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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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But presently there was stillness. Her mind had opened to the sense that he had gone away from her. When Deronda turned round to approach her again, he saw her face bent toward him, her eyes dilated, her lips parted. She was an image of timid forlorn beseeching--too timid to entreat in words while he kept himself aloof from her. Was she forsaken by him--now-- already? But his eyes met hers sorrowfully--met hers for the first time fully since she had said, "You know I am a guilty woman," and that full glance in its intense mournfulness seemed to say, "I know it, but I shall all the less forsake you." He sat down by her side again in the same attitude--without turning his face toward her and without again taking her hand.

Once more Gwendolen was pierced, as she had been by his face of sorrow at the Abbey, with a compunction less egoistic than that which urged her to confess, and she said, in a tone of loving regret--

"I make you very unhappy."

Deronda gave an indistinct "Oh," just shrinking together and changing his attitude a little, Then he had gathered resolution enough to say clearly, "There is no question of being happy or unhappy. What I most desire at this moment is what will most help you. Tell me all you feel it a relief to tell."

Devoted as these words were, they widened his spiritual distance from her, and she felt it more difficult to speak: she had a vague need of getting nearer to that compassion which seemed to be regarding her from a halo of superiority, and the need turned into an impulse to humble herself more. She was ready to throw herself on her knees before him; but no--her wonderfully mixed consciousness held checks on that impulse, and she was kept silent and motionless by the pressure of opposing needs. Her stillness made Deronda at last say--

"Perhaps you are too weary. Shall I go away, and come again whenever you wish it?"

"No, no," said Gwendolen--the dread of his leaving her bringing back her power of speech. She went on with her low-toned eagerness, "I want to tell you what it was that came over me in that boat. I was full of rage at being obliged to go--full of rage--and I could do nothing but sit there like a galley slave. And then we got away--out of the port--into the deep --and everything was still--and we never looked at each other, only he spoke to order me--and the very light about me seemed to hold me a prisoner and force me to sit as I did. It came over me that when I was a child I used to fancy sailing away into a world where people were not forced to live with any one they did not like--I did not like my father- in-law to come home. And now, I thought, just the opposite had come to me. I had stepped into a boat, and my life was a sailing and sailing away-- gliding on and no help--always into solitude with him, away from deliverance. And because I felt more helpless than ever, my thoughts went out over worse things--I longed for worse things--I had cruel wishes--I fancied impossible ways of--I did not want to die myself; I was afraid of our being drowned together. If it had been any use I should have prayed--I should have prayed that something might befall him. I should have prayed that he might sink out of my sight and leave me alone. I knew no way of killing hint there, but I did, I did kill him in my thoughts."

She sank into silence for a minute, submerged by the weight of memory which no words could represent.

"But yet, all the while I felt that I was getting more wicked. And what had been with me so much, came to me just then--what you once said--about dreading to increase my wrong-doing and my remorse--I should hope for nothing then. It was all like a writing of fire within me. Getting wicked was misery--being shut out forever from knowing what you--what better lives were. That had always been coming back to me then--but yet with a despair--a feeling that it was no use--evil wishes were too strong. I remember then letting go the tiller and saying 'God help me!' But then I was forced to take it again and go on; and the evil longings, the evil prayers came again and blotted everything else dim, till, in the midst of them--I don't know how it was--he was turning the sail--there was a gust-- he was struck--I know nothing--I only know that I saw my wish outside me."

She began to speak more hurriedly, and in more of a whisper.

"I saw him sink, and my heart gave a leap as if it were going out of me. I think I did not move. I kept my hands tight. It was long enough for me to be glad, and yet to think it was no use--he would come up again. And he was come--farther off--the boat had moved. It was all like lightning. 'The rope!' he called out in a voice--not his own--I hear it now--and I stooped for the rope--I felt I must--I felt sure he could swim, and he would come back whether or not, and I dreaded him. That was in my mind--he would come back. But he was gone down again, and I had the rope in my hand--no, there he was again--his face above the water--and he cried again--and I held my hand, and my heart said, 'Die!'--and he sank; and I felt 'It is done--I am wicked, I am lost!--and I had the rope in my hand-- I don't know what I thought--I was leaping away from myself--I would have saved him then. I was leaping from my crime, and there it was--close to me as I fell--there was the dead face--dead, dead. It can never be altered. That was what happened. That was what I did. You know it all. It can never be altered."

She sank back in her chair, exhausted with the agitation of memory and speech. Deronda felt the burden on his spirit less heavy than the foregoing dread. The word "guilty" had held a possibility of interpretations worse than the fact; and Gwendolen's confession, for the very reason that her conscience made her dwell on the determining power of her evil thoughts, convinced him the more that there had been throughout a counterbalancing struggle of her better will. It seemed almost certain that her murderous thought had had no outward effect--that, quite apart from it, the death was inevitable. Still, a question as to the outward effectiveness of a criminal desire dominant enough to impel even a momentary act, cannot alter our judgment of the desire; and Deronda shrank from putting that question forward in the first instance. He held it likely that Gwendolen's remorse aggravated her inward guilt, and that she gave the character of decisive action to what had been an inappreciably instantaneous glance of desire. But her remorse was the precious sign of a recoverable nature; it was the culmination of that self-disapproval which had been the awakening of a new life within her; it marked her off from the criminals whose only regret is failure in securing their evil wish. Deronda could not utter one word to diminish that sacred aversion to her worst self--that thorn-pressure which must come with the crowning of the sorrowful better, suffering because of the worse. All this mingled thought and feeling kept him silent; speech was too momentous to be ventured on rashly. There were no words of comfort that did not carry some sacrilege. If he had opened his lips to speak, he could only have echoed, "It can never be altered--it remains unaltered, to alter other things." But he was silent and motionless--he did not know how long--before he turned to look at her, and saw her sunk back with closed eyes, like a lost, weary, storm- beaten white doe, unable to rise and pursue its unguided way. He rose and stood before her. The movement touched her consciousness, and she opened her eyes with a slight quivering that seemed like fear.

"You must rest now. Try to rest: try to sleep. And may I see you again this evening--to-morrow--when you have had some rest? Let us say no more now."

The tears came, and she could not answer except by a slight movement of the head. Deronda rang for attendance, spoke urgently of the necessity that she should be got to rest, and then left her.

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