George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876
Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876
"Do you forget what I told you when we first saw each other? Do you remember that I said I was not of your race?"
"It can't be true," Mordecai whispered immediately, with no sign of shock. The sympathetic hand still upon him had fortified the feeling which was stronger than those words of denial. There was a perceptible pause, Deronda feeling it impossible to answer, conscious indeed that the assertion "It can't be true"--had the pressure of argument for him. Mordecai, too entirely possessed by the supreme importance of the relation between himself and Deronda to have any other care in his speech, followed up that assertion by a second, which came to his lips as a mere sequence of his long-cherished conviction--"You are not sure of your own origin."
"How do you know that?" said Daniel, with an habitual shrinking which made him remove his hands from Mordecai's, who also relaxed his hold, and fell back into his former leaning position.
"I know it--I know it; what is my life else?" said Mordecai, with a low cry of impatience. "Tell me everything: tell me why you deny?"
He could have no conception what that demand was to the hearer--how probingly it touched the hidden sensibility, the vividly conscious reticence of years; how the uncertainty he was insisting on as part of his own hope had always for Daniel been a threatening possibility of painful revelation about his mother. But the moment had influences which were not only new but solemn to Deronda; any evasion here might turn out to be a hateful refusal of some task that belonged to him, some act of due fellowship; in any case it would be a cruel rebuff to a being who was appealing to him as a forlorn hope under the shadow of a coming doom. After a few moments, he said, with a great effort over himself--determined to tell all the truth briefly--
"I have never known my mother. I have no knowledge about her. I have never called any man father. But I am convinced that my father is an Englishman."
Deronda's deep tones had a tremor in them as he uttered this confession; and all the while there was an undercurrent of amazement in him at the strange circumstances under which he uttered it. It seemed as if Mordecai were hardly overrating his own power to determine the action of the friend whom he had mysteriously chosen.
"It will be seen--it will be declared," said Mordecai, triumphantly. "The world grows, and its frame is knit together by the growing soul; dim, dim at first, then clearer and more clear, the consciousness discerns remote stirrings. As thoughts move within us darkly, and shake us before they are fully discerned--so events--so beings: they are knit with us in the growth of the world. You have risen within me like a thought not fully spelled; my soul is shaken before the words are all there. The rest will come--it will come.".
"We must not lose sight of the fact that the outward event has not always been a fulfillment of the firmest faith," said Deronda, in a tone that was made hesitating by the painfully conflicting desires, not to give any severe blow to Mordecai, and not to give his confidence a sanction which might have the severest of blows in reserve.
Mordecai's face, which had been illuminated to the utmost in that last declaration of his confidence, changed under Deronda's words, not only into any show of collapsed trust: the force did not disappear from the expression, but passed from the triumphant into the firmly resistant.
"You would remind me that I may be under an illusion--that the history of our people's trust has been full of illusion. I face it all." Here Mordecai paused a moment. Then bending his head a little forward, he said, in his hoarse whisper, "So if might be with my trust, if you would make it an illusion. But you will not."
The very sharpness with which these words penetrated Deronda made him feel the more that here was a crisis in which he must be firm.
"What my birth was does not lie in my will," he answered. "My sense of claims on me cannot be independent of my knowledge there. And I cannot promise you that I will try to hasten a disclosure. Feelings which have struck root through half my life may still hinder me from doing what I have never been able to do. Everything must be waited for. I must know more of the truth about my own life, and I must know more of what it would become if it were made a part of yours."
Mordecai had folded his arms again while Deronda was speaking, and now answered with equal firmness, though with difficult breathing--
"You shall know. What are we met for, but that you should know. Your doubts lie as light as dust on my belief. I know the philosophies of this time and of other times; if I chose I could answer a summons before their tribunals. I could silence the beliefs which are the mother-tongue of my soul and speak with the rote-learned language of a system, that gives you the spelling of all things, sure of its alphabet covering them all. I could silence them: may not a man silence his awe or his love, and take to finding reasons, which others demand? But if his love lies deeper than any reasons to be found? Man finds his pathways: at first they were foot tracks, as those of the beast in the wilderness: now they are swift and invisible: his thought dives through the ocean, and his wishes thread the air: has he found all the pathways yet? What reaches him, stays with him, rules him: he must accept it, not knowing its pathway. Say, my expectation of you has grown but as false hopes grow. That doubt is in your mind? Well, my expectation was there, and you are come. Men have died of thirst. But I was thirsty, and the water is on my lips? What are doubts to me? In the hour when you come to me and say, 'I reject your soul: I know that I am not a Jew: we have no lot in common'--I shall not doubt. I shall be certain--certain that I have been deluded. That hour will never come!"
Deronda felt a new chord sounding in his speech: it was rather imperious than appealing--had more of conscious power than of the yearning need which had acted as a beseeching grasp on him before. And usually, though he was the reverse of pugnacious, such a change of attitude toward him would have weakened his inclination to admit a claim. But here there was something that balanced his resistance and kept it aloof. This strong man whose gaze was sustainedly calm and his finger-nails pink with health, who was exercised in all questioning, and accused of excessive mental independence, still felt a subduing influence over him in the tenacious certitude of the fragile creature before him, whose pallid yellow nostril was tense with effort as his breath labored under the burthen of eager speech. The influence seemed to strengthen the bond of sympathetic obligation. In Deronda at this moment the desire to escape what might turn into a trying embarrassment was no more likely to determine action than the solicitations of indolence are likely to determine it in one with whom industry is a daily law. He answered simply--
"It is my wish to meet and satisfy your wishes wherever that is possible to me. It is certain to me at least that I desire not to undervalue your toil and your suffering. Let me know your thoughts. But where can we meet?"
"I have thought of that," said Mordecai. "It is not hard for you to come into this neighborhood later in the evening? You did so once."
"I can manage it very well occasionally," said Deronda. "You live under the same roof with the Cohens, I think?"
Before Mordecai could answer, Mr. Ram re-entered to take his place behind the counter. He was an elderly son of Abraham, whose childhood had fallen on the evil times at the beginning of this century, and who remained amid this smart and instructed generation as a preserved specimen, soaked through and through with the effect of the poverty and contempt which were the common heritage of most English Jews seventy years ago. He had none of the oily cheerfulness observable in Mr. Cohen's aspect: his very features --broad and chubby--showed that tendency to look mongrel without due cause, which, in a miscellaneous London neighborhood, may perhaps be compared with the marvels of imitation in insects, and may have been nature's imperfect effort on behalf of the pure Caucasian to shield him from the shame and spitting to which purer features would have been exposed in the times of zeal. Mr. Ram dealt ably in books, in the same way that he would have dealt in tins of meat and other commodities--without knowledge or responsibility as to the proportion of rottenness or nourishment they might contain. But he believed in Mordecai's learning as something marvellous, and was not sorry that his conversation should be sought by a bookish gentleman, whose visits had twice ended in a purchase. He greeted Deronda with a crabbed good-will, and, putting on large silver spectacles, appeared at once to abstract himself in the daily accounts.
But Deronda and Mordecai were soon in the street together, and without any explicit agreement as to their direction, were walking toward Ezra Cohen's.
"We can't meet there: my room is too narrow," said Mordecai, taking up the thread of talk where they had dropped it. "But there is a tavern not far from here where I sometimes go to a club. It is the Hand and Banner, in the street at the next turning, five doors down. We can have the parlor there any evening."
"We can try that for once," said Deronda. "But you will perhaps let me provide you with some lodging, which would give you more freedom and comfort than where you are."
"No; I need nothing. My outer life is as nought. I will take nothing less precious from you than your soul's brotherhood. I will think of nothing else yet. But I am glad you are rich. You did not need money on that diamond ring. You had some other motive for bringing it."
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