Part 8 out of 16
but whatever import it might have, his inward shrinking on the occasion
was too strong for him to be sorry that he had cut it short. It was a
reason, however, for his not mentioning the synagogue to the Mallingers--
in addition to his usual inclination to reticence on anything that the
baronet would have been likely to call Quixotic enthusiasm. Hardly any man
could be more good-natured than Sir Hugo; indeed in his kindliness
especially to women, he did actions which others would have called
romantic; but he never took a romantic view of them, and in general smiled
at the introduction of motives on a grand scale, or of reasons that lay
very far off. This was the point of strongest difference between him and
Deronda, who rarely ate at breakfast without some silent discursive flight
after grounds for filling up his day according to the practice of his
This halt at Frankfort was taken on their way home, and its impressions
were kept the more actively vibrating in him by the duty of caring for
Mirah's welfare. That question about his parentage, which if he had not
both inwardly and outwardly shaken it off as trivial, would have seemed a
threat rather than a promise of revelation, and reinforced his anxiety as
to the effect of finding Mirah's relatives and his resolve to proceed with
caution. If he made any unpleasant discovery, was he bound to a disclosure
that might cast a new net of trouble around her? He had written to Mrs.
Meyrick to announce his visit at four o'clock, and he found Mirah seated
at work with only Mrs. Meyrick and Mab, the open piano, and all the
glorious company of engravings. The dainty neatness of her hair and dress,
the glow of tranquil happiness in a face where a painter need have changed
nothing if he had wanted to put it in front of the host singing "peace on
earth and good will to men," made a contrast to his first vision of her
that was delightful to Deronda's eyes. Mirah herself was thinking of it,
and immediately on their greeting said--
"See how different I am from the miserable creature by the river! all
because you found me and brought me to the very best."
"It was my good chance to find you," said Deronda. "Any other man would
have been glad to do what I did."
"That is not the right way to be thinking about it," said Mirah, shaking
her head with decisive gravity, "I think of what really was. It was you,
and not another, who found me and were good to me."
"I agree with Mirah," said Mrs. Meyrick. Saint Anybody is a bad saint to
"Besides, Anybody could not have brought me to you," said Mirah, smiling
at Mrs. Meyrick. "And I would rather be with you than with any one else in
the world except my mother. I wonder if ever a poor little bird, that was
lost and could not fly, was taken and put into a warm nest where was a
mother and sisters who took to it so that everything came naturally, as if
it had been always there. I hardly thought before that the world could
ever be as happy and without fear as it is to me now." She looked
meditative a moment, and then said, "sometimes I am a _little_ afraid."
"What is it you are afraid of?" said Deronda with anxiety.
"That when I am turning at the corner of a street I may meet my father. It
seems dreadful that I should be afraid of meeting him. That is my only
sorrow," said Mirah, plaintively.
"It is surely not very probable," said Deronda, wishing that it were less
so; then, not to let the opportunity escape--"Would it be a great grief to
you now if you were never to meet your mother?"
She did not answer immediately, but meditated again, with her eyes fixed
on the opposite wall. Then she turned them on Deronda and said firmly, as
if she had arrived at the exact truth, "I want her to know that I have
always loved her, and if she is alive I want to comfort her. She may be
dead. If she were I should long to know where she was buried; and to know
whether my brother lives, so that we can remember her together. But I will
try not to grieve. I have thought much for so many years of her being
dead. And I shall have her with me in my mind, as I have always had. We
can never be really parted. I think I have never sinned against her. I
have always tried not to do what would hurt her. Only, she might be sorry
that I was not a good Jewess."
"In what way are you not a good Jewess?" said Deronda.
"I am ignorant, and we never observed the laws, but lived among Christians
just as they did. But I have heard my father laugh at the strictness of
the Jews about their food and all customs, and their not liking
Christians. I think my mother was strict; but she could never want me not
to like those who are better to me than any of my own people I have ever
known. I think I could obey in other things that she wished but not in
that. It is so much easier to me to share in love than in hatred. I
remember a play I read in German--since I have been here it has come into
my mind--where the heroine says something like that."
"Antigone," said Deronda.
"Ah, you know it. But I do not believe that my mother would wish me not to
love my best friends. She would be grateful to them." Here Mirah had
turned to Mrs. Meyrick, and with a sudden lighting up of her whole
countenance, she said, "Oh, if we ever do meet and know each other as we
are now, so that I could tell what would comfort her--I should be so full
of blessedness my soul would know no want but to love her!"
"God bless you, child!" said Mrs. Meyrick, the words escaping
involuntarily from her motherly heart. But to relieve the strain of
feeling she looked at Deronda and said, "It is curious that Mirah, who
remembers her mother so well it is as if she saw her, cannot recall her
brother the least bit--except the feeling of having been carried by him
when she was tired, and of his being near her when she was in her mother's
lap. It must be that he was rarely at home. He was already grown up. It is
a pity her brother should be quite a stranger to her."
"He is good; I feel sure Ezra is good," said Mirah, eagerly. "He loved my
mother--he would take care of her. I remember more of him than that. I
remember my mother's voice once calling, 'Ezra!' and then his answering
from a distance 'Mother!'"--Mirah had changed her voice a little in each
of these words and had given them a loving intonation--"and then he came
close to us. I feel sure he is good. I have always taken comfort from
It was impossible to answer this either with agreement or doubt. Mrs.
Meyrick and Deronda exchanged a quick glance: about this brother she felt
as painfully dubious as he did. But Mirah went on, absorbed in her
"Is it not wonderful how I remember the voices better than anything else?
I think they must go deeper into us than other things. I have often
fancied heaven might be made of voices."
"Like your singing--yes," said Mab, who had hitherto kept a modest
silence, and now spoke bashfully, as was her wont in the presence of
Prince Camaralzaman--"Ma, do ask Mirah to sing. Mr. Deronda has not heard
"Would it be disagreeable to you to sing now?" said Deronda, with a more
deferential gentleness than he had ever been conscious of before.
"Oh, I shall like it," said Mirah. "My voice has come back a little with
Perhaps her ease of manner was due to something more than the simplicity
of her nature. The circumstances of her life made her think of everything
she did as work demanded from her, in which affectation had nothing to do;
and she had begun her work before self-consciousness was born.
She immediately rose and went to the piano--a somewhat worn instrument
that seemed to get the better of its infirmities under the firm touch of
her small fingers as she preluded. Deronda placed himself where he could
see her while she sang; and she took everything as quietly as if she had
been a child going to breakfast.
Imagine her--it is always good to imagine a human creature in whom bodily
loveliness seems as properly one with the entire being as the bodily
loveliness of those wondrous transparent orbs of life that we find in the
sea--imagine her with her dark hair brushed from her temples, but yet
showing certain tiny rings there which had cunningly found their own way
back, the mass of it hanging behind just to the nape of the little neck in
curly fibres, such as renew themselves at their own will after being
bathed into straightness like that of water-grasses. Then see the perfect
cameo her profile makes, cut in a duskish shell, where by some happy
fortune there pierced a gem-like darkness for the eye and eyebrow; the
delicate nostrils defined enough to be ready for sensitive movements, the
finished ear, the firm curves of the chin and neck, entering into the
expression of a refinement which was not feebleness.
She sang Beethoven's "Per pieta non dirmi addio" with a subdued but
searching pathos which had that essential of perfect singing, the making
one oblivious of art or manner, and only possessing one with the song. It
was the sort of voice that gives the impression of being meant like a
bird's wooing for an audience near and beloved. Deronda began by looking
at her, but felt himself presently covering his eyes with his hand,
wanting to seclude the melody in darkness; then he refrained from what
might seem oddity, and was ready to meet the look of mute appeal which she
turned toward him at the end.
"I think I never enjoyed a song more than that," he said, gratefully.
"You like my singing? I am so glad," she said, with a smile of delight.
"It has been a great pain to me, because it failed in what it was wanted
for. But now we think I can use it to get my bread. I have really been
taught well. And now I have two pupils, that Miss Meyrick found for me.
They pay me nearly two crowns for their two lessons."
"I think I know some ladies who would find you many pupils after
Christmas," said Deronda. "You would not mind singing before any one who
wished to hear you?"
"Oh no, I want to do something to get money. I could teach reading and
speaking, Mrs. Meyrick thinks. But if no one would learn of me, that is
difficult." Mirah smiled with a touch of merriment he had not seen in her
before. "I dare say I should find her poor--I mean my mother. I should
want to get money for her. And I can not always live on charity; though"--
here she turned so as to take all three of her companions in one glance--
"it is the sweetest charity in all the world."
"I should think you can get rich," said Deronda, smiling. "Great ladies
will perhaps like you to teach their daughters, We shall see. But now do
sing again to us."
She went on willingly, singing with ready memory various things by
Gordigiani and Schubert; then, when she had left the piano, Mab said,
entreatingly, "Oh, Mirah, if you would not mind singing the little hymn."
"It is too childish," said Mirah. "It is like lisping."
"What is the hymn?" said Deronda.
"It is the Hebrew hymn she remembers her mother singing over her when she
lay in her cot," said Mrs. Meyrick.
"I should like very much to hear it," said Deronda, "if you think I am
worthy to hear what is so sacred."
"I will sing it if you like," said Mirah, "but I don't sing real words--
only here and there a syllable like hers--the rest is lisping. Do you know
Hebrew? because if you do, my singing will seem childish nonsense."
Deronda shook his head. "It will be quite good Hebrew to me."
Mirah crossed her little feet and hands in her easiest attitude, and then
lifted up her head at an angle which seemed to be directed to some
invisible face bent over her, while she sang a little hymn of quaint
melancholy intervals, with syllables that really seemed childish lisping
to her audience; the voice in which she gave it forth had gathered even a
sweeter, more cooing tenderness than was heard in her other songs.
"If I were ever to know the real words, I should still go on in my old way
with them," said Mirah, when she had repeated the hymn several times.
"Why not?" said Deronda. "The lisped syllables are very full of meaning."
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Meyrick. "A mother hears something of a lisp in
her children's talk to the very last. Their words are not just what
everybody else says, though they may be spelled the same. If I were to
live till my Hans got old, I should still see the boy in him. A mother's
love, I often say, is like a tree that has got all the wood in it, from
the very first it made."
"Is not that the way with friendship, too?" said Deronda, smiling. "We
must not let the mothers be too arrogant."
The little woman shook her head over her darning.
"It is easier to find an old mother than an old friend. Friendships begin
with liking or gratitude--roots that can be pulled up. Mother's love
begins deeper down."
"Like what you were saying about the influence of voices," said Deronda,
looking at Mirah. "I don't think your hymn would have had more expression
for me if I had known the words. I went to the synagogue at Frankfort
before I came home, and the service impressed me just as much as if I had
followed the words--perhaps more."
"Oh, was it great to you? Did it go to your heart?" said Mirah, eagerly.
"I thought none but our people would feel that. I thought it was all shut
away like a river in a deep valley, where only heaven saw--I mean---" she
hesitated feeling that she could not disentangle her thought from its
"I understand," said Deronda. "But there is not really such a separation--
deeper down, as Mrs. Meyrick says. Our religion is chiefly a Hebrew
religion; and since Jews are men, their religious feelings must have much
in common with those of other men--just as their poetry, though in one
sense peculiar, has a great deal in common with the poetry of other
nations. Still it is to be expected that a Jew would feel the forms of his
people's religion more than one of another race--and yet"--here Deronda
hesitated in his turn--"that is perhaps not always so."
"Ah no," said Mirah, sadly. "I have seen that. I have seen them mock. Is
it not like mocking your parents?--like rejoicing in your parents' shame?"
"Some minds naturally rebel against whatever they were brought up in, and
like the opposite; they see the faults in what is nearest to them," said
"But you are not like that," said Mirah, looking at him with unconscious
"No, I think not," said Deronda; "but you know I was not brought up as a
"Ah, I am always forgetting," said Mirah, with a look of disappointed
recollection, and slightly blushing.
Deronda also felt rather embarrassed, and there was an awkward pause,
which he put an end to by saying playfully--
"Whichever way we take it, we have to tolerate each other; for if we all
went in opposition to our teaching, we must end in difference, just the
"To be sure. We should go on forever in zig-zags," said Mrs. Meyrick. "I
think it is very weak-minded to make your creed up by the rule of the
contrary. Still one may honor one's parents, without following their
notions exactly, any more than the exact cut of their clothing. My father
was a Scotch Calvinist and my mother was a French Calvinist; I am neither
quite Scotch, nor quite French, nor two Calvinists rolled into one, yet I
honor my parents' memory."
"But I could not make myself not a Jewess," said Mirah, insistently, "even
if I changed my belief."
"No, my dear. But if Jews and Jewesses went on changing their religion,
and making no difference between themselves and Christians, there would
come a time when there would be no Jews to be seen," said Mrs. Meyrick,
taking that consummation very cheerfully.
"Oh, please not to say that," said Mirah, the tears gathering. "It is the
first unkind thing you ever said. I will not begin that. I will never
separate myself from my mother's people. I was forced to fly from my
father; but if he came back in age and weakness and want, and needed me,
should I say, 'This is not my father'? If he had shame, I must share it.
It was he who was given to me for my father, and not another. And so it is
with my people. I will always be a Jewess. I will love Christians when
they are good, like you. But I will always cling to my people. I will
always worship with them."
As Mirah had gone on speaking she had become possessed with a sorrowful
passion--fervent, not violent. Holding her little hands tightly clasped
and looking at Mrs. Meyrick with beseeching, she seemed to Deronda a
personification of that spirit which impelled men after a long inheritance
of professed Catholicism to leave wealth and high place and risk their
lives in flight, that they might join their own people and say, "I am a
"Mirah, Mirah, my dear child, you mistake me!" said Mrs. Meyrick, alarmed.
"God forbid I should want you to do anything against your conscience. I
was only saying what might be if the world went on. But I had better have
left the world alone, and not wanted to be over-wise. Forgive me, come! we
will not try to take you from anybody you feel has more right to you."
"I would do anything else for you. I owe you my life," said Mirah, not yet
"Hush, hush, now," said Mrs. Meyrick. "I have been punished enough for
wagging my tongue foolishly--making an almanac for the Millennium, as my
husband used to say."
"But everything in the world must come to an end some time. We must bear
to think of that," said Mab, unable to hold her peace on this point. She
had already suffered from a bondage of tongue which threatened to become
severe if Mirah were to be too much indulged in this inconvenient
susceptibility to innocent remarks.
Deronda smiled at the irregular, blonde face, brought into strange
contrast by the side of Mirah's--smiled, Mab thought, rather sarcastically
as he said, "That 'prospect of everything coming to an end will not guide
us far in practice. Mirah's feelings, she tells us, are concerned with
Mab was confused and wished she had not spoken, since Mr. Deronda seemed
to think that she had found fault with Mirah; but to have spoken once is a
tyrannous reason for speaking again, and she said--
"I only meant that we must have courage to hear things, else there is
hardly anything we can talk about." Mab felt herself unanswerable here,
inclining to the opinion of Socrates: "What motive has a man to live, if
not for the pleasure of discourse?"
Deronda took his leave soon after, and when Mrs. Meyrick went outside with
him to exchange a few words about Mirah, he said, "Hans is to share my
chambers when he comes at Christmas."
"You have written to Rome about that?" said Mrs. Meyrick, her face
lighting up. "How very good and thoughtful of you! You mentioned Mirah,
"Yes, I referred to her. I concluded he knew everything from you."
"I must confess my folly. I have not yet written a word about her. I have
always been meaning to do it, and yet have ended my letter without saying
a word. And I told the girls to leave it to me. However!--Thank you a
Deronda divined something of what was in the mother's mind, and his
divination reinforced a certain anxiety already present in him. His inward
colloquy was not soothing. He said to himself that no man could see this
exquisite creature without feeling it possible to fall in love with her;
but all the fervor of his nature was engaged on the side of precaution.
There are personages who feel themselves tragic because they march into a
palpable morass, dragging another with them, and then cry out against all
the gods. Deronda's mind was strongly set against imitating them.
"I have my hands on the reins now," he thought, "and I will not drop them.
I shall go there as little as possible."
He saw the reasons acting themselves out before him. How could he be
Mirah's guardian and claim to unite with Mrs. Meyrick, to whose charge he
had committed her, if he showed himself as a lover--whom she did not love
--whom she would not marry? And if he encouraged any germ of lover's
feeling in himself it would lead up to that issue. Mirah's was not a
nature that would bear dividing against itself; and even if love won her
consent to marry a man who was not of her race and religion, she would
never be happy in acting against that strong native bias which would still
reign in her conscience as remorse.
Deronda saw these consequences as we see any danger of marring our own
work well begun. It was a delight to have rescued this child acquainted
with sorrow, and to think of having placed her little feet in protected
paths. The creature we help to save, though only a half-reared linnet,
bruised and lost by the wayside--how we watch and fence it, and dote on
its signs of recovery! Our pride becomes loving, our self is a not-self
for whose sake we become virtuous, when we set to some hidden work of
reclaiming a life from misery and look for our triumph in the secret joy--
"This one is the better for me."
"I would as soon hold out my finger to be bitten off as set about spoiling
her peace," said Deronda. "It was one of the rarest bits of fortune that I
should have had friends like the Meyricks to place her with--generous,
delicate friends without any loftiness in their ways, so that her
dependence on them is not only safety but happiness. There could be no
refuge to replace that, if it were broken up. But what is the use of my
taking the vows and settling everything as it should be, if that marplot
Hans comes and upsets it all?"
Few things were more likely. Hans was made for mishaps: his very limbs
seemed more breakable than other people's--his eyes more of a resort for
uninvited flies and other irritating guests. But it was impossible to
forbid Hans's coming to London. He was intending to get a studio there and
make it his chief home; and to propose that he should defer coming on some
ostensible ground, concealing the real motive of winning time for Mirah's
position to become more confirmed and independent, was impracticable.
Having no other resource Deronda tried to believe that both he and Mrs.
Meyrick were foolishly troubling themselves about one of those endless
things called probabilities, which never occur; but he did not quite
succeed in his trying; on the contrary, he found himself going inwardly
through a scene where on the first discovery of Han's inclination he gave
him a very energetic warning--suddenly checked, however, by the suspicion
of personal feeling that his warmth might be creating in Hans. He could
come to no result, but that the position was peculiar, and that he could
make no further provision against dangers until they came nearer. To save
an unhappy Jewess from drowning herself, would not have seemed a startling
variation among police reports; but to discover in her so rare a creature
as Mirah, was an exceptional event which might well bring exceptional
consequences. Deronda would not let himself for a moment dwell on any
supposition that the consequences might enter deeply into his own life.
The image of Mirah had never yet had that penetrating radiation which
would have been given to it by the idea of her loving him. When this sort
of effluence is absent from the fancy (whether from the fact or not) a man
may go far in devotedness without perturbation.
As to the search for Mirah's mother and brother, Deronda took what she had
said to-day as a warrant for deferring any immediate measures. His
conscience was not quite easy in this desire for delay, any more than it
was quite easy in his not attempting to learn the truth about his own
mother: in both cases he felt that there might be an unfulfilled duty to a
parent, but in both cases there was an overpowering repugnance to the
possible truth, which threw a turning weight into the scale of argument.
"At least, I will look about," was his final determination. "I may find
some special Jewish machinery. I will wait till after Christmas."
What should we all do without the calendar, when we want to put off a
disagreeable duty? The admirable arrangements of the solar system, by
which our time is measured, always supply us with a term before which it
is hardly worth while to set about anything we are disinclined to.
"No man," says a Rabbi, by way of indisputable instance, "may turn the
bones of his father and mother into spoons"--sure that his hearers
felt the checks against that form of economy. The market for spoons
has never expanded enough for any one to say, "Why not?" and to argue
that human progress lies in such an application of material. The only
check to be alleged is a sentiment, which will coerce none who do not
hold that sentiments are the better part of the world's wealth.
Deronda meanwhile took to a less fashionable form of exercise than riding
in Rotton Row. He went often rambling in those parts of London which are
most inhabited by common Jews. He walked to the synagogues at times of
service, he looked into shops, he observed faces:--a process not very
promising of particular discovery. Why did he not address himself to an
influential Rabbi or other member of a Jewish community, to consult on the
chances of finding a mother named Cohen, with a son named Ezra, and a lost
daughter named Mirah? He thought of doing so--after Christmas. The fact
was, notwithstanding all his sense of poetry in common things, Deronda,
where a keen personal interest was aroused, could not, more than the rest
of us, continuously escape suffering from the pressure of that hard
unaccommodating Actual, which has never consulted our taste and is
entirely unselect. Enthusiasm, we know, dwells at ease among ideas,
tolerates garlic breathed in the middle ages, and sees no shabbiness in
the official trappings of classic processions: it gets squeamish when
ideals press upon it as something warmly incarnate, and can hardly face
them without fainting. Lying dreamily in a boat, imagining one's self in
quest of a beautiful maiden's relatives in Cordova elbowed by Jews in the
time of Ibn-Gebirol, all the physical incidents can be borne without
shock. Or if the scenery of St. Mary Axe and Whitechapel were
imaginatively transported to the borders of the Rhine at the end of the
eleventh century, when in the ears listening for the signals of the
Messiah, the Hep! Hep! Hep! of the Crusaders came like the bay of blood-
hounds; and in the presence of those devilish missionaries with sword and
firebrand the crouching figure of the reviled Jew turned round erect,
heroic, flashing with sublime constancy in the face of torture and death--
what would the dingy shops and unbeautiful faces signify to the thrill of
contemplative emotion? But the fervor of sympathy with which we
contemplate a grandiose martyrdom is feeble compared with the enthusiasm
that keeps unslacked where there is no danger, no challenge--nothing but
impartial midday falling on commonplace, perhaps half-repulsive, objects
which are really the beloved ideas made flesh. Here undoubtedly lies the
chief poetic energy:--in the force of imagination that pierces or exalts
the solid fact, instead of floating among cloud-pictures. To glory in a
prophetic vision of knowledge covering the earth, is an easier exercise of
believing imagination than to see its beginning in newspaper placards,
staring at you from the bridge beyond the corn-fields; and it might well
happen to most of us dainty people that we were in the thick of the battle
of Armageddon without being aware of anything more than the annoyance of a
little explosive smoke and struggling on the ground immediately about us.
It lay in Deronda's nature usually to contemn the feeble, fastidious
sympathy which shrinks from the broad life of mankind; but now, with Mirah
before him as a living reality, whose experience he had to care for, he
saw every common Jew and Jewess in the light of a comparison with her, and
had a presentiment of the collision between her idea of the unknown mother
and brother and the discovered fact--a presentiment all the keener in him
because of a suppressed consciousness that a not unlike possibility of
collision might lie hidden in his own lot. Not that he would have looked
with more complacency of expectation at wealthy Jews, outdoing the lords
of the Philistines in their sports; but since there was no likelihood of
Mirah's friends being found among that class, their habits did not
immediately affect him. In this mood he rambled, without expectation of a
more pregnant result than a little preparation of his own mind, perhaps
for future theorizing as well as practice--very much as if, Mirah being
related to Welsh miners, he had gone to look more closely at the ways of
those people, not without wishing at the same time to get a little light
of detail on the history of Strikes.
He really did not long to find anybody in particular; and when, as his
habit was, he looked at the name over a shop door, he was well content
that it was not Ezra Cohen. I confess, he particularly desired that Ezra
Cohen should not keep a shop. Wishes are held to be ominous; according to
which belief the order of the world is so arranged that if you have an
impious objection to a squint, your offspring is the more likely to be
born with one; also, that if you happened to desire a squint you would not
get it. This desponding view of probability the hopeful entirely reject,
taking their wishes as good and sufficient security for all kinds of
fulfilment. Who is absolutely neutral? Deronda happening one morning to
turn into a little side street out of the noise and obstructions of
Holborn, felt the scale dip on the desponding side.
He was rather tired of the streets and had paused to hail a hansom cab
which he saw coming, when his attention was caught by some fine old clasps
in chased silver displayed in the window at his right hand. His first
thought was that Lady Mallinger, who had a strictly Protestant taste for
such Catholic spoils, might like to have these missal-clasps turned into a
bracelet: then his eyes traveled over the other contents of the window,
and he saw that the shop was that kind of pawnbroker's where the lead is
given to jewelry, lace and all equivocal objects introduced as _bric-a-
brac_. A placard in one corner announced--_Watches and Jewlery exchanged
and repaired_. But his survey had been noticed from within, and a figure
appeared at the door, looking round at him and saying in a tone of cordial
encouragement, "Good day, sir." The instant was enough for Deronda to see
the face, unmistakably Jewish, belonged to a young man about thirty, and
wincing from the shopkeeper's persuasiveness that would probably follow,
he had no sooner returned the "good day," than he passed to the other side
of the street and beckoned to the cabman to draw up there. From that
station he saw the name over the shop window--Ezra Cohen.
There might be a hundred Ezra Cohens lettered above shop windows, but
Deronda had not seen them. Probably the young man interested in a possible
customer was Ezra himself; and he was about the age to be expected in
Mirah's brother, who was grown up while she was still a little child. But
Deronda's first endeavor as he drove homeward was to convince himself that
there was not the slightest warrantable presumption of this Ezra being
Mirah's brother; and next, that even if, in spite of good reasoning, he
turned out to be that brother, while on inquiry the mother was found to be
dead, it was not his--Deronda's--duty to make known the discovery to
Mirah. In inconvenient disturbance of this conclusion there came his
lately-acquired knowledge that Mirah would have a religious desire to know
of her mother's death, and also to learn whether her brother were living.
How far was he justified in determining another life by his own notions?
Was it not his secret complaint against the way in which others had
ordered his own life, that he had not open daylight on all its relations,
so that he had not, like other men, the full guidance of primary duties?
The immediate relief from this inward debate was the reflection that he
had not yet made any real discovery, and that by looking into the facts
more closely he should be certified that there was no demand on him for
any decision whatever. He intended to return to that shop as soon as he
could conveniently, and buy the clasps for Lady Mallinger. But he was
hindered for several days by Sir Hugo, who, about to make an after-dinner
speech on a burning topic, wanted Deronda to forage for him on the legal
part of the question, besides wasting time every day on argument which
always ended in a drawn battle. As on many other questions, they held
different sides, but Sir Hugo did not mind this, and when Deronda put his
point well, said, with a mixture of satisfaction and regret--
"Confound it, Dan! why don't you make an opportunity of saying these
things in public? You're wrong, you know. You won't succeed. You've got
the massive sentiment--the heavy artillery of the country against you. But
it's all the better ground for a young man to display himself on. When I
was your age, I should have taken it. And it would be quite as well for
you to be in opposition to me here and there. It would throw you more into
relief. If you would seize an occasion of this sort to make an impression,
you might be in Parliament in no time. And you know that would gratify
"I am sorry not to do what would gratify you, sir," said Deronda. "But I
cannot persuade myself to look at politics as a profession."
"Why not? if a man is not born into public life by his position in the
country, there's no way for him but to embrace it by his own efforts. The
business of the country must be done--her Majesty's Government carried on,
as the old Duke said. And it never could be, my boy, if everybody looked
at politics as if they were prophecy, and demanded an inspired vocation.
If you are to get into Parliament, it won't do to sit still and wait for a
call either from heaven or constituents."
"I don't want to make a living out of opinions," said Deronda; "especially
out of borrowed opinions. Not that I mean to blame other men. I dare say
many better fellows than I don't mind getting on to a platform to praise
themselves, and giving their word of honor for a party."
"I'll tell you what, Dan," said Sir Hugo, "a man who sets his face against
every sort of humbug is simply a three-cornered, impracticable fellow.
There's a bad style of humbug, but there is also a good style--one that
oils the wheels and makes progress possible. If you are to rule men, you
must rule them through their own ideas; and I agree with the Archbishop at
Naples who had a St. Januarius procession against the plague. It's no use
having an Order in Council against popular shallowness. There is no action
possible without a little acting."
"One may be obliged to give way to an occasional necessity," said Deronda.
"But it is one thing to say, 'In this particular case I am forced to put
on this foolscap and grin,' and another to buy a pocket foolscap and
practice myself in grinning. I can't see any real public expediency that
does not keep an ideal before it which makes a limit of deviation from the
direct path. But if I were to set up for a public man I might mistake my
success for public expediency."
It was after this dialogue, which was rather jarring to him, that Deronda
set out on his meditated second visit to Ezra Cohen's. He entered the
street at the end opposite to the Holborn entrance, and an inward
reluctance slackened his pace while his thoughts were transferring what he
had just been saying about public expediency to the entirely private
difficulty which brought him back again into this unattractive
thoroughfare. It might soon become an immediate practical question with
him how far he could call it a wise expediency to conceal the fact of
close kindred. Such questions turning up constantly in life are often
decided in a rough-and-ready way; and to many it will appear an over-
refinement in Deronda that he should make any great point of a matter
confined to his own knowledge. But we have seen the reasons why he had
come to regard concealment as a bane of life, and the necessity of
concealment as a mark by which lines of action were to be avoided. The
prospect of being urged against the confirmed habit of his mind was
naturally grating. He even paused here and there before the most plausible
shop-windows for a gentleman to look into, half inclined to decide that he
would not increase his knowledge about that modern Ezra, who was certainly
not a leader among his people--a hesitation which proved how, in a man
much given to reasoning, a bare possibility may weigh more than the best-
clad likelihood; for Deronda's reasoning had decided that all likelihood
was against this man's being Mirah's brother.
One of the shop-windows he paused before was that of a second-hand book-
shop, where, on a narrow table outside, the literature of the ages was
represented in judicious mixture, from the immortal verse of Homer to the
mortal prose of the railway novel. That the mixture was judicious was
apparent from Deronda's finding in it something that he wanted--namely,
that wonderful bit of autobiography, the life of the Polish Jew, Salomon
Maimon; which, as he could easily slip it into his pocket, he took from
its place, and entered the shop to pay for, expecting to see behind the
counter a grimy personage showing that _nonchalance_ about sales which
seems to belong universally to the second-hand book-business. In most
other trades you find generous men who are anxious to sell you their wares
for your own welfare; but even a Jew will not urge Simson's Euclid on you
with an affectionate assurance that you will have pleasure in reading it,
and that he wishes he had twenty more of the article, so much is it in
request. One is led to fear that a secondhand bookseller may belong to
that unhappy class of men who have no belief in the good of what they get
their living by, yet keep conscience enough to be morose rather than
unctuous in their vocation.
But instead of the ordinary tradesman, he saw, on the dark background of
books in the long narrow shop, a figure that was somewhat startling in its
unusualness. A man in threadbare clothing, whose age was difficult to
guess--from the dead yellowish flatness of the flesh, something like an
old ivory carving--was seated on a stool against some bookshelves that
projected beyond the short counter, doing nothing more remarkable than
reading yesterday's _Times_; but when he let the paper rest on his lap and
looked at the incoming customer, the thought glanced through Deronda that
precisely such a physiognomy as that might possibly have been seen in a
prophet of the Exile, or in some New Hebrew poet of the mediaval time. It
was a fine typical Jewish face, wrought into intensity of expression
apparently by a strenuous eager experience in which all the satisfaction
had been indirect and far off, and perhaps by some bodily suffering also,
which involved that absence of ease in the present. The features were
clear-cut, not large; the brow not high but broad, and fully defined by
the crisp black hair. It might never have been a particularly handsome
face, but it must always have been forcible; and now with its dark, far-
off gaze, and yellow pallor in relief on the gloom of the backward shop,
one might have imagined one's self coming upon it in some past prison of
the Inquisition, which a mob had suddenly burst upon; while the look fixed
on an incidental customer seemed eager and questioning enough to have been
turned on one who might have been a messenger either of delivery or of
death. The figure was probably familiar and unexciting enough to the
inhabitants of this street; but to Deronda's mind it brought so strange a
blending of the unwonted with the common, that there was a perceptible
interval of mutual observation before he asked his question; "What is the
price of this book?"
After taking the book and examining the fly-leaves without rising, the
supposed bookseller said, "There is no mark, and Mr. Ram is not in now. I
am keeping the shop while he is gone to dinner. What are you disposed to
give for it?" He held the book close on his lap with his hand on it and
looked examiningly at Deronda, over whom there came the disagreeable idea,
that possibly this striking personage wanted to see how much could be got
out of a customer's ignorance of prices. But without further reflection he
said, "Don't you know how much it is worth?"
"Not its market-price. May I ask have you read it?"
"No. I have read an account of it, which makes me want to buy it."
"You are a man of learning--you are interested in Jewish history?" This
was said in a deepened tone of eager inquiry.
"I am certainly interested in Jewish history," said Deronda, quietly,
curiosity overcoming his dislike to the sort of inspection as well as
questioning he was under.
But immediately the strange Jew rose from his sitting posture, and Deronda
felt a thin hand pressing his arm tightly, while a hoarse, excited voice,
not much above a loud whisper, said--
"You are perhaps of our race?"
Deronda colored deeply, not liking the grasp, and then answered with a
slight shake of the head, "No." The grasp was relaxed, the hand withdrawn,
the eagerness of the face collapsed into uninterested melancholy, as if
some possessing spirit which had leaped into the eye sand gestures had
sunk back again to the inmost recesses of the frame; and moving further
off as he held out the little book, the stranger said in a tone of distant
civility, "I believe Mr. Ram will be satisfied with half-a-crown, sir."
The effect of this change on Deronda--he afterward smiled when he recalled
it--was oddly embarrassing and humiliating, as if some high dignitary had
found him deficient and given him his _conge_. There was nothing further
to be said, however: he paid his half-crown and carried off his _Salomon
Maimon's Lebensgeschichte_ with a mere "good-morning."
He felt some vexation at the sudden arrest of the interview, and the
apparent prohibition that he should know more of this man, who was
certainly something out of the common way--as different probably as a Jew
could well be from Ezra Cohen, through whose door Deronda was presently
entering, and whose flourishing face glistening on the way to fatness was
hanging over the counter in negotiation with some one on the other side of
the partition, concerning two plated stoppers and three teaspoons, which
lay spread before him. Seeing Deronda enter, he called out "Mother!
Mother!" and then with a familiar nod and smile, said, "Coming, sir--
Deronda could not help looking toward the door from the back with some
anxiety, which was not soothed when he saw a vigorous woman beyond fifty
enter and approach to serve him. Not that there was anything very
repulsive about her: the worst that could be said was that she had that
look of having made her toilet with little water, and by twilight, which
is common to unyouthful people of her class, and of having presumably
slept in her large earrings, if not in her rings and necklace. In fact,
what caused a sinking of heart in Deronda was, her not being so coarse and
ugly as to exclude the idea of her being Mirah's mother. Any one who has
looked at a face to try and discern signs of known kinship in it will
understand his process of conjecture--how he tried to think away the fat
which had gradually disguised the outlines of youth, and to discern what
one may call the elementary expressions of the face. He was sorry to see
no absolute negative to his fears. Just as it was conceivable that this
Ezra, brought up to trade, might resemble the scapegrace father in
everything but his knowledge and talent, so it was not impossible that
this mother might have had a lovely refined daughter whose type of feature
and expression was like Mirah's. The eyebrows had a vexatious similarity
of line; and who shall decide how far a face may be masked when the
uncherishing years have thrust it far onward in the ever-new procession of
youth and age? The good-humor of the glance remained and shone out in a
motherly way at Deronda, as she said, in a mild guttural tone--
"How can I serve you, sir?"
"I should like to look at the silver clasps in the window," said Deronda;
"the larger ones, please, in the corner there."
They were not quite easy to get at from the mother's station, and the son
seeing this called out, "I'll reach 'em, mother; I'll reach 'em," running
forward with alacrity, and then handing the clasps to Deronda with the
"Mother's too proud: she wants to do everything herself. That's why I
called her to wait on you, sir. When there's a particular gentleman
customer, sir, I daren't do any other than call her. But I can't let her
do herself mischief with stretching."
Here Mr. Cohen made way again for his parent, who gave a little guttural,
amiable laugh while she looked at Deronda, as much as to say, "This boy
will be at his jokes, but you see he's the best son in the world," and
evidently the son enjoyed pleasing her, though he also wished to convey an
apology to his distinguished customer for not giving him the advantage of
his own exclusive attention.
Deronda began to examine the clasps as if he had many points to observe
before he could come to a decision.
"They are only three guineas, sir," said the mother, encouragingly.
"First-rate workmanship, sir--worth twice the money; only I get 'em a
bargain from Cologne," said the son, parenthetically, from a distance.
Meanwhile two new customers entered, and the repeated call, "Addy!"
brought from the back of the shop a group that Deronda turned frankly to
stare at, feeling sure that the stare would be held complimentary. The
group consisted of a black-eyed young woman who carried a black-eyed
little one, its head already covered with black curls, and deposited it on
the counter, from which station it looked round with even more than the
usual intelligence of babies: also a robust boy of six and a younger girl,
both with black eyes and black-ringed hair--looking more Semitic than
their parents, as the puppy lions show the spots of far-off progenitors.
The young woman answering to "Addy"--a sort of paroquet in a bright blue
dress, with coral necklace and earrings, her hair set up in a huge bush--
looked as complacently lively and unrefined as her husband; and by a
certain difference from the mother deepened in Deronda the unwelcome
impression that the latter was not so utterly common a Jewess as to
exclude her being the mother of Mirah. While that thought was glancing
through his mind, the boy had run forward into the shop with an energetic
stamp, and setting himself about four feet from Deronda, with his hands in
the pockets of his miniature knickerbockers, looked at him with a
precocious air of survey. Perhaps it was chiefly with a diplomatic design
to linger and ingratiate himself that Deronda patted the boy's head,
"What is your name, sirrah?"
"Jacob Alexander Cohen," said the small man, with much ease and
"You are not named after your father, then?"
"No, after my grandfather; he sells knives and razors and scissors--my
grandfather does," said Jacob, wishing to impress the stranger with that
high connection. "He gave me this knife." Here a pocket-knife was drawn
forth, and the small fingers, both naturally and artificially dark, opened
two blades and a cork-screw with much quickness.
"Is not that a dangerous plaything?" said Deronda, turning to the
"_He_'ll never hurt himself, bless you!" said she, contemplating her
grandson with placid rapture.
"Have _you_ got a knife?" says Jacob, coming closer. His small voice was
hoarse in its glibness, as if it belonged to an aged commercial soul,
fatigued with bargaining through many generations.
"Yes. Do you want to see it?" said Deronda, taking a small penknife from
Jacob seized it immediately and retreated a little, holding the two knives
in his palms and bending over them in meditative comparison. By this time
the other clients were gone, and the whole family had gathered to the
spot, centering their attention on the marvelous Jacob: the father,
mother, and grandmother behind the counter, with baby held staggering
thereon, and the little girl in front leaning at her brother's elbow to
assist him in looking at the knives.
"Mine's the best," said Jacob, at last, returning Deronda's knife as if he
had been entertaining the idea of exchange and had rejected it.
Father and mother laughed aloud with delight. "You won't find Jacob
choosing the worst," said Mr. Cohen, winking, with much confidence in the
customer's admiration. Deronda, looking at the grandmother, who had only
an inward silent laugh, said--
"Are these the only grandchildren you have?"
"All. This is my only son," she answered in a communicative tone,
Deronda's glance and manner as usual conveying the impression of
sympathetic interest--which on this occasion answered his purpose well.
It seemed to come naturally enough that he should say--
"And you have no daughter?"
There was an instantaneous change in the mother's face. Her lips closed
more firmly, she looked down, swept her hands outward on the counter, and
finally turned her back on Deronda to examine some Indian handkerchiefs
that hung in pawn behind her. Her son gave a significant glance, set up
his shoulders an instant and just put his fingers to his lips,--then said
quickly, "I think you're a first-rate gentleman in the city, sir, if I may
be allowed to guess."
"No," said Deronda, with a preoccupied air, "I have nothing to do with the
"That's a bad job. I thought you might be the young principal of a first-
rate firm," said Mr. Cohen, wishing to make amends for the check on his
customer's natural desire to know more of him and his. "But you understand
silver-work, I see."
"A little," said Deronda, taking up the clasps a moment and laying them
down again. That unwelcome bit of circumstantial evidence had made his
mind busy with a plan which was certainly more like acting than anything
he had been aware of in his own conduct before. But the bare possibility
that more knowledge might nullify the evidence now overpowered the
inclination to rest in uncertainty.
"To tell you the truth," he went on, "my errand is not so much to buy as
to borrow. I dare say you go into rather heavy transactions occasionally."
"Well, sir, I've accommodated gentlemen of distinction--I'm proud to say
it. I wouldn't exchange my business with any in the world. There's none
more honorable, nor more charitable, nor more necessary for all classes,
from the good lady who wants a little of the ready for the baker, to a
gentleman like yourself, sir, who may want it for amusement. I like my
business, I like my street, and I like my shop. I wouldn't have it a door
further down. And I wouldn't be without a pawn-shop, sir, to be the Lord
Mayor. It puts you in connection with the world at large. I say it's like
the government revenue--it embraces the brass as well as the gold of the
country. And a man who doesn't get money, sir, can't accommodate. Now,
what can I do for _you_, sir?"
If an amiable self-satisfaction is the mark of earthly bliss, Solomon in
all his glory was a pitiable mortal compared with Mr. Cohen--clearly one
of those persons, who, being in excellent spirits about themselves, are
willing to cheer strangers by letting them know it. While he was
delivering himself with lively rapidity, he took the baby from his wife
and holding it on his arm presented his features to be explored by its
small fists. Deronda, not in a cheerful mood, was rashly pronouncing this
Ezra Cohen to be the most unpoetic Jew he had ever met with in books or
life: his phraseology was as little as possible like that of the Old
Testament: and no shadow of a suffering race distinguished his vulgarity
of soul from that of a prosperous, pink-and-white huckster of the purest
English lineage. It is naturally a Christian feeling that a Jew ought not
to be conceited. However, this was no reason for not persevering in his
project, and he answered at once in adventurous ignorance of
"I have a fine diamond ring to offer as security--not with me at this
moment, unfortunately, for I am not in the habit of wearing it. But I will
come again this evening and bring it with me. Fifty pounds at once would
be a convenience to me."
"Well, you know, this evening is the Sabbath, young gentleman," said
Cohen, "and I go to the _Shool_. The shop will be closed. But
accommodation is a work of charity; if you can't get here before, and are
any ways pressed--why, I'll look at your diamond. You're perhaps from the
West End--a longish drive?"
"Yes; and your Sabbath begins early at this season. I could be here by
five--will that do?" Deronda had not been without hope that by asking to
come on a Friday evening he might get a better opportunity of observing
points in the family character, and might even be able to put some
Cohen assented; but here the marvelous Jacob, whose _physique_ supported a
precocity that would have shattered a Gentile of his years, showed that he
had been listening with much comprehension by saying, "You are coming
again. Have you got any more knives at home?"
"I think I have one," said Deronda, smiling down at him.
"Has it two blades and a hook--and a white handle like that?" said Jacob,
pointing to the waistcoat-pocket.
"I dare say it has?"
"Do you like a cork-screw?" said Jacob, exhibiting that article in his own
knife again, and looking up with serious inquiry.
"Yes," said Deronda, experimentally.
"Bring your knife, then, and we'll shwop," said Jacob, returning the knife
to his pocket, and stamping about with the sense that he had concluded a
The grandmother had now recovered her usual manners, and the whole family
watched Deronda radiantly when he caressingly lifted the little girl, to
whom he had not hitherto given attention, and seating her on the counter,
asked for her name also. She looked at him in silence, and put her fingers
to her gold earrings, which he did not seem to have noticed.
"Adelaide Rebekah is her name," said her mother, proudly. "Speak to the
"Shlav'm Shabbes fyock on," said Adelaide Rebekah.
"Her Sabbath frock, she means," said the father, in explanation. "She'll
have her Sabbath frock on this evening."
"And will you let me see you in it, Adelaide?" said Deronda, with that
gentle intonation which came very easily to him.
"Say yes, lovey--yes, if you please, sir," said her mother, enchanted with
this handsome young gentleman, who appreciated remarkable children.
"And will you give me a kiss this evening?" said Deronda with a hand on
each of her little brown shoulders.
Adelaide Rebekah (her miniature crinoline and monumental features
corresponded with the combination of her names) immediately put up her
lips to pay the kiss in advance; whereupon her father rising in still more
glowing satisfaction with the general meritoriousness of his
circumstances, and with the stranger who was an admiring witness, said
"You see there's somebody will be disappointed if you don't come this
evening, sir. You won't mind sitting down in our family place and waiting
a bit for me, if I'm not in when you come, sir? I'll stretch a point to
accommodate a gent of your sort. Bring the diamond, and I'll see what I
can do for you."
Deronda thus left the most favorable impression behind him, as a
preparation for more easy intercourse. But for his own part those
amenities had been carried on under the heaviest spirits. If these were
really Mirah's relatives, he could not imagine that even her fervid filial
piety could give the reunion with them any sweetness beyond such as could
be found in the strict fulfillment of a painful duty. What did this
vaunting brother need? And with the most favorable supposition about the
hypothetic mother, Deronda shrank from the image of a first meeting
between her and Mirah, and still more from the idea of Mirah's
domestication with this family. He took refuge in disbelief. To find an
Ezra Cohen when the name was running in your head was no more
extraordinary than to find a Josiah Smith under like circumstances; and as
to the coincidence about the daughter, it would probably turn out to be a
difference. If, however, further knowledge confirmed the more undesirable
conclusion, what would be wise expediency?--to try and determine the best
consequences by concealment, or to brave other consequences for the sake
of that openness which is the sweet fresh air of our moral life.
"Er ist geheissen
Israel. Ihn hat verwandelt
Hexenspruch in elnen Hund.
* * * * *
Aber jeden Freitag Abend,
In der Dammrungstunde, plotzlich
Weicht der Zauber, und der Hund
Wird aufs Neu' ein menschlich Wesen."
--HEINE: _Prinzessin Sabbaz_.
When Deronda arrived at five o'clock, the shop was closed and the door was
opened for him by the Christian servant. When she showed him into the room
behind the shop he was surprised at the prettiness of the scene. The house
was old, and rather extensive at the back: probably the large room he how
entered was gloomy by daylight, but now it was agreeably lit by a fine old
brass lamp with seven oil-lights hanging above the snow-white cloth spread
on the central table, The ceiling and walls were smoky, and all the
surroundings were dark enough to throw into relief the human figures,
which had a Venetian glow of coloring. The grandmother was arrayed in
yellowish brown with a large gold chain in lieu of the necklace, and by
this light her yellow face with its darkly-marked eyebrows and framing
roll of gray hair looked as handsome as was necessary for picturesque
effect. Young Mrs. Cohen was clad in red and black, with a string of large
artificial pearls wound round and round her neck: the baby lay asleep in
the cradle under a scarlet counterpane; Adelaide Rebekah was in braided
amber, and Jacob Alexander was in black velveteen with scarlet stockings.
As the four pairs of black eyes all glistened a welcome at Deronda, he was
almost ashamed of the supercilious dislike these happy-looking creatures
had raised in him by daylight. Nothing could be more cordial than the
greeting he received, and both mother and grandmother seemed to gather
more dignity from being seen on the private hearth, showing hospitality.
He looked round with some wonder at the old furniture: the oaken bureau
and high side-table must surely be mere matters of chance and economy, and
not due to the family taste. A large dish of blue and yellow ware was set
up on the side-table, and flanking it were two old silver vessels; in
front of them a large volume in darkened vellum with a deep-ribbed back.
In the corner at the farther end was an open door into an inner room,
where there was also a light.
Deronda took in these details by parenthetic glances while he met Jacob's
pressing solicitude about the knife. He had taken the pains to buy one
with the requisites of the hook and white handle, and produced it on
"Is that the sort of thing you want, Jacob?"
It was subjected to a severe scrutiny, the hook and blades were opened,
and the article of barter with the cork-screw was drawn forth for
"Why do you like a hook better than a cork-screw?" said Deronda.
"'Caush I can get hold of things with a hook. A corkscrew won't go into
anything but corks. But it's better for you, you can draw corks."
"You agree to change, then?" said Deronda, observing that the grandmother
was listening with delight.
"What else have you got in your pockets?" said Jacob, with deliberative
"Hush, hush, Jacob, love," said the grandmother. And Deronda, mindful of
"I think I must not tell you that. Our business was with the knives."
Jacob looked up into his face scanningly for a moment or two, and
apparently arriving at his conclusions, said gravely--
"I'll shwop," handing the cork-screw knife to Deronda, who pocketed it
with corresponding gravity.
Immediately the small son of Shem ran off into the next room, whence his
voice was heard in rapid chat; and then ran back again--when, seeing his
father enter, he seized a little velveteen hat which lay on a chair and
put it on to approach him. Cohen kept on his own hat, and took no notice
of the visitor, but stood still while the two children went up to him and
clasped his knees: then he laid his hands on each in turn and uttered his
Hebrew benediction; whereupon the wife, who had lately taken baby from the
cradle, brought it up to her husband and held it under his outstretched
hands, to be blessed in its sleep. For the moment, Deronda thought that
this pawnbroker, proud of his vocation, was not utterly prosaic.
"Well, sir, you found your welcome in my family, I think," said Cohen,
putting down his hat and becoming his former self. "And you've been
punctual. Nothing like a little stress here," he added, tapping his side
pocket as he sat down. "It's good for us all in our turn. I've felt it
when I've had to make up payments. I began to fit every sort of box. It's
bracing to the mind. Now then! let us see, let us see."
"That is the ring I spoke of," said Deronda, taking it from his finger. "I
believe it cost a hundred pounds. It will be a sufficient pledge to you
for fifty, I think. I shall probably redeem it in a month or so."
Cohen's glistening eyes seemed to get a little nearer together as he met
the ingenuous look of this crude young gentleman, who apparently supposed
that redemption was a satisfaction to pawnbrokers. He took the ring,
examined and returned it, saying with indifference, "Good, good. We'll
talk of it after our meal. Perhaps you'll join us, if you've no objection.
Me and my wife'll feel honored, and so will mother; won't you, mother?"
The invitation was doubly echoed, and Deronda gladly accepted it. All now
turned and stood round the table. No dish was at present seen except one
covered with a napkin; and Mrs. Cohen had placed a china bowl near her
husband that he might wash his hands in it. But after putting on his hat
again, he paused, and called in a loud voice, "Mordecai!"
Can this be part of the religious ceremony? thought Deronda, not knowing
what might be expected of the ancient hero. But he heard a "Yes" from the
next room, which made him look toward the open door; and there, to his
astonishment, he saw the figure of the enigmatic Jew whom he had this
morning met with in the book-shop. Their eyes met, and Mordecai looked as
much surprised as Deronda--neither in his surprise making any sign of
recognition. But when Mordecai was seating himself at the end of the
table, he just bent his head to the guest in a cold and distant manner, as
if the disappointment of the morning remained a disagreeable association
with this new acquaintance.
Cohen now washed his hands, pronouncing Hebrew words the white: afterward,
he took off the napkin covering the dish and disclosed the two long flat
loaves besprinkled with seed--the memorial of the manna that fed the
wandering forefathers--and breaking off small pieces gave one to each of
the family, including Adelaide Rebekah, who stood on the chair with her
whole length exhibited in her amber-colored garment, her little Jewish
nose lengthened by compression of the lip in the effort to make a suitable
appearance. Cohen then uttered another Hebrew blessing, and after that,
the male heads were uncovered, all seated themselves, and the meal went on
without any peculiarity that interested Deronda. He was not very conscious
of what dishes he ate from; being preoccupied with a desire to turn the
conversation in a way that would enable him to ask some leading question;
and also thinking of Mordecai, between whom and himself there was an
exchange of fascinated, half furtive glances. Mordecai had no handsome
Sabbath garment, but instead of the threadbare rusty black coat of the
morning he wore one of light drab, which looked as if it had once been a
handsome loose paletot now shrunk with washing; and this change of
clothing gave a still stronger accentuation to his dark-haired, eager face
which might have belonged to the prophet Ezekiel--also probably not modish
in the eyes of contemporaries. It was noticeable that the thin tails of
the fried fish were given to Mordecai; and in general the sort of share
assigned to a poor relation--no doubt a "survival" of prehistoric
practice, not yet generally admitted to be superstitious.
Mr. Cohen kept up the conversation with much liveliness, introducing as
subjects always in taste (the Jew is proud of his loyalty) the Queen and
the Royal Family, the Emperor and Empress of the French--into which both
grandmother and wife entered with zest. Mrs. Cohen the younger showed an
accurate memory of distinguished birthdays; and the elder assisted her son
in informing the guest of what occurred when the Emperor and Empress were
in England and visited the city ten years before.
"I dare say you know all about it better than we do, sir," said Cohen,
repeatedly, by way of preface to full information; and the interesting
statements were kept up in a trio.
"Our baby is named _Eu_genie Esther," said young Mrs. Cohen, vivaciously.
"It's wonderful how the Emperor's like a cousin of mine in the face," said
the grandmother; "it struck me like lightning when I caught sight of him.
I couldn't have thought it."
"Mother, and me went to see the Emperor and Empress at the Crystal
Palace," said Mr. Cohen. "I had a fine piece of work to take care of,
mother; she might have been squeezed flat--though she was pretty near as
lusty then as she is now. I said if I had a hundred mothers I'd never take
one of 'em to see the Emperor and Empress at the Crystal Palace again; and
you may think a man can't afford it when he's got but one mother--not if
he'd ever so big an insurance on her." He stroked his mother's shoulder
affectionately, and chuckled a little at his own humor.
"Your mother has been a widow a long while, perhaps," said Deronda,
seizing his opportunity. "That has made your care for her the more
"Ay, ay, it's a good many _yore-zeit_ since I had to manage for her and
myself," said Cohen quickly. "I went early to it. It's that makes you a
"What does--what makes a sharp knife, father?" said Jacob, his cheek very
much swollen with sweet-cake.
The father winked at his guest and said, "Having your nose put on the
Jacob slipped from his chair with the piece of sweet-cake in his hand, and
going close up to Mordecai, who had been totally silent hitherto, said,
"What does that mean--putting my nose to the grindstone?"
"It means that you are to bear being hurt without making a noise," said
Mordecai, turning his eyes benignantly on the small face close to his.
Jacob put the corner of the cake into Mordecai's mouth as an invitation to
bite, saying meanwhile, "I shan't though," and keeping his eyes on the
cake to observe how much of it went in this act of generosity. Mordecai
took a bite and smiled, evidently meaning to please the lad, and the
little incident made them both look more lovable. Deronda, however, felt
with some vexation that he had taken little by his question.
"I fancy that is the right quarter for learning," said he, carrying on the
subject that he might have an excuse for addressing Mordecai, to whom he
turned and said, "You have been a great student, I imagine?"
"I have studied," was the quiet answer. "And you?--You know German by the
book you were buying."
"Yes, I have studied in Germany. Are you generally engaged in
bookselling?" said Deronda.
"No; I only go to Mr. Ram's shop every day to keep it while he goes to
meals," said Mordecai, who was now looking at Deronda with what seemed a
revival of his original interest: it seemed as if the face had some
attractive indication for him which now neutralized the former
disappointment. After a slight pause, he said, "Perhaps you know Hebrew?"
"I am sorry to say, not at all."
Mordecai's countenance fell: he cast down his eyelids, looking at his
hands, which lay crossed before him, and said no more. Deronda had now
noticed more decisively than in their former interview a difficulty in
breathing, which he thought must be a sign of consumption.
"I've had something else to do than to get book-learning." said Mr.
Cohen,--"I've had to make myself knowing about useful things. I know
stones well,"--here he pointed to Deronda's ring." I'm not afraid of
taking that ring of yours at my own valuation. But now," he added, with a
certain drop in his voice to a lower, more familiar nasal, "what do you
want for it?"
"Fifty or sixty pounds," Deronda answered, rather too carelessly.
Cohen paused a little, thrust his hands into his pockets, fixed on Deronda
a pair of glistening eyes that suggested a miraculous guinea-pig, and
said, "Couldn't do you that. Happy to oblige, but couldn't go that
lengths. Forty pound--say forty--I'll let you have forty on it."
Deronda was aware that Mordecai had looked up again at the words implying
a monetary affair, and was now examining him again, while he said, "Very
well, I shall redeem it in a month or so.
"Good. I'll make you out the ticket by-and-by," said Cohen, indifferently.
Then he held up his finger as a sign that conversation must be deferred.
He, Mordecai and Jacob put on their hats, and Cohen opened a thanksgiving,
which was carried on by responses, till Mordecai delivered himself alone
at some length, in a solemn chanting tone, with his chin slightly uplifted
and his thin hands clasped easily before him. Not only in his accent and
tone, but in his freedom from the self-consciousness which has reference
to others' approbation, there could hardly have been a stronger contrast
to the Jew at the other end of the table. It was an unaccountable
conjunction--the presence among these common, prosperous, shopkeeping
types, of a man who, in an emaciated threadbare condition, imposed a
certain awe on Deronda, and an embarrassment at not meeting his
No sooner had Mordecai finished his devotional strain, than rising, with a
slight bend of his head to the stranger, he walked back into his room, and
shut the door behind him.
"That seems to be rather a remarkable man," said Deronda, turning to
Cohen, who immediately set up his shoulders, put out his tongue slightly,
and tapped his own brow. It was clearly to be understood that Mordecai did
not come up to the standard of sanity which was set by Mr. Cohen's view of
men and things.
"Does he belong to your family?" said Deronda.
This idea appeared to be rather ludicrous to the ladies as well as to
Cohen, and the family interchanged looks of amusement.
"No, no," said Cohen. "Charity! charity! he worked for me, and when he got
weaker and weaker I took him in. He's an incumbrance; but he brings a
blessing down, and he teaches the boy. Besides, he does the repairing at
the watches and jewelry."
Deronda hardly abstained from smiling at this mixture of kindliness and
the desire to justify it in the light of a calculation; but his
willingness to speak further of Mordecai, whose character was made the
more enigmatically striking by these new details, was baffled. Mr. Cohen
immediately dismissed the subject by reverting to the "accommodation,"
which was also an act of charity, and proceeded to make out the ticket,
get the forty pounds, and present them both in exchange for the diamond
ring. Deronda, feeling that it would be hardly delicate to protract his
visit beyond the settlement of the business which was its pretext, had to
take his leave, with no more decided result than the advance of forty
pounds and the pawn-ticket in his breast-pocket, to make a reason for
returning when he came up to town after Christmas. He was resolved that he
would then endeavor to gain a little more insight into the character and
history of Mordecai; from whom also he might gather something decisive
about the Cohens--for example, the reason why it was forbidden to ask Mrs.
Cohen the elder whether she had a daughter.
Were uneasiness of conscience measured by extent of crime, human
history had been different, and one should look to see the contrivers
of greedy wars and the mighty marauders of the money-market in one
troop of self-lacerating penitents with the meaner robber and cut-
purse and the murderer that doth his butchery in small with his own
hand. No doubt wickedness hath its rewards to distribute; but who so
wins in this devil's game must needs be baser, more cruel, more brutal
than the order of this planet will allow for the multitude born of
woman, the most of these carrying a form of conscience--a fear which
is the shadow of justice, a pity which is the shadow of love--that
hindereth from the prize of serene wickedness, itself difficult of
maintenance in our composite flesh.
On the twenty-ninth of December Deronda knew that the Grandcourts had
arrived at the Abbey, but he had had no glimpse of them before he went to
dress for dinner. There had been a splendid fall of snow, allowing the
party of children the rare pleasures of snow-balling and snow-building,
and in the Christmas holidays the Mallinger girls were content with no
amusement unless it were joined in and managed by "cousin," as they had
always called Deronda. After that outdoor exertion he had been playing
billiards, and thus the hours had passed without his dwelling at all on
the prospect of meeting Gwendolen at dinner. Nevertheless that prospect
was interesting to him; and when, a little tired and heated with working
at amusement, he went to his room before the half-hour bell had rung, he
began to think of it with some speculation on the sort of influence her
marriage with Grandcourt would have on her, and on the probability that
there would be some discernible shades of change in her manner since he
saw her at Diplow, just as there had been since his first vision of her at
"I fancy there are some natures one could see growing or degenerating
every day, if one watched them," was his thought. "I suppose some of us go
on faster than others: and I am sure she is a creature who keeps strong
traces of anything that has once impressed her. That little affair of the
necklace, and the idea that somebody thought her gambling wrong, had
evidently bitten into her. But such impressibility leads both ways: it may
drive one to desperation as soon as to anything better. And whatever
fascinations Grandcourt may have for capricious tastes--good heavens! who
can believe that he would call out the tender affections in daily
companionship? One might be tempted to horsewhip him for the sake of
getting some show of passion into his face and speech. I'm afraid she
married him out of ambition--to escape poverty. But why did she run out of
his way at first? The poverty came after, though. Poor thing! she may have
been urged into it. How can one feel anything else than pity for a young
creature like that--full of unused life--ignorantly rash--hanging all her
blind expectations on that remnant of a human being."
Doubtless the phrases which Deronda's meditation applied to the bridegroom
were the less complimentary for the excuses and pity in which it clad the
bride. His notion of Grandcourt as a "remnant" was founded on no
particular knowledge, but simply on the impression which ordinary polite
intercourse had given him that Grandcourt had worn out all his natural
healthy interest in things.
In general, one may be sure that whenever a marriage of any mark takes
place, male acquaintances are likely to pity the bride, female
acquaintances the bridegroom: each, it is thought, might have done better;
and especially where the bride is charming, young gentlemen on the scene
are apt to conclude that she can have no real attachment to a fellow so
uninteresting to themselves as her husband, but has married him on other
grounds. Who, under such circumstances, pities the husband? Even his
female friends are apt to think his position retributive: he should have
chosen some one else. But perhaps Deronda may be excused that he did not
prepare any pity for Grandcourt, who had never struck acquaintances as
likely to come out of his experiences with more suffering than he
inflicted; whereas, for Gwendolen, young, headlong, eager for pleasure,
fed with the flattery which makes a lovely girl believe in her divine
right to rule--how quickly might life turn from expectancy to a bitter
sense of the irremediable! After what he had seen of her he must have had
rather dull feelings not to have looked forward with some interest to her
entrance into the room. Still, since the honeymoon was already three weeks
in the distance, and Gwendolen had been enthroned, not only at Ryeland's,
but at Diplow, she was likely to have composed her countenance with
suitable manifestation or concealment, not being one who would indulge the
curious by a helpless exposure of her feelings.
A various party had been invited to meet the new couple; the old
aristocracy was represented by Lord and Lady Pentreath; the old gentry by
young Mr. and Mrs. Fitzadam of the Worcestershire branch of the Fitzadams;
politics and the public good, as specialized in the cider interest, by Mr.
Fenn, member for West Orchards, accompanied by his two daughters; Lady
Mallinger's family, by her brother, Mr. Raymond, and his wife; the useful
bachelor element by Mr. Sinker, the eminent counsel, and by Mr.
Vandernoodt, whose acquaintance Sir Hugo had found pleasant enough at
Leubronn to be adopted in England.
All had assembled in the drawing-room before the new couple appeared.
Meanwhile, the time was being passed chiefly in noticing the children--
various little Raymonds, nephews and nieces of Lady Mallinger's with her
own three girls, who were always allowed to appear at this hour. The scene
was really delightful--enlarged by full-length portraits with deep
backgrounds, inserted in the cedar paneling--surmounted by a ceiling that
glowed with the rich colors of the coats of arms ranged between the
sockets--illuminated almost as much by the red fire of oak-boughs as by
the pale wax-lights--stilled by the deep-piled carpet and by the high
English breeding that subdues all voices; while the mixture of ages, from
the white-haired Lord and Lady Pentreath to the four-year-old Edgar
Raymond, gave a varied charm to the living groups. Lady Mallinger, with
fair matronly roundness and mildly prominent blue eyes, moved about in her
black velvet, carrying a tiny white dog on her arm as a sort of finish to
her costume; the children were scattered among the ladies, while most of
the gentlemen were standing rather aloof, conversing with that very
moderate vivacity observable during the long minutes before dinner.
Deronda was a little out of the circle in a dialogue fixed upon him by Mr.
Vandernoodt, a man of the best Dutch blood imported at the revolution: for
the rest, one of those commodious persons in society who are nothing
particular themselves, but are understood to be acquainted with the best
in every department; close-clipped, pale-eyed, _nonchalant_, as good a
foil as could well be found to the intense coloring and vivid gravity of
He was talking of the bride and bridegroom, whose appearance was being
waited for. Mr. Vandernoodt was an industrious gleaner of personal
details, and could probably tell everything about a great philosopher or
physicist except his theories or discoveries; he was now implying that he
had learned many facts about Grandcourt since meeting him at Leubronn,
"Men who have seen a good deal of life don't always end by choosing their
wives so well. He has had rather an anecdotic history--gone rather deep
into pleasures, I fancy, lazy as he is. But, of course, you know all about
"No, really," said Deronda, in an indifferent tone. "I know little more of
him than that he is Sir Hugo's nephew."
But now the door opened and deferred any satisfaction of Mr. Vandernoodt's
The scene was one to set off any figure of distinction that entered on it,
and certainly when Mr. and Mrs. Grandcourt entered, no beholder could deny
that their figures had distinction. The bridegroom had neither more nor
less easy perfection of costume, neither more nor less well-cut
impassibility of face, than before his marriage. It was to be supposed of
him that he would put up with nothing less than the best in outward
equipment, wife included; and the bride was what he might have been
expected to choose. "By George, I think she's handsomer, if anything!"
said Mr. Vandernoodt. And Deronda was of the same opinion, but he said
nothing. The white silk and diamonds--it may seem strange, but she did
wear diamonds on her neck, in her ears, in her hair--might have something
to do with the new imposingness of her beauty, which flashed on him as
more unquestionable if not more thoroughly satisfactory than when he had
first seen her at the gaming-table. Some faces which are peculiar in their
beauty are like original works of art: for the first time they are almost
always met with question. But in seeing Gwendolen at Diplow, Deronda had
discerned in her more than he had expected of that tender appealing charm
which we call womanly. Was there any new change since then? He distrusted
his impressions; but as he saw her receiving greetings with what seemed a
proud cold quietude and a superficial smile, there seemed to be at work
within her the same demonic force that had possessed her when she took him
in her resolute glance and turned away a loser from the gaming-table.
There was no time for more of a conclusion--no time even for him to give
his greeting before the summons to dinner.
He sat not far from opposite to her at table, and could sometimes hear
what she said in answer to Sir Hugo, who was at his liveliest in
conversation with her; but though he looked toward her with the intention
of bowing, she gave him no opportunity of doing so for some time. At last
Sir Hugo, who might have imagined that they had already spoken to each
other, said, "Deronda, you will like to hear what Mrs. Grandcourt tells me
about your favorite Klesmer."
Gwendolen's eyelids had been lowered, and Deronda, already looking at her,
thought he discovered a quivering reluctance as she was obliged to raise
them and return his unembarrassed bow and smile, her own smile being one
of the lip merely. It was but an instant, and Sir Hugo continued without
"The Arrowpoints have condoned the marriage, and he is spending the
Christmas with his bride at Quetcham."
"I suppose he will be glad of it for the sake of his wife, else I dare say
he would not have minded keeping at a distance," said Deronda.
"It's a sort of troubadour story," said Lady Pentreath, an easy, deep-
voiced old lady; "I'm glad to find a little romance left among us. I think
our young people now are getting too worldly wise."
"It shows the Arrowpoints' good sense, however, to have adopted the
affair, after the fuss in the paper," said Sir Hugo. "And disowning your
own child because of a _mesalliance_ is something like disowning your one
eye: everybody knows it's yours, and you have no other to make an
"As to _mesalliance_, there's no blood on any side," said Lady Pentreath.
"Old Admiral Arrowpoint was one of Nelson's men, you know--a doctor's son.
And we all know how the mother's money came."
"If they were any _mesalliance_ in the case, I should say it was on
Klesmer's side," said Deronda.
"Ah, you think it is a case of the immortal marrying the mortal. What is
your opinion?" said Sir Hugo, looking at Gwendolen.
"I have no doubt that Herr Klesmer thinks himself immortal. But I dare say
his wife will burn as much incense before him as he requires," said
Gwendolen. She had recovered any composure that she might have lost.
"Don't you approve of a wife burning incense before her husband?" said Sir
Hugo, with an air of jocoseness.
"Oh, yes," said Gwendolen, "if it were only to make others believe in
him." She paused a moment and then said with more gayety, "When Herr
Klesmer admires his own genius, it will take off some of the absurdity if
his wife says Amen."
"Klesmer is no favorite of yours, I see," said Sir Hugo.
"I think very highly of him, I assure you," said Gwendolen. "His genius is
quite above my judgment, and I know him to be exceedingly generous."
She spoke with the sudden seriousness which is often meant to correct an
unfair or indiscreet sally, having a bitterness against Klesmer in her
secret soul which she knew herself unable to justify. Deronda was
wondering what he should have thought of her if he had never heard of her
before: probably that she put on a little hardness and defiance by way of
concealing some painful consciousness--if, indeed, he could imagine her
manners otherwise than in the light of his suspicion. But why did she not
recognize him with more friendliness?
Sir Hugo, by way of changing the subject, said to her, "Is not this a
beautiful room? It was part of the refectory of the Abbey. There was a
division made by those pillars and the three arches, and afterward they
were built up. Else it was half as large again originally. There used to
be rows of Benedictines sitting where we are sitting. Suppose we were
suddenly to see the lights burning low and the ghosts of the old monks
rising behind all our chairs!"
"Please don't!" said Gwendolen, with a playful shudder. "It is very nice
to come after ancestors and monks, but they should know their places and
keep underground. I should be rather frightened to go about this house all
alone. I suppose the old generations must be angry with us because we have
altered things so much."
"Oh, the ghosts must be of all political parties," said Sir Hugo. "And
those fellows who wanted to change things while they lived and couldn't do
it must be on our side. But if you would not like to go over the house
alone, you will like to go in company, I hope. You and Grandcourt ought to
see it all. And we will ask Deronda to go found with us. He is more
learned about it than I am." The baronet was in the most complaisant of
Gwendolen stole a glance at Deronda, who must have heard what Sir Hugo
said, for he had his face turned toward them helping himself to an
_entree_; but he looked as impassive as a picture. At the notion of
Deronda's showing her and Grandcourt the place which was to be theirs, and
which she with painful emphasis remembered might have been his (perhaps,
if others had acted differently), certain thoughts had rushed in--thoughts
repeated within her, but now returning on an occasion embarrassingly new;
and was conscious of something furtive and awkward in her glance which Sir
Hugo must have noticed. With her usual readiness of resource against
betrayal, she said, playfully, "You don't know how much I am afraid of Mr.
"How's that? Because you think him too learned?" said Sir Hugo, whom the
peculiarity of her glance had not escaped.
"No. It is ever since I first saw him at Leubronn. Because when he came to
look on at the roulette-table, I began to lose. He cast an evil eye on my
play. He didn't approve it. He has told me so. And now whatever I do
before him, I am afraid he will cast an evil eye upon it."
"Gad! I'm rather afraid of him myself when he doesn't approve," said Sir
Hugo, glancing at Deronda; and then turning his face toward Gwendolen, he
said less audibly, "I don't think ladies generally object to have his eyes
upon them." The baronet's small chronic complaint of facetiousness was at
this moment almost as annoying to Gwendolen as it often was to Deronda.
"I object to any eyes that are critical," she said, in a cool, high voice,
with a turn of her neck. "Are there many of these old rooms left in the
"Not many. There is a fine cloistered court with a long gallery above it.
But the finest bit of all is turned into stables. It is part of the old
church. When I improved the place I made the most of every other bit; but
it was out of my reach to change the stables, so the horses have the
benefit of the fine old choir. You must go and see it."
"I shall like to see the horses as well as the building," said Gwendolen.
"Oh, I have no stud to speak of. Grandcourt will look with contempt at my
horses," said Sir Hugo. "I've given up hunting, and go on in a jog-trot
way, as becomes an old gentlemen with daughters. The fact is, I went in
for doing too much at this place. We all lived at Diplow for two years
while the alterations were going on: Do you like Diplow?"
"Not particularly," said Gwendolen, with indifference. One would have
thought that the young lady had all her life had more family seats than
she cared to go to.
"Ah! it will not do after Ryelands," said Sir Hugo, well pleased.
"Grandcourt, I know, took it for the sake of the hunting. But he found
something so much better there," added the baronet, lowering his voice,
"that he might well prefer it to any other place in the world."
"It has one attraction for me," said Gwendolen, passing over this
compliment with a chill smile, "that it is within reach of Offendene."
"I understand that," said Sir Hugo, and then let the subject drop.
What amiable baronet can escape the effect of a strong desire for a
particular possession? Sir Hugo would have been glad that Grandcourt, with
or without reason, should prefer any other place to Diplow; but inasmuch
as in the pure process of wishing we can always make the conditions of our
gratification benevolent, he did wish that Grandcourt's convenient disgust
for Diplow should not be associated with his marriage with this very
charming bride. Gwendolen was much to the baronet's taste, but, as he
observed afterward to Lady Mallinger, he should never have taken her for a
young girl who had married beyond her expectations.
Deronda had not heard much of this conversation, having given his
attention elsewhere, but the glimpses he had of Gwendolen's manner
deepened the impression that it had something newly artificial.
Later, in the drawing-room, Deronda, at somebody's request, sat down to
the piano and sang. Afterward, Mrs. Raymond took his place; and on rising
he observed that Gwendolen had left her seat, and had come to this end of
the room, as if to listen more fully, but was now standing with her back
to every one, apparently contemplating a fine cowled head carved in ivory
which hung over a small table. He longed to go to her and speak. Why
should he not obey such an impulse, as he would have done toward any other
lady in the room? Yet he hesitated some moments, observing the graceful
lines of her back, but not moving.
If you have any reason for not indulging a wish to speak to a fair woman,
it is a bad plan to look long at her back: the wish to see what it screens
becomes the stronger. There may be a very sweet smile on the other side.
Deronda ended by going to the end of the small table, at right angles to
Gwendolen's position, but before he could speak she had turned on him no
smile, but such an appealing look of sadness, so utterly different from
the chill effort of her recognition at table, that his speech was checked.
For what was an appreciative space of time to both, though the observation
of others could not have measured it, they looked at each other--she
seeming to take the deep rest of confession, he with an answering depth of
sympathy that neutralized all other feelings.
"Will you not join in the music?" he said by way of meeting the necessity
That her look of confession had been involuntary was shown by that just
perceptible shake and change of countenance with which she roused herself
to reply calmly, "I join in it by listening. I am fond of music."
"Are you not a musician?"
"I have given a great deal of time to music. But I have not talent enough
to make it worth while. I shall never sing again."
"But if you are fond of music, it will always be worth while in private,
for your own delight. I make it a virtue to be content with my
middlingness," said Deronda, smiling; "it is always pardonable, so that
one does not ask others to take it for superiority."
"I cannot imitate you," said Gwendolen, recovering her tone of artificial
vivacity. "To be middling with me is another phrase for being dull. And
the worst fault I have to find with the world is, that it is dull. Do you
know, I am going to justify gambling in spite of you. It is a refuge from
"I don't admit the justification," said Deronda. "I think what we call the
dullness of things is a disease in ourselves. Else how can any one find an
intense interest in life? And many do."
"Ah, I see! The fault I find in the world is my own fault," said
Gwendolen, smiling at him. Then after a moment, looking up at the ivory
again, she said, "Do _you_ never find fault with the world or with
"Oh, yes. When I am in a grumbling mood."
"And hate people? Confess you hate them when they stand in your way--when
their gain is your loss? That is your own phrase, you know."
"We are often standing in each other's way when we can't help it. I think
it is stupid to hate people on that ground."
"But if they injure you and could have helped it?" said Gwendolen with a
hard intensity unaccountable in incidental talk like this.
Deronda wondered at her choice of subjects. A painful impression arrested
his answer a moment, but at last he said, with a graver, deeper
intonation, "Why, then, after all, I prefer my place to theirs."
"There I believe you are right," said Gwendolen, with a sudden little
laugh, and turned to join the group at the piano.
Deronda looked around for Grandcourt, wondering whether he followed his
bride's movements with any attention; but it was rather undiscerning to
him to suppose that he could find out the fact. Grandcourt had a delusive
mood of observing whatever had an interest for him, which could be
surpassed by no sleepy-eyed animal on the watch for prey. At that moment
he was plunged in the depth of an easy chair, being talked to by Mr.
Vandernoodt, who apparently thought the acquaintance of such a bridegroom
worth cultivating; and an incautious person might have supposed it safe to
telegraph secrets in front of him, the common prejudice being that your
quick observer is one whose eyes have quick movements. Not at all. If you
want a respectable witness who will see nothing inconvenient, choose a
vivacious gentleman, very much on the alert, with two eyes wide open, a
glass in one of them, and an entire impartiality as to the purpose of
looking. If Grandcourt cared to keep any one under his power he saw them
out of the corners of his long narrow eyes, and if they went behind him he
had a constructive process by which he knew what they were doing there. He
knew perfectly well where his wife was, and how she was behaving. Was he
going to be a jealous husband? Deronda imagined that to be likely; but his
imagination was as much astray about Grandcourt as it would have been
about an unexplored continent where all the species were peculiar. He did
not conceive that he himself was a likely subject of jealousy, or that he
should give any pretext for it; but the suspicion that a wife is not happy
naturally leads one to speculate on the husband's private deportment; and
Deronda found himself after one o'clock in the morning in the rather
ludicrous position of sitting up severely holding a Hebrew grammar in his
hands (for somehow, in deference to Mordecai, he had begun to study
Hebrew), with the consciousness that he had been in that attitude nearly
an hour, and had thought of nothing but Gwendolen and her husband. To be
an unusual young man means for the most part to get a difficult mastery
over the usual, which is often like the sprite of ill-luck you pack up
your goods to escape from, and see grinning at you from the top of your
luggage van. The peculiarities of Deronda's nature had been acutely
touched by the brief incident and words which made the history of his
intercourse with Gwendolen; and this evening's slight addition had given
them an importunate recurrence. It was not vanity--it was ready sympathy
that had made him alive to a certain appealingness in her behavior toward
him; and the difficulty with which she had seemed to raise her eyes to bow
to him, in the first instance, was to be interpreted now by that
unmistakable look of involuntary confidence which she had afterward turned
on him under the consciousness of his approach.
"What is the use of it all?" thought Deronda, as he threw down his
grammar, and began to undress. "I can't do anything to help her--nobody
can, if she has found out her mistake already. And it seems to me that she
has a dreary lack of the ideas that might help her. Strange and piteous to
human flesh like that might be, wrapped round with fine raiment, her ears
pierced for gems, her head held loftily, her mouth all smiling pretence,
the poor soul within her sitting in sick distaste of all things! But what
do I know of her? There may be a demon in her to match the worst husband,
for what I can tell. She was clearly an ill-educated, worldly girl:
perhaps she is a coquette."
This last reflection, not much believed in, was a self-administered dose
of caution, prompted partly by Sir Hugo's much-contemned joking on the
subject of flirtation. Deronda resolved not to volunteer any _tete-a-tete_
with Gwendolen during the days of her stay at the Abbey; and he was
capable of keeping a resolve in spite of much inclination to the contrary.
But a man cannot resolve about a woman's actions, least of all about those
of a woman like Gwendolen, in whose nature there was a combination of
proud reserve with rashness, of perilously poised terror with defiance,
which might alternately flatter and disappoint control. Few words could
less represent her than "coquette." She had native love of homage, and
belief in her own power; but no cold artifice for the sake of enslaving.
And the poor thing's belief in her power, with her other dreams before
marriage, had often to be thrust aside now like the toys of a sick child,
which it looks at with dull eyes, and has no heart to play with, however
it may try.
The next day at lunch Sir Hugo said to her, "The thaw has gone on like
magic, and it's so pleasant out of doors just now--shall we go and see the
stables and the other odd bits about the place?"
"Yes, pray," said Gwendolen. "You will like to see the stables, Henleigh?"
she added, looking at her husband.
"Uncommonly," said Grandcourt, with an indifference which seemed to give
irony to the word, as he returned her look. It was the first time Deronda
had seen them speak to each other since their arrival, and he thought
their exchange of looks as cold or official as if it had been a a ceremony
to keep up a charter. Still, the English fondness for reserve will account
for much negation; and Grandcourt's manners with an extra veil of reserve
over them might be expected to present the extreme type of the national
"Who else is inclined to make the tour of the house and premises?" said
Sir Hugo. "The ladies must muffle themselves; there is only just about
time to do it well before sunset. You will go, Dan, won't you?"
"Oh, yes," said Deronda, carelessly, knowing that Sir Hugo would think any
"All meet in the library, then, when they are ready--say in half an hour,"
said the baronet. Gwendolen made herself ready with wonderful quickness,
and in ten minutes came down into the library in her sables, plume, and
little thick boots. As soon as she entered the room she was aware that
some one else was there: it was precisely what she had hoped for. Deronda
was standing with his back toward her at the far end of the room, and was
looking over a newspaper. How could little thick boots make any noise on
an Axminster carpet? And to cough would have seemed an intended signaling
which her pride could not condescend to; also, she felt bashful about
walking up to him and letting him know that she was there, though it was
her hunger to speak to him which had set her imagination on constructing
this chance of finding him, and had made her hurry down, as birds hover
near the water which they dare not drink. Always uneasily dubious about
his opinion of her, she felt a peculiar anxiety to-day, lest he might
think of her with contempt, as one triumphantly conscious of being
Grandcourt's wife, the future lady of this domain. It was her habitual
effort now to magnify the satisfactions of her pride, on which she
nourished her strength; but somehow Deronda's being there disturbed them
all. There was not the faintest touch of coquetry in the attitude of her
mind toward him: he was unique to her among men, because he had impressed
her as being not her admirer but her superior: in some mysterious way he
was becoming a part of her conscience, as one woman whose nature is an
object of reverential belief may become a new conscience to a man.
And now he would not look round and find out that she was there! The paper
crackled in his hand, his head rose and sank, exploring those stupid
columns, and he was evidently stroking his beard; as if this world were a
very easy affair to her. Of course all the rest of the company would soon
be down, and the opportunity of her saying something to efface her
flippancy of the evening before, would be quite gone. She felt sick with
irritation--so fast do young creatures like her absorb misery through
invisible suckers of their own fancies--and her face had gathered that
peculiar expression which comes with a mortification to which tears are
At last he threw down the paper and turned round.
"Oh, you are there already," he said, coming forward a step or two: "I
must go and put on my coat."
He turned aside and walked out of the room. This was behaving quite badly.
Mere politeness would have made him stay to exchange some words before
leaving her alone. It was true that Grandcourt came in with Sir Hugo
immediately after, so that the words must have been too few to be worth
anything. As it was, they saw him walking from the library door.
"A--you look rather ill," said Grandcourt, going straight up to her,
standing in front of her, and looking into her eyes. "Do you feel equal to
"Yes, I shall like it," said Gwendolen, without the slightest movement
except this of the lips.
"We could put off going over the house, you know, and only go out of
doors," said Sir Hugo, kindly, while Grandcourt turned aside.
"Oh, dear no!" said Gwendolen, speaking with determination; "let us put
off nothing. I want a long walk."
The rest of the walking party--two ladies and two gentlemen besides
Deronda--had now assembled; and Gwendolen rallying, went with due
cheerfulness by the side of Sir Hugo, paying apparently an equal attention
to the commentaries Deronda was called upon to give on the various
architectural fragments, to Sir Hugo's reasons for not attempting to
remedy the mixture of the undisguised modern with the antique--which in
his opinion only made the place the more truly historical. On their way to
the buttery and kitchen they took the outside of the house and paused
before a beautiful pointed doorway, which was the only old remnant in the
"Well, now, to my mind," said Sir Hugo, "that is more interesting standing
as it is in the middle of what is frankly four centuries later, than if
the whole front had been dressed up in a pretense of the thirteenth
century. Additions ought to smack of the time when they are made and carry
the stamp of their period. I wouldn't destroy any old bits, but that
notion of reproducing the old is a mistake, I think. At least, if a man
likes to do it he must pay for his whistle. Besides, where are you to stop
along that road--making loopholes where you don't want to peep, and so on?
You may as well ask me to wear out the stones with kneeling; eh,
"A confounded nuisance," drawled Grandcourt. "I hate fellows wanting to
howl litanies--acting the greatest bores that have ever existed."
"Well, yes, that's what their romanticism must come to," said Sir Hugo, in
a tone of confidential assent--"that is if they carry it out logically."
"I think that way of arguing against a course because it may be ridden
down to an absurdity would soon bring life to a standstill," said Deronda.
"It is not the logic of human action, but of a roasting-jack, that must go
on to the last turn when it has been once wound up. We can do nothing
safely without some judgment as to where we are to stop."
"I find the rule of the pocket the best guide," said Sir Hugo, laughingly.
"And as for most of your new-old building, you had need to hire men to
scratch and chip it all over artistically to give it an elderly-looking
surface; which at the present rate of labor would not answer."
"Do you want to keep up the old fashions, then, Mr. Deronda?" said
Gwendolen, taking advantage of the freedom of grouping to fall back a
little, while Sir Hugo and Grandcourt went on.
"Some of them. I don't see why we should not use our choice there as we do
elsewhere--or why either age or novelty by itself is an argument for or
against. To delight in doing things because our fathers did them is good
if it shuts out nothing better; it enlarges the range of affection--and
affection is the broadest basis of good in life."
"Do you think so?" said Gwendolen with a little surprise. "I should have
thought you cared most about ideas, knowledge, wisdom, and all that."
"But to care about _them_ is a sort of affection," said Deronda, smiling
at her sudden _naivete_. "Call it attachment; interest, willing to bear a
great deal for the sake of being with them and saving them from injury. Of
course, it makes a difference if the objects of interest are human beings;
but generally in all deep affections the objects are a mixture--half
persons and half ideas--sentiments and affections flow in together."
"I wonder whether I understand that," said Gwendolen, putting up her chin
in her old saucy manner. "I believe I am not very affectionate; perhaps
you mean to tell me, that is the reason why I don't see much good in
"No, I did _not_ mean to tell you that; but I admit that I should think it
true if I believed what you say of yourself," said Deronda, gravely.
Here Sir Hugo and Grandcourt turned round and paused.
"I never can get Mr. Deronda to pay me a compliment," said Gwendolen. "I
have quite a curiosity to see whether a little flattery can be extracted
"Ah!" said Sir Hugo, glancing at Deronda, "the fact is, it is useless to
flatter a bride. We give it up in despair. She has been so fed on sweet
speeches that every thing we say seems tasteless."
"Quite true," said Gwendolen, bending her head and smiling. "Mr.
Grandcourt won me by neatly-turned compliments. If there had been one word
out of place it would have been fatal."
"Do you hear that?" said Sir Hugo, looking at the husband.
"Yes," said Grandcourt, without change of countenance. "It's a deucedly
hard thing to keep up, though."
All this seemed to Sir Hugo a natural playfulness between such a husband
and wife; but Deronda wondered at the misleading alternations in
Gwendolen's manner, which at one moment seemed to excite sympathy by
childlike indiscretion, at another to repel it by proud concealment. He
tried to keep out of her way by devoting himself to Miss Juliet Fenn, a
young lady whose profile had been so unfavorably decided by circumstances
over which she had no control, that Gwendolen some months ago had felt it
impossible to be jealous of her. Nevertheless, when they were seeing the
kitchen--a part of the original building in perfect preservation--the
depth of shadow in the niches of the stone-walls and groined vault, the
play of light from the huge glowing fire on polished tin, brass, and
copper, the fine resonance that came with every sound of voice or metal,
were all spoiled for Gwendolen, and Sir Hugo's speech about them was made
rather importunate, because Deronda was discoursing to the other ladies
and kept at a distance from her. It did not signify that the other
gentlemen took the opportunity of being near her: of what use in the world
was their admiration while she had an uneasy sense that there was some
standard in Deronda's mind which measured her into littleness? Mr.
Vandernoodt, who had the mania of always describing one thing while you
were looking at another, was quite intolerable with his insistence on Lord
Blough's kitchen, which he had seen in the north.
"Pray don't ask us to see two kitchens at once. It makes the heat double.
I must really go out of it," she cried at last, marching resolutely into
the open air, and leaving the others in the rear. Grandcourt was already
out, and as she joined him, he said--
"I wondered how long you meant to stay in that damned place"--one of the
freedoms he had assumed as a husband being the use of his strongest
epithets. Gwendolen, turning to see the rest of the party approach, said--
"It was certainly rather too warm in one's wraps."
They walked on the gravel across a green court, where the snow still lay
in islets on the grass, and in masses on the boughs of the great cedar and
the crenelated coping of the stone walls, and then into a larger court,
where there was another cedar, to find the beautiful choir long ago turned
into stables, in the first instance perhaps after an impromptu fashion by
troopers, who had a pious satisfaction in insulting the priests of Baal
and the images of Ashtoreth, the queen of heaven. The exterior--its west
end, save for the stable door, walled in with brick and covered with ivy--
was much defaced, maimed of finial and gurgoyle, the friable limestone
broken and fretted, and lending its soft gray to a powdery dark lichen;
the long windows, too, were filled in with brick as far as the springing
of the arches, the broad clerestory windows with wire or ventilating
blinds. With the low wintry afternoon sun upon it, sending shadows from
the cedar boughs, and lighting up the touches of snow remaining on every
ledge, it had still a scarcely disturbed aspect of antique solemnity,
which gave the scene in the interior rather a startling effect; though,
ecclesiastical or reverential indignation apart, the eyes could hardly
help dwelling with pleasure on its piquant picturesqueness. Each finely-
arched chapel was turned into a stall, where in the dusty glazing of the
windows there still gleamed patches of crimson, orange, blue, and palest
violet; for the rest, the choir had been gutted, the floor leveled, paved,
and drained according to the most approved fashion, and a line of loose
boxes erected in the middle: a soft light fell from the upper windows on
sleek brown or gray flanks and haunches; on mild equine faces looking out