what that demand was to the hearer--how
probingly it touched the hidden sensibility, the vividly conscious
reticence of years; how the uncertainty he was insisting on as part of his
own hope had always for Daniel been a threatening possibility of painful
revelation about his mother. But the moment had influences which were not
only new but solemn to Deronda; any evasion here might turn out to be a
hateful refusal of some task that belonged to him, some act of due
fellowship; in any case it would be a cruel rebuff to a being who was
appealing to him as a forlorn hope under the shadow of a coming doom.
After a few moments, he said, with a great effort over himself--determined
to tell all the truth briefly--
"I have never known my mother. I have no knowledge about her. I have never
called any man father. But I am convinced that my father is an
Deronda's deep tones had a tremor in them as he uttered this confession;
and all the while there was an undercurrent of amazement in him at the
strange circumstances under which he uttered it. It seemed as if Mordecai
were hardly overrating his own power to determine the action of the friend
whom he had mysteriously chosen.
"It will be seen--it will be declared," said Mordecai, triumphantly. "The
world grows, and its frame is knit together by the growing soul; dim, dim
at first, then clearer and more clear, the consciousness discerns remote
stirrings. As thoughts move within us darkly, and shake us before they are
fully discerned--so events--so beings: they are knit with us in the growth
of the world. You have risen within me like a thought not fully spelled;
my soul is shaken before the words are all there. The rest will come--it
"We must not lose sight of the fact that the outward event has not always
been a fulfillment of the firmest faith," said Deronda, in a tone that was
made hesitating by the painfully conflicting desires, not to give any
severe blow to Mordecai, and not to give his confidence a sanction which
might have the severest of blows in reserve.
Mordecai's face, which had been illuminated to the utmost in that last
declaration of his confidence, changed under Deronda's words, not only
into any show of collapsed trust: the force did not disappear from the
expression, but passed from the triumphant into the firmly resistant.
"You would remind me that I may be under an illusion--that the history of
our people's trust has been full of illusion. I face it all." Here
Mordecai paused a moment. Then bending his head a little forward, he said,
in his hoarse whisper, "_So if might be with my trust, if you would make
it an illusion. But you will not._"
The very sharpness with which these words penetrated Deronda made him feel
the more that here was a crisis in which he must be firm.
"What my birth was does not lie in my will," he answered. "My sense of
claims on me cannot be independent of my knowledge there. And I cannot
promise you that I will try to hasten a disclosure. Feelings which have
struck root through half my life may still hinder me from doing what I
have never been able to do. Everything must be waited for. I must know
more of the truth about my own life, and I must know more of what it would
become if it were made a part of yours."
Mordecai had folded his arms again while Deronda was speaking, and now
answered with equal firmness, though with difficult breathing--
"You _shall_ know. What are we met for, but that you should know. Your
doubts lie as light as dust on my belief. I know the philosophies of this
time and of other times; if I chose I could answer a summons before their
tribunals. I could silence the beliefs which are the mother-tongue of my
soul and speak with the rote-learned language of a system, that gives you
the spelling of all things, sure of its alphabet covering them all. I
could silence them: may not a man silence his awe or his love, and take to
finding reasons, which others demand? But if his love lies deeper than any
reasons to be found? Man finds his pathways: at first they were foot
tracks, as those of the beast in the wilderness: now they are swift and
invisible: his thought dives through the ocean, and his wishes thread the
air: has he found all the pathways yet? What reaches him, stays with him,
rules him: he must accept it, not knowing its pathway. Say, my expectation
of you has grown but as false hopes grow. That doubt is in your mind?
Well, my expectation was there, and you are come. Men have died of thirst.
But I was thirsty, and the water is on my lips? What are doubts to me? In
the hour when you come to me and say, 'I reject your soul: I know that I
am not a Jew: we have no lot in common'--I shall not doubt. I shall be
certain--certain that I have been deluded. That hour will never come!"
Deronda felt a new chord sounding in his speech: it was rather imperious
than appealing--had more of conscious power than of the yearning need
which had acted as a beseeching grasp on him before. And usually, though
he was the reverse of pugnacious, such a change of attitude toward him
would have weakened his inclination to admit a claim. But here there was
something that balanced his resistance and kept it aloof. This strong man
whose gaze was sustainedly calm and his finger-nails pink with health, who
was exercised in all questioning, and accused of excessive mental
independence, still felt a subduing influence over him in the tenacious
certitude of the fragile creature before him, whose pallid yellow nostril
was tense with effort as his breath labored under the burthen of eager
speech. The influence seemed to strengthen the bond of sympathetic
obligation. In Deronda at this moment the desire to escape what might turn
into a trying embarrassment was no more likely to determine action than
the solicitations of indolence are likely to determine it in one with whom
industry is a daily law. He answered simply--
"It is my wish to meet and satisfy your wishes wherever that is possible
to me. It is certain to me at least that I desire not to undervalue your
toil and your suffering. Let me know your thoughts. But where can we
"I have thought of that," said Mordecai. "It is not hard for you to come
into this neighborhood later in the evening? You did so once."
"I can manage it very well occasionally," said Deronda. "You live under
the same roof with the Cohens, I think?"
Before Mordecai could answer, Mr. Ram re-entered to take his place behind
the counter. He was an elderly son of Abraham, whose childhood had fallen
on the evil times at the beginning of this century, and who remained amid
this smart and instructed generation as a preserved specimen, soaked
through and through with the effect of the poverty and contempt which were
the common heritage of most English Jews seventy years ago. He had none of
the oily cheerfulness observable in Mr. Cohen's aspect: his very features
--broad and chubby--showed that tendency to look mongrel without due
cause, which, in a miscellaneous London neighborhood, may perhaps be
compared with the marvels of imitation in insects, and may have been
nature's imperfect effort on behalf of the pure Caucasian to shield him
from the shame and spitting to which purer features would have been exposed
in the times of zeal. Mr. Ram dealt ably in books, in the same way that he
would have dealt in tins of meat and other commodities--without knowledge
or responsibility as to the proportion of rottenness or nourishment they
might contain. But he believed in Mordecai's learning as something
marvellous, and was not sorry that his conversation should be sought by a
bookish gentleman, whose visits had twice ended in a purchase. He greeted
Deronda with a crabbed good-will, and, putting on large silver spectacles,
appeared at once to abstract himself in the daily accounts.
But Deronda and Mordecai were soon in the street together, and without any
explicit agreement as to their direction, were walking toward Ezra
"We can't meet there: my room is too narrow," said Mordecai, taking up the
thread of talk where they had dropped it. "But there is a tavern not far
from here where I sometimes go to a club. It is the _Hand and Banner_, in
the street at the next turning, five doors down. We can have the parlor
there any evening."
"We can try that for once," said Deronda. "But you will perhaps let me
provide you with some lodging, which would give you more freedom and
comfort than where you are."
"No; I need nothing. My outer life is as nought. I will take nothing less
precious from you than your soul's brotherhood. I will think of nothing
else yet. But I am glad you are rich. You did not need money on that
diamond ring. You had some other motive for bringing it."
Deronda was a little startled by this clear-sightedness; but before he
could reply Mordecai added--"it is all one. Had you been in need of the
money, the great end would have been that we should meet again. But you
are rich?" he ended, in a tone of interrogation.
"Not rich, except in the sense that every one is rich who has more than he
needs for himself."
"I desired that your life should be free," said Mordecai, dreamily--"mine
has been a bondage."
It was clear that he had no interest in the fact of Deronda's appearance
at the Cohens' beyond its relation to his own ideal purpose. Despairing of
leading easily up to the question he wished to ask, Deronda determined to
put it abruptly, and said--
"Can you tell me why Mrs. Cohen, the mother, must not be spoken to about
There was no immediate answer, and he thought that he should have to
repeat the question. The fact was that Mordecai had heard the words, but
had to drag his mind to a new subject away from his passionate
preoccupation. After a few moments, he replied with a careful effort such
as he would have used if he had been asked the road to Holborn---
"I know the reason. But I will not speak even of trivial family affairs
which I have heard in the privacy of the family. I dwell in their tent as
in a sanctuary. Their history, so far as they injure none other, is their
Deronda felt the blood mounting to his cheeks as a sort of rebuke he was
little used to, and he also found himself painfully baffled where he had
reckoned with some confidence on getting decisive knowledge. He became the
more conscious of emotional strain from the excitements of the day; and
although he had the money in his pocket to redeem his ring, he recoiled
from the further task of a visit to the Cohens', which must be made not
only under the former uncertainty, but under a new disappointment as to
the possibility of its removal.
"I will part from you now," he said, just before they could reach Cohen's
door; and Mordecai paused, looking up at him with an anxious fatigued face
under the gaslight.
"When will you come back?" he said, with slow emphasis.
"May I leave that unfixed? May I ask for you at the Cohens' any evening
after your hour at the book-shop? There is no objection, I suppose, to
their knowing that you and I meet in private?"
"None," said Mordecai. "But the days I wait now are longer than the years
of my strength. Life shrinks: what was but a tithe is now the half. My
hope abides in you."
"I will be faithful," said Deronda--he could not have left those words
unuttered. "I will come the first evening I can after seven: on Saturday
or Monday, if possible. Trust me."
He put out his ungloved hand. Mordecai, clasping it eagerly, seemed to
feel a new instreaming of confidence, and he said with some recovered
energy--"This is come to pass, and the rest will come."
That was their good-bye.
"This, too is probable, according to that saying of Agathon: 'It is a
part of probability that many improbable things will happen.'"
Imagine the conflict in a mind like Deronda's given not only to feel
strongly but to question actively, on the evening after the interview with
Mordecai. To a young man of much duller susceptibilities the adventure
might have seemed enough out of the common way to divide his thoughts; but
it had stirred Deronda so deeply, that with the usual reaction of his
intellect he began to examine the grounds of his emotion, and consider how
far he must resist its guidance. The consciousness that he was half
dominated by Mordecai's energetic certitude, and still more by his fervent
trust, roused his alarm. It was his characteristic bias to shrink from the
moral stupidity of valuing lightly what had come close to him, and of
missing blindly in his own life of to-day the crisis which he recognized
as momentous and sacred in the historic life of men. If he had read of
this incident as having happened centuries ago in Rome, Greece, Asia
Minor, Palestine, Cairo, to some man young as himself, dissatisfied with
his neutral life, and wanting some closer fellowship, some more special
duty to give him ardor for the possible consequences of his work, it would
have appeared to him quite natural that the incident should have created a
deep impression on that far-off man, whose clothing and action would have
been seen in his imagination as part of an age chiefly known to us through
its more serious effects. Why should he be ashamed of his own agitated
feeling merely because he dressed for dinner, wore a white tie, and lived
among people who might laugh at his owning any conscience in the matter,
as the solemn folly of taking himself to seriously?--that bugbear of
circles in which the lack of grave emotion passes for wit. From such
cowardice before modish ignorance and obtuseness, Deronda shrank. But he
also shrank from having his course determined by mere contagion, without
consent of reason; or from allowing a reverential pity for spiritual
struggle to hurry him along a dimly-seen path.
What, after all, had really happened? He knew quite accurately the answer
Sir Hugo would have given: "A consumptive Jew, possessed by a fanaticism
which obstacles and hastening death intensified, had fixed on Deronda as
the antitype of some visionary image, the offspring of wedded hope and
despair: despair of his own life, irrepressible hope in the propagation of
his fanatical beliefs. The instance was perhaps odd, exceptional in its
form, but substantially it was not rare. Fanaticism was not so common as
bankruptcy, but taken in all its aspects it was abundant enough. While
Mordecai was waiting on the bridge for the fulfillment of his visions,
another man was convinced that he had the mathematical key of the universe
which would supersede Newton, and regarded all known physicists as
conspiring to stifle his discovery and keep the universe locked; another,
that he had the metaphysical key, with just that hair's-breadth of
difference from the old wards which would make it fit exactly. Scattered
here and there in every direction you might find a terrible person, with
more or less power of speech, and with an eye either glittering or
preternaturally dull, on the look-out for the man who must hear him; and
in most cases he had volumes which it was difficult to get printed, or if
printed to get read. This Mordecai happened to have a more pathetic
aspect, a more passionate, penetrative speech than was usual with such
monomaniacs; he was more poetical than a social reformer with colored
views of the new moral world in parallelograms, or than an enthusiast in
sewage; still he came under the same class. It would be only right and
kind to indulge him a little, to comfort him with such help as was
practicable; but what likelihood was there that his notions had the sort
of value he ascribed to them? In such cases a man of the world knows what
to think beforehand. And as to Mordecai's conviction that he had found a
new executive self, it might be preparing for him the worst of
disappointments--that which presents itself as final."
Deronda's ear caught all these negative whisperings; nay, he repeated them
distinctly to himself. It was not the first but it was the most pressing
occasion on which he had had to face this question of the family likeness
among the heirs of enthusiasm, whether prophets or dreamers of dreams,
"Great benefactors of mankind, deliverers,"
or the devotees of phantasmal discovery--from the first believer in his
own unmanifested inspiration, down to the last inventor of an ideal
machine that will achieve perpetual motion. The kinship of human passion,
the sameness of mortal scenery, inevitably fill fact with burlesque and
parody. Error and folly have had their hecatombs of martyrs. Reduce the
grandest type of man hitherto known to an abstract statement of his
qualities and efforts, and he appears in dangerous company: say that, like
Copernicus and Galileo, he was immovably convinced in the face of hissing
incredulity; but so is the contriver of perpetual motion. We cannot fairly
try the spirits by this sort of test. If we want to avoid giving the dose
of hemlock or the sentence of banishment in the wrong case, nothing will
do but a capacity to understand the subject-matter on which the immovable
man is convinced, and fellowship with human travail, both near and afar,
to hinder us from scanning and deep experience lightly. Shall we say, "Let
the ages try the spirits, and see what they are worth?" Why, we are the
beginning of the ages, which can only be just by virtue of just judgments
in separate human breasts--separate yet combined. Even steam-engines could
not have got made without that condition, but must have stayed in the mind
of James Watt.
This track of thinking was familiar enough to Deronda to have saved him
from any contemptuous prejudgment of Mordecai, even if their communication
had been free from that peculiar claim on himself strangely ushered in by
some long-growing preparation in the Jew's agitated mind. This claim,
indeed, considered in what is called a rational way, might seem
justifiably dismissed as illusory and even preposterous; but it was
precisely what turned Mordecai's hold on him from an appeal to his ready
sympathy into a clutch on his struggling conscience. Our consciences are
not all of the same pattern, an inner deliverance of fixed laws they are
the voice of sensibilities as various as our memories (which also have
their kinship and likeness). And Deronda's conscience included
sensibilities beyond the common, enlarged by his early habit of thinking
himself imaginatively into the experience of others.
What was the claim this eager soul made upon him?--"You must believe my
beliefs--be moved by my reasons--hope my hopes--see the vision I point to
--behold a glory where I behold it!" To take such a demand in the light of
an obligation in any direct sense would have been preposterous--to have
seemed to admit it would have been dishonesty; and Deronda, looking on the
agitation of those moments, felt thankful that in the midst of his
compassion he had preserved himself from the bondage of false concessions.
The claim hung, too, on a supposition which might be--nay, probably was--
in discordance with the full fact: the supposition that he, Deronda, was
of Jewish blood. Was there ever a more hypothetic appeal?
But since the age of thirteen Deronda had associated the deepest
experience of his affections with what was a pure supposition, namely,
that Sir Hugo was his father: that was a hypothesis which had been the
source of passionate struggle within him; by its light he had been
accustomed to subdue feelings and to cherish them. He had been well used
to find a motive in a conception which might be disproved; and he had been
also used to think of some revelation that might influence his view of the
particular duties belonging to him. To be in a state of suspense, which
was also one of emotive activity and scruple, was a familiar attitude of
And now, suppose that wish-begotten belief in his Jewish birth, and that
extravagant demand of discipleship, to be the foreshadowing of an actual
discovery and a genuine spiritual result: suppose that Mordecai's ideas
made a real conquest over Deronda's conviction? Nay, it was conceivable
that as Mordecai needed and believed that, he had found an active
replenishment of himself, so Deronda might receive from Mordecai's mind
the complete ideal shape of that personal duty and citizenship which lay
in his own thought like sculptured fragments certifying some beauty
yearned after but not traceable by divination.
As that possibility presented itself in his meditations, he was aware that
it would be called dreamy, and began to defend it. If the influence he
imagined himself submitting to had been that of some honored professor,
some authority in a seat of learning, some philosopher who had been
accepted as a voice of the age, would a thorough receptiveness toward
direction have been ridiculed? Only by those who hold it a sign of
weakness to be obliged for an idea, and prefer to hint that they have
implicitly held in a more correct form whatever others have stated with a
sadly short-coming explicitness. After all, what was there but vulgarity
in taking the fact that Mordecai was a poor Jewish workman, and that he
was to be met perhaps on a sanded floor in the parlor of the _Hand and
Banner_ as a reason for determining beforehand that there was not some
spiritual force within him that might have a determining effect on a
white-handed gentleman? There is a legend told of the Emperor Domitian,
that having heard of a Jewish family, of the house of David, whence the
ruler of the world was to spring, he sent for its members in alarm, but
quickly released them on observing that they had the hands of work-people
--being of just the opposite opinion with that Rabbi who stood waiting at
the gate of Rome in confidence that the Messiah would be found among the
destitute who entered there. Both Emperor and Rabbi were wrong in their
trust of outward signs: poverty and poor clothes are no sign of
inspiration, said Deronda to his inward objector, but they have gone with
it in some remarkable cases. And to regard discipleship as out of the
question because of them, would be mere dullness of imagination.
A more plausible reason for putting discipleship out of the question was
the strain of visionary excitement in Mordecai, which turned his wishes
into overmastering impressions, and made him read outward facts as
fulfillment. Was such a temper of mind likely to accompany that wise
estimate of consequences which is the only safeguard from fatal error,
even to ennobling motive? But it remained to be seen whether that rare
conjunction existed or not in Mordecai: perhaps his might be one of the
natures where a wise estimate of consequences is fused in the fires of
that passionate belief which determines the consequences it believes in.
The inspirations of the world have come in that way too: even strictly-
measuring science could hardly have got on without that forecasting ardor
which feels the agitations of discovery beforehand, and has a faith in its
preconception that surmounts many failures of experiment. And in relation
to human motives and actions, passionate belief has a fuller efficacy.
Here enthusiasm may have the validity of proof, and happening in one soul,
give the type of what will one day be general.
At least, Deronda argued, Mordecai's visionary excitability was hardly a
reason for concluding beforehand that he was not worth listening to except
for pity sake. Suppose he had introduced himself as one of the strictest
reasoners. Do they form a body of men hitherto free from false conclusions
and illusory speculations? The driest argument has its hallucinations, too
hastily concluding that its net will now at last be large enough to hold
the universe. Men may dream in demonstrations, and cut out an illusory
world in the shape of axioms, definitions, and propositions, with a final
exclusion of fact signed Q.E.D. No formulas for thinking will save us
mortals from mistake in our imperfect apprehension of the matter to be
thought about. And since the unemotional intellect may carry us into a
mathematical dreamland where nothing is but what is not, perhaps an
emotional intellect may have absorbed into its passionate vision of
possibilities some truth of what will be--the more comprehensive massive
life feeding theory with new material, as the sensibility of the artist
seizes combinations which science explains and justifies. At any rate,
presumptions to the contrary are not to be trusted. We must be patient
with the inevitable makeshift of our human thinking, whether in its sum
total or in the separate minds that have made the sum. Columbus had some
impressions about himself which we call superstitions, and used some
arguments which we disapprove; but he had also some sound physical
conceptions, and he had the passionate patience of genius to make them
tell on mankind. The world has made up its mind rather contemptuously
about those who were deaf to Columbus.
"My contempt for them binds me to see that I don't adopt their mistake on
a small scale," said Deronda, "and make myself deaf with the assumption
that there cannot be any momentous relation between this Jew and me,
simply because he has clad it in illusory notions. What I can be to him,
or he to me, may not at all depend on his persuasion about the way we came
together. To me the way seems made up of plainly discernible links. If I
had not found Mirah, it is probable that I should not have begun to be
specially interested in the Jews, and certainly I should not have gone on
that loitering search after an Ezra Cohen which made me pause at Ram's
book-shop and ask the price of _Maimon_. Mordecai, on his side, had his
visions of a disciple, and he saw me by their light; I corresponded well
enough with the image his longing had created. He took me for one of his
race. Suppose that his impression--the elderly Jew at Frankfort seemed to
have something like it--suppose in spite of all presumptions to the
contrary, that his impression should somehow be proved true, and that I
should come actually to share any of the ideas he is devoted to? This is
the only question which really concerns the effect of our meeting on my
"But if the issue should be quite different?--well, there will be
something painful to go through. I shall almost inevitably have to be an
active cause of that poor fellow's crushing disappointment. Perhaps this
issue is the one I had need prepare myself for. I fear that no tenderness
of mine can make his suffering lighter. Would the alternative--that I
should not disappoint him--be less painful to me?"
Here Deronda wavered. Feelings had lately been at work within him which
had very much modified the reluctance he would formerly have had to think
of himself as probably a Jew. And, if you like, he was romantic. That
young energy and spirit of adventure which have helped to create the
world-wide legions of youthful heroes going to seek the hidden tokens of
their birth and its inheritance of tasks, gave him a certain quivering
interest in the bare possibility that he was entering on a track like--all
the more because the track was one of thought as well as action.
"The bare possibility." He could not admit it to be more. The belief that
his father was an Englishman only grew firmer under the weak assaults of
unwarranted doubt. And that a moment should ever come in which that belief
was declared a delusion, was something of which Deronda would not say, "I
should be glad." His life-long affection for Sir Hugo, stronger than all
his resentment, made him shrink from admitting that wish.
Which way soever the truth might lie, he repeated to himself what he had
said to Mordecai--that he could not without farther reasons undertake to
hasten its discovery. Nay, he was tempted now to regard his uncertainty as
a condition to be cherished for the present. If further intercourse
revealed nothing but illusions as what he was expected to share in, the
want of any valid evidence that he was a Jew might save Mordecai the worst
shock in the refusal of fraternity. It might even be justifiable to use
the uncertainty on this point in keeping up a suspense which would induce
Mordecai to accept those offices of friendship that Deronda longed to urge
These were the meditations that busied Deronda in the interval of four
days before he could fulfill his promise to call for Mordecai at Ezra
Cohen's, Sir Hugo's demands on him often lasting to an hour so late as to
put the evening expedition to Holborn out of the question.
"Wenn es eine Stutenleiter von Leiden giebt, so hat Israel die hochste
Staffel erstiegen; wen die Dauer der Schmerzen und die Geduld, mit
welcher sie ertragen werden, adeln, so nehmen es die Juden mit den
Hochgeborenen aller Lander auf; wenn eine Literatur reich genannt
wird, die wenige klassische Trauerspiele besitzt, welcher Platz
gebuhrt dann einer Tragodie die anderthalb Jahrtausende wahrt,
gedichtet und dargestellt von den Helden selber?"--ZUNZ: _Die
Synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters._
"If there are ranks in suffering, Israel takes precedence of all the
nations--if the duration of sorrows and the patience with which they are
borne ennoble, the Jews are among the aristocracy of every land--if a
literature is called rich in the possession of a few classic tragedies,
what shall we say to a National Tragedy lasting for fifteen hundred years,
in which the poets and the actors were also the heroes?"
Deronda had lately been reading that passage of Zunz, and it occurred to
him by way of contrast when he was going to the Cohens, who certainly bore
no obvious stamp of distinction in sorrow or in any other form of
aristocracy. Ezra Cohen was not clad in the sublime pathos of the martyr,
and his taste for money-getting seemed to be favored with that success
which has been the most exasperating difference in the greed of Jews
during all the ages of their dispersion. This Jeshurun of a pawnbroker was
not a symbol of the great Jewish tragedy; and yet was there not something
typical in the fact that a life like Mordecai's--a frail incorporation of
the national consciousness, breathing with difficult breath--was nested in
the self-gratulating ignorant prosperity of the Cohens?
Glistening was the gladness in their faces when Deronda reappeared among
them. Cohen himself took occasion to intimate that although the diamond
ring, let alone a little longer, would have bred more money, he did not
mind _that_--not a sixpence--when compared with the pleasure of the women
and children in seeing a young gentleman whose first visit had been so
agreeable that they had "done nothing but talk of it ever since." Young
Mrs. Cohen was very sorry that baby was asleep, and then very glad that
Adelaide was not yet gone to bed, entreating Deronda not to stay in the
shop, but to go forthwith into the parlor to see "mother and the
children." He willingly accepted the invitation, having provided himself
with portable presents; a set of paper figures for Adelaide, and an ivory
cup and ball for Jacob.
The grandmother had a pack of cards before her and was making "plates"
with the children. A plate had just been thrown down and kept itself
"Stop!" said Jacob, running to Deronda as he entered. "Don't tread on my
plate. Stop and see me throw it up again."
Deronda complied, exchanging a smile of understanding with the
grandmother, and the plate bore several tossings before it came to pieces;
then the visitor was allowed to come forward and seat himself. He observed
that the door from which Mordecai had issued on the former visit was now
closed, but he wished to show his interest in the Cohens before disclosing
a yet stronger interest in their singular inmate.
It was not until he had Adelaide on his knee, and was setting up the paper
figures in their dance on the table, while Jacob was already practicing
with the cup and ball, that Deronda said--
"Is Mordecai in just now?"
"Where is he, Addy?" said Cohen, who had seized an interval of business to
come and look on.
"In the workroom there," said his wife, nodding toward the closed door.
"The fact is, sir," said Cohen, "we don't know what's come to him this
last day or two. He's always what I may call a little touched, you know"--
here Cohen pointed to his own forehead--"not quite so rational in all
things, like you and me; but he's mostly wonderful regular and industrious
so far as a poor creature can be, and takes as much delight in the boy as
anybody could. But this last day or two he's been moving about like a
sleep-walker, or else sitting as still as a wax figure."
"It's the disease, poor dear creature," said the grandmother, tenderly. "I
doubt whether he can stand long against it."
"No; I think its only something he's got in his head." said Mrs. Cohen the
younger. "He's been turning over writing continually, and when I speak to
him it takes him ever so long to hear and answer."
"You may think us a little weak ourselves," said Cohen, apologetically.
But my wife and mother wouldn't part with him if he was a still worse
encumbrance. It isn't that we don't know the long and short of matters,
but it's our principle. There's fools do business at a loss and don't know
it. I'm not one of 'em."
"Oh, Mordecai carries a blessing inside him," said the grandmother.
"He's got something the matter inside him," said Jacob, coming up to
correct this erratum of his grandmother's. "He said he couldn't talk to
me, and he wouldn't have a bit o' bun."
"So far from wondering at your feeling for him," said Deronda, "I already
feel something of the same sort myself. I have lately talked to him at
Ram's book-shop--in fact, I promised to call for him here, that we might
go out together."
"That's it, then!" said Cohen, slapping his knee. "He's been expecting
you, and it's taken hold of him. I suppose he talks about his learning to
you. It's uncommonly kind of _you_, sir; for I don't suppose there's much
to be got out of it, else it wouldn't have left him where he is. But
there's the shop." Cohen hurried out, and Jacob, who had been listening
inconveniently near to Deronda's elbow, said to him with obliging
familiarity, "I'll call Mordecai for you, if you like."
"No, Jacob," said his mother; "open the door for the gentleman, and let
him go in himself Hush! don't make a noise."
Skillful Jacob seemed to enter into the play, and turned the handle of the
door as noiselessly as possible, while Deronda went behind him and stood
on the threshold. The small room was lit only by a dying fire and one
candle with a shade over it. On the board fixed under the window, various
objects of jewelry were scattered: some books were heaped in the corner
beyond them. Mordecai was seated on a high chair at the board with his
back to the door, his hands resting on each other and on the board, a
watch propped on a stand before him. He was in a state of expectation as
sickening as that of a prisoner listening for the delayed deliverance--
when he heard Deronda's voice saying, "I am come for you. Are you ready?"
Immediately he turned without speaking, seized his furred cap which lay
near, and moved to join Deronda. It was but a moment before they were both
in the sitting-room, and Jacob, noticing the change in his friend's air
and expression, seized him by the arm and said, "See my cup and ball!"
sending the ball up close to Mordecai's face, as something likely to cheer
a convalescent. It was a sign of the relieved tension in Mordecai's mind
that he could smile and say, "Fine, fine!"
"You have forgotten your greatcoat and comforter," said young Mrs. Cohen,
and he went back into the work-room and got them.
"He's come to life again, do you see?" said Cohen, who had re-entered--
speaking in an undertone. "I told you so: I'm mostly right." Then in his
usual voice, "Well, sir, we mustn't detain you now, I suppose; but I hope
this isn't the last time we shall see you."
"Shall you come again?" said Jacob, advancing. "See, I can catch the ball;
I'll bet I catch it without stopping, if you come again."
"He has clever hands," said Deronda, looking at the grandmother. "Which
side of the family does he get them from?"
But the grandmother only nodded towards her son, who said promptly, "My
side. My wife's family are not in that line. But bless your soul! ours is
a sort of cleverness as good as gutta percha; you can twist it which way
you like. There's nothing some old gentlemen won't do if you set 'em to
it." Here Cohen winked down at Jacob's back, but it was doubtful whether
this judicious allusiveness answered its purpose, for its subject gave a
nasal whinnying laugh and stamped about singing, "Old gentlemen, old
gentlemen," in chiming cadence.
Deronda thought, "I shall never know anything decisive about these people
until I ask Cohen pointblank whether he lost a sister named Mirah when she
was six years old." The decisive moment did not yet seem easy for him to
face. Still his first sense of repulsion at the commonness of these people
was beginning to be tempered with kindlier feeling. However unrefined
their airs and speech might be, he was forced to admit some moral
refinement in their treatment of the consumptive workman, whose mental
distinction impressed them chiefly as a harmless, silent raving.
"The Cohens seem to have an affection for you," said Deronda, as soon as
he and Mordecai were off the doorstep.
"And I for them," was the immediate answer. "They have the heart of the
Israelite within them, though they are as the horse and the mule, without
understanding beyond the narrow path they tread."
"I have caused you some uneasiness, I fear," said Deronda, "by my slowness
in fulfilling my promise. I wished to come yesterday, but I found it
"Yes--yes, I trusted you. But it is true I have been uneasy, for the
spirit of my youth has been stirred within me, and this body is not strong
enough to bear the beating of its wings. I am as a man bound and
imprisoned through long years: behold him brought to speech of his fellow
and his limbs set free: he weeps, he totters, the joy within him threatens
to break and overthrow the tabernacle of flesh."
"You must not speak too much in this evening air," said Deronda, feeling
Mordecai's words of reliance like so many cords binding him painfully.
"Cover your mouth with the woolen scarf. We are going to the _Hand and
Banner_, I suppose, and shall be in private there?"
"No, that is my trouble that you did not come yesterday. For this is the
evening of the club I spoke of, and we might not have any minutes alone
until late, when all the rest are gone. Perhaps we had better seek another
place. But I am used to that only. In new places the outer world presses
on me and narrows the inward vision. And the people there are familiar
with my face."
"I don't mind the club if I am allowed to go in," said Deronda. "It is
enough that you like this place best. If we have not enough time I will
come again. What sort of club is it?"
"It is called 'The Philosophers.' They are few--like the cedars of
Lebanon--poor men given to thought. But none so poor as I am: and
sometimes visitors of higher worldly rank have been brought. We are
allowed to introduce a friend, who is interested in our topics. Each
orders beer or some other kind of drink, in payment for the room. Most of
them smoke. I have gone when I could, for there are other men of my race
who come, and sometimes I have broken silence. I have pleased myself with
a faint likeness between these poor philosophers and the Masters who
handed down the thought of our race--the great Transmitters, who labored
with their hands for scant bread, but preserved and enlarged for us the
heritage of memory, and saved the soul of Israel alive as a seed among the
tombs. The heart pleases itself with faint resemblances."
"I shall be very glad to go and sit among them, if that will suit you. It
is a sort of meeting I should like to join in," said Deronda, not without
relief in the prospect of an interval before he went through the strain of
his next private conversation with Mordecai.
In three minutes they had opened the glazed door with the red curtain, and
were in the little parlor, hardly much more than fifteen feet square,
where the gaslight shone through a slight haze of smoke on what to Deronda
was a new and striking scene. Half-a-dozen men of various ages, from
between twenty and thirty to fifty, all shabbily dressed, most of them
with clay pipes in their mouths, were listening with a look of
concentrated intelligence to a man in a pepper-and-salt dress, with blonde
hair, short nose, broad forehead and general breadth, who, holding his
pipe slightly uplifted in the left hand, and beating his knee with the
right, was just finishing a quotation from Shelley (the comparison of the
avalanche in his "Prometheus Unbound")
"As thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
Is loosened, and the nations echo round."
The entrance of the new-comers broke the fixity of attention, and called
for re-arrangement of seats in the too narrow semicircle round the fire-
place and the table holding the glasses, spare pipes and tobacco. This was
the soberest of clubs; but sobriety is no reason why smoking and "talking
something" should be less imperiously needed as a means of getting a
decent status in company and debate. Mordecai was received with welcoming
voices which had a slight cadence of compassion in them, but naturally all
glances passed immediately to his companion.
"I have brought a friend who is interested in our subjects," said
Mordecai. "He has traveled and studied much."
"Is the gentlemen anonymous? Is he a Great 'Unknown?'" said the broad-
chested quoter of Shelley, with a humorous air.
"My name is Daniel Deronda. I am unknown, but not in any sense great." The
smile breaking over the stranger's grave face as he said this was so
agreeable that there was a general indistinct murmur, equivalent to a
"Hear, hear," and the broad man said--
"You recommend the name, sir, and are welcome. Here, Mordecai, come to
this corner against me," he added, evidently wishing to give the coziest
place to the one who most needed it.
Deronda was well satisfied to get a seat on the opposite side, where his
general survey of the party easily included Mordecai, who remained an
eminently striking object in this group of sharply-characterized figures,
more than one of whom, even to Daniel's little exercised discrimination,
seemed probably of Jewish descent.
In fact pure English blood (if leech or lancet can furnish us with the
precise product) did not declare itself predominantly in the party at
present assembled. Miller, the broad man, an exceptional second-hand
bookseller who knew the insides of books, had at least grand-parents who
called themselves German, and possibly far-away ancestors who denied
themselves to be Jews; Buchan, the saddler, was Scotch; Pash, the
watchmaker, was a small, dark, vivacious, triple-baked Jew; Gideon, the
optical instrument maker, was a Jew of the red-haired, generous-featured
type easily passing for Englishmen of unusually cordial manners: and
Croop, the dark-eyed shoemaker, was probably more Celtic than he knew.
Only three would have been discernable everywhere as Englishman: the wood-
inlayer Goodwin, well-built, open-faced, pleasant-voiced; the florid