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Daniel Deronda

George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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"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 humors.

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. Deronda."

"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 Abbey?"

"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.

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