Part 4 out of 16
wave" may be said without hyperbole in this age of steam. Gwendolen, he
conceived, was an Amaryllis of excellent sense but coquettish daring; the
question was whether she had dared too much.
Lady Flora, coming back charged with news about Miss Harleth, saw no good
reason why she should not try whether she could electrify Mr. Grandcourt
by mentioning it to him at the table; and in doing so shot a few hints of
a notion having got abroad that he was a disappointed adorer. Grandcourt
heard with quietude, but with attention; and the next day he ordered Lush
to bring about a decent reason for breaking up the party at Diplow by the
end of another week, as he meant to go yachting to the Baltic or
somewhere--it being impossible to stay at Diplow as if he were a prisoner
on parole, with a set of people whom he had never wanted. Lush needed no
clearer announcement that Grandcourt was going to Leubronn; but he might
go after the manner of a creeping billiard-ball and stick on the way. What
Mr. Lush intended was to make himself indispensable so that he might go
too, and he succeeded; Gwendolen's repulsion for him being a fact that
only am used his patron, and made him none the less willing to have Lush
always at hand.
This was how it happened that Grandcourt arrived at the _Czarina_ on the
fifth day after Gwendolen had left Leubronn, and found there his uncle,
Sir Hugo Mallinger, with his family, including Deronda. It is not
necessarily a pleasure either to the reigning power or the heir
presumptive when their separate affairs--a--touch of gout, say, in the
one, and a touch of willfulness in the other--happen to bring them to the
same spot. Sir Hugo was an easy-tempered man, tolerant both of differences
and defects; but a point of view different from his own concerning the
settlement of the family estates fretted him rather more than if it had
concerned Church discipline or the ballot, and faults were the less venial
for belonging to a person whose existence was inconvenient to him. In no
case could Grandcourt have been a nephew after his own heart; but as the
presumptive heir to the Mallinger estates he was the sign and embodiment
of a chief grievance in the baronet's life--the want of a son to inherit
the lands, in no portion of which had he himself more than a life-
interest. For in the ill-advised settlement which his father, Sir Francis,
had chosen to make by will, even Diplow with its modicum of land had been
left under the same conditions as the ancient and wide inheritance of the
two Toppings--Diplow, where Sir Hugo had lived and hunted through many a
season in his younger years, and where his wife and daughters ought to
have been able to retire after his death.
This grievance had naturally gathered emphasis as the years advanced, and
Lady Mallinger, after having had three daughters in quick succession, had
remained for eight years till now that she was over forty without
producing so much as another girl; while Sir Hugo, almost twenty years
older, was at a time of life when, notwithstanding the fashionable
retardation of most things from dinners to marriages, a man's hopefulness
is apt to show signs of wear, until restored by second childhood.
In fact, he had begun to despair of a son, and this confirmation of
Grandcourt's interest in the estates certainly tended to make his image
and presence the more unwelcome; but, on the other hand, it carried
circumstances which disposed Sir Hugo to take care that the relation
between them should be kept as friendly as possible. It led him to dwell
on a plan which had grown up side by side with his disappointment of an
heir; namely, to try and secure Diplow as a future residence for Lady
Mallinger and her daughters, and keep this pretty bit of the family
inheritance for his own offspring in spite of that disappointment. Such
knowledge as he had of his nephew's disposition and affairs encouraged the
belief that Grandcourt might consent to a transaction by which he would
get a good sum of ready money, as an equivalent for his prospective
interest in the domain of Diplow and the moderate amount of land attached
to it. If, after all, the unhoped-for son should be born, the money would
have been thrown away, and Grandcourt would have been paid for giving up
interests that had turned out good for nothing; but Sir Hugo set down this
risk as _nil_, and of late years he had husbanded his fortune so well by
the working of mines and the sale of leases that he was prepared for an
Here was an object that made him careful to avoid any quarrel with
Grandcourt. Some years before, when he was making improvements at the
Abbey, and needed Grandcourt's concurrence in his felling an obstructive
mass of timber on the demesne, he had congratulated himself on finding
that there was no active spite against him in his nephew's peculiar mind;
and nothing had since occurred to make them hate each other more than was
compatible with perfect politeness, or with any accommodation that could
be strictly mutual.
Grandcourt, on his side, thought his uncle a superfluity and a bore, and
felt that the list of things in general would be improved whenever Sir
Hugo came to be expunged. But he had been made aware through Lush, always
a useful medium, of the baronet's inclinations concerning Diplow, and he
was gratified to have the alternative of the money in his mind: even if he
had not thought it in the least likely that he would choose to accept it,
his sense of power would have been flattered by his being able to refuse
what Sir Hugo desired. The hinted transaction had told for something among
the motives which had made him ask for a year's tenancy of Diplow, which
it had rather annoyed Sir Hugo to grant, because the excellent hunting in
the neighborhood might decide Grandcourt not to part with his chance of
future possession;--a man who has two places, in one of which the hunting
is less good, naturally desiring a third where it is better. Also, Lush
had thrown out to Sir Hugo the probability that Grandcourt would woo and
win Miss Arrowpoint, and in that case ready money might be less of a
temptation to him. Hence, on this unexpected meeting at Leubronn, the
baronet felt much curiosity to know how things had been going on at
Diplow, was bent on being as civil as possible to his nephew, and looked
forward to some private chat with Lush.
Between Deronda and Grandcourt there was a more faintly-marked but
peculiar relation, depending on circumstances which have yet to be made
known. But on no side was there any sign of suppressed chagrin on the
first meeting at the _table d'hote_, an hour after Grandcourt's arrival;
and when the quartette of gentlemen afterward met on the terrace, without
Lady Mallinger, they moved off together to saunter through the rooms, Sir
Hugo saying as they entered the large _saal_--
"Did you play much at Baden, Grandcourt?"
"No; I looked on and betted a little with some Russians there."
"Had you luck?"
"What did I win, Lush?"
"You brought away about two hundred," said Lush.
"You are not here for the sake of the play, then?" said Sir Hugo.
"No; I don't care about play now. It's a confounded strain," said
Grandcourt, whose diamond ring and demeanor, as he moved along playing
slightly with his whisker, were being a good deal stared at by rouged
foreigners interested in a new milord.
"The fact is, somebody should invent a mill to do amusements for you, my
dear fellow," said Sir Hugo, "as the Tartars get their praying done. But I
agree with you; I never cared for play. It's monotonous--knits the brain
up into meshes. And it knocks me up to watch it now. I suppose one gets
poisoned with the bad air. I never stay here more than ten minutes. But
where's your gambling beauty, Deronda? Have you seen her lately?"
"She's gone," said Deronda, curtly.
"An uncommonly fine girl, a perfect Diana," said Sir Hugo, turning to
Grandcourt again. "Really worth a little straining to look at her. I saw
her winning, and she took it as coolly as if she had known it all
beforehand. The same day Deronda happened to see her losing like wildfire,
and she bore it with immense pluck. I suppose she was cleaned out, or was
wise enough to stop in time. How do you know she's gone?"
"Oh, by the Visitor-list," said Deronda, with a scarcely perceptible
shrug. "Vandernoodt told me her name was Harleth, and she was with the
Baron and Baroness von Langen. I saw by the list that Miss Harleth was no
This held no further information for Lush than that Gwendolen had been
gambling. He had already looked at the list, and ascertained that
Gwendolen had gone, but he had no intention of thrusting this knowledge on
Grandcourt before he asked for it; and he had not asked, finding it enough
to believe that the object of search would turn up somewhere or other.
But now Grandcourt had heard what was rather piquant, and not a word about
Miss Harleth had been missed by ham. After a moment's pause he said to
"Do you know those people--the Langens?"
"I have talked with them a little since Miss Harleth went away. I knew
nothing of them before."
"Where is she gone--do you know?"
"She is gone home," said Deronda, coldly, as if he wished to say no more.
But then, from a fresh impulse, he turned to look markedly at Grandcourt,
and added, "But it is possible you know her. Her home is not far from
Diplow: Offendene, near Winchester."
Deronda, turning to look straight at Grandcourt, who was on his left hand,
might have been a subject for those old painters who liked contrasts of
temperament. There was a calm intensity of life and richness of tint in
his face that on a sudden gaze from him was rather startling, and often
made him seem to have spoken, so that servants and officials asked him
automatically, "What did you say, sir?" when he had been quite silent.
Grandcourt himself felt an irritation, which he did not show except by a
slight movement of the eyelids, at Deronda's turning round on him when he
was not asked to do more than speak. But he answered, with his usual
drawl, "Yes, I know her," and paused with his shoulder toward Deronda, to
look at the gambling.
"What of her, eh?" asked Sir Hugo of Lush, as the three moved on a little
way. "She must be a new-comer at Offendene. Old Blenny lived there after
the dowager died."
"A little too much of her," said Lush, in a low, significant tone; not
sorry to let Sir Hugo know the state of affairs.
"Why? how?" said the baronet. They all moved out of the _salon_ into an
"He has been on the brink of marrying her," Lush went on. "But I hope it's
off now. She's a niece of the clergyman--Gascoigne--at Pennicote. Her
mother is a widow with a brood of daughters. This girl will have nothing,
and is as dangerous as gunpowder. It would be a foolish marriage. But she
has taken a freak against him, for she ran off here without notice, when
he had agreed to call the next day. The fact is, he's here after her; but
he was in no great hurry, and between his caprice and hers they are likely
enough not to get together again. But of course he has lost his chance
with the heiress."
Grandcourt joining them said, "What a beastly den this is!--a worse hole
than Baden. I shall go back to the hotel."
When Sir Hugo and Deronda were alone, the baronet began--
"Rather a pretty story. That girl has something in her. She must be worth
running after--has _de l'imprevu_. I think her appearance on the scene has
bettered my chance of getting Diplow, whether the marriage comes off or
"I should hope a marriage like that would not come off," said Deronda, in
a tone of disgust.
"What! are you a little touched with the sublime lash?" said Sir Hugo,
putting up his glasses to help his short sight in looking at his
companion. "Are you inclined to run after her?"
"On the contrary," said Deronda, "I should rather be inclined to run away
"Why, you would easily cut out Grandcourt. A girl with her spirit would
think you the finer match of the two," said Sir Hugo, who often tried
Deronda's patience by finding a joke in impossible advice. (A difference
of taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections.)
"I suppose pedigree and land belong to a fine match," said Deronda,
"The best horse will win in spite of pedigree, my boy. You remember
Napoleon's _mot--Je suis un ancetre_" said Sir Hugo, who habitually
undervalued birth, as men after dining well often agree that the good of
life is distributed with wonderful equality.
"I am not sure that I want to be an ancestor," said Deronda. "It doesn't
seem to me the rarest sort of origination."
"You won't run after the pretty gambler, then?" said Sir Hugo, putting
down his glasses.
This answer was perfectly truthful; nevertheless it had passed through
Deronda's mind that under other circumstances he should have given way to
the interest this girl had raised in him, and tried to know more of her.
But his history had given him a stronger bias in another direction. He
felt himself in no sense free.
Men, like planets, have both a visible and an invisible history. The
astronomer threads the darkness with strict deduction, accounting so
for every visible arc in the wanderer's orbit; and the narrator of
human actions, if he did his work with the same completeness, would
have to thread the hidden pathways of feeling and thought which lead
up to every moment of action, and to those moments of intense
suffering which take the quality of action--like the cry of
Prometheus, whose chained anguish seems a greater energy than the sea
and sky he invokes and the deity he defies.
Deronda's circumstances, indeed, had been exceptional. One moment had been
burned into his life as its chief epoch--a moment full of July sunshine
and large pink roses shedding their last petals on a grassy court enclosed
on three sides by a gothic cloister. Imagine him in such a scene: a boy of
thirteen, stretched prone on the grass where it was in shadow, his curly
head propped on his arms over a book, while his tutor, also reading, sat
on a camp-stool under shelter. Deronda s book was Sismondi's "History of
the Italian Republics";--the lad had a passion for history, eager to know
how time had been filled up since the flood, and how things were carried
on in the dull periods. Suddenly he let down his left arm and looked at
his tutor, saying in purest boyish tones--
"Mr. Fraser, how was it that the popes and cardinals always had so many
The tutor, an able young Scotchman, who acted as Sir Hugo Mallinger's
secretary, roused rather unwillingly from his political economy, answered
with the clear-cut emphatic chant which makes a truth doubly telling in
"Their own children were called nephews."
"Why?" said Deronda.
"It was just for the propriety of the thing; because, as you know very
well, priests don't marry, and the children were illegitimate."
Mr. Fraser, thrusting out his lower lip and making his chant of the last
word the more emphatic for a little impatience at being interrupted, had
already turned his eyes on his book again, while Deronda, as if something
had stung him, started up in a sitting attitude with his back to the
He had always called Sir Hugo Mallinger his uncle, and when it once
occurred to him to ask about his father and mother, the baronet had
answered, "You lost your father and mother when you were quite a little
one; that is why I take care of you." Daniel then straining to discern
something in that early twilight, had a dim sense of having been kissed
very much, and surrounded by thin, cloudy, scented drapery, till his
ringers caught in something hard, which hurt him, and he began to cry.
Every other memory he had was of the little world in which he still lived.
And at that time he did not mind about learning more, for he was too fond
of Sir Hugo to be sorry for the loss of unknown parents. Life was very
delightful to the lad, with an uncle who was always indulgent and
cheerful--a fine man in the bright noon of life, whom Daniel thought
absolutely perfect, and whose place was one of the finest in England, at
once historical; romantic, and home-like: a picturesque architectural
outgrowth from an abbey, which had still remnants of the old monastic
trunk. Diplow lay in another county, and was a comparatively landless
place which had come into the family from a rich lawyer on the female side
who wore the perruque of the restoration; whereas the Mallingers had the
grant of Monk's Topping under Henry the Eighth, and ages before had held
the neighboring lands of King's Topping, tracing indeed their origin to a
certain Hugues le Malingre, who came in with the Conqueror--and also
apparently with a sickly complexion which had been happily corrected in
his descendants. Two rows of these descendants, direct and collateral,
females of the male line, and males of the female, looked down in the
gallery over the cloisters on the nephew Daniel as he walked there: men in
armor with pointed beards and arched eyebrows, pinched ladies in hoops and
ruffs with no face to speak of; grave-looking men in black velvet and
stuffed hips, and fair, frightened women holding little boys by the hand;
smiling politicians in magnificent perruques, and ladies of the prize-
animal kind, with rosebud mouths and full eyelids, according to Lely; then
a generation whose faces were revised and embellished in the taste of
Kneller; and so on through refined editions of the family types in the
time of Reynolds and Romney, till the line ended with Sir Hugo and his
younger brother Henleigh. This last had married Miss Grandcourt, and taken
her name along with her estates, thus making a junction between two
equally old families, impaling the three Saracens' heads proper and three
bezants of the one with the tower and falcons _argent_ of the other, and,
as it happened, uniting their highest advantages in the prospects of that
Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt who is at present more of an acquaintance to
us than either Sir Hugo or his nephew Daniel Deronda.
In Sir Hugo's youthful portrait with rolled collar and high cravat, Sir
Thomas Lawrence had done justice to the agreeable alacrity of expression
and sanguine temperament still to be seen in the original, but had done
something more than justice in slightly lengthening the nose, which was in
reality shorter than might have been expected in a Mallinger. Happily the
appropriate nose of the family reappeared in his younger brother, and was
to be seen in all its refined regularity in his nephew Mallinger
Grandcourt. But in the nephew Daniel Deronda the family faces of various
types, seen on the walls of the gallery; found no reflex. Still he was
handsomer than any of them, and when he was thirteen might have served as
model for any painter who wanted to image the most memorable of boys: you
could hardly have seen his face thoroughly meeting yours without believing
that human creatures had done nobly in times past, and might do more nobly
in time to come. The finest childlike faces have this consecrating power,
and make us shudder anew at all the grossness and basely-wrought griefs of
the world, lest they should enter here and defile.
But at this moment on the grass among the rose-petals, Daniel Deronda was
making a first acquaintance with those griefs. A new idea had entered his
mind, and was beginning to change the aspect of his habitual feelings as
happy careless voyagers are changed with the sky suddenly threatened and
the thought of danger arises. He sat perfectly still with his back to the
tutor, while his face expressed rapid inward transition. The deep blush,
which had come when he first started up, gradually subsided; but his
features kept that indescribable look of subdued activity which often
accompanies a new mental survey of familiar facts. He had not lived with
other boys, and his mind showed the same blending of child's ignorance
with surprising knowledge which is oftener seen in bright girls. Having
read Shakespeare as well as a great deal of history, he could have talked
with the wisdom of a bookish child about men who were born out of wedlock
and were held unfortunate in consequence, being under disadvantages which
required them to be a sort of heroes if they were to work themselves up to
an equal standing with their legally born brothers. But he had never
brought such knowledge into any association with his own lot, which had
been too easy for him ever to think about it--until this moment when there
had darted into his mind with the magic of quick comparison, the
possibility that here was the secret of his own birth, and that the man
whom he called uncle was really his father. Some children, even younger
than Daniel, have known the first arrival of care, like an ominous
irremovable guest in their tender lives, on the discovery that their
parents, whom they had imagined able to buy everything, were poor and in
hard money troubles. Daniel felt the presence of a new guest who seemed to
come with an enigmatic veiled face, and to carry dimly-conjectured,
dreaded revelations. The ardor which he had given to the imaginary world
in his books suddenly rushed toward his own history and spent its
pictorial energy there, explaining what he knew, representing the unknown.
The uncle whom he loved very dearly took the aspect of a father who held
secrets about him--who had done him a wrong--yes, a wrong: and what had
become of his mother, for whom he must have been taken away?--Secrets
about which he, Daniel, could never inquire; for to speak or to be spoken
to about these new thoughts seemed like falling flakes of fire to his
imagination. Those who have known an impassioned childhood will understand
this dread of utterance about any shame connected with their parents. The
impetuous advent of new images took possession of him with the force of
fact for the first time told, and left him no immediate power for the
reflection that he might be trembling at a fiction of his own. The
terrible sense of collision between a strong rush of feeling and the dread
of its betrayal, found relief at length in big slow tears, which fell
without restraint until the voice of Mr. Fraser was heard saying:
"Daniel, do you see that you are sitting on the bent pages of your book?"
Daniel immediately moved the book without turning round, and after holding
it before him for an instant, rose with it and walked away into the open
grounds, where he could dry his tears unobserved. The first shock of
suggestion past, he could remember that he had no certainty how things
really had been, and that he had been making conjectures about his own
history, as he had often made stories about Pericles or Columbus, just to
fill up the blanks before they became famous. Only there came back certain
facts which had an obstinate reality,--almost like the fragments of a
bridge, telling you unmistakably how the arches lay. And again there came
a mood in which his conjectures seemed like a doubt of religion, to be
banished as an offense, and a mean prying after what he was not meant to
know; for there was hardly a delicacy of feeling this lad was not capable
of. But the summing-up of all his fluctuating experience at this epoch
was, that a secret impression had come to him which had given him
something like a new sense in relation to all the elements of his life.
And the idea that others probably knew things concerning which they did
not choose to mention, set up in him a premature reserve which helped to
intensify his inward experience. His ears open now to words which before
that July day would have passed by him unnoted; and round every trivial
incident which imagination could connect with his suspicions, a newly-
roused set of feelings were ready to cluster themselves.
One such incident a month later wrought itself deeply into his life.
Daniel had not only one of those thrilling boy voices which seem to bring
an idyllic heaven and earth before our eyes, but a fine musical instinct,
and had early made out accompaniments for himself on the piano, while he
sang from memory. Since then he had had some teaching, and Sir Hugo, who
delighted in the boy, used to ask for his music in the presence of guests.
One morning after he had been singing "Sweet Echo" before a small party of
gentlemen whom the rain had kept in the house, the baronet, passing from a
smiling remark to his next neighbor said:
"Come here, Dan!"
The boy came forward with unusual reluctance. He wore an embroidered
holland blouse which set off the rich coloring of his head and throat, and
the resistant gravity about his mouth and eyes as he was being smiled
upon, made their beauty the more impressive. Every one was admiring him,
"What do you say to being a great singer? Should you like to be adored by
the world and take the house by storm; like Mario and Tamberlik?"
Daniel reddened instantaneously, but there was a just perceptible interval
before he answered with angry decision--
"No; I should hate it!"
"Well, well, well!" said Sir Hugo, with surprised kindliness intended to
be soothing. But Daniel turned away quickly, left the room, and going to
his own chamber threw himself on the broad window-sill, which was a
favorite retreat of his when he had nothing particular to do. Here he
could see the rain gradually subsiding with gleams through the parting
clouds which lit up a great reach of the park, where the old oaks stood
apart from each other, and the bordering wood was pierced with a green
glade which met the eastern sky. This was a scene which had always been
part of his home--part of the dignified ease which had been a matter of
course in his life. And his ardent clinging nature had appropriated it all
with affection. He knew a great deal of what it was to be a gentleman by
inheritance, and without thinking much about himself--for he was a boy of
active perceptions and easily forgot his own existence in that of Robert
Bruce--he had never supposed that he could be shut out from such a lot, or
have a very different part in the world from that of the uncle who petted
him. It is possible (though not greatly believed in at present) to be fond
of poverty and take it for a bride, to prefer scoured deal, red quarries
and whitewash for one's private surroundings, to delight in no splendor
but what has open doors for the whole nation, and to glory in having no
privileges except such as nature insists on; and noblemen have been known
to run away from elaborate ease and the option of idleness, that they
might bind themselves for small pay to hard-handed labor. But Daniel's
tastes were altogether in keeping with his nurture: his disposition was
one in which everyday scenes and habits beget not _ennui_ or rebellion,
but delight, affection, aptitudes; and now the lad had been stung to the
quick by the idea that his uncle--perhaps his father--thought of a career
for him which was totally unlike his own, and which he knew very well was
not thought of among possible destinations for the sons of English
gentlemen. He had often stayed in London with Sir Hugo, who to indulge the
boy's ear had carried him to the opera to hear the great tenors, so that
the image of a singer taking the house by storm was very vivid to him; but
now, spite of his musical gift, he set himself bitterly against the notion
of being dressed up to sing before all those fine people, who would not
care about him except as a wonderful toy. That Sir Hugo should have
thought of him in that position for a moment, seemed to Daniel an
unmistakable proof that there was something about his birth which threw
him out from the class of gentlemen to which the baronet belonged. Would
it ever be mentioned to him? Would the time come when his uncle would tell
him everything? He shrank from the prospect: in his imagination he
preferred ignorance. If his father had been wicked--Daniel inwardly used
strong words, for he was feeling the injury done him as a maimed boy feels
the crushed limb which for others is merely reckoned in an average of
accidents--if his father had done any wrong, he wished it might never be
spoken of to him: it was already a cutting thought that such knowledge
might be in other minds. Was it in Mr. Fraser's? probably not, else he
would not have spoken in that way about the pope's nephews. Daniel
fancied, as older people do, that every one else's consciousness was as
active as his own on a matter which was vital to him. Did Turvey the valet
know?--and old Mrs. French the housekeeper?--and Banks the bailiff, with
whom he had ridden about the farms on his pony?--And now there came back
the recollection of a day some years before when he was drinking Mrs.
Banks's whey, and Banks said to his wife with a wink and a cunning laugh,
"He features the mother, eh?" At that time little Daniel had merely
thought that Banks made a silly face, as the common farming men often did,
laughing at what was not laughable; and he rather resented being winked at
and talked of as if he did not understand everything. But now that small
incident became information: it was to be reasoned on. How could he be
like his mother and not like his father? His mother must have been a
Mallinger, if Sir Hugo were his uncle. But no! His father might have been
Sir Hugo's brother and have changed his name, as Mr. Henleigh Mallinger
did when he married Miss Grandcourt. But then, why had he never heard Sir
Hugo speak of his brother Deronda, as he spoke of his brother Grandcourt?
Daniel had never before cared about the family tree--only about that
ancestor who had killed three Saracens in one encounter. But now his mind
turned to a cabinet of estate-maps in the library, where he had once seen
an illuminated parchment hanging out, that Sir Hugo said was the family
tree. The phrase was new and odd to him--he was a little fellow then--
hardly mare than half his present age--and he gave it no precise meaning.
He knew more now and wished that he could examine that parchment. He
imagined that the cabinet was always locked, and longed to try it. But
here he checked himself. He might be seen: and he would never bring
himself near even a silent admission of the sore that had opened in him.
It is in such experiences of a boy or girlhood, while elders are debating
whether most education lies in science or literature, that the main lines
of character are often laid down. If Daniel had been of a less ardently
affectionate nature, the reserve about himself and the supposition that
others had something to his disadvantage in their minds, might have turned
into a hard, proud antagonism. But inborn lovingness was strong enough to
keep itself level with resentment. There was hardly any creature in his
habitual world that he was not fond of; teasing them occasionally, of
course--all except his uncle, or "Nunc," as Sir Hugo had taught him to
say; for the baronet was the reverse of a strait-laced man, and left his
dignity to take care of itself. Him Daniel loved in that deep-rooted
filial way which makes children always the happier for being in the same
room with father or mother, though their occupations may be quite apart.
Sir Hugo's watch-chain and seals, his handwriting, his mode of smoking and
of talking to his dogs and horses, had all a rightness and charm about
them to the boy which went along with the happiness of morning and
breakfast time. That Sir Hugo had always been a Whig, made Tories and
Radicals equally opponents of the truest and best; and the books he had
written were all seen under the same consecration of loving belief which
differenced what was his from what was not his, in spite of general
resemblance. Those writings were various, from volumes of travel in the
brilliant style, to articles on things in general, and pamphlets on
political crises; but to Daniel they were alike in having an
unquestionable rightness by which other people's information could be
Who cannot imagine the bitterness of a first suspicion that something in
this object of complete love was _not_ quite right? Children demand that
their heroes should be fleckless, and easily believe them so: perhaps a
first discovery to the contrary is hardly a less revolutionary shock to a
passionate child than the threatened downfall of habitual beliefs which
makes the world seem to totter for us in maturer life.
But some time after this renewal of Daniel's agitation it appeared that
Sir Hugo must have been making a merely playful experiment in his question
about the singing. He sent for Daniel into the library, and looking up
from his writing as the boy entered threw himself sideways in his
armchair. "Ah, Dan!" he said kindly, drawing one of the old embroidered
stools close to him. "Come and sit down here."
Daniel obeyed, and Sir Hugo put a gentle hand on his shoulder, looking at
"What is it, my boy? Have you heard anything that has put you out of
Daniel was determined not to let the tears come, but he could not speak.
"All changes are painful when people have been happy, you know," said Sir
Hugo, lifting his hand from the boy's shoulder to his dark curls and
rubbing them gently. "You can't be educated exactly as I wish you to be
without our parting. And I think you will find a great deal to like at
This was not what Daniel expected, and was so far a relief, which gave him
spirit to answer--
"Am I to go to school?"
"Yes, I mean you to go to Eton. I wish you to have the education of an
English gentleman; and for that it is necessary that you should go to a
public school in preparation for the university: Cambridge I mean you to
go to; it was my own university."
Daniel's color came went.
"What do you say, sirrah?" said Sir Hugo, smiling.
"I should like to be a gentleman," said Daniel, with firm distinctness,
"and go to school, if that is what a gentleman's son must do."
Sir Hugo watched him silently for a few moments, thinking he understood
now why the lad had seemed angry at the notion of becoming a singer. Then
he said tenderly--
"And so you won't mind about leaving your old Nunc?"
"Yes, I shall," said Daniel, clasping Sir Hugo's caressing arm with both
his hands. "But shan't I come home and be with you in the holidays?"
"Oh yes, generally," said Sir Hugo. "But now I mean you to go at once to a
new tutor, to break the change for you before you go to Eton."
After this interview Daniel's spirit rose again. He was meant to be a
gentleman, and in some unaccountable way it might be that his conjectures
were all wrong. The very keenness of the lad taught him to find comfort in
his ignorance. While he was busying his mind in the construction of
possibilities, it became plain to him that there must be possibilities of
which he knew nothing. He left off brooding, young joy and the spirit of
adventure not being easily quenched within him, and in the interval before
his going away he sang about the house, danced among the old servants,
making them parting gifts, and insisted many times to the groom on the
care that was to be taken of the black pony.
"Do you think I shall know much less than the other boys, Mr. Fraser?"
said Daniel. It was his bent to think that every stranger would be
surprised at his ignorance.
"There are dunces to be found everywhere," said the judicious Fraser.
"You'll not be the biggest; but you've not, the makings of a Porson in
you, or a Leibnitz either."
"I don't want to be a Porson or a Leibnitz," said Daniel. "I would rather
be a greater leader, like Pericles or Washington."
"Ay, ay; you've a notion they did with little parsing, and less algebra,"
said Fraser. But in reality he thought his pupil a remarkable lad, to whom
one thing was as easy as another, if he had only a mind to it.
Things went on very well with Daniel in his new world, except that a boy
with whom he was at once inclined to strike up a close friendship talked
to him a great deal about his home and parents, and seemed to expect a
like expansiveness in return. Daniel immediately shrank into reserve, and
this experience remained a check on his naturally strong bent toward the
formation of intimate friendship. Every one, his tutor included, set him
down as a reserved boy, though he was so good-humored and unassuming, as
well as quick, both at study and sport, that nobody called his reserve
disagreeable. Certainly his face had a great deal to do with that
favorable interpretation; but in this instance the beauty of the closed
lips told no falsehood.
A surprise that came to him before his first vacation strengthened the
silent consciousness of a grief within, which might be compared in some
ways with Byron's susceptibility about his deformed foot. Sir Hugo wrote
word that he was married to Miss Raymond, a sweet lady, whom Daniel must
remember having seen. The event would make no difference about his
spending the vacation at the Abbey; he would find Lady Mallinger a new
friend whom he would be sure to love--and much more to the usual effect
when a man, having done something agreeable to himself, is disposed to
congratulate others on his own good fortune, and the deducible
satisfactoriness of events in general.
Let Sir Hugo be partly excused until the grounds of his action can be more
fully known. The mistakes in his behavior to Deronda were due to that
dullness toward what may be going on in other minds, especially the minds
of children, which is among the commonest deficiencies, even in good-
natured men like him, when life has been generally easy to themselves, and
their energies have been quietly spent in feeling gratified. No one was
better aware than he that Daniel was generally suspected to be his own
son. But he was pleased with that suspicion; and his imagination had never
once been troubled with the way in which the boy himself might be
affected, either then or in the future, by the enigmatic aspect of his
circumstances. He was as fond of him as could be, and meant the best by
him. And, considering the lightness with which the preparation of young
lives seem to lie on respectable consciences, Sir Hugo Mallinger can
hardly be held open to exceptional reproach. He had been a bachelor till
he was five-and-forty, had always been regarded as a fascinating man of
elegant tastes; what could be more natural, even according to the index of
language, than that he should have a beautiful boy like the little Deronda
to take care of? The mother might even, perhaps, be in the great world--
met with in Sir Hugo's residence abroad. The only person to feel any
objection was the boy himself, who could not have been consulted. And the
boy's objections had never been dreamed of by anybody but himself.
By the time Deronda was ready to go to Cambridge, Lady Mallinger had
already three daughters--charming babies, all three, but whose sex was
announced as a melancholy alternative, the offspring desired being a son;
if Sir Hugo had no son the succession must go to his nephew, Mallinger
Grandcourt. Daniel no longer held a wavering opinion about his own birth.
His fuller knowledge had tended to convince him that Sir Hugo was his
father, and he conceived that the baronet, since he never approached a
communication on the subject, wished him to have a tacit understanding of
the fact, and to accept in silence what would be generally considered more
than the due love and nurture. Sir Hugo's marriage might certainly have
been felt as a new ground of resentment by some youths in Deronda's
position, and the timid Lady Mallinger with her fast-coming little ones
might have been images to scowl at, as likely to divert much that was
disposable in the feelings and possessions of the baronet from one who
felt his own claim to be prior. But hatred of innocent human obstacles was
a form of moral stupidity not in Deronda's grain; even the indignation
which had long mingled itself with his affection for Sir Hugo took the
quality of pain rather than of temper; and as his mind ripened to the idea
of tolerance toward error, he habitually liked the idea with his own
The sense of an entailed disadvantage--the deformed foot doubtfully hidden
by the shoe, makes a restlessly active spiritual yeast, and easily turns a
self-centered, unloving nature into an Ishmaelite. But in the rarer sort,
who presently see their own frustrated claim as one among a myriad, the
inexorable sorrow takes the form of fellowship and makes the imagination
tender. Deronda's early-weakened susceptibility, charged at first with
ready indignation and resistant pride, had raised in him a premature
reflection on certain questions of life; it had given a bias to his
conscience, a sympathy with certain ills, and a tension of resolve in
certain directions, who marked him off from other youths much more than
any talents he possessed.
One day near the end of the long vacation, when he had been making a tour
in the Rhineland with his Eton tutor, and was come for a farewell stay at
the Abbey before going to Cambridge, he said to Sir Hugo--
"What do you intend me to be, sir?" They were in the library, and it was
the fresh morning. Sir Hugo had called him in to read a letter from a
Cambridge Don who was to be interested in him; and since the baronet wore
an air at once business-like and leisurely, the moment seemed propitious
for entering on a grave subject which had never yet been thoroughly
"Whatever your inclination leads you to, my boy. I thought it right to
give you the option of the army, but you shut the door on that, and I was
glad. I don't expect you to choose just yet--by-and-by, when you have
looked about you a little more and tried your mettle among older men. The
university has a good wide opening into the forum. There are prizes to be
won, and a bit of good fortune often gives the turn to a man's taste. From
what I see and hear, I should think you can take up anything you like. You
are in the deeper water with your classics than I ever got into, and if
you are rather sick of that swimming, Cambridge is the place where you can
go into mathematics with a will, and disport yourself on the dry sand as
much as you like. I floundered along like a carp."
"I suppose money will make some difference, sir," said Daniel blushing. "I
shall have to keep myself by-and-by."
"Not exactly. I recommend you not to be extravagant--yes, yes, I know--you
are not inclined to that;--but you need not take up anything against the
grain. You will have a bachelor's income--enough for you to look about
with. Perhaps I had better tell you that you may consider yourself secure
of seven hundred a year. You might make yourself a barrister--be a writer
--take up politics. I confess that is what would please me best. I should
like to have you at my elbow and pulling with me."
Deronda looked embarrassed. He felt that he ought to make some sign of
gratitude, but other feelings clogged his tongue. A moment was passing by
in which a question about his birth was throbbing within him, and yet it
seemed more impossible than ever that the question should find vent--more
impossible than ever that he could hear certain things from Sir Hugo's
lips. The liberal way in which he was dealt with was the more striking
because the baronet had of late cared particularly for money, and for
making the utmost of his life-interest in the estate by way of providing
for his daughters; and as all this flashed through Daniel's mind it was
momentarily within his imagination that the provision for him might come
in some way from his mother. But such vaporous conjecture passed away as
quickly as it came.
Sir Hugo appeared not to notice anything peculiar in Daniel's manner, and
presently went on with his usual chatty liveliness.
"I am glad you have done some good reading outside your classics, and have
got a grip of French and German. The truth is, unless a man can get the
prestige and income of a Don and write donnish books, it's hardly worth
while for him to make a Greek and Latin machine of himself and be able to
spin you out pages of the Greek dramatists at any verse you'll give him as
a cue. That's all very fine, but in practical life nobody does give you
the cue for pages of Greek. In fact, it's a nicety of conversation which I
would have you attend to--much quotation of any sort, even in English is
bad. It tends to choke ordinary remark. One couldn't carry on life
comfortably without a little blindness to the fact that everything had
been said better than we can put it ourselves. But talking of Dons, I have
seen Dons make a capital figure in society; and occasionally he can shoot
you down a cart-load of learning in the right place, which will tell in
politics. Such men are wanted; and if you have any turn for being a Don, I
say nothing against it."
"I think there's not much chance of that. Quicksett and Puller are both
stronger than I am. I hope you will not be much disappointed if I don't
come out with high honors."
"No, no. I should like you to do yourself credit, but for God's sake don't
come out as a superior expensive kind of idiot, like young Brecon, who got
a Double First, and has been learning to knit braces ever since. What I
wish you to get is a passport in life. I don't go against our university
system: we want a little disinterested culture to make head against cotton
and capital, especially in the House. My Greek has all evaporated; if I
had to construe a verse on a sudden, I should get an apoplectic fit. But
it formed my taste. I dare say my English is the better for it."
On this point Daniel kept a respectful silence. The enthusiastic belief in
Sir Hugo's writings as a standard, and in the Whigs as the chosen race
among politicians, had gradually vanished along with the seraphic boy's
face. He had not been the hardest of workers at Eton. Though some kinds of
study and reading came as easily as boating to him, he was not of the
material that usually makes the first-rate Eton scholar. There had sprung
up in him a meditative yearning after wide knowledge which is likely
always to abate ardor in the fight for prize acquirement in narrow tracks.
Happily he was modest, and took any second-rate-*ness in himself simply as
a fact, not as a marvel necessarily to be accounted for by a superiority.
Still Mr. Eraser's high opinion of the lad had not been altogether belied
by the youth: Daniel had the stamp of rarity in a subdued fervor of
sympathy, an activity of imagination on behalf of others which did not
show itself effusively, but was continually seen in acts of
considerateness that struck his companions as moral eccentricity. "Deronda
would have been first-rate if he had had more ambition," was a frequent
remark about him. But how could a fellow push his way properly when he
objected to swop for his own advantage, knocked under by choice when he
was within an inch of victory, and, unlike the great Clive, would rather
be the calf than the butcher? It was a mistake, however, to suppose that
Deronda had not his share of ambition. We know he had suffered keenly from
the belief that there was a tinge of dishonor in his lot; but there are
some cases, and his was one of them, in which the sense of injury breeds--
not the will to inflict injuries and climb over them as a ladder, but a
hatred of all injury. He had his flashes of fierceness and could hit out
upon occasion, but the occasions were not always what might have been
expected. For in what related to himself his resentful impulses had been
early checked by a mastering affectionateness. Love has a habit of saying
"Never mind" to angry self, who, sitting down for the nonce in the lower
place, by-and-by gets used to it. So it was that as Deronda approached
manhood his feeling for Sir Hugo, while it was getting more and more mixed
with criticism, was gaining in that sort of allowance which reconciles
criticism with tenderness. The dear old beautiful home and everything
within it, Lady Mallinger and her little ones included, were consecrated
for the youth as they had been for the boy--only with a certain difference
of light on the objects. The altarpiece was no longer miraculously
perfect, painted under infallible guidance, but the human hand discerned
in the work was appealing to a reverent tenderness safer from the gusts of
discovery. Certainly Deronda's ambition, even in his spring-time, lay
exceptionally aloof from conspicuous, vulgar triumph, and from other ugly
forms of boyish energy; perhaps because he was early impassioned by ideas,
and burned his fire on those heights. One may spend a good deal of energy
in disliking and resisting what others pursue, and a boy who is fond of
somebody else's pencil-case may not be more energetic than another who is
fond of giving his own pencil-case away. Still it was not Deronda's
disposition to escape from ugly scenes; he was more inclined to sit
through them and take care of the fellow least able to take care of
himself. It had helped to make him popular that he was sometimes a little
compromised by this apparent comradeship. For a meditative interest in
learning how human miseries are wrought--as precocious in him as another
sort of genius in the poet who writes a Queen Mab at nineteen--was so
infused with kindliness that it easily passed for comradeship. Enough. In
many of our neighbors' lives there is much not only of error and lapse,
but of a certain exquisite goodness which can never be written or even
spoken--only divined by each of us, according to the inward instruction of
our own privacy.
The impression he made at Cambridge corresponded to his position at Eton.
Every one interested in him agreed that he might have taken a high place
if his motives had been of a more pushing sort, and if he had not, instead
of regarding studies as instruments of success, hampered himself with the
notion that they were to feed motive and opinion--a notion which set him
criticising methods and arguing against his freight and harness when he
should have been using all his might to pull. In the beginning his work at
the university had a new zest for him: indifferent to the continuation of
Eton classical drill, he applied himself vigorously to mathematics, for
which he had shown an early aptitude under Mr. Fraser, and he had the
delight of feeling his strength in a comparatively fresh exercise of
thought. That delight, and the favorable opinion of his tutor, determined
him to try for a mathematical scholarship in the Easter of his second
year: he wished to gratify Sir Hugo by some achievement, and the study of
the higher mathematics, having the growing fascination inherent in all
thinking which demands intensity, was making him a more exclusive worker
than he had been before.
But here came the old check which had been growing with his growth. He
found the inward bent toward comprehension and thoroughness diverging more
and more from the track marked out by the standards of examination: he
felt a heightening discontent with the wearing futility and enfeebling
strain of a demand for excessive retention and dexterity without any
insight into the principles which form the vital connections of knowledge.
(Deronda's undergraduateship occurred fifteen years ago, when the
perfection of our university methods was not yet indisputable.) In hours
when his dissatisfaction was strong upon him he reproached himself for
having been attracted by the conventional advantage of belonging to an
English university, and was tempted toward the project of asking Sir Hugo
to let him quit Cambridge and pursue a more independent line of study
abroad. The germs of this inclination had been already stirring in his
boyish love of universal history, which made him want to be at home in
foreign countries, and follow in imagination the traveling students of the
middle ages. He longed now to have the sort of apprenticeship to life
which would not shape him too definitely, and rob him of the choice that
might come from a free growth. One sees that Deronda's demerits were
likely to be on the side of reflective hesitation, and this tendency was
encouraged by his position; there was no need for him to get an immediate
income, or to fit himself in haste for a profession; and his sensibility
to the half-known facts of his parentage made him an excuse for lingering
longer than others in a state of social neutrality. Other men, he inwardly
said, had a more definite place and duties. But the project which
flattered his inclination might not have gone beyond the stage of
ineffective brooding, if certain circumstances had not quickened it into
The circumstances arose out of an enthusiastic friendship which extended
into his after-life. Of the same year with himself, and occupying small
rooms close to his, was a youth who had come as an exhibitioner from
Christ's Hospital, and had eccentricities enough for a Charles Lamb. Only
to look at his pinched features and blonde hair hanging over his collar
reminded one of pale quaint heads by early German painters; and when this
faint coloring was lit up by a joke, there came sudden creases about the
mouth and eyes which might have been moulded by the soul of an aged
humorist. His father, an engraver of some distinction, had been dead
eleven years, and his mother had three girls to educate and maintain on a
meagre annuity. Hans Meyrick--he had been daringly christened after
Holbein--felt himself the pillar, or rather the knotted and twisted trunk,
round which these feeble climbing plants must cling. There was no want of
ability or of honest well-meaning affection to make the prop trustworthy:
the ease and quickness with which he studied might serve him to win prizes
at Cambridge, as he had done among the Blue Coats, in spite of
irregularities. The only danger was, that the incalculable tendencies in
him might be fatally timed, and that his good intentions might be
frustrated by some act which was not due to habit but to capricious,
scattered impulses. He could not be said to have any one bad habit; yet at
longer or shorter intervals he had fits of impish recklessness, and did
things that would have made the worst habits.
Hans in his right mind, however, was a lovable creature, and in Deronda he
had happened to find a friend who was likely to stand by him with the more
constancy, from compassion for these brief aberrations that might bring a
long repentance. Hans, indeed, shared Deronda's rooms nearly as much as he
used his own: to Deronda he poured himself out on his studies, his
affairs, his hopes; the poverty of his home, and his love for the
creatures there; the itching of his fingers to draw, and his determination
to fight it away for the sake of getting some sort of a plum that he might
divide with his mother and the girls. He wanted no confidence in return,
but seemed to take Deronda as an Olympian who needed nothing--an egotism
in friendship which is common enough with mercurial, expansive natures.
Deronda was content, and gave Meyrick all the interest he claimed, getting
at last a brotherly anxiety about him, looking after him in his erratic
moments, and contriving by adroitly delicate devices not only to make up
for his friend's lack of pence, but to save him from threatening chances.
Such friendship easily becomes tender: the one spreads strong sheltering
wings that delight in spreading, the other gets the warm protection which
is also a delight. Meyrick was going in for a classical scholarship, and
his success, in various ways momentous, was the more probable from the
steadying influence of Deronda's friendship.
But an imprudence of Meyrick's, committed at the beginning of the autumn
term, threatened to disappoint his hopes. With his usual alternation
between unnecessary expense and self-privation, he had given too much
money for an old engraving which fascinated him, and to make up for it,
had come from London in a third-class carriage with his eyes exposed to a
bitter wind and any irritating particles the wind might drive before it.
The consequence was a severe inflammation of the eyes, which for some time
hung over him the threat of a lasting injury. This crushing trouble called
out all Deronda's readiness to devote himself, and he made every other
occupation secondary to that of being companion and eyes to Hans, working
with him and for him at his classics, that if possible his chance of the
classical scholarship might be saved. Hans, to keep the knowledge of his
suffering from his mother and sisters, alleged his work as a reason for
passing the Christmas at Cambridge, and his friend stayed up with him.
Meanwhile Deronda relaxed his hold on his mathematics, and Hans,
reflecting on this, at length said: "Old fellow, while you are hoisting me
you are risking yourself. With your mathematical cram one may be like
Moses or Mahomet or somebody of that sort who had to cram, and forgot in
one day what it had taken him forty to learn."
Deronda would not admit that he cared about the risk, and he had really
been beguiled into a little indifference by double sympathy: he was very
anxious that Hans should not miss the much-needed scholarship, and he felt
a revival of interest in the old studies. Still, when Hans, rather late in
the day, got able to use his own eyes, Deronda had tenacity enough to try
hard and recover his lost ground. He failed, however; but he had the
satisfaction of seeing Meyrick win.
Success, as a sort of beginning that urged completion, might have
reconciled Deronda to his university course; but the emptiness of all
things, from politics to pastimes, is never so striking to us as when we
fail in them. The loss of the personal triumph had no severity for him,
but the sense of having spent his time ineffectively in a mode of working
which had been against the grain, gave him a distaste for any renewal of
the process, which turned his imagined project of quitting Cambridge into
a serious intention. In speaking of his intention to Meyrick he made it
appear that he was glad of the turn events had taken--glad to have the
balance dip decidedly, and feel freed from his hesitations; but he
observed that he must of course submit to any strong objection on the part
of Sir Hugo.
Meyrick's joy and gratitude were disturbed by much uneasiness. He believed
in Deronda's alleged preference, but he felt keenly that in serving him
Daniel had placed himself at a disadvantage in Sir Hugo's opinion, and he
said mournfully, "If you had got the scholarship, Sir Hugo would have
thought that you asked to leave us with a better grace. You have spoiled
your luck for my sake, and I can do nothing to amend it."
"Yes, you can; you are to be a first-rate fellow. I call that a first-rate
investment of my luck."
"Oh, confound it! You save an ugly mongrel from drowning, and expect him
to cut a fine figure. The poets have made tragedies enough about signing
one's self over to wickedness for the sake of getting something plummy; I
shall write a tragedy of a fellow who signed himself over to be good, and
was uncomfortable ever after."
But Hans lost no time in secretly writing the history of the affair to Sir
Hugo, making it plain that but for Deronda's generous devotion he could
hardly have failed to win the prize he had been working for.
The two friends went up to town together: Meyrick to rejoice with his
mother and the girls in their little home at Chelsea; Deronda to carry out
the less easy task of opening his mind to Sir Hugo. He relied a little on
the baronet's general tolerance of eccentricities, but he expected more
opposition than he met with. He was received with even warmer kindness
than usual, the failure was passed over lightly, and when he detailed his
reasons for wishing to quit the university and go to study abroad. Sir
Hugo sat for some time in a silence which was rather meditative than
surprised. At last he said, looking at Daniel with examination, "So you
don't want to be an Englishman to the backbone after all?"
"I want to be an Englishman, but I want to understand other points of
view. And I want to get rid of a merely English attitude in studies."
"I see; you don't want to be turned out in the same mould as every other
youngster. And I have nothing to say against your doffing some of our
national prejudices. I feel the better myself for having spent a good deal
of my time abroad. But, for God's sake, keep an English cut, and don't
become indifferent to bad tobacco! And, my dear boy, it is good to be
unselfish and generous; but don't carry that too far. It will not do to
give yourself to be melted down for the benefit of the tallow-trade; you
must know where to find yourself. However, I shall put no vote on your
going. Wait until I can get off Committee, and I'll run over with you."
So Deronda went according to his will. But not before he had spent some
hours with Hans Meyrick, and been introduced to the mother and sisters in
the Chelsea home. The shy girls watched and registered every look of their
brother's friend, declared by Hans to have been the salvation of him, a
fellow like nobody else, and, in fine, a brick. They so thoroughly
accepted Deronda as an ideal, that when he was gone the youngest set to
work, under the criticism of the two elder girls, to paint him as Prince
"This is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things."
--TENNYSON: _Locksley Hall_.
On a fine evening near the end of July, Deronda was rowing himself on the
Thames. It was already a year or more since he had come back to England,
with the understanding that his education was finished, and that he was
somehow to take his place in English society; but though, in deference to
Sir Hugo's wish, and to fence off idleness, he had began to read law, this
apparent decision had been without other result than to deepen the roots
of indecision. His old love of boating had revived with the more force now
that he was in town with the Mallingers, because he could nowhere else get
the same still seclusion which the river gave him. He had a boat of his
own at Putney, and whenever Sir Hugo did not want him, it was his chief
holiday to row till past sunset and come in again with the stars. Not that
he was in a sentimental stage; but he was in another sort of contemplative
mood perhaps more common in the young men of our day--that of questioning
whether it were worth while to take part in the battle of the world: I
mean, of course, the young men in whom the unproductive labor of
questioning is sustained by three or five per cent, on capital which
somebody else has battled for. It puzzled Sir Hugo that one who made a
splendid contrast with all that was sickly and puling should be hampered
with ideas which, since they left an accomplished Whig like himself
unobstructed, could be no better than spectral illusions; especially as
Deronda set himself against authorship--a vocation which is understood to
turn foolish thinking into funds.
Rowing in his dark-blue shirt and skull-cap, his curls closely clipped,
his mouth beset with abundant soft waves of beard, he bore only disguised
traces of the seraphic boy "trailing clouds of glory." Still, even one who
had never seen him since his boyhood might have looked at him with slow
recognition, due perhaps to the peculiarity of the gaze which Gwendolen
chose to call "dreadful," though it had really a very mild sort of
scrutiny. The voice, sometimes audible in subdued snatches of song, had
turned out merely a high baritone; indeed, only to look at his lithe,
powerful frame and the firm gravity of his face would have been enough for
an experienced guess that he had no rare and ravishing tenor such as
nature reluctantly makes at some sacrifice. Look at his hands: they are
not small and dimpled, with tapering fingers that seem to have only a
deprecating touch: they are long, flexible, firmly-grasping hands, such as
Titian has painted in a picture where he wanted to show the combination of
refinement with force. And there is something of a likeness, too, between
the faces belonging to the hands--in both the uniform pale-brown skin, the
perpendicular brow, the calmly penetrating eyes. Not seraphic any longer:
thoroughly terrestrial and manly; but still of a kind to raise belief in a
human dignity which can afford to recognize poor relations.
Such types meet us here and there among average conditions; in a workman,
for example, whistling over a bit of measurement and lifting his eyes to
answer our question about the road. And often the grand meanings of faces
as well as of written words may lie chiefly in the impressions that happen
just now to be of importance in relation to Deronda, rowing on the Thames
in a very ordinary equipment for a young Englishman at leisure, and
passing under Kew Bridge with no thought of an adventure in which his
appearance was likely to play any part. In fact, he objected very strongly
to the notion, which others had not allowed him to escape, that his
appearance was of a kind to draw attention; and hints of this, intended to
be complimentary, found an angry resonance in him, coming from mingled
experiences, to which a clue has already been given. His own face in the
glass had during many years associated for him with thoughts of some one
whom he must be like--one about whose character and lot he continually
wondered, and never dared to ask.
In the neighborhood of Kew Bridge, between six and seven o'clock, the
river was no solitude. Several persons were sauntering on the towing-path,
and here and there a boat was plying. Deronda had been rowing fast to get
over this spot, when, becoming aware of a great barge advancing toward
him, he guided his boat aside, and rested on his oar within a couple of
yards of the river-brink. He was all the while unconsciously continuing
the low-toned chant which had haunted his throat all the way up the river
--the gondolier's song in the "Otello," where Rossini has worthily set to
music the immortal words of Dante--
"Nessun maggior dolore
Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
[Footnote: Dante's words are best rendered by our own poet in the lines at
the head of the chapter.]
and, as he rested on his oar, the pianissimo fall of the melodic wail
"nella miseria" was distinctly audible on the brink of the water. Three or
four persons had paused at various spots to watch the barge passing the
bridge, and doubtless included in their notice the young gentleman in the
boat; but probably it was only to one ear that the low vocal sounds came
with more significance than if they had been an insect-murmur amidst the
sum of current noises. Deronda, awaiting the barge, now turning his head
to the river-side, and saw at a few yards' distant from him a figure which
might have been an impersonation of the misery he was unconsciously giving
voice to: a girl hardly more than eighteen, of low slim figure, with most
delicate little face, her dark curls pushed behind her ears under a large
black hat, a long woolen cloak over her shoulders. Her hands were hanging
down clasped before her, and her eyes were fixed on the river with a look
of immovable, statue-like despair. This strong arrest of his attention
made him cease singing: apparently his voice had entered her inner world
without her taking any note of whence it came, for when it suddenly ceased
she changed her attitude slightly, and, looking round with a frightened
glance, met Deronda's face. It was but a couple of moments, but that
seemed a long while for two people to look straight at each other. Her
look was something like that of a fawn or other gentle animal before it
turns to run away: no blush, no special alarm, but only some timidity
which yet could not hinder her from a long look before she turned. In
fact, it seemed to Deronda that she was only half conscious of her
surroundings: was she hungry, or was there some other cause of
bewilderment? He felt an outleap of interest and compassion toward her;
but the next instant she had turned and walked away to a neighboring bench
under a tree. He had no right to linger and watch her: poorly-dressed,
melancholy women are common sights; it was only the delicate beauty,
picturesque lines and color of the image that was exceptional, and these
conditions made it more markedly impossible that he should obtrude his
interest upon her. He began to row away and was soon far up the river; but
no other thoughts were busy enough quite to expel that pale image of
unhappy girlhood. He fell again and again to speculating on the probable
romance that lay behind that loneliness and look of desolation; then to
smile at his own share in the prejudice that interesting faces must have
interesting adventures; then to justify himself for feeling that sorrow
was the more tragic when it befell delicate, childlike beauty.
"I should not have forgotten the look of misery if she had been ugly and
vulgar," he said to himself. But there was no denying that the
attractiveness of the image made it likelier to last. It was clear to him
as an onyx cameo; the brown-black drapery, the white face with small,
small features and dark, long-lashed eyes. His mind glanced over the girl-
tragedies that are going on in the world, hidden, unheeded, as if they
were but tragedies of the copse or hedgerow, where the helpless drag
wounded wings forsakenly, and streak the shadowed moss with the red
moment-hand of their own death. Deronda of late, in his solitary
excursions, had been occupied chiefly with uncertainties about his own
course; but those uncertainties, being much at their leisure, were wont to
have such wide-sweeping connections with all life and history that the new
image of helpless sorrow easily blent itself with what seemed to him the
strong array of reasons why he should shrink from getting into that
routine of the world which makes men apologize for all its wrong-doing,
and take opinions as mere professional equipment--why he should not draw
strongly at any thread in the hopelessly-entangled scheme of things.
He used his oars little, satisfied to go with the tide and be taken back
by it. It was his habit to indulge himself in that solemn passivity which
easily comes with the lengthening shadows and mellow light, when thinking
and desiring melt together imperceptibly, and what in other hours may have
seemed argument takes the quality of passionate vision. By the time he had
come back again with the tide past Richmond Bridge the sun was near
setting: and the approach of his favorite hour--with its deepening
stillness and darkening masses of tree and building between the double
glow of the sky and the river--disposed him to linger as if they had been
an unfinished strain of music. He looked out for a perfectly solitary spot
where he could lodge his boat against the bank, and, throwing himself on
his back with his head propped on the cushions, could watch out the light
of sunset and the opening of that bead-roll which some oriental poet
describes as God's call to the little stars, who each answer, "Here am I."
He chose a spot in the bend of the river just opposite Kew Gardens, where
he had a great breadth of water before him reflecting the glory of the
sky, while he himself was in shadow. He lay with his hands behind his
head, propped on a level with the boat's edge, so that he could see all
round him, but could not be seen by any one at a few yards' distance; and
for a long while he never turned his eyes from the view right in front of
him. He was forgetting everything else in a half-speculative, half-
involuntary identification of himself with the objects he was looking at,
thinking how far it might be possible habitually to shift his centre till
his own personality would be no less outside him than the landscape--when
the sense of something moving on the bank opposite him where it was
bordered by a line of willow bushes, made him turn his glance thitherward.
In the first moment he had a darting presentiment about the moving figure;
and now he could see the small face with the strange dying sunlight upon
it. He feared to frighten her by a sudden movement, and watched her with
motionless attention. She looked round, but seemed only to gather security
from the apparent solitude, hid her hat among the willows, and immediately
took off her woolen cloak. Presently she seated herself and deliberately
dipped the cloak in the water, holding it there a little while, then
taking it out with effort, rising from her seat as she did so. By this
time Deronda felt sure that she meant to wrap the wet cloak round her as a
drowning shroud; there was no longer time to hesitate about frightening
her. He rose and seized his oar to ply across; happily her position lay a
little below him. The poor thing, overcome with terror at this sign of
discovery from the opposite bank, sank down on the brink again, holding
her cloak half out of the water. She crouched and covered her face as if
she kept a faint hope that she had not been seen, and that the boatman was
accidentally coming toward her. But soon he was within brief space of her,
steadying his boat against the bank, and speaking, but very gently--
"Don't be afraid. You are unhappy. Pray, trust me. Tell me what I can do
to help you."
She raised her head and looked up at him. His face now was toward the
light, and she knew it again. But she did not speak for a few moments
which were a renewal of their former gaze at each other. At last she said
in a low sweet voice, with an accent so distinct that it suggested
foreignness and yet was not foreign, "I saw you before," and then added
dreamily, after a like pause, "nella miseria."
Deronda, not understanding the connection of her thoughts, supposed that
her mind was weakened by distress and hunger.
"It was you, singing?" she went on, hesitatingly--"Nessun maggior dolore."
The mere words themselves uttered in her sweet undertones seemed to give
the melody to Deronda's ear.
"Ah, yes," he said, understanding now, "I am often singing them. But I
fear you will injure yourself staying here. Pray let me take you in my
boat to some place of safety. And that wet cloak--let me take it."
He would not attempt to take it without her leave, dreading lest he should
scare her. Even at his words, he fancied that she shrank and clutched the
cloak more tenaciously. But her eyes were fixed on him with a question in
them as she said, "You look good. Perhaps it is God's command."
"Do trust me. Let me help you. I will die before I will let any harm come
She rose from her sitting posture, first dragging the saturated cloak and
then letting it fall on the ground--it was too heavy for her tired arms.
Her little woman's figure as she laid her delicate chilled hands together
one over the other against her waist, and went a step backward while she
leaned her head forward as if not to lose sight of his face, was
"Great God!" the words escaped Deronda in a tone so low and solemn that
they seemed like a prayer become unconsciously vocal. The agitating
impression this forsaken girl was making on him stirred a fibre that lay
close to his deepest interest in the fates of women--"perhaps my mother
was like this one." The old thought had come now with a new impetus of
mingled feeling, and urged that exclamation in which both East and West
have for ages concentrated their awe in the presence of inexorable
The low-toned words seemed to have some reassurance in them for the
hearer: she stepped forward close to the boat's side, and Deronda put out
his hand, hoping now that she would let him help her in. She had already
put her tiny hand into his which closed around it, when some new thought
struck her, and drawing back she said--
"I have nowhere to go--nobody belonging to me in all this land."
"I will take you to a lady who has daughters," said Deronda, immediately.
He felt a sort of relief in gathering that the wretched home and cruel
friends he imagined her to be fleeing from were not in the near
background. Still she hesitated, and said more timidly than ever--
"Do you belong to the theatre?"
"No; I have nothing to do with the theatre," said Deronda, in a decided
tone. Then beseechingly, "I will put you in perfect safety at once; with a
lady, a good woman; I am sure she will be kind. Let us lose no time: you
will make yourself ill. Life may still become sweet to you. There are good
people--there are good women who will take care of you."
She drew backward no more, but stepped in easily, as if she were used to
such action, and sat down on the cushions.
"You had a covering for your head," said Deronda.
"My hat?" (She lifted up her hands to her head.) "It is quite hidden in
"I will find it," said Deronda, putting out his hand deprecatingly as she
attempted to rise. "The boat is fixed."
He jumped out, found the hat, and lifted up the saturated cloak, wringing
it and throwing it into the bottom of the boat.
"We must carry the cloak away, to prevent any one who may have noticed you
from thinking you have been drowned," he said, cheerfully, as he got in
again and presented the old hat to her. "I wish I had any other garment
than my coat to offer you. But shall you mind throwing it over your
shoulders while we are on the water? It is quite an ordinary thing to do,
when people return late and are not enough provided with wraps." He held
out the coat toward her with a smile, and there came a faint melancholy
smile in answer, as she took it and put it on very cleverly.
"I have some biscuits--should you like them?" said Deronda.
"No; I cannot eat. I had still some money left to buy bread."
He began to ply his oar without further remark, and they went along
swiftly for many minutes without speaking. She did not look at him, but
was watching the oar, leaning forward in an attitude of repose, as if she
were beginning to feel the comfort of returning warmth and the prospect of
life instead of death. The twilight was deepening; the red flush was all
gone and the little stars were giving their answer one after another. The
moon was rising, but was still entangled among the trees and buildings.
The light was not such that he could distinctly discern the expression of
her features or her glance, but they were distinctly before him
nevertheless--features and a glance which seemed to have given a fuller
meaning for him to the human face. Among his anxieties one was dominant:
his first impression about her, that her mind might be disordered, had not
been quite dissipated: the project of suicide was unmistakable, and given
a deeper color to every other suspicious sign. He longed to begin a
conversation, but abstained, wishing to encourage the confidence that
might induce her to speak first. At last she did speak.
"I like to listen to the oar."
"So do I."
"If you had not come, I should have been dead now."
"I cannot bear you to speak of that. I hope you will never be sorry that I
"I cannot see how I shall be glad to live. The _maggior dolore_ and the
_miseria_ have lasted longer than the _tempo felice_." She paused and then
went on dreamily,--"_Dolore--miseria_--I think those words are alive."
Deronda was mute: to question her seemed an unwarrantable freedom; he
shrank from appearing to claim the authority of a benefactor, or to treat
her with the less reverence because she was in distress. She went on
"I thought it was not wicked. Death and life are one before the Eternal. I
know our fathers slew their children and then slew themselves, to keep
their souls pure. I meant it so. But now I am commanded to live. I cannot
see how I shall live."
"You will find friends. I will find them for you."
She shook her head and said mournfully, "Not my mother and brother. I
cannot find them."
"You are English? You must be--speaking English so perfectly."
She did not answer immediately, but looked at Deronda again, straining to
see him in the double light. Until now she had been watching the oar. It
seemed as if she were half roused, and wondered which part of her
impression was dreaming and which waking. Sorrowful isolation had benumbed
her sense of reality, and the power of distinguishing outward and inward
was continually slipping away from her. Her look was full of wondering
timidity such as the forsaken one in the desert might have lifted to the
angelic vision before she knew whether his message was in anger or in
"You want to know if I am English?" she said at last, while Deronda was
reddening nervously under a gaze which he felt more fully than he saw.
"I want to know nothing except what you like to tell me," he said, still
uneasy in the fear that her mind was wandering. "Perhaps it is not good
for you to talk."
"Yes, I will tell you. I am English-born. But I am a Jewess."
Deronda was silent, inwardly wondering that he had not said this to
himself before, though any one who had seen delicate-faced Spanish girls
might simply have guessed her to be Spanish.
"Do you despise me for it?" she said presently in low tones, which had a
sadness that pierced like a cry from a small dumb creature in fear.
"Why should I?" said Deronda. "I am not so foolish."
"I know many Jews are bad."
"So are many Christians. But I should not think it fair for you to despise
me because of that."
"My mother and brother were good. But I shall never find them. I am come a
long way--from abroad. I ran away; but I cannot tell you--I cannot speak
of it. I thought I might find my mother again--God would guide me. But
then I despaired. This morning when the light came, I felt as if one word
kept sounding within me--Never! never! But now--I begin--to think--" her
words were broken by rising sobs--"I am commanded to live--perhaps we are
going to her."
With an outburst of weeping she buried her head on her knees. He hoped
that this passionate weeping might relieve her excitement. Meanwhile he
was inwardly picturing in much embarrassment how he should present himself
with her in Park Lane--the course which he had at first unreflectingly
determined on. No one kinder and more gentle than Lady Mallinger; but it
was hardly probable that she would be at home; and he had a shuddering
sense of a lackey staring at this delicate, sorrowful image of womanhood--
of glaring lights and fine staircases, and perhaps chilling suspicious
manners from lady's maid and housekeeper, that might scare the mind
already in a state of dangerous susceptibility. But to take her to any
other shelter than a home already known to him was not to be contemplated:
he was full of fears about the issue of the adventure which had brought on
him a responsibility all the heavier for the strong and agitating
impression this childlike creature had made on him. But another resource
came to mind: he could venture to take her to Mrs. Meyrick's--to the small
house at Chelsea--where he had been often enough since his return from
abroad to feel sure that he could appeal there to generous hearts, which
had a romantic readiness to believe in innocent need and to help it. Hans
Meyrick was safe away in Italy, and Deronda felt the comfort of presenting
himself with his charge at a house where he would be met by a motherly
figure of quakerish neatness, and three girls who hardly knew of any evil
closer to them than what lay in history-books, and dramas, and would at
once associate a lovely Jewess with Rebecca in "Ivanhoe," besides thinking
that everything they did at Deronda's request would be done for their
idol, Hans. The vision of the Chelsea home once raised, Deronda no longer
The rumbling thither in the cab after the stillness of the water seemed
long. Happily his charge had been quiet since her fit of weeping, and
submitted like a tired child. When they were in the cab, she laid down her
hat and tried to rest her head, but the jolting movement would not let it
rest. Still she dozed, and her sweet head hung helpless, first on one
side, then on the other.
"They are too good to have any fear about taking her in," thought Deronda.
Her person, her voice, her exquisite utterance, were one strong appeal to
belief and tenderness. Yet what had been the history which had brought her
to this desolation? He was going on a strange errand--to ask shelter for
this waif. Then there occurred to him the beautiful story Plutarch
somewhere tells of the Delphic women: how when the Maenads, outworn with
their torch-lit wanderings, lay down to sleep in the market-place, the
matrons came and stood silently round them to keep guard over their
slumbers; then, when they waked, ministered to them tenderly and saw them
safely to their own borders. He could trust the women he was going to for
having hearts as good.
Deronda felt himself growing older this evening and entering on a new
phase in finding a life to which his own had come--perhaps as a rescue;
but how to make sure that snatching from death was rescue? The moment of
finding a fellow-creature is often as full of mingled doubt and exultation
as the moment of finding an idea.
Life is a various mother: now she dons
Her plumes and brilliants, climbs the marble stairs
With head aloft, nor ever turns her eyes
On lackeys who attend her; now she dwells
Grim-clad, up darksome allyes, breathes hot gin,
And screams in pauper riot.
But to these
She came a frugal matron, neat and deft,
With cheerful morning thoughts and quick device
To find the much in little.
Mrs. Meyrick's house was not noisy: the front parlor looked on the river,
and the back on gardens, so that though she was reading aloud to her
daughters, the window could be left open to freshen the air of the small
double room where a lamp and two candles were burning. The candles were on
a table apart for Kate, who was drawing illustrations for a publisher; the
lamp was not only for the reader but for Amy and Mab, who were
embroidering satin cushions for "the great world."
Outside, the house looked very narrow and shabby, the bright light through
the holland blind showing the heavy old-fashioned window-frame; but it is
pleasant to know that many such grim-walled slices of space in our foggy
London have been and still are the homes of a culture the more spotlessly
free from vulgarity, because poverty has rendered everything like display
an impersonal question, and all the grand shows of the world simply a
spectacle which rouses petty rivalry or vain effort after possession.
The Meyricks' was a home of that kind: and they all clung to this
particular house in a row because its interior was filled with objects
always in the same places, which, for the mother held memories of her
marriage time, and for the young ones seemed as necessary and uncriticised
a part of their world as the stars of the Great Bear seen from the back
windows. Mrs. Meyrick had borne much stint of other matters that she might
be able to keep some engravings specially cherished by her husband; and
the narrow spaces of wall held a world history in scenes and heads which
the children had early learned by heart. The chairs and tables were also
old friends preferred to new. But in these two little parlors with no
furniture that a broker would have cared to cheapen except the prints and
piano, there was space and apparatus for a wide-glancing, nicely-select
life, opened to the highest things in music, painting and poetry. I am not
sure that in the times of greatest scarcity, before Kate could get paid-
work, these ladies had always had a servant to light their fires and sweep
their rooms; yet they were fastidious in some points, and could not
believe that the manners of ladies in the fashionable world were so full
of coarse selfishness, petty quarreling, and slang as they are represented
to be in what are called literary photographs. The Meyricks had their
little oddities, streaks of eccentricity from the mother's blood as well
as the father's, their minds being like mediaval houses with unexpected
recesses and openings from this into that, flights of steps and sudden
But mother and daughters were all united by a triple bond--family love;
admiration for the finest work, the best action; and habitual industry.
Hans' desire to spend some of his money in making their lives more
luxurious had been resisted by all of them, and both they and he had been
thus saved from regrets at the threatened triumphs of his yearning for art
over the attractions of secured income--a triumph that would by-and-by
oblige him to give up his fellowship. They could all afford to laugh at
his Gavarni-caricatures and to hold him blameless in following a natural
bent which their unselfishness and independence had left without obstacle.
It was enough for them to go on in their old way, only having a grand
treat of opera-going (to the gallery) when Hans came home on a visit.
Seeing the group they made this evening, one could hardly wish them to
change their way of life. They were all alike small, and so in due
proportion to their miniature rooms. Mrs. Meyrick was reading aloud from a
French book; she was a lively little woman, half French, half Scotch, with
a pretty articulateness of speech that seemed to make daylight in her
hearer's understanding. Though she was not yet fifty, her rippling hair,
covered by a quakerish net cap, was chiefly gray, but her eyebrows were
brown as the bright eyes below them; her black dress, almost like a
priest's cassock with its rows of buttons, suited a neat figure hardly
five feet high. The daughters were to match the mother, except that Mab
had Hans' light hair and complexion, with a bossy, irregular brow, and
other quaintnesses that reminded one of him. Everything about them was
compact, from the firm coils of their hair, fastened back _a la Chinoise_,
to their gray skirts in Puritan nonconformity with the fashion, which at
that time would have demanded that four feminine circumferences should
fill all the free space in the front parlor. All four, if they had been
wax-work, might have been packed easily in a fashionable lady's traveling
trunk. Their faces seemed full of speech, as if their minds had been
shelled, after the manner of horse-chestnuts, and become brightly visible.
The only large thing of its kind in the room was Hafiz, the Persian cat,
comfortably poised on the brown leather back of a chair, and opening his
large eyes now and then to see that the lower animals were not in any
The book Mrs. Meyrick had before her was Erckmann-Chatrian's _Historie
d'un Conscrit_. She had just finished reading it aloud, and Mab, who had
let her work fall on the ground while she stretched her head forward and
fixed her eyes on the reader, exclaimed--
"I think that is the finest story in the world."
"Of course, Mab!" said Amy, "it is the last you have heard. Everything
that pleases you is the best in its turn."
"It is hardly to be called a story," said Kate. "It is a bit of history
brought near us with a strong telescope. We can see the soldiers' faces:
no, it is more than that--we can hear everything--we can almost hear their
"I don't care what you call it," said Mab, flirting away her thimble.
"Call it a chapter in Revelations. It makes me want to do something good,
something grand. It makes me so sorry for everybody. It makes me like
Schiller--I want to take the world in my arms and kiss it. I must kiss you
instead, little mother?" She threw her arms round her mother's neck.
"Whenever you are in that mood, Mab, down goes your work," said Amy. "It
would be doing something good to finish your cushion without soiling it."
"Oh--oh--oh!" groaned Mab, as she stooped to pick up her work and thimble.
"I wish I had three wounded conscripts to take care of."
"You would spill their beef-tea while you were talking," said Amy.
"Poor Mab! don't be hard on her," said the mother. "Give me the embroidery
now, child. You go on with your enthusiasm, and I will go on with the pink
and white poppy."
"Well, ma, I think you are more caustic than Amy," said Kate, while she
drew her head back to look at her drawing.
"Oh--oh--oh!" cried Mab again, rising and stretching her arms. "I wish
something wonderful would happen. I feel like the deluge. The waters of
the great deep are broken up, and the windows of heaven are opened. I must
sit down and play the scales."
Mab was opening the piano while the others were laughing at this climax,
when a cab stopped before the house, and there forthwith came a quick rap
of the knocker.
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Meyrick, starting up, "it is after ten, and Phoebe is
gone to bed." She hastened out, leaving the parlor door open.
"Mr. Deronda!" The girls could hear this exclamation from their mamma. Mab
clasped her hands, saying in a loud whisper, "There now! something _is_
going to happen." Kate and Amy gave up their work in amazement. But
Deronda's tone in reply was so low that they could not hear his words, and
Mrs. Meyrick immediately closed the parlor door.
"I know I am trusting to your goodness in a most extraordinary way,"
Deronda went on, after giving his brief narrative; "but you can imagine
how helpless I feel with a young creature like this on my hands. I could
not go with her among strangers, and in her nervous state I should dread
taking her into a house full of servants. I have trusted to your mercy. I
hope you will not think my act unwarrantable."
"On the contrary. You have honored me by trusting me. I see your
difficulty. Pray bring her in. I will go and prepare the girls."
While Deronda went back to the cab, Mrs. Meyrick turned into the parlor
again and said: "Here is somebody to take care of instead of your wounded
conscripts, Mab: a poor girl who was going to drown herself in despair.
Mr. Deronda found her only just in time to save her. He brought her along
in his boat, and did not know what else it would be safe to do with her,
so he has trusted us and brought her here. It seems she is a Jewess, but
quite refined, he says--knowing Italian and music."
The three girls, wondering and expectant, came forward and stood near each
other in mute confidence that they were all feeling alike under this
appeal to their compassion. Mab looked rather awe-stricken, as if this
answer to her wish were something preternatural.
Meanwhile Deronda going to the door of the cab where the pale face was now
gazing out with roused observation, said, "I have brought you to some of
the kindest people in the world: there are daughters like you. It is a
happy home. Will you let me take you to them?"
She stepped out obediently, putting her hand in his and forgetting her
hat; and when Deronda led her into the full light of the parlor where the
four little women stood awaiting her, she made a picture that would have
stirred much duller sensibilities than theirs. At first she was a little
dazed by the sudden light, and before she had concentrated her glance he
had put her hand into the mother's. He was inwardly rejoicing that the
Meyricks were so small: the dark-curled head was the highest among them.
The poor wanderer could not be afraid of these gentle faces so near hers:
and now she was looking at each of them in turn while the mother said,
"You must be weary, poor child."
"We will take care of you--we will comfort you--we will love you," cried
Mab, no longer able to restrain herself, and taking the small right hand
caressingly between both her own. This gentle welcoming warmth was
penetrating the bewildered one: she hung back just enough to see better
the four faces in front of her, whose good will was being reflected in
hers, not in any smile, but in that undefinable change which tells us that
anxiety is passing in contentment. For an instant she looked up at
Deronda, as if she were referring all this mercy to him, and then again
turning to Mrs. Meyrick, said with more collectedness in her sweet tones
than he had heard before--
"I am a stranger. I am a Jewess. You might have thought I was wicked."
"No, we are sure you are good," burst out Mab.
"We think no evil of you, poor child. You shall be safe with us," said
Mrs. Meyrick. "Come now and sit down. You must have some food, and then
you must go to rest."
The stranger looked up again at Deronda, who said--
"You will have no more fears with these friends? You will rest to-night?"
"Oh, I should not fear. I should rest. I think these are the ministering
Mrs. Meyrick wanted to lead her to seat, but again hanging back gently,
the poor weary thing spoke as if with a scruple at being received without
a further account of herself.
"My name is Mirah Lapidoth. I am come a long way, all the way from Prague
by myself. I made my escape. I ran away from dreadful things. I came to
find my mother and brother in London. I had been taken from my mother when
I was little, but I thought I could find her again. I had trouble--the
houses were all gone--I could not find her. It has been a long while, and
I had not much money. That is why I am in distress."
"Our mother will be good to you," cried Mab. "See what a nice little
mother she is!"
"Do sit down now," said Kate, moving a chair forward, while Amy ran to get
Mirah resisted no longer, but seated herself with perfect grace, crossing
her little feet, laying her hands one over the other on her lap, and
looking at her friends with placid reverence; whereupon Hafiz, who had
been watching the scene restlessly came forward with tail erect and rubbed
himself against her ankles. Deronda felt it time to go.
"Will you allow me to come again and inquire--perhaps at five to-morrow?"
he said to Mrs. Meyrick.
"Yes, pray; we shall have had time to make acquaintance then."
"Good-bye," said Deronda, looking down at Mirah, and putting out his hand.
She rose as she took it, and the moment brought back to them both strongly
the other moment when she had first taken that outstretched hand. She
lifted her eyes to his and said with reverential fervor, "The God of our
fathers bless you and deliver you from all evil as you have delivered me.
I did not believe there was any man so good. None before have thought me
worthy of the best. You found me poor and miserable, yet you have given me
Deronda could not speak, but with silent adieux to the Meyricks, hurried
BOOK III--MAIDENS CHOOSING.
"I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and say, 'Tis
all barren': and so it is: and so is all the world to him who will not
cultivate the fruits it offers."--STERNE: _Sentimental Journey_.
To say that Deronda was romantic would be to misrepresent him; but under
his calm and somewhat self-repressed exterior there was a fervor which
made him easily find poetry and romance among the events of every-day
life. And perhaps poetry and romance are as plentiful as ever in the world
except for those phlegmatic natures who I suspect would in any age have
regarded them as a dull form of erroneous thinking. They exist very easily
in the same room with the microscope and even in railway carriages: what
banishes them in the vacuum in gentlemen and lady passengers. How should
all the apparatus of heaven and earth, from the farthest firmament to the
tender bosom of the mother who nourished us, make poetry for a mind that
had no movements of awe and tenderness, no sense of fellowship which
thrills from the near to the distant, and back again from the distant to
To Deronda this event of finding Mirah was as heart-stirring as anything
that befell Orestes or Rinaldo. He sat up half the night, living again
through the moments since he had first discerned Mirah on the river-brink,
with the fresh and fresh vividness which belongs to emotive memory. When
he took up a book to try and dull this urgency of inward vision, the
printed words were no more than a network through which he saw and heard
everything as clearly as before--saw not only the actual events of two
hours, but possibilities of what had been and what might be which those
events were enough to feed with the warm blood of passionate hope and
fear. Something in his own experience caused Mirah's search after her
mother to lay hold with peculiar force on his imagination. The first
prompting of sympathy was to aid her in her search: if given persons were
extant in London there were ways of finding them, as subtle as scientific
experiment, the right machinery being set at work. But here the mixed
feelings which belonged to Deronda's kindred experience naturally
transfused themselves into his anxiety on behalf of Mirah.
The desire to know his own mother, or to know about her, was constantly
haunted with dread; and in imagining what might befall Mirah it quickly
occurred to him that finding the mother and brother from whom she had been
parted when she was a little one might turn out to be a calamity. When she
was in the boat she said that her mother and brother were good; but the
goodness might have been chiefly in her own ignorant innocence and
yearning memory, and the ten or twelve years since the parting had been
time enough for much worsening. Spite of his strong tendency to side with
the objects of prejudice, and in general with those who got the worst of
it, his interest had never been practically drawn toward existing Jews,
and the facts he knew about them, whether they walked conspicuous in fine
apparel or lurked in by-streets, were chiefly of a sort most repugnant to
him. Of learned and accomplished Jews he took it for granted that they had
dropped their religion, and wished to be merged in the people of their
native lands. Scorn flung at a Jew as such would have roused all his
sympathy in griefs of inheritance; but the indiscriminate scorn of a race
will often strike a specimen who has well earned it on his own account,
and might fairly be gibbeted as a rascally son of Adam. It appears that
the Caribs, who know little of theology, regard thieving as a practice
peculiarly connected with Christian tenets, and probably they could allege
experimental grounds for this opinion. Deronda could not escape (who can?)
knowing ugly stories of Jewish characteristics and occupations; and though
one of his favorite protests was against the severance of past and present
history, he was like others who shared his protest, in never having cared
to reach any more special conclusions about actual Jews than that they
retained the virtues and vices of a long-oppressed race. But now that
Mirah's longing roused his mind to a closer survey of details, very
disagreeable images urged themselves of what it might be to find out this
middle-aged Jewess and her son. To be sure, there was the exquisite
refinement and charm of the creature herself to make a presumption in
favor of her immediate kindred, but--he must wait to know more: perhaps
through Mrs. Meyrick he might gather some guiding hints from Mirah's own
lips. Her voice, her accent, her looks--all the sweet purity that clothed
her as with a consecrating garment made him shrink the more from giving
her, either ideally or practically, an association with what was hateful
or contaminating. But these fine words with which we fumigate and becloud
unpleasant facts are not the language in which we think. Deronda's
thinking went on in rapid images of what might be: he saw himself guided
by some official scout into a dingy street; he entered through a dim
doorway, and saw a hawk-eyed woman, rough-headed, and unwashed, cheapening
a hungry girl's last bit of finery; or in some quarter only the more
hideous for being smarter, he found himself under the breath of a young
Jew talkative and familiar, willing to show his acquaintance with
gentlemen's tastes, and not fastidious in any transactions with which they
would favor him--and so on through the brief chapter of his experience in
this kind. Excuse him: his mind was not apt to run spontaneously into
insulting ideas, or to practice a form of wit which identifies Moses with
the advertisement sheet; but he was just now governed by dread, and if
Mirah's parents had been Christian, the chief difference would have been
that his forebodings would have been fed with wider knowledge. It was the
habit of his mind to connect dread with unknown parentage, and in this
case as well as his own there was enough to make the connection
But what was to be done with Mirah? She needed shelter and protection in
the fullest sense, and all his chivalrous sentiment roused itself to
insist that the sooner and the more fully he could engage for her the
interest of others besides himself, the better he should fulfill her
claims on him. He had no right to provide for her entirely, though he
might be able to do so; the very depth of the impression she had produced
made him desire that she should understand herself to be entirely
independent of him; and vague visions of the future which he tried to
dispel as fantastic left their influence in an anxiety stronger than any
motive he could give for it, that those who saw his actions closely should
be acquainted from the first with the history of his relation to Mirah. He
had learned to hate secrecy about the grand ties and obligations of his
life--to hate it the more because a strong spell of interwoven
sensibilities hindered him from breaking such secrecy. Deronda had made a
vow to himself that--since the truths which disgrace mortals are not all
of their own making--the truth should never be made a disgrace to another
by his act. He was not without terror lest he should break this vow, and
fall into the apologetic philosophy which explains the world into
containing nothing better than one's own conduct.
At one moment he resolved to tell the whole of his adventure to Sir Hugo
and Lady Mallinger the next morning at breakfast, but the possibility that
something quite new might reveal itself on his next visit to Mrs.
Meyrick's checked this impulse, and he finally went to sleep on the
conclusion that he would wait until that visit had been made.
"It will hardly be denied that even in this frail and corrupted world,
we sometimes meet persons who, in their very mien and aspect, as well
as in the whole habit of life, manifest such a signature and stamp of
virtue, as to make our judgment of them a matter of intuition rather
than the result of continued examination."--ALEXANDER KNOX: quoted in
Southey's Life of Wesley.
Mirah said that she had slept well that night; and when she came down in
Mab's black dress, her dark hair curling in fresh fibrils as it gradually
dried from its plenteous bath, she looked like one who was beginning to
take comfort after the long sorrow and watching which had paled her cheek
and made blue semicircles under her eyes. It was Mab who carried her
breakfast and ushered her down--with some pride in the effect produced by
a pair of tiny felt slippers which she had rushed out to buy because there
were no shoes in the house small enough for Mirah, whose borrowed dress
ceased about her ankles and displayed the cheap clothing that, moulding
itself on her feet, seemed an adornment as choice as the sheaths of buds.
The farthing buckles were bijoux.
"Oh, if you please, mamma?" cried Mab, clasping her hands and stooping
toward Mirah's feet, as she entered the parlor; "look at the slippers, how
beautiful they fit! I declare she is like the Queen Budoor--' two delicate
feet, the work of the protecting and all-recompensing Creator, support
her; and I wonder how they can sustain what is above them.'"
Mirah looked down at her own feet in a childlike way and then smiled at
Mrs. Meyrick, who was saying inwardly, "One could hardly imagine this
creature having an evil thought. But wise people would tell me to be
cautious." She returned Mirah's smile and said, "I fear the feet have had
to sustain their burden a little too often lately. But to-day she will
rest and be my companion."
"And she will tell you so many things and I shall not hear them," grumbled
Mab, who felt herself in the first volume of a delightful romance and
obliged to miss some chapters because she had to go to pupils.
Kate was already gone to make sketches along the river, and Amy was away
on business errands. It was what the mother wished, to be alone with this
stranger, whose story must be a sorrowful one, yet was needful to be told.
The small front parlor was as good as a temple that morning. The sunlight
was on the river and soft air came in through the open window; the walls
showed a glorious silent cloud of witnesses--the Virgin soaring amid her
cherubic escort; grand Melancholia with her solemn universe; the Prophets
and Sibyls; the School of Athens; the Last Supper; mystic groups where
far-off ages made one moment; grave Holbein and Rembrandt heads; the
Tragic Muse; last-century children at their musings or their play; Italian
poets--all were there through the medium of a little black and white. The
neat mother who had weathered her troubles, and come out of them with a
face still cheerful, was sorting colored wools for her embroidery. Hafiz
purred on the window-ledge, the clock on the mantle-piece ticked without
hurry, and the occasional sound of wheels seemed to lie outside the more
massive central quiet. Mrs. Meyrick thought that this quiet might be the
best invitation to speech on the part of her companion, and chose not to
disturb it by remark. Mirah sat opposite in her former attitude, her hands
clasped on her lap, her ankles crossed, her eyes at first traveling slowly
over the objects around her, but finally resting with a sort of placid
reverence on Mrs. Meyrick. At length she began to speak softly.
"I remember my mother's face better than anything; yet I was not seven
when I was taken away, and I am nineteen now."
"I can understand that," said Mrs. Meyrick. "There are some earliest
things that last the longest."
"Oh, yes, it was the earliest. I think my life began with waking up and
loving my mother's face: it was so near to me, and her arms were round me,
and she sang to me. One hymn she sang so often, so often: and then she
taught me to sing it with her: it was the first I ever sang. They were
always Hebrew hymns she sang; and because I never knew the meaning of the
words they seemed full of nothing but our love and happiness. When I lay
in my little bed and it was all white above me, she used to bend over me,
between me and the white, and sing in a sweet, low voice. I can dream
myself back into that time when I am awake, and it often comes back to me
in my sleep--my hand is very little, I put it up to her face and she
kisses it. Sometimes in my dreams I begin to tremble and think that we are
both dead; but then I wake up and my hand lies like this, and for a moment
I hardly know myself. But if I could see my mother again I should know
"You must expect some change after twelve years," said Mrs. Meyrick,
gently. "See my grey hair: ten years ago it was bright brown. The days and
months pace over us like restless little birds, and leave the marks of
their feet backward and forward; especially when they are like birds with
heavy hearts-then they tread heavily."
"Ah, I am sure her heart has been heavy for want of me. But to feel her
joy if we could meet again, and I could make her know I love her and give
her deep comfort after all her mourning! If that could be, I should mind
nothing; I should be glad that I have lived through my trouble. I did
despair. The world seemed miserable and wicked; none helped me so that I
could bear their looks and words; I felt that my mother was dead, and
death was the only way to her. But then in the last moment--yesterday,
when I longed for the water to close over me--and I thought that death was
the best image of mercy--then goodness came to me living, and I felt trust
in the living. And--it is strange--but I began to hope that she was living
too. And now I with you--here--this morning, peace and hope have come into
me like a flood. I want nothing; I can wait; because I hope and believe
and am grateful--oh, so grateful! You have not thought evil of me--you
have not despised me."
Mirah spoke with low-toned fervor, and sat as still as a picture all the
"Many others would have felt as we do, my dear," said Mrs. Meyrick,
feeling a mist come over her eyes as she looked at her work.
"But I did not meet them--they did not come to me."
"How was it that you were taken from your mother?"
"Ah, I am a long while coming to that. It is dreadful to speak of, yet I
must tell you--I must tell you everything. My father--it was he that took
me away. I thought we were only going on a little journey; and I was
pleased. There was a box with all my little things in. But we went on
board a ship, and got farther and farther away from the land. Then I was
ill; and I thought it would never end--it was the first misery, and it
seemed endless. But at last we landed. I knew nothing then, and believed
what my father said. He comforted me, and told me I should go back to my
mother. But it was America we had reached, and it was long years before we
came back to Europe. At first I often asked my father when we were going
back; and I tried to learn writing fast, because I wanted to write to my
mother; but one day when he found me trying to write a letter, he took me
on his knee and told me that my mother and brother were dead; that was why
we did not go back. I remember my brother a little; he carried me once;
but he was not always at home. I believed my father when he said that they
were dead. I saw them under the earth when he said they were there, with
their eyes forever closed. I never thought of its not being true; and I
used to cry every night in my bed for a long while. Then when she came so
often to me, in my sleep, I thought she must be living about me though I
could not always see her, and that comforted me. I was never afraid in the
dark, because of that; and very often in the day I used to shut my eyes
and bury my face and try to see her and to hear her singing. I came to do
that at last without shutting my eyes."
Mirah paused with a sweet content in her face, as if she were having her
happy vision, while she looked out toward the river.
"Still your father was not unkind to you, I hope," said Mrs. Meyrick,
after a minute, anxious to recall her.
"No; he petted me, and took pains to teach me. He was an actor; and I
found out, after, that the 'Coburg' I used to hear of his going to at home
was a theatre. But he had more to do with the theatre than acting. He had
not always been an actor; he had been a teacher, and knew many languages.
His acting was not very good; I think, but he managed the stage, and wrote
and translated plays. An Italian lady, a singer, lived with us a long
time. They both taught me, and I had a master besides, who made me learn
by heart and recite. I worked quite hard, though I was so little; and I
was not nine when I first went on the stage. I could easily learn things,
and I was not afraid. But then and ever since I hated our way of life. My
father had money, and we had finery about us in a disorderly way; always
there were men and women coming and going; there was loud laughing and
disputing, strutting, snapping of fingers, jeering, faces I did not like
to look at--though many petted and caressed me. But then I remembered my
mother. Even at first when I understood nothing, I shrank away from all
those things outside me into companionship with thoughts that were not
like them; and I gathered thoughts very fast, because I read many things--
plays and poetry, Shakespeare and Schiller, and learned evil and good. My
father began to believe that I might be a great singer: my voice was
considered wonderful for a child; and he had the best teaching for me. But
it was painful that he boasted of me, and set me to sing for show at any
minute, as if I had been a musical box. Once when I was nine years old, I
played the part of a little girl who had been forsaken and did not know
it, and sat singing to herself while she played with flowers. I did it
without any trouble; but the clapping and all the sounds of the theatre
were hateful to me; and I never liked the praise I had, because it all
seemed very hard and unloving: I missed the love and trust I had been born
into. I made a life in my own thoughts quite different from everything
about me: I chose what seemed to me beautiful out of the plays and
everything, and made my world out of it; and it was like a sharp knife
always grazing me that we had two sorts of life which jarred so with each
other--women looking good and gentle on the stage, and saying good things