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Daniel Deronda

George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

Daniel_Deronda MAIN

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 forbidden.

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 the walk?"

"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 east front.

"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, Grandcourt?"

"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 life.""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 from him.""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 with active nostrils over the varnished brown boarding; on the hay hanging from racks where the saints once looked down from the altar-pieces, and on the pale golden straw scattered or in heaps; on a little white-and-liver- colored spaniel making his bed on the back of an elderly hackney, and on four ancient angels, still showing signs of devotion like mutilated martyrs--while over all, the grand pointed roof, untouched by reforming wash, showed its lines and colors mysteriously through veiling shadow and cobweb, and a hoof now and then striking against the boards seemed to fill the vault with thunder, while outside there was the answering bay of the blood-hounds."Oh, this is glorious!" Gwendolen burst forth, in forgetfulness of everything but the immediate impression: there had been a little intoxication for her in the grand spaces of courts and building, and the fact of her being an important person among them. "This is glorious! Only I wish there were a horse in every one of the boxes. I would ten times rather have these stables than those at Diplow."But she had no sooner said this than some consciousness arrested her, and involuntarily she turned her eyes toward Deronda, who oddly enough had taken off his felt hat and stood holding it before him as if they had entered a room or an actual church. He, like others, happened to be looking at her, and their eyes met--to her intense vexation, for it seemed to her that by looking at him she had betrayed the reference of her thoughts, and she felt herself blushing: she exaggerated the impression that even Sir Hugo as well as Deronda would have of her bad taste in referring to the possession of anything at the Abbey: as for Deronda, she had probably made him despise her. Her annoyance at what she imagined to be the obviousness of her confusion robbed her of her usual facility in carrying it off by playful speech, and turning up her face to look at the roof, she wheeled away in that attitude. If any had noticed her blush as significant, they had certainly not interpreted it by the secret windings and recesses of her feeling. A blush is no language: only a dubious flag- signal which may mean either of two contradictories. Deronda alone had a faint guess at some part of her feeling; but while he was observing her he was himself under observation."Do you take off your hat to horses?" said Grandcourt, with a slight sneer."Why not?" said Deronda, covering himself. He had really taken off the hat automatically, and if he had been an ugly man might doubtless have done so with impunity; ugliness having naturally the air of involuntary exposure, and beauty, of display.Gwendolen's confusion was soon merged in the survey of the horses, which Grandcourt politely abstained from appraising, languidly assenting to Sir Hugo's alternate depreciation and eulogy of the same animal, as one that he should not have bought when he was younger, and piqued himself on his horses, but yet one that had better qualities than many more expensive brutes."The fact is, stables dive deeper and deeper into the pocket nowadays, and I am very glad to have got rid of that demangeaison," said Sir Hugo, as they were coming out."What is a man to do, though?" said Grandcourt. "He must ride. I don't see what else there is to do. And I don't call it riding to sit astride a set of brutes with every deformity under the sun."This delicate diplomatic way of characterizing Sir Hugo's stud did not require direct notice; and the baronet, feeling that the conversation had worn rather thin, said to the party generally, "Now we are going to see the cloister--the finest bit of all--in perfect preservation; the monks might have been walking there yesterday."But Gwendolen had lingered behind to look at the kenneled blood-hounds, perhaps because she felt a little dispirited; and Grandcourt waited for her."You had better take my arm," he said, in his low tone of command; and she took it."It's a great bore being dragged about in this way, and no cigar," said Grandcourt."I thought you would like it.""Like it!--one eternal chatter. And encouraging those ugly girls--inviting one to meet such monsters. How that fat Deronda can bear looking at her----"

"Why do you call him fat? Do you object to him so much?"

"Object? no. What do I care about his being a fat? It's of no consequence to me. I'll invite him to Diplow again if you like."

"I don't think he would come. He is too clever and learned to care about us," said Gwendolen, thinking it useful for her husband to be told (privately) that it was possible for him to be looked down upon.

"I never saw that make much difference in a man. Either he is a gentleman, or he is not," said Grandcourt.

That a new husband and wife should snatch, a moment's tete-a-tete was what could be understood and indulged; and the rest of the party left them in the rear till, re-entering the garden, they all paused in that cloistered court where, among the falling rose-petals thirteen years before, we saw a boy becoming acquainted with his first sorrow. This cloister was built of a harder stone than the church, and had been in greater safety from the wearing weather. It was a rare example of a northern cloister with arched and pillard openings not intended for glazing, and the delicately-wrought foliage of the capitals seemed still to carry the very touches of the chisel. Gwendolen had dropped her husband's arm and joined the other ladies, to whom Deronda was noticing the delicate sense which had combined freedom with accuracy in the imitation of natural forms.

"I wonder whether one oftener learns to love real objects through their representations, or the representations through the real objects," he said, after pointing out a lovely capital made by the curled leaves of greens, showing their reticulated under-side with the firm gradual swell of its central rib. "When I was a little fellow these capitals taught me to observe and delight in the structure of leaves."

"I suppose you can see every line of them with your eyes shut," said Juliet Fenn.

"Yes. I was always repeating them, because for a good many years this court stood for me as my only image of a convent, and whenever I read of monks and monasteries, this was my scenery for them."

"You must love this place very much," said Miss Fenn, innocently, not thinking of inheritance. "So many homes are like twenty others. But this is unique, and you seem to know every cranny of it. I dare say you could never love another home so well."

"Oh, I carry it with me," said Deronda, quietly, being used to all possible thoughts of this kind. "To most men their early home is no more than a memory of their early years, and I'm not sure but they have the best of it. The image is never marred. There's no disappointment in memory, and one's exaggerations are always on the good side."

Gwendolen felt sure that he spoke in that way out of delicacy to her and Grandcourt--because he knew they must hear him; and that he probably thought of her as a selfish creature who only cared about possessing things in her own person. But whatever he might say, it must have been a secret hardship to him that any circumstances of his birth had shut him out from the inheritance of his father's position; and if he supposed that she exulted in her husband's taking it, what could he feel for her but scornful pity? Indeed it seemed clear to her that he was avoiding her, and preferred talking to others--which nevertheless was not kind in him.

With these thoughts in her mind she was prevented by a mixture of pride and timidity from addressing him again, and when they were looking at the rows of quaint portraits in the gallery above the cloisters, she kept up her air of interest and made her vivacious remarks without any direct appeal to Deronda. But at the end she was very weary of her assumed spirits, and Grandcourt turned into the billiard-room, she went to the pretty boudoir which had been assigned to her, and shut herself up to look melancholy at her ease. No chemical process shows a more wonderful activity than the transforming influence of the thoughts we imagine to be going on in another. Changes in theory, religion, admirations, may begin with a suspicion of dissent or disapproval, even when the grounds of disapproval are but matter of searching conjecture.

Poor Gwendolen was conscious of an uneasy, transforming process--all the old nature shaken to its depths, its hopes spoiled, its pleasures perturbed, but still showing wholeness and strength in the will to reassert itself. After every new shock of humiliation she tried to adjust herself and seize her old supports--proud concealment, trust in new excitements that would make life go by without much thinking; trust in some deed of reparation to nullify her self-blame and shield her from a vague, ever-visiting dread of some horrible calamity; trust in the hardening effect of use and wont that would make her indifferent to her miseries.

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