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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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"Within the gentle heart Love shelters him, As birds within the green shade of the grove. Before the gentle heart, in Nature's scheme, Love was not, nor the gentle heart ere Love." --GUIDO GUNICELLI (Rossetti's Translation).

There was another house besides the white house at Pennicote, another breast besides Rex Gascoigne's, in which the news of Grandcourt's death caused both strong agitation and the effort to repress it.

It was Hans Meyrick's habit to send or bring in the Times for his mother's reading. She was a great reader of news, from the widest-reaching politics to the list of marriages; the latter, she said, giving her the pleasant sense of finishing the fashionable novels without having read them, and seeing the heroes and heroines happy without knowing what poor creatures they were. On a Wednesday, there were reasons why Hans always chose to bring the paper, and to do so about the time that Mirah had nearly ended giving Mab her weekly lesson, avowing that he came then because he wanted to hear Mirah sing. But on the particular Wednesday now in question, after entering the house as quietly as usual with his latch- key, he appeared in the parlor, shaking the Times aloft with a crackling noise, in remorseless interruption of Mab's attempt to render Lascia ch'io pianga with a remote imitation of her teacher. Piano and song ceased immediately; Mirah, who had been playing the accompaniment, involuntarily started up and turned round, the crackling sound, after the occasional trick of sounds, having seemed to her something thunderous; and Mab said--

"O-o-o, Hans! why do you bring a more horrible noise than my singing?"

"What on earth is the wonderful news?" said Mrs. Meyrick, who was the only other person in the room. "Anything about Italy--anything about the Austrians giving up Venice?"

"Nothing about Italy, but something from Italy," said Hans, with a peculiarity in his tone and manner which set his mother interpreting. Imagine how some of us feel and behave when an event, not disagreeable seems to be confirming and carrying out our private constructions. We say, "What do you think?" in a pregnant tone to some innocent person who has not embarked his wisdom in the same boat with ours, and finds our information flat.

"Nothing bad?" said Mrs. Meyrick anxiously, thinking immediately of Deronda; and Mirah's heart had been already clutched by the same thought.

"Not bad for anybody we care much about," said Hans, quickly; "rather uncommonly lucky, I think. I never knew anybody die conveniently before. Considering what a dear gazelle I am, I am constantly wondering to find myself alive."

"Oh me, Hans!" said Mab, impatiently, "if you must talk of yourself, let it be behind your own back. What is it that has happened?"

"Duke Alfonso is drowned, and the Duchess is alive, that's all," said Hans, putting the paper before Mrs. Meyrick, with his finger against a paragraph. "But more than all is--Deronda was at Genoa in the same hotel with them, and he saw her brought in by the fishermen who had got her out of the water time enough to save her from any harm. It seems they saw her jump in after her husband, which was a less judicious action than I should have expected of the Duchess. However Deronda is a lucky fellow in being there to take care of her."

Mirah had sunk on the music stool again, with her eyelids down and her hands tightly clasped; and Mrs. Meyrick, giving up the paper to Mab, said--

"Poor thing! she must have been fond of her husband to jump in after him."

"It was an inadvertence--a little absence of mind," said Hans, creasing his face roguishly, and throwing himself into a chair not far from Mirah. "Who can be fond of a jealous baritone, with freezing glances, always singing asides?--that was the husband's role, depend upon it. Nothing can be neater than his getting drowned. The Duchess is at liberty now to marry a man with a fine head of hair, and glances that will melt instead of freezing her. And I shall be invited to the wedding."

Here Mirah started from her sitting posture, and fixing her eyes on Hans, with an angry gleam in them, she said, in a deeply-shaken voice of indignation--

"Mr. Hans, you ought not to speak in that way. Mr. Deronda would not like you to speak so. Why will you say he is lucky--why will you use words of that sort about life and death--when what is life to one is death to another? How do you know it would be lucky if he loved Mrs. Grandcourt? It might be a great evil to him. She would take him away from my brother--I know she would. Mr. Deronda would not call that lucky to pierce my brother's heart."

All three were struck with the sudden transformation. Mirah's face, with a look of anger that might have suited Ithuriel, pale, even to the lips that were usually so rich of tint, was not far from poor Hans, who sat transfixed, blushing under it as if he had been a girl, while he said, nervously--

"I am a fool and a brute, and I withdraw every word. I'll go and hang myself like Judas--if it's allowable to mention him." Even in Hans's sorrowful moments, his improvised words had inevitably some drollery.

But Mirah's anger was not appeased: how could it be? She had burst into indignant speech as creatures in intense pain bite and make their teeth meet even through their own flesh, by way of making their agony bearable. She said no more, but, seating herself at the piano, pressed the sheet of music before her, as if she thought of beginning to play again.

It was Mab who spoke, while. Mrs. Meyrick's face seemed to reflect some of Hans' discomfort.

"Mirah is quite right to scold you, Hans. You are always taking Mr. Deronda's name in vain. And it is horrible, joking in that way about his marrying Mrs. Grandcourt. Men's minds must be very black, I think," ended Mab, with much scorn.

"Quite true, my dear," said Hans, in a low tone, rising and turning on his heel to walk toward the back window.

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