George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876
Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876
Momentous things happened to Deronda the very evening of that visit to the small house at Chelsea, when there was the discussion about Mirah's public name. But for the family group there, what appeared to be the chief sequence connected with it occurred two days afterward. About four o'clock wheels paused before the door, and there came one of those knocks with an accompanying ring which serve to magnify the sense of social existence in a region where the most enlivening signals are usually those of the muffin-man. All the girls were at home, and the two rooms were thrown together to make space for Kate's drawing, as well as a great length of embroidery which had taken the place of the satin cushions--a sort of piece de resistance in the courses of needlework, taken up by any clever fingers that happened to be at liberty. It stretched across the front room picturesquely enough, Mrs. Meyrick bending over it on one corner, Mab in the middle, and Amy at the other end. Mirah, whose performances in point of sewing were on the make-shift level of the tailor-bird's, her education in that branch having been much neglected, was acting as reader to the party, seated on a camp-stool; in which position she also served Kate as model for a title-page vignette, symbolizing a fair public absorbed in the successive volumes of the family tea-table. She was giving forth with charming distinctness the delightful Essay of Elia, "The Praise of Chimney-Sweeps," and all we're smiling over the "innocent blackness," when the imposing knock and ring called their thoughts to loftier spheres, and they looked up in wonderment.
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Meyrick; "can it be Lady Mallinger? Is there a grand carriage, Amy?"
"No--only a hansom cab. It must be a gentleman."
"The Prime Minister, I should think," said Kate dryly. "Hans says the greatest man in London may get into a hansom cab."
"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Mab. "Suppose it should be Lord Russell!"
The five bright faces were all looking amused when the old maid-servant bringing in a card distractedly left the parlor-door open, and there was seen bowing toward Mrs. Meyrick a figure quite unlike that of the respected Premier--tall and physically impressive even in his kid and kerseymere, with massive face, flamboyant hair, and gold spectacles: in fact, as Mrs. Meyrick saw from the card, Julius Klesmer.
Even embarrassment could hardly have made the "little mother" awkward, but quick in her perceptions she was at once aware of the situation, and felt well satisfied that the great personage had come to Mirah instead of requiring her to come to him; taking it as a sign of active interest. But when he entered, the rooms shrank into closets, the cottage piano, Mab thought, seemed a ridiculous toy, and the entire family existence as petty and private as an establishment of mice in the Tuileries. Klesmer's personality, especially his way of glancing round him, immediately suggested vast areas and a multitudinous audience, and probably they made the usual scenery of his consciousness, for we all of us carry on our thinking in some habitual locus where there is a presence of other souls, and those who take in a larger sweep than their neighbors are apt to seem mightily vain and affected. Klesmer was vain, but not more so than many contemporaries of heavy aspect, whose vanity leaps out and startles one like a spear out of a walking-stick; as to his carriage and gestures, these were as natural to him as the length of his fingers; and the rankest affectation he could have shown would have been to look diffident and demure. While his grandiose air was making Mab feel herself a ridiculous toy to match the cottage piano, he was taking in the details around him with a keen and thoroughly kind sensibility. He remembered a home no longer than this on the outskirts of Bohemia; and in the figurative Bohemia too he had had large acquaintance with the variety and romance which belong to small incomes. He addressed Mrs. Meyrick with the utmost deference.
"I hope I have not taken too great a freedom. Being in the neighborhood, I ventured to save time by calling. Our friend, Mr. Deronda, mentioned to me an understanding that I was to have the honor of becoming acquainted with a young lady here--Miss Lapidoth."
Klesmer had really discerned Mirah in the first moment of entering, but, with subtle politeness, he looked round bowingly at the three sisters as if he were uncertain which was the young lady in question.
"Those are my daughters: this is Miss Lapidoth," said Mrs. Meyrick, waving her hand toward Mirah.
"Ah," said Klesmer, in a tone of gratified expectation, turning a radiant smile and deep bow to Mirah, who, instead of being in the least taken by surprise, had a calm pleasure in her face. She liked the look of Klesmer, feeling sure that he would scold her, like a great musician and a kind man.
"You will not object to beginning our acquaintance by singing to me," he added, aware that they would all be relieved by getting rid of preliminaries.
"I shall be very glad. It is good of you to be willing to listen to me," said Mirah, moving to the piano. "Shall I accompany myself?"
"By all means," said Klesmer, seating himself, at Mrs. Meyrick's invitation, where he could have a good view of the singer. The acute little mother would not have acknowledged the weakness, but she really said to herself, "He will like her singing better if he sees her."
All the feminine hearts except Mirah's were beating fast with anxiety, thinking Klesmer terrific as he sat with his listening frown on, and only daring to look at him furtively. If he did say anything severe it would be so hard for them all. They could only comfort themselves with thinking that Prince Camaralzaman, who had heard the finest things, preferred Mirah's singing to any other:--also she appeared to be doing her very best, as if she were more instead of less at ease than usual.
The song she had chosen was a fine setting of some words selected from Leopardi's grand Ode to Italy:--
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