Part 5 out of 16
as if they felt them, and directly after I saw them with coarse, ugly
manners. My father sometimes noticed my shrinking ways; and Signora said
one day, when I had been rehearsing, 'She will never be an artist: she has
no notion of being anybody but herself. That does very well now, but by-
and-by you will see--she will have no more face and action than a singing-
bird.' My father was angry, and they quarreled. I sat alone and cried,
because what she had said was like a long unhappy future unrolled before
me. I did not want to be an artist; but this was what my father expected
of me. After a while Signora left us, and a governess used to come and
give me lessons in different things, because my father began to be afraid
of my singing too much; but I still acted from time to time. Rebellious
feelings grew stronger in me, and I wished to get away from this life; but
I could not tell where to go, and I dreaded the world. Besides, I felt it
would be wrong to leave my father: I dreaded doing wrong, for I thought I
might get wicked and hateful to myself, in the same way that many others
seemed hateful to me. For so long, so long I had never felt my outside
world happy; and if I got wicked I should lose my world of happy thoughts
where my mother lived with me. That was my childish notion all through
those years. Oh how long they were!"
Mirah fell to musing again.
"Had you no teaching about what was your duty?" said Mrs. Meyrick. She did
not like to say "religion"--finding herself on inspection rather dim as to
what the Hebrew religion might have turned into at this date.
"No--only that I ought to do what my father wished. He did not follow our
religion at New York, and I think he wanted me not to know much about it.
But because my mother used to take me to the synagogue, and I remembered
sitting on her knee and looking through the railing and hearing the
chanting and singing, I longed to go. One day when I was quite small I
slipped out and tried to find the synagogue, but I lost myself a long
while till a peddler questioned me and took me home. My father, missing
me, had been much in fear, and was very angry. I too had been so
frightened at losing myself that it was long before I thought of venturing
out again. But after Signora left us we went to rooms where our landlady
was a Jewess and observed her religion. I asked her to take me with her to
the synagogue; and I read in her prayer-books and Bible, and when I had
money enough I asked her to buy me books of my own, for these books seemed
a closer companionship with my mother: I knew that she must have looked at
the very words and said them. In that way I have come to know a little of
our religion, and the history of our people, besides piecing together what
I read in plays and other books about Jews and Jewesses; because I was
sure my mother obeyed her religion. I had left off asking my father about
her. It is very dreadful to say it, but I began to disbelieve him. I had
found that he did not always tell the truth, and made promises without
meaning to keep them; and that raised my suspicion that my mother and
brother were still alive though he had told me they were dead. For in
going over the past again as I got older and knew more, I felt sure that
my mother had been deceived, and had expected to see us back again after a
very little while; and my father taking me on his knee and telling me that
my mother and brother were both dead seemed to me now but a bit of acting,
to set my mind at rest. The cruelty of that falsehood sank into me, and I
hated all untruth because of it. I wrote to my mother secretly: I knew the
street, Colman Street, where we lived, and that it was not Blackfriars
Bridge and the Coburg, and that our name was Cohen then, though my father
called us Lapidoth, because, he said, it was a name of his forefathers in
Poland. I sent my letter secretly; but no answer came, and I thought there
was no hope for me. Our life in America did not last much longer. My
father suddenly told me we were to pack up and go to Hamburg, and I was
rather glad. I hoped we might get among a different sort of people, and I
knew German quite well--some German plays almost all by heart. My father
spoke it better than he spoke English. I was thirteen then, and I seemed
to myself quite old--I knew so much, and yet so little. I think other
children cannot feel as I did. I had often wished that I had been drowned
when I was going away from my mother. But I set myself to obey and suffer:
what else could I do? One day when we were on our voyage, a new thought
came into my mind. I was not very ill that time, and I kept on deck a good
deal. My father acted and sang and joked to amuse people on board, and I
used often to hear remarks about him. One day, when I was looking at the
sea and nobody took notice of me, I overheard a gentleman say, 'Oh, he is
one of those clever Jews--a rascal, I shouldn't wonder. There's no race
like them for cunning in the men and beauty in the women. I wonder what
market he means that daughter for.' When I heard this it darted into my
mind that the unhappiness in my life came from my being a Jewess, and that
always to the end the world would think slightly of me and that I must
bear it, for I should be judged by that name; and it comforted me to
believe that my suffering was part of the affliction of my people, my part
in the long song of mourning that has been going on through ages and ages.
For if many of our race were wicked and made merry in their wickedness--
what was that but part of the affliction borne by the just among them, who
were despised for the sins of their brethren?--But you have not rejected
Mirah had changed her tone in this last sentence, having suddenly
reflected that at this moment she had reason not for complaint but for
"And we will try to save you from being judged unjustly by others, my poor
child," said Mrs. Meyrick, who had now given up all attempt at going on
with her work, and sat listening with folded hands and a face hardly less
eager than Mab's would have been. "Go on, go on: tell me all."
"After that we lived in different towns--Hamburg and Vienna, the longest.
I began to study singing again: and my father always got money about the
theatres. I think he brought a good deal of money from America, I never
knew why we left. For some time he was in great spirits about my singing,
and he made me rehearse parts and act continually. He looked forward to my
coming out in the opera. But by-and-by it seemed that my voice would never
be strong enough--it did not fulfill its promise. My master at Vienna
said, 'Don't strain it further: it will never do for the public:--it is
gold, but a thread of gold dust.' My father was bitterly disappointed: we
were not so well off at that time. I think I have not quite told you what
I felt about my father. I knew he was fond of me and meant to indulge me,
and that made me afraid of hurting him; but he always mistook what would
please me and give me happiness. It was his nature to take everything
lightly; and I soon left off asking him any questions about things that I
cared for much, because he always turned them off with a joke. He would
even ridicule our own people; and once when he had been imitating their
movements and their tones in praying, only to make others laugh, I could
not restrain myself--for I always had an anger in my heart about my
mother--and when we were alone, I said, 'Father, you ought not to mimic
our own people before Christians who mock them: would it not be bad if I
mimicked you, that they might mock you?' But he only shrugged his
shoulders and laughed and pinched my chin, and said, 'You couldn't do it,
my dear." It was this way of turning off everything, that made a great
wall between me and my father, and whatever I felt most I took the most
care to hide from him. For there were some things--when they were laughed
at I could not bear it: the world seemed like a hell to me. Is this world
and all the life upon it only like a farce or a vaudeville, where you find
no great meanings? Why then are there tragedies and grand operas, where
men do difficult things and choose to suffer? I think it is silly to speak
of all things as a joke. And I saw that his wishing me to sing the
greatest music, and parts in grand operas, was only wishing for what would
fetch the greatest price. That hemmed in my gratitude for his
affectionateness, and the tenderest feeling I had toward him was pity.
Yes, I did sometimes pity him. He had aged and changed. Now he was no
longer so lively. I thought he seemed worse--less good to others than to
me. Every now and then in the latter years his gaiety went away suddenly,
and he would sit at home silent and gloomy; or he would come in and fling
himself down and sob, just as I have done myself when I have been in
trouble. If I put my hand on his knee and say, 'What is the matter,
father?' he would make no answer, but would draw my arm round his neck and
put his arm round me and go on crying. There never came any confidence
between us; but oh, I was sorry for him. At those moments I knew he must
feel his life bitter, and I pressed my cheek against his head and prayed.
Those moments were what most bound me to him; and I used to think how much
my mother once loved him, else she would not have married him.
"But soon there came the dreadful time. We had been at Pesth and we came
back to Vienna. In spite of what my master Leo had said, my father got me
an engagement, not at the opera, but to take singing parts at a suburb
theatre in Vienna. He had nothing to do with the theatre then; I did not
understand what he did, but I think he was continually at a gambling
house, though he was careful always about taking me to the theatre. I was
very miserable. The plays I acted in were detestable to me. Men came about
us and wanted to talk to me: women and men seemed to look at me with a
sneering smile; it was no better than a fiery furnace. Perhaps I make it
worse than it was--you don't know that life: but the glare and the faces,
and my having to go on and act and sing what I hated, and then see people
who came to stare at me behind the scenes--it was all so much worse than
when I was a little girl. I went through with it; I did it; I had set my
mind to obey my father and work, for I saw nothing better that I could do.
But I felt that my voice was getting weaker, and I knew that my acting was
not good except when it was not really acting, but the part was one that I
could be myself in, and some feeling within me carried me along. That was
"Then, in the midst of all this, the news came to me one morning that my
father had been taken to prison, and he had sent for me. He did not tell
me the reason why he was there, but he ordered me to go to an address he
gave me, to see a Count who would be able to get him released. The address
was to some public rooms where I was to ask for the Count, and beg him to
come to my father. I found him, and recognized him as a gentleman whom I
had seen the other night for the first time behind the scenes. That
agitated me, for I remembered his way of looking at me and kissing my
hand--I thought it was in mockery. But I delivered my errand, and he
promised to go immediately to my father, who came home again that very
evening, bringing the Count with him. I now began to feel a horrible dread
of this man, for he worried me with his attentions, his eyes were always
on me: I felt sure that whatever else there might be in his mind toward
me, below it all there was scorn for the Jewess and the actress. And when
he came to me the next day in the theatre and would put my shawl around
me, a terror took hold of me; I saw that my father wanted me to look
pleased. The Count was neither very young nor very old; his hair and eyes
were pale; he was tall and walked heavily, and his face was heavy and
grave except when he looked at me. He smiled at me, and his smile went
through me with horror: I could not tell why he was so much worse to me
than other men. Some feelings are like our hearing: they come as sounds
do, before we know their reason. My father talked to me about him when we
were alone, and praised him--said what a good friend he had been. I said
nothing, because I supposed he had got my father out of prison. When the
Count came again, my father left the room. He asked me if I liked being on
the stage. I said No, I only acted in obedience to my father. He always
spoke French, and called me 'petite ange' and such things, which I felt
insulting. I knew he meant to make love to me, and I had it firmly in my
mind that a nobleman and one who was not a Jew could have no love for me
that was not half contempt. But then he told me that I need not act any
longer; he wished me to visit him at his beautiful place, where I might be
queen of everything. It was difficult to me to speak, I felt so shaken
with anger: I could only say, 'I would rather stay on the stage forever,'
and I left him there. Hurrying out of the room I saw my father sauntering
in the passage. My heart was crushed. I went past him and locked myself
up. It had sunk into me that my father was in a conspiracy with that man
against me. But the next day he persuaded me to come out: he said that I
had mistaken everything, and he would explain: if I did not come out and
act and fulfill my engagement, we should be ruined and he must starve. So
I went on acting, and for a week or more the Count never came near me. My
father changed our lodgings, and kept at home except when he went to the
theatre with me. He began one day to speak discouragingly of my acting,
and say, I could never go on singing in public--I should lose my voice--I
ought to think of my future, and not put my nonsensical feelings between
me and my fortune. He said, 'What will you do? You will be brought down to
sing and beg at people's doors. You have had a splendid offer and ought to
accept it.' I could not speak: a horror took possession of me when I
thought of my mother and of him. I felt for the first time that I should
not do wrong to leave him. But the next day he told me that he had put an
end to my engagement at the theatre, and that we were to go to Prague. I
was getting suspicious of everything, and my will was hardening to act
against him. It took us two days to pack and get ready; and I had it in my
mind that I might be obliged to run away from my father, and then I would
come to London and try if it were possible to find my mother. I had a
little money, and I sold some things to get more. I packed a few clothes
in a little bag that I could carry with me, and I kept my mind on the
watch. My father's silence--his letting drop that subject of the Count's
offer--made me feel sure that there was a plan against me. I felt as if it
had been a plan to take me to a madhouse. I once saw a picture of a
madhouse, that I could never forget; it seemed to me very much like some
of the life I had seen--the people strutting, quarreling, leering--the
faces with cunning and malice in them. It was my will to keep myself from
wickedness; and I prayed for help. I had seen what despised women were:
and my heart turned against my father, for I saw always behind him that
man who made me shudder. You will think I had not enough reason for my
suspicions, and perhaps I had not, outside my own feeling; but it seemed
to me that my mind had been lit up, and all that might be stood out clear
and sharp. If I slept, it was only to see the same sort of things, and I
could hardly sleep at all. Through our journey I was everywhere on the
watch. I don't know why, but it came before me like a real event, that my
father would suddenly leave me and I should find myself with the Count
where I could not get away from him. I thought God was warning me: my
mother's voice was in my soul. It was dark when we reached Prague, and
though the strange bunches of lamps were lit it was difficult to
distinguish faces as we drove along the street. My father chose to sit
outside--he was always smoking now--and I watched everything in spite of
the darkness. I do believe I could see better then than I ever did before:
the strange clearness within seemed to have got outside me. It was not my
habit to notice faces and figures much in the street; but this night I saw
every one; and when we passed before a great hotel I caught sight only of
a back that was passing in--the light of the great bunch of lamps a good
way off fell on it. I knew it--before the face was turned, as it fell into
shadow, I knew who it was. Help came to me. I feel sure help came. I did
not sleep that night. I put on my plainest things--the cloak and hat I
have worn ever since; and I sat watching for the light and the sound of
the doors being unbarred. Some one rose early--at four o'clock, to go to
the railway. That gave me courage. I slipped out, with my little bag under
my cloak, and none noticed me. I had been a long while attending to the
railway guide that I might learn the way to England; and before the sun
had risen I was in the train for Dresden. Then I cried for joy. I did not
know whether my money would last out, but I trusted. I could sell the
things in my bag, and the little rings in my ears, and I could live on
bread only. My only terror was lest my father should follow me. But I
never paused. I came on, and on, and on, only eating bread now and then.
When I got to Brussels I saw that I should not have enough money, and I
sold all that I could sell; but here a strange thing happened. Putting my
hand into the pocket of my cloak, I found a half-napoleon. Wondering and
wondering how it came there, I remembered that on the way from Cologne
there was a young workman sitting against me. I was frightened at every
one, and did not like to be spoken to. At first he tried to talk, but when
he saw that I did not like it, he left off. It was a long journey; I ate
nothing but a bit of bread, and he once offered me some of the food he
brought in, but I refused it. I do believe it was he who put that bit of
gold in my pocket. Without it I could hardly have got to Dover, and I did
walk a good deal of the way from Dover to London. I knew I should look
like a miserable beggar-girl. I wanted not to look very miserable, because
if I found my mother it would grieve her to see me so. But oh, how vain my
hope was that she would be there to see me come! As soon as I set foot in
London, I began to ask for Lambeth and Blackfriars Bridge, but they were a
long way off, and I went wrong. At last I got to Blackfriars Bridge and
asked for Colman Street. People shook their heads. None knew it. I saw it
in my mind--our doorsteps, and the white tiles hung in the windows, and
the large brick building opposite with wide doors. But there was nothing
like it. At last when I asked a tradesman where the Coburg Theatre and
Colman Street were, he said, 'Oh, my little woman, that's all done away
with. The old streets have been pulled down; everything is new.' I turned
away and felt as if death had laid a hand on me. He said: 'Stop, stop!
young woman; what is it you're wanting with Colman Street, eh?' meaning
well, perhaps. But his tone was what I could not bear; and how could I
tell him what I wanted? I felt blinded and bewildered with a sudden shock.
I suddenly felt that I was very weak and weary, and yet where could I go?
for I looked so poor and dusty, and had nothing with me--I looked like a
street-beggar. And I was afraid of all places where I could enter. I lost
my trust. I thought I was forsaken. It seemed that I had been in a fever
of hope--delirious--all the way from Prague: I thought that I was helped,
and I did nothing but strain my mind forward and think of finding my
mother; and now--there I stood in a strange world. All who saw me would
think ill of me, and I must herd with beggars. I stood on the bridge and
looked along the river. People were going on to a steamboat. Many of them
seemed poor, and I felt as if it would be a refuge to get away from the
streets; perhaps the boat would take me where I could soon get into a
solitude. I had still some pence left, and I bought a loaf when I went on
the boat. I wanted to have a little time and strength to think of life and
death. How could I live? And now again it seemed that if ever I were to
find my mother again, death was the way to her. I ate, that I might have
strength to think. The boat set me down at a place along the river--I
don't know where--and it was late in the evening. I found some large trees
apart from the road, and I sat down under them that I might rest through
the night. Sleep must have soon come to me, and when I awoke it was
morning. The birds were singing, and the dew was white about me, I felt
chill and oh, so lonely! I got up and walked and followed the river a long
way and then turned back again. There was no reason why I should go
anywhere. The world about me seemed like a vision that was hurrying by
while I stood still with my pain. My thoughts were stronger than I was;
they rushed in and forced me to see all my life from the beginning; ever
since I was carried away from my mother I had felt myself a lost child
taken up and used by strangers, who did not care what my life was to me,
but only what I could do for them. It seemed all a weary wandering and
heart-loneliness--as if I had been forced to go to merrymakings without
the expectation of joy. And now it was worse. I was lost again, and I
dreaded lest any stranger should notice me and speak to me. I had a terror
of the world. None knew me; all would mistake me. I had seen so many in my
life who made themselves glad with scorning, and laughed at another's
shame. What could I do? This life seemed to be closing in upon me with a
wall of fire--everywhere there was scorching that made me shrink. The high
sunlight made me shrink. And I began to think that my despair was the
voice of God telling me to die. But it would take me long to die of
hunger. Then I thought of my people, how they had been driven from land to
land and been afflicted, and multitudes had died of misery in their
wandering--was I the first? And in the wars and troubles when Christians
were cruelest, our fathers had sometimes slain their children and
afterward themselves: it was to save them from being false apostates. That
seemed to make it right for me to put an end to my life; for calamity had
closed me in too, and I saw no pathway but to evil. But my mind got into
war with itself, for there were contrary things in it. I knew that some
had held it wrong to hasten their own death, though they were in the midst
of flames; and while I had some strength left it was a longing to bear if
I ought to bear--else where was the good of all my life? It had not been
happy since the first years: when the light came every morning I used to
think, 'I will bear it.' But always before I had some hope; now it was
gone. With these thoughts I wandered and wandered, inwardly crying to the
Most High, from whom I should not flee in death more than in life--though
I had no strong faith that He cared for me. The strength seemed departing
from my soul; deep below all my cries was the feeling that I was alone and
forsaken. The more I thought the wearier I got, till it seemed I was not
thinking at all, but only the sky and the river and the Eternal God were
in my soul. And what was it whether I died or lived? If I lay down to die
in the river, was it more than lying down to sleep?--for there too I
committed my soul--I gave myself up. I could not bear memories any more; I
could only feel what was present in me--it was all one longing to cease
from my weary life, which seemed only a pain outside the great peace that
I might enter into. That was how it was. When the evening came and the sun
was gone, it seemed as if that was all I had to wait for. And a new
strength came into me to will what I would do. You know what I did. I was
going to die. You know what happened--did he not tell you? Faith came to
me again; I was not forsaken. He told you how he found me?"
Mrs. Meyrick gave no audible answer, but pressed her lips against Mirah's
* * * * *
"She's just a pearl; the mud has only washed her," was the fervid little
woman's closing commentary when, _tete-a-tete_ with Deronda in the back
parlor that evening, she had conveyed Mirah's story to him with much
"What is your feeling about a search for this mother?" said Deronda. "Have
you no fears? I have, I confess."
"Oh, I believe the mother's good," said Mrs. Meyrick, with rapid
decisiveness; "or _was_ good. She may be dead--that's my fear. A good
woman, you may depend: you may know it by the scoundrel the father is.
Where did the child get her goodness from? Wheaten flour has to be
Deronda was rather disappointed at this answer; he had wanted a
confirmation of his own judgment, and he began to put in demurrers. The
argument about the mother would not apply to the brother; and Mrs. Meyrick
admitted that the brother might be an ugly likeness of the father. Then,
as to advertising, if the name was Cohen, you might as well advertise for
two undescribed terriers; and here Mrs. Meyrick helped him, for the idea
of an advertisement, already mentioned to Mirah, had roused the poor
child's terror; she was convinced that her father would see it--he saw
everything in the papers. Certainly there were safer means than
advertising; men might be set to work whose business it was to find
missing persons; but Deronda wished Mrs. Meyrick to feel with him that it
would be wiser to wait, before seeking a dubious--perhaps a deplorable
result; especially as he was engaged to go abroad the next week for a
couple of months. If a search were made, he would like to be at hand, so
that Mrs. Meyrick might not be unaided in meeting any consequences--
supposing that she would generously continue to watch over Mirah.
"We should be very jealous of any one who took the task from us," said
Mrs. Meyrick. "She will stay under my roof; there is Hans's old room for
"Will she be content to wait?" said Deronda, anxiously.
"No trouble there. It is not her nature to run into planning and devising:
only to submit. See how she submitted to that father! It was a wonder to
herself how she found the will and contrivance to run away from him. About
finding her mother, her only notion now is to trust; since you were sent
to save her and we are good to her, she trusts that her mother will be
found in the same unsought way. And when she is talking I catch her
feeling like a child."
Mrs. Meyrick hoped that the sum Deronda put into her hands as a provision
for Mirah's wants was more than would be needed; after a little while
Mirah would perhaps like to occupy herself as the other girls did, and
make herself independent. Deronda pleaded that she must need a long rest.
"Oh, yes; we will hurry nothing," said Mrs. Meyrick.
"Rely upon it, she shall be taken tender care of. If you like to give me
your address abroad, I will write to let you know how we get on. It is not
fair that we should have all the pleasure of her salvation to ourselves.
And besides, I want to make believe that I am doing something for you as
well as for Mirah."
"That is no make-believe. What should I have done without you last night?
Everything would have gone wrong. I shall tell Hans that the best of
having him for a friend is, knowing his mother."
After that they joined the girls in the other room, where Mirah was seated
placidly, while the others were telling her what they knew about Mr.
Deronda--his goodness to Hans, and all the virtues that Hans had reported
"Kate burns a pastille before his portrait every day," said Mab. "And I
carry his signature in a little black-silk bag round my neck to keep off
the cramp. And Amy says the multiplication-table in his name. We must all
do something extra in honor of him, now he has brought you to us."
"I suppose he is too great a person to want anything," said Mirah, smiling
at Mab, and appealing to the graver Amy. "He is perhaps very high in the
"He is very much above us in rank," said Amy. "He is related to grand
people. I dare say he leans on some of the satin cushions we prick our
"I am glad he is of high rank," said Mirah, with her usual quietness.
"Now, why are you glad of that?" said Amy, rather suspicious of this
sentiment, and on the watch for Jewish peculiarities which had not
"Because I have always disliked men of high rank before."
"Oh, Mr. Deronda is not so very high," said Kate, "He need not hinder us
from thinking ill of the whole peerage and baronetage if we like."
When he entered, Mirah rose with the same look of grateful reverence that
she had lifted to him the evening before: impossible to see a creature
freer at once from embarrassment and boldness. Her theatrical training had
left no recognizable trace; probably her manners had not much changed
since she played the forsaken child at nine years of age; and she had
grown up in her simplicity and truthfulness like a little flower-seed that
absorbs the chance confusion of its surrounding into its own definite
mould of beauty. Deronda felt that he was making acquaintance with
something quite new to him in the form of womanhood. For Mirah was not
childlike from ignorance: her experience of evil and trouble was deeper
and stranger than his own. He felt inclined to watch her and listen to her
as if she had come from a far off shore inhabited by a race different from
But for that very reason he made his visit brief with his usual activity
of imagination as to how his conduct might affect others, he shrank from
what might seem like curiosity or the assumption of a right to know as
much as he pleased of one to whom he had done a service. For example, he
would have liked to hear her sing, but he would have felt the expression
of such a wish to be rudeness in him--since she could not refuse, and he
would all the while have a sense that she was being treated like one whose
accomplishments were to be ready on demand. And whatever reverence could
be shown to woman, he was bent on showing to this girl. Why? He gave
himself several good reasons; but whatever one does with a strong
unhesitating outflow of will has a store of motive that it would be hard
to put into words. Some deeds seem little more than interjections which
give vent to the long passion of a life.
So Deronda soon took his farewell for the two months during which he
expected to be absent from London, and in a few days he was on his way
with Sir Hugo and Lady Mallinger to Leubronn.
He had fulfilled his intention of telling them about Mirah. The baronet
was decidedly of opinion that the search for the mother and brother had
better be let alone. Lady Mallinger was much interested in the poor girl,
observing that there was a society for the conversion of the Jews, and
that it was to be hoped Mirah would embrace Christianity; but perceiving
that Sir Hugo looked at her with amusement, she concluded that she had
said something foolish. Lady Mallinger felt apologetically about herself
as a woman who had produced nothing but daughters in a case where sons
were required, and hence regarded the apparent contradictions of the world
as probably due to the weakness of her own understanding. But when she was
much puzzled, it was her habit to say to herself, "I will ask Daniel."
Deronda was altogether a convenience in the family; and Sir Hugo too,
after intending to do the best for him, had begun to feel that the
pleasantest result would be to have this substitute for a son always ready
at his elbow.
This was the history of Deronda, so far as he knew it, up to the time of
that visit to Leubronn in which he saw Gwendolen Harleth at the gaming-
It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly
Considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly
builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through
patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of
it; Ignorance, wanting its day's dinner, lights a fire with the
record, and gives a flavor to its one roast with the burned souls of
many generations. Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and
multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various
with a new six days' work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with
a firkin of oil and a match and an easy "Let there not be," and the
many-colored creation is shriveled up in blackness. Of a truth,
Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a
conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a
blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to
seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good,
and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon. And looking
at life parcel-wise, in the growth of a single lot, who having a
practiced vision may not see that ignorance of the true bond between
events, and false conceit of means whereby sequences may be compelled
--like that falsity of eyesight which overlooks the gradations of
distance, seeing that which is afar off as if it were within a step or
a grasp--precipitates the mistaken soul on destruction?
It was half-past ten in the morning when Gwendolen Harleth, after her
gloomy journey from Leubronn, arrived at the station from which she must
drive to Offendene. No carriage or friend was awaiting her, for in the
telegram she had sent from Dover she had mentioned a later train, and in
her impatience of lingering at a London station she had set off without
picturing what it would be to arrive unannounced at half an hour's drive
from home--at one of those stations which have been fixed on not as near
anywhere, but as equidistant from everywhere. Deposited as a _femme sole_
with her large trunks, and having to wait while a vehicle was being got
from the large-sized lantern called the Railway Inn, Gwendolen felt that
the dirty paint in the waiting-room, the dusty decanter of flat water, and
the texts in large letters calling on her to repent and be converted, were
part of the dreary prospect opened by her family troubles; and she hurried
away to the outer door looking toward the lane and fields. But here the
very gleams of sunshine seemed melancholy, for the autumnal leaves and
grass were shivering, and the wind was turning up the feathers of a cock
and two croaking hens which had doubtless parted with their grown-up
offspring and did not know what to do with themselves. The railway
official also seemed without resources, and his innocent demeanor in
observing Gwendolen and her trunks was rendered intolerable by the cast in
his eye; especially since, being a new man, he did not know her, and must
conclude that she was not very high in the world. The vehicle--a dirty old
barouche--was within sight, and was being slowly prepared by an elderly
laborer. Contemptible details these, to make part of a history; yet the
turn of most lives is hardly to be accounted for without them. They are
continually entering with cumulative force into a mood until it gets the
mass and momentum of a theory or a motive. Even philosophy is not quite
free from such determining influences; and to be dropped solitary at an
ugly, irrelevant-looking spot, with a sense of no income on the mind,
might well prompt a man to discouraging speculation on the origin of
things and the reason of a world where a subtle thinker found himself so
badly off. How much more might such trifles tell on a young lady equipped
for society with a fastidious taste, an Indian shawl over her arm, some
twenty cubic feet of trunks by her side, and a mortal dislike to the new
consciousness of poverty which was stimulating her imagination of
disagreeables? At any rate they told heavily on poor Gwendolen, and helped
to quell her resistant spirit. What was the good of living in the midst of
hardships, ugliness, and humiliation? This was the beginning of being at
home again, and it was a sample of what she had to expect.
Here was the theme on which her discontent rung its sad changes during her
slow drive in the uneasy barouche, with one great trunk squeezing the meek
driver, and the other fastened with a rope on the seat in front of her.
Her ruling vision all the way from Leubronn had been that the family would
go abroad again; for of course there must be some little income left--her
mamma did not mean that they would have literally nothing. To go to a dull
place abroad and live poorly, was the dismal future that threatened her:
she had seen plenty of poor English people abroad and imagined herself
plunged in the despised dullness of their ill-plenished lives, with Alice,
Bertha, Fanny and Isabel all growing up in tediousness around her, while
she advanced toward thirty and her mamma got more and more melancholy. But
she did not mean to submit, and let misfortune do what it would with her:
she had not yet quite believed in the misfortune; but weariness and
disgust with this wretched arrival had begun to affect her like an
uncomfortable waking, worse than the uneasy dreams which had gone before.
The self-delight with which she had kissed her image in the glass had
faded before the sense of futility in being anything whatever--charming,
clever, resolute--what was the good of it all? Events might turn out
anyhow, and men were hateful. Yes, men were hateful. But in these last
hours, a certain change had come over their meaning. It is one thing to
hate stolen goods, and another thing to hate them the more because their
being stolen hinders us from making use of them. Gwendolen had begun to be
angry with Grandcourt for being what had hindered her from marrying him,
angry with him as the cause of her present dreary lot.
But the slow drive was nearly at an end, and the lumbering vehicle coming
up the avenue was within sight of the windows. A figure appearing under
the portico brought a rush of new and less selfish feeling in Gwendolen,
and when springing from the carriage she saw the dear beautiful face with
fresh lines of sadness in it, she threw her arms round her mother's neck,
and for the moment felt all sorrows only in relation to her mother's
feeling about them.
Behind, of course, were the sad faces of the four superfluous girls, each,
poor thing--like those other many thousand sisters of us all--having her
peculiar world which was of no importance to any one else, but all of them
feeling Gwendolen's presence to be somehow a relenting of misfortune:
where Gwendolen was, something interesting would happen; even her hurried
submission to their kisses, and "Now go away, girls," carried the sort of
comfort which all weakness finds in decision and authoritativeness. Good
Miss Merry, whose air of meek depression, hitherto held unaccountable in a
governess affectionately attached to the family, was now at the general
level of circumstances, did not expect any greeting, but busied herself
with the trunks and the coachman's pay; while Mrs. Davilow and Gwendolen
hastened up-stairs and shut themselves in the black and yellow bedroom.
"Never mind, mamma dear," said Gwendolen, tenderly pressing her
handkerchief against the tears that were rolling down Mrs. Davilow's
cheeks. "Never mind. I don't mind. I will do something. I will be
something. Things will come right. It seemed worse because I was away.
Come now! you must be glad because I am here."
Gwendolen felt every word of that speech. A rush of compassionate
tenderness stirred all her capability of generous resolution; and the
self-confident projects which had vaguely glanced before her during her
journey sprang instantaneously into new definiteness. Suddenly she seemed
to perceive how she could be "something." It was one of her best moments,
and the fond mother, forgetting everything below that tide mark, looked at
her with a sort of adoration. She said--
"Bless you, my good, good darling! I can be happy, if you can!"
But later in the day there was an ebb; the old slippery rocks, the old
weedy places reappeared. Naturally, there was a shrinking of courage as
misfortune ceased to be a mere announcement, and began to disclose itself
as a grievous tyrannical inmate. At first--that ugly drive at an end--it
was still Offendene that Gwendolen had come home to, and all surroundings
of immediate consequence to her were still there to secure her personal
ease; the roomy stillness of the large solid house while she rested; all
the luxuries of her toilet cared for without trouble to her; and a little
tray with her favorite food brought to her in private. For she had said,
"Keep them all away from us to-day, mamma. Let you and me be alone
When Gwendolen came down into the drawing-room, fresh as a newly-dipped
swan, and sat leaning against the cushions of the settee beside her mamma,
their misfortune had not yet turned its face and breath upon her. She felt
prepared to hear everything, and began in a tone of deliberate intention--
"What have you thought of doing, exactly, mamma?"
"Oh, my dear, the next thing to be done is to move away from this house.
Mr. Haynes most fortunately is as glad to have it now as he would have
been when we took it. Lord Brackenshaw's agent is to arrange everything
with him to the best advantage for us: Bazley, you know; not at all an
"I cannot help thinking that Lord Brackenshaw would let you stay here
rent-free, mamma," said Gwendolen, whose talents had not been applied to
business so much as to discernment of the admiration excited by her
"My dear child, Lord Brackenshaw is in Scotland, and knows nothing about
us. Neither your uncle nor I would choose to apply to him. Besides, what
could we do in this house without servants, and without money to warm it?
The sooner we are out the better. We have nothing to carry but our
clothes, you know?"
"I suppose you mean to go abroad, then?" said Gwendolen. After all, this
is what she had familiarized her mind with.
"Oh, no, dear, no. How could we travel? You never did learn anything about
income and expenses," said Mrs. Davilow, trying to smile, and putting her
hand on Gwendolen's as she added, mournfully, "that makes it so much
harder for you, my pet."
"But where are we to go? said Gwendolen, with a trace of sharpness in her
tone. She felt anew current of fear passing through her.
"It is all decided. A little furniture is to be got in from the rectory--
all that can be spared." Mrs. Davilow hesitated. She dreaded the reality
for herself less than the shock she must give to Gwendolen, who looked at
her with tense expectancy, but was silent.
"It is Sawyer's Cottage we are to go to."
At first, Gwendolen remained silent, paling with anger--justifiable anger,
in her opinion. Then she said with haughtiness--
"That is impossible. Something else than that ought to have been thought
of. My uncle ought not to allow that. I will not submit to it."
"My sweet child, what else could have been thought of? Your uncle, I am
sure, is as kind as he can be: but he is suffering himself; he has his
family to bring up. And do you quite understand? You must remember--we
have nothing. We shall have absolutely nothing except what he and my
sister give us. They have been as wise and active a possible, and we must
try to earn something. I and the girls are going to work a table-cloth
border for the Ladies' Charity at Winchester, and a communion cloth that
the parishioners are to present to Pennicote Church."
Mrs. Davilow went into these details timidly: but how else was she to
bring the fact of their position home to this poor child who, alas! must
submit at present, whatever might be in the background for her? and she
herself had a superstition that there must be something better in the
"But surely somewhere else than Sawyer's Cottage might have been found,"
Gwendolen persisted--taken hold of (as if in a nightmare) by the image of
this house where an exciseman had lived.
"No, indeed, dear. You know houses are scarce, and we may be thankful to
get anything so private. It is not so very bad. There are two little
parlors and four bedrooms. You shall sit alone whenever you like."
The ebb of sympathetic care for her mamma had gone so low just now, that
Gwendolen took no notice of these deprecatory words.
"I cannot conceive that all your property is gone at once, mamma. How can
you be sure in so short a time? It is not a week since you wrote to me."
"The first news came much earlier, dear. But I would not spoil your
pleasure till it was quite necessary.
"Oh, how vexatious!" said Gwendolen, coloring with fresh anger. "If I had
known, I could have brought home the money I had won: and for want of
knowing, I stayed and lost it. I had nearly two hundred pounds, and it
would have done for us to live on a little while, till I could carry out
some plan." She paused an instant and then added more impetuously,
"Everything has gone against me. People have come near me only to blight
Among the "people" she was including Deronda. If he had not interfered in
her life she would have gone to the gaming-table again with a few
napoleons, and might have won back her losses.
"We must resign ourselves to the will of Providence, my child," said poor
Mrs. Davilow, startled by this revelation of the gambling, but not daring
to say more. She felt sure that "people" meant Grandcourt, about whom her
lips were sealed. And Gwendolen answered immediately--
"But I don't resign myself. I shall do what I can against it. What is the
good of calling the people's wickedness Providence? You said in your
letter it was Mr. Lassman's fault we had lost our money. Has he run away
with it all?"
"No, dear, you don't understand. There were great speculations: he meant
to gain. It was all about mines and things of that sort. He risked too
"I don't call that Providence: it was his improvidence with our money, and
he ought to be punished. Can't we go to law and recover our fortune? My
uncle ought to take measures, and not sit down by such wrongs. We ought to
go to law."
"My dear child, law can never bring back money lost in that way. Your
uncle says it is milk spilled upon the ground. Besides, one must have a
fortune to get any law: there is no law for people who are ruined. And our
money has only gone along with other's people's. We are not the only
sufferers: others have to resign themselves besides us."
"But I don't resign myself to live at Sawyer's Cottage and see you working
for sixpences and shillings because of that. I shall not do it. I shall do
what is more befitting our rank and education."
"I am sure your uncle and all of us will approve of that, dear, and admire
you the more for it," said Mrs. Davilow, glad of an unexpected opening for
speaking on a difficult subject. "I didn't mean that you should resign
yourself to worse when anything better offered itself. Both your uncle and
aunt have felt that your abilities and education were a fortune for you,
and they have already heard of something within your reach."
"What is that, mamma?" some of Gwendolen's anger gave way to interest, and
she was not without romantic conjectures.
"There are two situations that offer themselves. One is in a bishop's
family, where there are three daughters, and the other is in quite a high
class of school; and in both, your French, and music, and dancing--and
then your manners and habits as a lady, are exactly what is wanted. Each
is a hundred a year--and--just for the present,"--Mrs. Davilow had become
frightened and hesitating,--"to save you from the petty, common way of
living that we must go to--you would perhaps accept one of the two."
"What! be like Miss Graves at Madame Meunier's? No."
"I think, myself, that Dr. Monpert's would be more suitable. There could
be no hardship in a bishop's family."
"Excuse me, mamma. There are hardships everywhere for a governess. And I
don't see that it would be pleasanter to be looked down on in a bishop's
family than in any other. Besides, you know very well I hate teaching.
Fancy me shut up with three awkward girls something like Alice! I would
rather emigrate than be a governess."
What it precisely was to emigrate, Gwendolen was not called on to explain.
Mrs. Davilow was mute, seeing no outlet, and thinking with dread of the
collision that might happen when Gwendolen had to meet her uncle and aunt.
There was an air of reticence in Gwendolen's haughty, resistant speeches
which implied that she had a definite plan in reserve; and her practical
ignorance continually exhibited, could not nullify the mother's belief in
the effectiveness of that forcible will and daring which had held mastery
"I have some ornaments, mamma, and I could sell them," said Gwendolen.
"They would make a sum: I want a little sum--just to go on with. I dare
say Marshall, at Wanchester, would take them: I know he showed me some
bracelets once that he said he had bought from a lady. Jocosa might go and
ask him. Jocosa is going to leave us, of course. But she might do that
"She would do anything she could, poor, dear soul. I have not told you
yet--she wanted me to take all her savings--her three hundred pounds. I
tell her to set up a little school. It will be hard for her to go into a
new family now she has been so long with us."
"Oh, recommend her for the bishop's daughter's," said Gwendolen, with a
sudden gleam of laughter in her face. "I am sure she will do better than I
"Do take care not to say such things to your uncle," said Mrs. Davilow.
"He will be hurt at your despising what he has exerted himself about. But
I dare say you have something else in your mind that he might not
disapprove, if you consulted him."
"There is some one else I want to consult first. Are the Arrowpoint's at
Quetcham still, and is Herr Klesmer there? But I daresay you know nothing
about it, poor, dear mamma. Can Jeffries go on horseback with a note?"
"Oh, my dear, Jefferies is not here, and the dealer has taken the horses.
But some one could go for us from Leek's farm. The Arrowpoints are at
Quetcham, I know. Miss Arrowpoint left her card the other day: I could not
see her. But I don't know about Herr Klesmer. Do you want to send before
"Yes, as soon as possible. I will write a note," said Gwendolen, rising.
"What can you be thinking of, Gwen?" said Mrs. Davilow, relieved in the
midst of her wonderment by signs of alacrity and better humor.
"Don't mind what, there's a dear, good mamma," said Gwendolen, reseating
herself a moment to give atoning caresses. "I mean to do something. Never
mind what until it is all settled. And then you shall be comforted. The
dear face!--it is ten years older in these three weeks. Now, now, now!
don't cry"--Gwendolen, holding her mamma's head with both hands, kissed
the trembling eyelids. "But mind you don't contradict me or put hindrances
in my way. I must decide for myself. I cannot be dictated to by my uncle
or any one else. My life is my own affair. And I think"--here her tone
took an edge of scorn--"I think I can do better for you than let you live
in Sawyer's Cottage."
In uttering this last sentence Gwendolen again rose, and went to a desk
where she wrote the following note to Klesmer:--
Miss Harleth presents her compliments to Herr Klesmer, and ventures
to request of him the very great favor that he will call upon her, if
possible, to-morrow. Her reason for presuming so far on his kindness
is of a very serious nature. Unfortunate family circumstances have
obliged her to take a course in which she can only turn for advice to
the great knowledge and judgment of Herr Klesmer.
"Pray get this sent to Quetcham at once, mamma," said Gwendolen, as she
addressed the letter. "The man must be told to wait for an answer. Let no
time be lost."
For the moment, the absorbing purpose was to get the letter dispatched;
but when she had been assured on this point, another anxiety arose and
kept her in a state of uneasy excitement. If Klesmer happened not to be at
Quetcham, what could she do next? Gwendolen's belief in her star, so to
speak, had had some bruises. Things had gone against her. A splendid
marriage which presented itself within reach had shown a hideous flaw. The
chances of roulette had not adjusted themselves to her claims; and a man
of whom she knew nothing had thrust himself between her and her
intentions. The conduct of those uninteresting people who managed the
business of the world had been culpable just in the points most injurious
to her in particular. Gwendolen Harleth, with all her beauty and conscious
force, felt the close threats of humiliation: for the first time the
conditions of this world seemed to her like a hurrying roaring crowd in
which she had got astray, no more cared for and protected than a myriad of
other girls, in spite of its being a peculiar hardship to her. If Klesmer
were not at Quetcham--that would be all of a piece with the rest: the
unwelcome negative urged itself as a probability, and set her brain
working at desperate alternatives which might deliver her from Sawyer's
Cottage or the ultimate necessity of "taking a situation," a phrase that
summed up for her the disagreeables most wounding to her pride, most
irksome to her tastes; at least so far as her experience enabled her to
Still Klesmer might be there, and Gwendolen thought of the result in that
case with a hopefulness which even cast a satisfactory light over her
peculiar troubles, as what might well enter into the biography of
celebrities and remarkable persons. And if she had heard her immediate
acquaintances cross-examined as to whether they thought her remarkable,
the first who said "No" would have surprised her.
We please our fancy with ideal webs
Of innovation, but our life meanwhile
Is in the loom, where busy passion plies
The shuttle to and fro, and gives our deeds
The accustomed pattern.
Gwendolen's note, coming "pat betwixt too early and too late," was put
into Klesmer's hands just when he was leaving Quetcham, and in order to
meet her appeal to his kindness he, with some inconvenience to himself
spent the night at Wanchester. There were reasons why he would not remain
That magnificent mansion, fitted with regard to the greatest expense, had
in fact became too hot for him, its owners having, like some great
politicians, been astonished at an insurrection against the established
order of things, which we plain people after the event can perceive to
have been prepared under their very noses.
There were as usual many guests in the house, and among them one in whom
Miss Arrowpoint foresaw a new pretender to her hand: a political man of
good family who confidently expected a peerage, and felt on public grounds
that he required a larger fortune to support the title properly. Heiresses
vary, and persons interested in one of them beforehand are prepared to
find that she is too yellow or too red, tall and toppling or short and
square, violent and capricious or moony and insipid; but in every case it
is taken for granted that she will consider herself an appendage to her
fortune, and marry where others think her fortunes ought to go. Nature,
however, not only accommodates herself ill to our favorite practices by
making "only children" daughters, but also now and then endows the
misplaced daughter with a clear head and a strong will. The Arrowpoints
had already felt some anxiety owing to these endowments of their
Catherine. She would not accept the view of her social duty which required
her to marry a needy nobleman or a commoner on the ladder toward nobility;
and they were not without uneasiness concerning her persistence in
declining suitable offers. As to the possibility of her being in love with
Klesmer they were not at all uneasy--a very common sort of blindness. For
in general mortals have a great power of being astonished at the presence
of an effect toward which they have done everything, and at the absence of
an effect toward which they had done nothing but desire it. Parents are
astonished at the ignorance of their sons, though they have used the most
time-honored and expensive means of securing it; husbands and wives are
mutually astonished at the loss of affection which they have taken no
pains to keep; and all of us in our turn are apt to be astonished that our
neighbors do not admire us. In this way it happens that the truth seems
highly improbable. The truth is something different from the habitual lazy
combinations begotten by our wishes. The Arrowpoints' hour of astonishment
When there is a passion between an heiress and a proud independent-
spirited man, it is difficult for them to come to an understanding; but
the difficulties are likely to be overcome unless the proud man secures
himself by a constant _alibi_. Brief meetings after studied absence are
potent in disclosure: but more potent still is frequent companionship,
with full sympathy in taste and admirable qualities on both sides;
especially where the one is in the position of teacher and the other is
delightedly conscious of receptive ability which also gives the teacher
delight. The situation is famous in history, and has no less charm now
than it had in the days of Abelard.
But this kind of comparison had not occurred to the Arrowpoints when they
first engaged Klesmer to come down to Quetcham. To have a first-rate
musician in your house is a privilege of wealth; Catherine's musical
talent demanded every advantage; and she particularly desired to use her
quieter time in the country for more thorough study. Klesmer was not yet a
Liszt, understood to be adored by ladies of all European countries with
the exception of Lapland: and even with that understanding it did not
follow that he would make proposals to an heiress. No musician of honor
would do so. Still less was it conceivable that Catherine would give him
the slightest pretext for such daring. The large check that Mr. Arrowpoint
was to draw in Klesmer's name seemed to make him as safe an inmate as a
footman. Where marriage is inconceivable, a girl's sentiments are safe.
Klesmer was eminently a man of honor, but marriages rarely begin with
formal proposals, and moreover, Catherine's limit of the conceivable did
not exactly correspond with her mother's.
Outsiders might have been more apt to think that Klesmer's position was
dangerous for himself if Miss Arrowpoint had been an acknowledged beauty;
not taking into account that the most powerful of all beauty is that which
reveals itself after sympathy and not before it. There is a charm of eye
and lip which comes with every little phrase that certifies delicate
perception or fine judgment, with every unostentatious word or smile that
shows a heart awake to others; and no sweep of garment or turn of figure
is more satisfying than that which enters as a restoration of confidence
that one person is present on whom no intention will be lost. What dignity
of meaning, goes on gathering in frowns and laughs which are never
observed in the wrong place; what suffused adorableness in a human frame
where there is a mind that can flash out comprehension and hands that can
execute finely! The more obvious beauty, also adorable sometimes--one may
say it without blasphemy--begins by being an apology for folly, and ends
like other apologies in becoming tiresome by iteration; and that Klesmer,
though very susceptible to it, should have a passionate attachment to Miss
Arrowpoint, was no more a paradox than any other triumph of a manifold
sympathy over a monotonous attraction. We object less to be taxed with the
enslaving excess of our passions than with our deficiency in wider
passion; but if the truth were known, our reputed intensity is often the
dullness of not knowing what else to do with ourselves. Tannhauser, one
suspects, was a knight of ill-furnished imagination, hardly of larger
discourse than a heavy Guardsman; Merlin had certainly seen his best days,
and was merely repeating himself, when he fell into that hopeless
captivity; and we know that Ulysses felt so manifest an _ennui_ under
similar circumstances that Calypso herself furthered his departure. There
is indeed a report that he afterward left Penelope; but since she was
habitually absorbed in worsted work, and it was probably from her that
Telemachus got his mean, pettifogging disposition, always anxious about
the property and the daily consumption of meat, no inference can be drawn
from this already dubious scandal as to the relation between companionship
Klesmer was as versatile and fascinating as a young Ulysses on a
sufficient acquaintance--one whom nature seemed to have first made
generously and then to have added music as a dominant power using all the
abundant rest, and, as in Mendelssohn, finding expression for itself not
only in the highest finish of execution, but in that fervor of creative
work and theoretic belief which pierces devoted purpose. His foibles of
arrogance and vanity did not exceed such as may be found in the best
English families; and Catherine Arrowpoint had no corresponding
restlessness to clash with his: notwithstanding her native kindliness she
was perhaps too coolly firm and self-sustained. But she was one of those
satisfactory creatures whose intercourse has the charm of discovery; whose
integrity of faculty and expression begets a wish to know what they will
say on all subjects or how they will perform whatever they undertake; so
that they end by raising not only a continual expectation but a continual
sense of fulfillment--the systole and diastole of blissful companionship.
In such cases the outward presentment easily becomes what the image is to
the worshipper. It was not long before the two became aware that each was
interesting to the other; but the "how far" remained a matter of doubt.
Klesmer did not conceive that Miss Arrowpoint was likely to think of him
as a possible lover, and she was not accustomed to think of herself as
likely to stir more than a friendly regard, or to fear the expression of
more from any man who was not enamored of her fortune. Each was content to
suffer some unshared sense of denial for the sake of loving the other's
society a little too well; and under these conditions no need had been
felt to restrict Klesmer's visits for the last year either in country or
in town. He knew very well that if Miss Arrowpoint had been poor he would
have made ardent love to her instead of sending a storm through the piano,
or folding his arms and pouring out a hyperbolical tirade about something
as impersonal as the north pole; and she was not less aware that if it had
been possible for Klesmer to wish for her hand she would have found
overmastering reasons for giving it to him. Here was the safety of full
cups, which are as secure from overflow as the half-empty, always
supposing no disturbance. Naturally, silent feeling had not remained at
the same point any more than the stealthly dial-hand, and in the present
visit to Quetcham, Klesmer had begun to think that he would not come
again; while Catherine was more sensitive to his frequent _brusquerie_,
which she rather resented as a needless effort to assert his footing of
superior in every sense except the conventional.
Meanwhile enters the expectant peer, Mr. Bult, an esteemed party man who,
rather neutral in private life, had strong opinions concerning the
districts of the Niger, was much at home also in Brazils, spoke with
decision of affairs in the South Seas, was studious of his Parliamentary
and itinerant speeches, and had the general solidity and suffusive
pinkness of a healthy Briton on the central table-land of life. Catherine,
aware of a tacit understanding that he was an undeniable husband for an
heiress, had nothing to say against him but that he was thoroughly
tiresome to her. Mr. Bult was amiably confident, and had no idea that his
insensibility to counterpoint could ever be reckoned against him. Klesmer
he hardly regarded in the light of a serious human being who ought to have
a vote; and he did not mind Miss Arrowpoint's addiction to music any more
than her probable expenses in antique lace. He was consequently a little
amazed at an after-dinner outburst of Klesmer's on the lack of idealism in
English politics, which left all mutuality between distant races to be
determined simply by the need of a market; the crusades, to his mind, had
at least this excuse, that they had a banner of sentiment round which
generous feelings could rally: of course, the scoundrels rallied too, but
what then? they rally in equal force round your advertisement van of "Buy
cheap, sell dear." On this theme Klesmer's eloquence, gesticulatory and
other, went on for a little while like stray fireworks accidentally
ignited, and then sank into immovable silence. Mr. Bult was not surprised
that Klesmer's opinions should be flighty, but was astonished at his
command of English idiom and his ability to put a point in a way that
would have told at a constituents' dinner--to be accounted for probably by
his being a Pole, or a Czech, or something of that fermenting sort, in a
state of political refugeeism which had obliged him to make a profession
of his music; and that evening in the drawing-room he for the first time
went up to Klesmer at the piano, Miss Arrowpoint being near, and said--
"I had no idea before that you were a political man."
Klesmer's only answer was to fold his arms, put out his nether lip, and
stare at Mr. Bult.
"You must have been used to public speaking. You speak uncommonly well,
though I don't agree with you. From what you said about sentiment, I fancy
you are a Panslavist."
"No; my name is Elijah. I am the Wandering Jew," said Klesmer, flashing a
smile at Miss Arrowpoint, and suddenly making a mysterious, wind-like rush
backward and forward on the piano. Mr. Bult felt this buffoonery rather
offensive and Polish, but--Miss Arrowpoint being there--did not like to
"Herr Klesmer has cosmopolitan ideas," said Miss Arrowpoint, trying to
make the best of the situation. "He looks forward to a fusion of races."
"With all my heart," said Mr. Bult, willing to be gracious. "I was sure he
had too much talent to be a mere musician."
"Ah, sir, you are under some mistake there," said Klesmer, firing up. "No
man has too much talent to be a musician. Most men have too little. A
creative artist is no more a mere musician than a great statesman is a
mere politician. We are not ingenious puppets, sir, who live in a box and
look out on the world only when it is gaping for amusement. We help to
rule the nations and make the age as much as any other public men. We
count ourselves on level benches with legislators. And a man who speaks
effectively through music is compelled to something more difficult than
With the last word Klesmer wheeled from the piano and walked away.
Miss Arrowpoint colored, and Mr. Bult observed, with his usual phlegmatic
stolidity, "Your pianist does not think small beer of himself."
"Herr Klesmer is something more than a pianist," said Miss Arrowpoint,
apologetically. "He is a great musician in the fullest sense of the word.
He will rank with Schubert and Mendelssohn."
"Ah, you ladies understand these things," said Mr. Bult, none the less
convinced that these things were frivolous because Klesmer had shown
himself a coxcomb.
Catherine, always sorry when Klesmer gave himself airs, found an
opportunity the next day in the music-room to say, "Why were you so heated
last night with Mr. Bult? He meant no harm."
"You wish me to be complaisant to him?" said Klesmer, rather fiercely.
"I think it is hardly worth your while to be other than civil."
"You find no difficulty in tolerating him, then?--you have a respect for a
political platitudinarian as insensible as an ox to everything he can't
turn into political capital. You think his monumental obtuseness suited to
the dignity of the English gentleman."
"I did not say that."
"You mean that I acted without dignity, and you are offended with me."
"Now you are slightly nearer the truth," said Catherine, smiling.
"Then I had better put my burial-clothes in my portmanteau and set off at
"I don't see that. If I have to bear your criticism of my operetta, you
should not mind my criticism of your impatience."
"But I do mind it. You would have wished me to take his ignorant
impertinence about a 'mere musician' without letting him know his place. I
am to hear my gods blasphemed as well as myself insulted. But I beg
pardon. It is impossible you should see the matter as I do. Even you can't
understand the wrath of the artist: he is of another caste for you."
"That is true," said Catherine, with some betrayal of feeling. "He is of a
caste to which I look up--a caste above mine."
Klesmer, who had been seated at a table looking over scores, started up
and walked to a little distance, from which he said--
"That is finely felt--I am grateful. But I had better go, all the same. I
have made up my mind to go, for good and all. You can get on exceedingly
well without me: your operetta is on wheels--it will go of itself. And
your Mr. Bull's company fits me 'wie die Faust ins Auge.' I am neglecting
my engagements. I must go off to St. Petersburg."
There was no answer.
"You agree with me that I had better go?" said Klesmer, with some
"Certainly; if that is what your business and feeling prompt. I have only
to wonder that you have consented to give us so much of your time in the
last year. There must be treble the interest to you anywhere else. I have
never thought of you consenting to come here as anything else than a
"Why should I make the sacrifice?" said Klesmer, going to seat himself at
the piano, and touching the keys so as to give with the delicacy of an
echo in the far distance a melody which he had set to Heine's "Ich hab'
dich geliebet und liebe dich noch."
"That is the mystery," said Catherine, not wanting to affect anything, but
from mere agitation. From the same cause she was tearing a piece of paper
into minute morsels, as if at a task of utmost multiplication imposed by a
"You can conceive no motive?" said Klesmer, folding his arms.
"None that seems in the least probable."
"Then I shall tell you. It is because you are to me the chief woman in the
world--the throned lady whose colors I carry between my heart and my
Catherine's hands trembled so much that she could no longer tear the
paper: still less could her lips utter a word. Klesmer went on--
"This would be the last impertinence in me, if I meant to found anything
upon it. That is out of the question. I meant no such thing. But you once
said it was your doom to suspect every man who courted you of being an
adventurer, and what made you angriest was men's imputing to you the folly
of believing that they courted you for your own sake. Did you not say so?"
"Very likely," was the answer, in a low murmur.
"It was a bitter word. Well, at least one man who has seen women as plenty
as flowers in May has lingered about you for your own sake. And since he
is one whom you can never marry, you will believe him. There is an
argument in favor of some other man. But don't give yourself for a meal to
a minotaur like Bult. I shall go now and pack. I shall make my excuses to
Mrs. Arrowpoint." Klesmer rose as he ended, and walked quickly toward the
"You must take this heap of manuscript," then said Catherine, suddenly
making a desperate effort. She had risen to fetch the heap from another
table. Klesmer came back, and they had the length of the folio sheets
"Why should I not marry the man who loves me, if I love him?" said
Catherine. To her the effort was something like the leap of a woman from
the deck into the lifeboat.
"It would be too hard--impossible--you could not carry it through. I am
not worth what you would have to encounter. I will not accept the
sacrifice. It would be thought a _mesalliance_ for you and I should be
liable to the worst accusations.
"Is it the accusations you are afraid of? I am afraid of nothing but that
we should miss the passing of our lives together."
The decisive word had been spoken: there was no doubt concerning the end
willed by each: there only remained the way of arriving at it, and
Catherine determined to take the straightest possible. She went to her
father and mother in the library, and told them that she had promised to
Mrs. Arrowpoint's state of mind was pitiable. Imagine Jean Jacques, after
his essay on the corrupting influence of the arts, waking up among
children of nature who had no idea of grilling the raw bone they offered
him for breakfast with the primitive flint knife; or Saint Just, after
fervidly denouncing all recognition of pre-eminence, receiving a vote of
thanks for the unbroken mediocrity of his speech, which warranted the
dullest patriots in delivering themselves at equal length. Something of
the same sort befell the authoress of "Tasso," when what she had safely
demanded of the dead Leonora was enacted by her own Catherine. It is hard
for us to live up to our own eloquence, and keep pace with our winged
words, while we are treading the solid earth and are liable to heavy
dining. Besides, it has long been understood that the proprieties of
literature are not those of practical life. Mrs. Arrowpoint naturally
wished for the best of everything. She not only liked to feel herself at a
higher level of literary sentiment than the ladies with whom she
associated; she wished not to be behind them in any point of social
consideration. While Klesmer was seen in the light of a patronized
musician, his peculiarities were picturesque and acceptable: but to see
him by a sudden flash in the light of her son-in-law gave her a burning
sense of what the world would say. And the poor lady had been used to
represent her Catherine as a model of excellence.
Under the first shock she forgot everything but her anger, and snatched at
any phrase that would serve as a weapon.
"If Klesmer has presumed to offer himself to you, your father shall
horsewhip him off the premises. Pray, speak, Mr. Arrowpoint."
The father took his cigar from his mouth, and rose to the occasion by
saying, "This will never do, Cath."
"Do!" cried Mrs. Arrowpoint; "who in their senses ever thought it would
do? You might as well say poisoning and strangling will not do. It is a
comedy you have got up, Catherine. Else you are mad."
"I am quite sane and serious, mamma, and Herr Klesmer is not to blame. He
never thought of my marrying him. I found out that he loved me, and loving
him, I told him I would marry him."
"Leave that unsaid, Catherine," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, bitterly. "Every one
else will say that for you. You will be a public fable. Every one will say
that you must have made an offer to a man who has been paid to come to the
house--who is nobody knows what--a gypsy, a Jew, a mere bubble of the
"Never mind, mamma," said Catherine, indignant in her turn. "We all know
he is a genius--as Tasso was."
"Those times were not these, nor is Klesmer Tasso," said Mrs. Arrowpoint,
getting more heated. "There is no sting in _that_ sarcasm, except the
sting of undutifulness."
"I am sorry to hurt you, mamma. But I will not give up the happiness of my
life to ideas that I don't believe in and customs I have no respect for."
"You have lost all sense of duty, then? You have forgotten that you are
our only child--that it lies with you to place a great property in the
"What are the right hands? My grandfather gained the property in trade."
"Mr. Arrowpoint, _will_ you sit by and hear this without speaking?"
"I am a gentleman, Cath. We expect you to marry a gentleman," said the
father, exerting himself.
"And a man connected with the institutions of this country," said the
mother. "A woman in your position has serious duties. Where duty and
inclination clash, she must follow duty."
"I don't deny that," said Catherine, getting colder in proportion to her
mother's heat. "But one may say very true things and apply them falsely.
People can easily take the sacred word duty as a name for what they desire
any one else to do."
"Your parent's desire makes no duty for you, then?"
"Yes, within reason. But before I give up the happiness of my life--"
"Catherine, Catherine, it will not be your happiness," said Mrs.
Arrowpoint, in her most raven-like tones.
"Well, what seems to me my happiness--before I give it up, I must see some
better reason than the wish that I should marry a nobleman, or a man who
votes with a party that he may be turned into a nobleman. I feel at
liberty to marry the man I love and think worthy, unless some higher duty
"And so it does, Catherine, though you are blinded and cannot see it. It
is a woman's duty not to lower herself. You are lowering yourself. Mr.
Arrowpoint, will you tell your daughter what is her duty?"
"You must see, Catherine, that Klesmer is not the man for you," said Mr.
Arrowpoint. "He won't do at the head of estates. He has a deuced foreign
look--is an unpractical man."
"I really can't see what that has to do with it, papa. The land of England
has often passed into the hands of foreigners--Dutch soldiers, sons of
foreign women of bad character:--if our land were sold to-morrow it would
very likely pass into the hands of some foreign merchant on 'Change. It is
in everybody's mouth that successful swindlers may buy up half the land in
the country. How can I stem that tide?"
"It will never do to argue about marriage, Cath," said Mr. Arrowpoint.
"It's no use getting up the subject like a parliamentary question. We must
do as other people do. We must think of the nation and the public good."
"I can't see any public good concerned here, papa," said Catherine. "Why
is it to be expected of any heiress that she should carry the property
gained in trade into the hands of a certain class? That seems to be a
ridiculous mishmash of superannuated customs and false ambition. I should
call it a public evil. People had better make a new sort of public good by
changing their ambitions."
"That is mere sophistry, Catherine," said Mrs. Arrowpoint. "Because you
don't wish to marry a nobleman, you are not obliged to marry a mountebank
or a charlatan."
"I cannot understand the application of such words, mamma."
"No, I dare say not," rejoined Mrs. Arrowpoint, with significant scorn.
"You have got to a pitch at which we are not likely to understand each
"It can't be done, Cath," said Mr. Arrowpoint, wishing to substitute a
better-humored reasoning for his wife's impetuosity. "A man like Klesmer
can't marry such a property as yours. It can't be done."
"It certainly will not be done," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, imperiously. "Where
is the man? Let him be fetched."
"I cannot fetch him to be insulted," said Catherine. "Nothing will be
achieved by that."
"I suppose you would wish him to know that in marrying you he will not
marry your fortune," said Mrs. Arrowpoint.
"Certainly; if it were so, I should wish him to know it."
"Then you had better fetch him."
Catherine only went into the music-room and said, "Come." She felt no need
to prepare Klesmer.
"Herr Klesmer," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, with a rather contemptuous
stateliness, "it is unnecessary to repeat what has passed between us and
our daughter. Mr. Arrowpoint will tell you our resolution."
"Your marrying is out of the question," said Mr. Arrowpoint, rather too
heavily weighted with his task, and standing in an embarrassment
unrelieved by a cigar. "It is a wild scheme altogether. A man has been
called out for less."
"You have taken a base advantage of our confidence," burst in Mrs.
Arrowpoint, unable to carry out her purpose and leave the burden of speech
to her husband.
Klesmer made a low bow in silent irony.
"The pretension is ridiculous. You had better give it up and leave the
house at once," continued Mr. Arrowpoint. He wished to do without
mentioning the money.
"I can give up nothing without reference to your daughter's wish," said
Klesmer. "My engagement is to her."
"It is useless to discuss the question," said Mrs. Arrowpoint. "We shall
never consent to the marriage. If Catherine disobeys us we shall
disinherit her. You will not marry her fortune. It is right you should
"Madam, her fortune has been the only thing I have had to regret about
her. But I must ask her if she will not think the sacrifice greater than I
am worthy of."
"It is no sacrifice to me," said Catherine, "except that I am sorry to
hurt my father and mother. I have always felt my fortune to be a wretched
fatality of my life."
"You mean to defy us, then?" said Mrs. Arrowpoint.
"I mean to marry Herr Klesmer," said Catherine, firmly.
"He had better not count on our relenting," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, whose
manners suffered from that impunity in insult which has been reckoned
among the privileges of women.
"Madam," said Klesmer, "certain reasons forbid me to retort. But
understand that I consider it out of the power either of you, or of your
fortune, to confer on me anything that I value. My rank as an artist is of
my own winning, and I would not exchange it for any other. I am able to
maintain your daughter, and I ask for no change in my life but her
"You will leave the house, however," said Mrs. Arrowpoint.
"I go at once," said Klesmer, bowing and quitting the room.
"Let there be no misunderstanding, mamma," said Catherine; "I consider
myself engaged to Herr Klesmer, and I intend to marry him."
The mother turned her head away and waved her hand in sign of dismissal.
"It's all very fine," said Mr. Arrowpoint, when Catherine was gone; "but
what the deuce are we to do with the property?"
"There is Harry Brendall. He can take the name."
"Harry Brendall will get through it all in no time," said Mr. Arrowpoint,
relighting his cigar.
And thus, with nothing settled but the determination of the lovers,
Klesmer had left Quetcham.
Among the heirs of Art, as is the division of the promised land, each
has to win his portion by hard fighting: the bestowal is after the
manner of prophecy, and is a title without possession. To carry the
map of an ungotten estate in your pocket is a poor sort of copyhold.
And in fancy to cast his shoe over Eden is little warrant that a man
shall ever set the sole of his foot on an acre of his own there.
The most obstinate beliefs that mortals entertain about themselves are
such as they have no evidence for beyond a constant, spontaneous
pulsing of their self-satisfaction--as it were a hidden seed of
madness, a confidence that they can move the world without precise
notion of standing-place or lever.
"Pray go to church, mamma," said Gwendolen the next morning. "I prefer
seeing Herr Klesmer alone." (He had written in reply to her note that he
would be with her at eleven.)
"That is hardly correct, I think," said Mrs. Davilow, anxiously.
"Our affairs are too serious for us to think of such nonsensical rules,"
said Gwendolen, contemptuously. "They are insulting as well as
"You would not mind Isabel sitting with you? She would be reading in a
"No; she could not: she would bite her nails and stare. It would be too
irritating. Trust my judgment, mamma, I must be alone, Take them all to
Gwendolen had her way, of course; only that Miss Merry and two of the
girls stayed at home, to give the house a look of habitation by sitting at
the dining-room windows.
It was a delicious Sunday morning. The melancholy waning sunshine of
autumn rested on the half-strown grass and came mildly through the windows
in slanting bands of brightness over the old furniture, and the glass
panel that reflected the furniture; over the tapestried chairs with their
faded flower-wreaths, the dark enigmatic pictures, the superannuated organ
at which Gwendolen had pleased herself with acting Saint Cecelia on her
first joyous arrival, the crowd of pallid, dusty knicknacks seen through
the open doors of the antechamber where she had achieved the wearing of
her Greek dress as Hermione. This last memory was just now very busy in
her; for had not Klesmer then been struck with admiration of her pose and
expression? Whatever he had said, whatever she imagined him to have
thought, was at this moment pointed with keenest interest for her: perhaps
she had never before in her life felt so inwardly dependent, so
consciously in need of another person's opinion. There was a new
fluttering of spirit within her, a new element of deliberation in her
self-estimate which had hitherto been a blissful gift of intuition. Still
it was the recurrent burden of her inward soliloquy that Klesmer had seen
but little of her, and any unfavorable conclusion of his must have too
narrow a foundation. She really felt clever enough for anything.
To fill up the time she collected her volumes and pieces of music, and
laying them on the top of the piano, set herself to classify them. Then
catching the reflection of her movements in the glass panel, she was
diverted to the contemplation of the image there and walked toward it.
Dressed in black, without a single ornament, and with the warm whiteness
of her skin set off between her light-brown coronet of hair and her
square-cut bodice, she might have tempted an artist to try again the Roman
trick of a statue in black, white, and tawny marble. Seeing her image
slowly advancing, she thought "I _am_ beautiful"--not exultingly, but with
grave decision. Being beautiful was after all the condition on which she
most needed external testimony. If any one objected to the turn of her
nose or the form of her neck and chin, she had not the sense that she
could presently show her power of attainment in these branches of feminine
There was not much time to fill up in this way before the sound of wheels,
the loud ring, and the opening doors assured her that she was not by any
accident to be disappointed. This slightly increased her inward flutter.
In spite of her self-confidence, she dreaded Klesmer as part of that
unmanageable world which was independent of her wishes--something
vitriolic that would not cease to burn because you smiled or frowned at
it. Poor thing! she was at a higher crisis of her woman's fate than in her
last experience with Grandcourt. The questioning then, was whether she
should take a particular man as a husband. The inmost fold of her
questioning now was whether she need take a husband at all--whether she
could not achieve substantially for herself and know gratified ambition
Klesmer made his most deferential bow in the wide doorway of the
antechamber--showing also the deference of the finest gray kerseymere
trousers and perfect gloves (the 'masters of those who know' are happily
altogether human). Gwendolen met him with unusual gravity, and holding out
her hand said, "It is most kind of you to come, Herr Klesmer. I hope you
have not thought me presumptuous."
"I took your wish as a command that did me honor," said Klesmer, with
answering gravity. He was really putting by his own affairs in order to
give his utmost attention to what Gwendolen might have to say; but his
temperament was still in a state of excitation from the events of
yesterday, likely enough to give his expressions a more than usually
Gwendolen for once was under too great a strain of feeling to remember
formalities. She continued standing near the piano, and Klesmer took his
stand near the other end of it with his back to the light and his
terribly omniscient eyes upon her. No affectation was of use, and she
began without delay.
"I wish to consult you, Herr Klesmer. We have lost all our fortune; we
have nothing. I must get my own bread, and I desire to provide for my
mamma, so as to save her from any hardship. The only way I can think of--
and I should like it better than anything--is to be an actress--to go on
the stage. But, of course, I should like to take a high position, and I
thought--if you thought I could"--here Gwendolen became a little more
nervous--"it would be better for me to be a singer--to study singing
Klesmer put down his hat upon the piano, and folded his arms as if to
"I know," Gwendolen resumed, turning from pale to pink and back again--"I
know that my method of singing is very defective; but I have been ill
taught. I could be better taught; I could study. And you will understand
my wish:--to sing and act too, like Grisi, is a much higher position.
Naturally, I should wish to take as high rank as I can. And I can rely on
your judgment. I am sure you will tell me the truth."
Gwendolen somehow had the conviction that now she made this serious appeal
the truth would be favorable.
Still Klesmer did not speak. He drew off his gloves quickly, tossed them
into his hat, rested his hands on his hips, and walked to the other end of
the room. He was filled with compassion for this girl: he wanted to put a
guard on his speech. When he turned again, he looked at her with a mild
frown of inquiry, and said with gentle though quick utterance, "You have
never seen anything, I think, of artists and their lives?--I mean of
musicians, actors, artists of that kind?"
"Oh, no," said Gwendolen, not perturbed by a reference to this obvious
fact in the history of a young lady hitherto well provided for.
"You are--pardon me," said Klesmer, again pausing near the piano--"in
coming to a conclusion on such a matter as this, everything must be taken
into consideration--you are perhaps twenty?"
"I am twenty-one," said Gwendolen, a slight fear rising in her. "Do you
think I am too old?"
Klesmer pouted his under lip and shook his long fingers upward in a manner
"Many persons begin later than others," said Gwendolen, betrayed by her
habitual consciousness of having valuable information to bestow.
Klesmer took no notice, but said with more studied gentleness than ever,
"You have probably not thought of an artistic career until now: you did
not entertain the notion, the longing--what shall I say?--you did not wish
yourself an actress, or anything of that sort, till the present trouble?"
"Not exactly: but I was fond of acting. I have acted; you saw me, if you
remember--you saw me here in charades, and as Hermione," said Gwendolen,
really fearing that Klesmer had forgotten.
"Yes, yes," he answered quickly, "I remember--I remember perfectly," and
again walked to the other end of the room, It was difficult for him to
refrain from this kind of movement when he was in any argument either
audible or silent.
Gwendolen felt that she was being weighed. The delay was unpleasant. But
she did not yet conceive that the scale could dip on the wrong side, and
it seemed to her only graceful to say, "I shall be very much obliged to
you for taking the trouble to give me your advice, whatever it maybe."
"Miss Harleth," said Klesmer, turning toward her and speaking with a
slight increase of accent, "I will veil nothing from you in this matter. I
should reckon myself guilty if I put a false visage on things--made them
too black or too white. The gods have a curse for him who willingly tells
another the wrong road. And if I misled one who is so young, so beautiful
--who, I trust, will find her happiness along the right road, I should
regard myself as a--_Bosewicht_." In the last word Klesmer's voice had
dropped to a loud whisper.
Gwendolen felt a sinking of heart under this unexpected solemnity, and
kept a sort of fascinated gaze on Klesmer's face, as he went on.
"You are a beautiful young lady--you have been brought up in ease--you
have done what you would--you have not said to yourself, 'I must know this
exactly,' 'I must understand this exactly,' 'I must do this exactly,'"--in
uttering these three terrible _musts_, Klesmer lifted up three long
fingers in succession. "In sum, you have not been called upon to be
anything but a charming young lady, whom it is an impoliteness to find
He paused an instant; then resting his fingers on his hips again, and
thrusting out his powerful chin, he said--
"Well, then, with that preparation, you wish to try the life of an artist;
you wish to try a life of arduous, unceasing work, and--uncertain praise.
Your praise would have to be earned, like your bread; and both would come
slowly, scantily--what do I say?--they may hardly come at all."
This tone of discouragement, which Klesmer had hoped might suffice without
anything more unpleasant, roused some resistance in Gwendolen. With a
slight turn of her head away from him, and an air of pique, she said--
"I thought that you, being an artist, would consider the life one of the
most honorable and delightful. And if I can do nothing better?--I suppose
I can put up with the same risks as other people do."
"Do nothing better?" said Klesmer, a little fired. "No, my dear Miss
Harleth, you could do nothing better--neither man nor woman could do
anything better--if you could do what was best or good of its kind. I am
not decrying the life of the true artist. I am exalting it. I say, it is
out of the reach of any but choice organizations--natures framed to love
perfection and to labor for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to
wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she--Art, my mistress--is worthy,
and I will live to merit her. An honorable life? Yes. But the honor comes
from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honor
in donning the life as a livery."
Some excitement of yesterday had revived in Klesmer and hurried him into
speech a little aloof from his immediate friendly purpose. He had wished
as delicately as possible to rouse in Gwendolen a sense of her unfitness
for a perilous, difficult course; but it was his wont to be angry with the
pretensions of incompetence, and he was in danger of getting chafed.
Conscious of this, he paused suddenly. But Gwendolen's chief impression
was that he had not yet denied her the power of doing what would be good
of its kind. Klesmer's fervor seemed to be a sort of glamor such as he was
prone to throw over things in general; and what she desired to assure him
of was that she was not afraid of some preliminary hardships. The belief
that to present herself in public on the stage must produce an effect such
as she had been used to feel certain of in private life; was like a bit of
her flesh--it was not to be peeled off readily, but must come with blood
and pain. She said, in a tone of some insistance--
"I am quite prepared to bear hardships at first. Of course no one can
become celebrated all at once. And it is not necessary that every one
should be first-rate--either actresses or singers. If you would be so kind
as to tell me what steps I should take, I shall have the courage to take
them. I don't mind going up hill. It will be easier than the dead level of
being a governess. I will take any steps you recommend."
Klesmer was convinced now that he must speak plainly.
"I will tell you the steps, not that I recommend, but that will be forced
upon you. It is all one, so far, what your goal will be--excellence,
celebrity, second, third rateness--it is all one. You must go to town
under the protection of your mother. You must put yourself under training
--musical, dramatic, theatrical:--whatever you desire to do you have to
learn"--here Gwendolen looked as if she were going to speak, but Klesmer
lifted up his hand and said, decisively, "I know. You have exercised your
talents--you recite--you sing--from the drawing-room _standpunkt_. My dear
Fraulein, you must unlearn all that. You have not yet conceived what
excellence is: you must unlearn your mistaken admirations. You must know
what you have to strive for, and then you must subdue your mind and body
to unbroken discipline. Your mind, I say. For you must not be thinking of
celebrity: put that candle out of your eyes, and look only at excellence.
You would of course earn nothing--you could get no engagement for a long
while. You would need money for yourself and your family. But that," here
Klesmer frowned and shook his fingers as if to dismiss a triviality, "that
could perhaps be found."
Gwendolen turned pink and pale during this speech. Her pride had felt a
terrible knife-edge, and the last sentence only made the smart keener. She
was conscious of appearing moved, and tried to escape from her weakness by
suddenly walking to a seat and pointing out a chair to Klesmer. He did not
take it, but turned a little in order to face her and leaned against the
piano. At that moment she wished that she had not sent for him: this first
experience of being taken on some other ground than that of her social
rank and her beauty was becoming bitter to her. Klesmer, preoccupied with
a serious purpose, went on without change of tone.
"Now, what sort of issue might be fairly expected from all this self-
denial? You would ask that. It is right that your eyes should be open to
it. I will tell you truthfully. This issue would be uncertain, and, most
probably, would not be worth much."
At these relentless words Klesmer put out his lip and looked through his
spectacles with the air of a monster impenetrable by beauty.
Gwendolen's eyes began to burn, but the dread of showing weakness urged
her to added self-control. She compelled herself to say, in a hard tone--
"You think I want talent, or am too old to begin."
Klesmer made a sort of hum, and then descended on an emphatic "Yes! The
desire and the training should have begun seven years ago--or a good deal
earlier. A mountebank's child who helps her father to earn shillings when
she is six years old--a child that inherits a singing throat from a long
line of choristers and learns to sing as it learns to talk, has a likelier
beginning. Any great achievement in acting or in music grows with the
growth. Whenever an artist has been able to say, 'I came, I saw, I
conquered,' it has been at the end of patient practice. Genius at first is
little more than a great capacity for receiving discipline. Singing and
acting, like the fine dexterity of the juggler with his cups and balls,
require a shaping of the organs toward a finer and finer certainty of
effect. Your muscles--your whole frame--must go like a watch, true, true
to a hair. That is the work of spring-time, before habits have been
"I did not pretend to genius," said Gwendolen, still feeling that she
might somehow do what Klesmer wanted to represent as impossible. "I only
suppose that I might have a little talent--enough to improve."
"I don't deny that," said Klesmer. "If you had been put in the right track
some years ago and had worked well you might now have made a public
singer, though I don't think your voice would have counted for much in
public. For the stage your personal charms and intelligence might then
have told without the present drawback of inexperience--lack of
discipline--lack of instruction."
Certainly Klesmer seemed cruel, but his feeling was the reverse of cruel.
Our speech, even when we are most single-minded, can never take its line
absolutely from one impulse; but Klesmer's was, as far as possible,
directed by compassion for poor Gwendolen's ignorant eagerness to enter on
a course of which he saw all the miserable details with a definiteness
which he could not if he would have conveyed to her mind.
Gwendolen, however, was not convinced. Her self-opinion rallied, and since
the counselor whom she had called in gave a decision of such severe
peremptoriness, she was tempted to think that his judgment was not only
fallible but biased. It occurred to her that a simpler and wiser step for
her to have taken would have been to send a letter through the post to the
manager of a London theatre, asking him to make an appointment. She would
make no further reference to her singing; Klesmer, she saw, had set
himself against her singing. But she felt equal to arguing with him about
her going on the stage, and she answered in a resistant tone--
"I understood, of course, that no one can be a finished actress at once.
It may be impossible to tell beforehand whether I should succeed; but that
seems to me a reason why I should try. I should have thought that I might
have taken an engagement at a theatre meanwhile, so as to earn money and
study at the same time."
"Can't be done, my dear Miss Harleth--I speak plainly--it can't be done. I
must clear your mind of these notions which have no more resemblance to
reality than a pantomime. Ladies and gentlemen think that when they have
made their toilet and drawn on their gloves they are as presentable on the
stage as in a drawing-room. No manager thinks that. With all your grace
and charm, if you were to present yourself as an aspirant to the stage, a
manager would either require you to pay as an amateur for being allowed to
perform or he would tell you to go and be taught--trained to bear yourself
on the stage, as a horse, however beautiful, must be trained for the
circus; to say nothing of that study which would enable you to personate a
character consistently, and animate it with the natural language of face,
gesture, and tone. For you to get an engagement fit for you straight away
is out of the question."
"I really cannot understand that," said Gwendolen, rather haughtily--then,
checking herself, she added in another tone--"I shall be obliged to you if
you will explain how it is that such poor actresses get engaged. I have
been to the theatre several times, and I am sure there were actresses who
seemed to me to act not at all well and who were quite plain."
"Ah, my dear Miss Harleth, that is the easy criticism of the buyer. We who
buy slippers toss away this pair and the other as clumsy; but there went
an apprenticeship to the making of them. Excuse me; you could not at
present teach one of those actresses; but there is certainly much that she
could teach you. For example, she can pitch her voice so as to be heard:
ten to one you could not do it till after many trials. Merely to stand and
move on the stage is an art--requires practice. It is understood that we
are not now talking of a _comparse_ in a petty theatre who earns the wages
of a needle-woman. That is out of the question for you."
"Of course I must earn more than that," said Gwendolen, with a sense of
wincing rather than of being refuted, "but I think I could soon learn to
do tolerably well all those little things you have mentioned. I am not so
very stupid. And even in Paris, I am sure, I saw two actresses playing
important ladies' parts who were not at all ladies and quite ugly. I
suppose I have no particular talent, but I _must_ think it is an
advantage, even on the stage, to be a lady and not a perfect fright."
"Ah, let us understand each other," said Klesmer, with a flash of new
meaning. "I was speaking of what you would have to go through if you aimed
at becoming a real artist--if you took music and the drama as a higher
vocation in which you would strive after excellence. On that head, what I
have said stands fast. You would find--after your education in doing
things slackly for one-and-twenty years--great difficulties in study; you
would find mortifications in the treatment you would get when you
presented yourself on the footing of skill. You would be subjected to
tests; people would no longer feign not to see your blunders. You would at
first only be accepted on trial. You would have to bear what I may call a
glaring insignificance: any success must be won by the utmost patience.
You would have to keep your place in a crowd, and after all it is likely
you would lose it and get out of sight. If you determine to face these
hardships and still try, you will have the dignity of a high purpose, even
though you may have chosen unfortunately. You will have some merit, though
you may win no prize. You have asked my judgment on your chances of
winning. I don't pretend to speak absolutely; but measuring probabilities,
my judgment is:--you will hardly achieve more than mediocrity."
Klesmer had delivered himself with emphatic rapidity, and now paused a
moment. Gwendolen was motionless, looking at her hands, which lay over
each other on her lap, till the deep-toned, long-drawn "_But_," with which
he resumed, had a startling effect, and made her look at him again.
"But--there are certainly other ideas, other dispositions with which a
young lady may take up an art that will bring her before the public. She
may rely on the unquestioned power of her beauty as a passport. She may
desire to exhibit herself to an admiration which dispenses with skill.
This goes a certain way on the stage: not in music: but on the stage,
beauty is taken when there is nothing more commanding to be had. Not
without some drilling, however: as I have said before, technicalities have
in any case to be mastered. But these excepted, we have here nothing to do
with art. The woman who takes up this career is not an artist: she is
usually one who thinks of entering on a luxurious life by a short and easy
road--perhaps by marriage--that is her most brilliant chance, and the
rarest. Still, her career will not be luxurious to begin with: she can
hardly earn her own poor bread independently at once, and the indignities
she will be liable to are such as I will not speak of."
"I desire to be independent," said Gwendolen, deeply stung and confusedly
apprehending some scorn for herself in Klesmer's words. "That was my
reason for asking whether I could not get an immediate engagement. Of
course I cannot know how things go on about theatres. But I thought that I
could have made myself independent. I have no money, and I will not accept
help from any one."
Her wounded pride could not rest without making this disclaimer. It was
intolerable to her that Klesmer should imagine her to have expected other
help from him than advice.
"That is a hard saying for your friends," said Klesmer, recovering the
gentleness of tone with which he had begun the conversation. "I have given
you pain. That was inevitable. I was bound to put the truth, the
unvarnished truth, before you. I have not said--I will not say--you will
do wrong to choose the hard, climbing path of an endeavoring artist. You
have to compare its difficulties with those of any less hazardous--any
more private course which opens itself to you. If you take that more
courageous resolve I will ask leave to shake hands with you on the
strength of our freemasonry, where we are all vowed to the service of art,
and to serve her by helping every fellow-servant."
Gwendolen was silent, again looking at her hands. She felt herself very
far away from taking the resolve that would enforce acceptance; and after
waiting an instant or two, Klesmer went on with deepened seriousness.
"Where there is the duty of service there must be the duty of accepting
it. The question is not one of personal obligation. And in relation to
practical matters immediately affecting your future--excuse my permitting
myself to mention in confidence an affair of my own. I am expecting an
event which would make it easy for me to exert myself on your behalf in
furthering your opportunities of instruction and residence in London--
under the care, that is, of your family--without need for anxiety on your
part. If you resolve to take art as a bread-study, you need only undertake
the study at first; the bread will be found without trouble. The event I
mean is my marriage--in fact--you will receive this as a matter of
confidence--my marriage with Miss Arrowpoint, which will more than double
such right as I have to be trusted by you as a friend. Your friendship
will have greatly risen in value for _her_ by your having adopted that
Gwendolen's face had begun to burn. That Klesmer was about to marry Miss
Arrowpoint caused her no surprise, and at another moment she would have
amused herself in quickly imagining the scenes that must have occurred at
Quetcham. But what engrossed her feeling, what filled her imagination now,
was the panorama of her own immediate future that Klesmer's words seemed
to have unfolded. The suggestion of Miss Arrowpoint as a patroness was
only another detail added to its repulsiveness: Klesmer's proposal to help
her seemed an additional irritation after the humiliating judgment he had
passed on her capabilities. His words had really bitten into her self-
confidence and turned it into the pain of a bleeding wound; and the idea
of presenting herself before other judges was now poisoned with the dread
that they also might be harsh; they also would not recognize the talent
she was conscious of. But she controlled herself, and rose from her seat
before she made any answer. It seemed natural that she should pause. She
went to the piano and looked absently at leaves of music, pinching up the
corners. At last she turned toward Klesmer and said, with almost her usual
air of proud equality, which in this interview had not been hitherto
"I congratulate you sincerely, Herr Klesmer. I think I never saw any one
so admirable as Miss Arrowpoint. And I have to thank you for every sort of
kindness this morning. But I can't decide now. If I make the resolve you
have spoken of, I will use your permission--I will let you know. But I
fear the obstacles are too great. In any case, I am deeply obliged to you.
It was very bold of me to ask you to take this trouble."
Klesmer's inward remark was, "She will never let me know." But with the
most thorough respect in his manner, he said, "Command me at any time.
There is an address on this card which will always find me with little
When he had taken up his hat and was going to make his bow, Gwendolen's
better self, conscious of an ingratitude which the clear-seeing Klesmer
must have penetrated, made a desperate effort to find its way above the
stifling layers of egoistic disappointment and irritation. Looking at him
with a glance of the old gayety, she put out her hand, and said with a
smile, "If I take the wrong road, it will not be because of your
"God forbid that you should take any road but one where you will find and
give happiness!" said Klesmer, fervently. Then, in foreign fashion, he
touched her fingers lightly with his lips, and in another minute she heard
the sound of his departing wheels getting more distant on the gravel.
Gwendolen had never in her life felt so miserable. No sob came, no passion
of tears, to relieve her. Her eyes were burning; and the noonday only
brought into more dreary clearness the absence of interest from her life.
All memories, all objects, the pieces of music displayed, the open piano--
the very reflection of herself in the glass--seemed no better than the
packed-up shows of a departing fair. For the first time since her
consciousness began, she was having a vision of herself on the common
level, and had lost the innate sense that there were reasons why she
should not be slighted, elbowed, jostled--treated like a passenger with a
third-class ticket, in spite of private objections on her own part. She
did not move about; the prospects begotten by disappointment were too
oppressively preoccupying; she threw herself into the shadiest corner of a
settee, and pressed her fingers over her burning eyelids. Every word that
Klesmer had said seemed to have been branded into her memory, as most
words are which bring with them a new set of impressions and make an epoch
for us. Only a few hours before, the dawning smile of self-contentment
rested on her lips as she vaguely imagined a future suited to her wishes:
it seemed but the affair of a year or so for her to become the most
approved Juliet of the time: or, if Klesmer encouraged her idea of being a
singer, to proceed by more gradual steps to her place in the opera, while
she won money and applause by occasional performances. Why not? At home,
at school, among acquaintances, she had been used to have her conscious
superiority admitted; and she had moved in a society where everything,
from low arithmetic to high art, is of the amateur kind, politely supposed
to fall short of perfection only because gentlemen and ladies are not
obliged to do more than they like--otherwise they would probably give
forth abler writings, and show themselves more commanding artists than any
the world is at present obliged to put up with. The self-confident visions
that had beguiled her were not of a highly exceptional kind; and she had
at least shown some nationality in consulting the person who knew the most
and had flattered her the least. In asking Klesmer's advice, however, she
had rather been borne up by a belief in his latent admiration than bent on
knowing anything more unfavorable that might have lain behind his slight
objections to her singing; and the truth she had asked for, with an
expectation that it would be agreeable, had come like a lacerating thong.
"Too old--should have begun seven years ago--you will not, at best,
achieve more than mediocrity--hard, incessant work, uncertain praise--
bread coming slowly, scantily, perhaps not at all--mortifications, people
no longer feigning not to see your blunders--glaring insignificance"--all
these phrases rankled in her; and even more galling was the hint that she
could only be accepted on the stage as a beauty who hoped to get a
husband. The "indignities" that she might be visited with had no very
definite form for her, but the mere association of anything called
"indignity" with herself, roused a resentful alarm. And along with the
vaguer images which were raised by those biting words, came the precise
conception of disagreeables which her experience enabled her to imagine.
How could she take her mamma and the four sisters to London? if it were
not possible for her to earn money at once? And as for submitting to be a
_protege_, and asking her mamma to submit with her to the humiliation of
being supported by Miss Arrowpoint--that was as bad as being a governess;
nay, worse; for suppose the end of all her study to be as worthless as
Klesmer clearly expected it to be, the sense of favors received and never
repaid, would embitter the miseries of disappointment. Klesmer doubtless
had magnificent ideas about helping artists; but how could he know the
feelings of ladies in such matters? It was all over: she had entertained a
mistaken hope; and there was an end of it.
"An end of it!" said Gwendolen, aloud, starting from her seat as she heard
the steps and voices of her mamma and sisters coming in from church. She
hurried to the piano and began gathering together her pieces of music with
assumed diligence, while the expression on her pale face and in her
burning eyes was what would have suited a woman enduring a wrong which she