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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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"I can say nothing in my ignorance," said Deronda, mournfully, "except that I desire to help you."

"I told you from the beginning--as soon as I could--I told you I was afraid of myself." There was a piteous pleading in the low murmur in which Deronda turned his ear only. Her face afflicted him too much. "I felt a hatred in me that was always working like an evil spirit--contriving things. Everything I could do to free myself came into my mind; and it got worse--all things got worse. That is why I asked you to come to me in town. I thought then I would tell you the worst about myself. I tried. But I could not tell everything. And he came in."

She paused, while a shudder passed through her; but soon went on.

"I will tell you everything now. Do you think a woman who cried, and prayed, and struggled to be saved from herself, could be a murderess?"

"Great God!" said Deronda, in a deep, shaken voice, "don't torture me needlessly. You have not murdered him. You threw yourself into the water with the impulse to save him. Tell me the rest afterward. This death was an accident that you could not have hindered."

"Don't be impatient with me." The tremor, the childlike beseeching in these words compelled Deronda to turn his head and look at her face. The poor quivering lips went on. "You said--you used to say--you felt more for those who had done something wicked and were miserable; you said they might get better--they might be scourged into something better. If you had not spoken in that way, Everything would have been worse. I did remember all you said to me. It came to me always. It came to me at the very last-- that was the reason why I--But now, if you cannot bear with me when I tell you everything--if you turn away from me and forsake me, what shall I do? Am I worse than I was when you found me and wanted to make me better? All the wrong I have done was in me then--and more--and more--if you had not come and been patient with me. And now--will you forsake me?"

Her hands, which had been so tightly clenched some minutes before, were now helplessly relaxed and trembling on the arm of her chair. Her quivering lips remained parted as she ceased speaking. Deronda could not answer; he was obliged to look away. He took one of her hands, and clasped it as if they were going to walk together like two children: it was the only way in which he could answer, "I will not forsake you." And all the while he felt as if he were putting his name to a blank paper which might be filled up terribly. Their attitude, his adverted face with its expression of a suffering which he was solemnly resolved to undergo, might have told half the truth of the situation to a beholder who had suddenly entered.

That grasp was an entirely new experience to Gwendolen: she had never before had from any man a sign of tenderness which her own being had needed, and she interpreted its powerful effect on her into a promise of inexhaustible patience and constancy. The stream of renewed strength made it possible for her to go on as she had begun--with that fitful, wandering confession where the sameness of experience seems to nullify the sense of time or of order in events. She began again in a fragmentary way--

"All sorts of contrivances in my mind--but all so difficult. And I fought against them--I was terrified at them--I saw his dead face"--here her voice sank almost to a whisper close to Deronda's ear--"ever so long ago I saw it and I wished him to be dead. And yet it terrified me. I was like two creatures. I could not speak--I wanted to kill--it was as strong as thirst--and then directly--I felt beforehand I had done something dreadful, unalterable--that would make me like an evil spirit. And it came--it came."

She was silent a moment or two, as if her memory had lost itself in a web where each mesh drew all the rest.

"It had all been in my mind when I first spoke to you--when we were at the Abbey. I had done something then. I could not tell you that. It was the only thing I did toward carrying out my thoughts. They went about over everything; but they all remained like dreadful dreams--all but one. I did one act--and I never undid it--it is there still--as long ago as when we were at Ryelands. There it was--something my fingers longed for among the beautiful toys in the cabinet in my boudoir--small and sharp like a long willow leaf in a silver sheath. I locked it in the drawer of my dressing- case. I was continually haunted with it and how I should use it. I fancied myself putting it under my pillow. But I never did. I never looked at it again. I dared not unlock the drawer: it had a key all to itself; and not long ago, when we were in the yacht, I dropped the key into the deep water. It was my wish to drop it and deliver myself. After that I began to think how I could open the drawer without the key: and when I found we were to stay at Genoa, it came into my mind that I could get it opened privately at the hotel. But then, when we were going up the stairs, I met you; and I thought I should talk to you alone and tell you this-- everything I could not tell you in town; and then I was forced to go out in the boat."

A sob had for the first time risen with the last words, and she sank back in her chair. The memory of that acute disappointment seemed for the moment to efface what had come since. Deronda did not look at her, but he said, insistently--

"And it has all remained in your imagination. It has gone on only in your thought. To the last the evil temptation has been resisted?"

There was silence. The tears had rolled down her cheeks. She pressed her handkerchief against them and sat upright. She was summoning her resolution; and again, leaning a little toward Deronda's ear, she began in a whisper--

"No, no; I will tell you everything as God knows it. I will tell you no falsehood; I will tell you the exact truth. What should I do else? I used to think I could never be wicked. I thought of wicked people as if they were a long way off me. Since then I have been wicked. I have felt wicked. And everything has been a punishment to me--all the things I used to wish for--it is as if they had been made red-hot. The very daylight has often been a punishment to me. Because--you know--I ought not to have married. That was the beginning of it. I wronged some one else. I broke my promise. I meant to get pleasure for myself, and it all turned to misery. I wanted to make my gain out of another's loss--you remember?--it was like roulette--and the money burned into me. And I could not complain. It was as if I had prayed that another should lose and I should win. And I had won, I knew it all--I knew I was guilty. When we were on the sea, and I lay awake at night in the cabin, I sometimes felt that everything I had done lay open without excuse--nothing was hidden--how could anything be known to me only?--it was not my own knowledge, it was God's that had entered into me, and even the stillness--everything held a punishment for me--everything but you. I always thought that you would not want me to be punished--you would have tried and helped me to be better. And only thinking of that helped me. You will not change--you will not want to punish me now?"

Again a sob had risen.

"God forbid!" groaned Deronda. But he sat motionless.

This long wandering with the conscious-stricken one over her past was difficult to bear, but he dared not again urge her with a question. He must let her mind follow its own need. She unconsciously left intervals in her retrospect, not clearly distinguishing between what she said and what she had only an inward vision of. Her next words came after such an interval.

"That all made it so hard when I was forced to go in the boat. Because when I saw you it was an unexpected joy, and I thought I could tell you everything--about the locked-up drawer and what I had not told you before. And if I had told you, and knew it was in your mind, it would have less power over me. I hoped and trusted in that. For after all my struggles and my crying, the hatred and rage, the temptation that frightened me, the longing, the thirst for what I dreaded, always came back. And that disappointment--when I was quite shut out from speaking to you, and was driven to go in the boat--brought all the evil back, as if I had been locked in a prison with it and no escape. Oh, it seems so long ago now since I stepped into that boat! I could have given up everything in that moment, to have the forked lightning for a weapon to strike him dead."

Some of the compressed fierceness that she was recalling seemed to find its way into her undertoned utterance. After a little silence she said, with agitated hurry--

"If he were here again, what should I do? I cannot wish him here--and yet I cannot bear his dead face. I was a coward. I ought to have borne contempt. I ought to have gone away--gone and wandered like a beggar rather than to stay to feel like a fiend. But turn where I would there was something I could not bear. Sometimes I thought he would kill me if I resisted his will. But now--his dead face is there, and I cannot bear it."

Suddenly loosing Deronda's hand, she started up, stretching her arms to their full length upward, and said with a sort of moan--

"I have been a cruel woman! What can I do but cry for help? I am sinking. Die--die--you are forsaken--go down, go down into darkness. Forsaken--no pity--I shall be forsaken."

She sank in her chair again and broke into sobs. Even Deronda had no place in her consciousness at that moment. He was completely unmanned. Instead of finding, as he had imagined, that his late experience had dulled his susceptibility to fresh emotion, it seemed that the lot of this young creature, whose swift travel from her bright rash girlhood into this agony of remorse he had had to behold in helplessness, pierced him the deeper because it came close upon another sad revelation of spiritual conflict: he was in one of those moments when the very anguish of passionate pity makes us ready to choose that we will know pleasure no more, and live only for the stricken and afflicted. He had risen from his seat while he watched that terrible outburst--which seemed the more awful to him because, even in this supreme agitation, she kept the suppressed voice of one who confesses in secret. At last he felt impelled to turn his back toward her and walk to a distance.

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