"One day still fierce 'mid many a day struck calm."
--BROWNING: _The King and the Book_.
Meanwhile Ezra and Mirah, whom Gwendolen did not include in her thinking about Deronda, were having their relation to him drawn closer and brought into fuller light.
The father Lapidoth had quitted his daughter at the doorstep, ruled by that possibility of staking something in play of betting which presented itself with the handling of any sum beyond the price of staying actual hunger, and left no care for alternative prospects or resolutions. Until he had lost everything he never considered whether he would apply to Mirah again or whether he would brave his son's presence. In the first moment he had shrunk from encountering Ezra as he would have shrunk from any other situation of disagreeable constraint; and the possession of Mirah's purse was enough to banish the thought of future necessities. The gambling appetite is more absolutely dominant than bodily hunger, which can be neutralized by an emotional or intellectual excitation; but the passion for watching chances--the habitual suspensive poise of the mind in actual or imaginary play--nullifies the susceptibility of other excitation. In its final, imperious stage, it seems the unjoyous dissipation of demons, seeking diversion on the burning marl of perdition.
But every form of selfishness, however abstract and unhuman, requires the support of at least one meal a day; and though Lapidoth's appetite for food and drink was extremely moderate, he had slipped into a shabby, unfriendly form of life in which the appetite could not be satisfied without some ready money. When, in a brief visit at a house which announced "Pyramids" on the window-blind, he had first doubled and trebled and finally lost Mirah's thirty shillings, he went out with her empty purse in his pocket, already balancing in his mind whether he should get another immediate stake by pawning the purse, or whether he should go back to her giving himself a good countenance by restoring the purse, and declaring that he had used the money in paying a score that was standing against him. Besides, among the sensibilities still left strong in Lapidoth was the sensibility to his own claims, and he appeared to himself to have a claim on any property his children might possess, which was stronger than the justice of his son's resentment. After all, to take up his lodging with his children was the best thing he could do; and the more he thought of meeting Ezra the less he winced from it, his imagination being more wrought on by the chances of his getting something into his pocket with safety and without exertion, than by the threat of a private humiliation. Luck had been against him lately; he expected it to turn--and might not the turn begin with some opening of supplies which would present itself through his daughter's affairs and the good friends she had spoken of? Lapidoth counted on the fascination of his cleverness--an old habit of mind which early experience had sanctioned: and it is not only women who are unaware of their diminished charm, or imagine that they can feign not to be worn out.
The result of Lapidoth's rapid balancing was that he went toward the little square in Brompton with the hope that, by walking about and watching, he might catch sight of Mirah going out or returning, in which case his entrance into the house would be made easier. But it was already evening--the evening of the day next to that which he had first seen her; and after a little waiting, weariness made him reflect that he might ring, and if she were not at home he might ask the time at which she was expected. But on coming near the house he knew that she was at home: he heard her singing.
Mirah, seated at the piano, was pouring forth "_Herz, mein Herz_," while Ezra was listening with his eyes shut, when Mrs. Adam opened the door, and said in some embarrassment--
"A gentleman below says he is your father, miss."
"I will go down to him," said Mirah, starting up immediately and looking at her brother.
"No, Mirah, not so," said Ezra, with decision. "Let him come up, Mrs. Adam."
Mirah stood with her hands pinching each other, and feeling sick with anxiety, while she continued looking at Ezra, who had also risen, and was evidently much shaken. But there was an expression in his face which she had never seen before; his brow was knit, his lips seemed hardened with the same severity that gleamed from his eye.
When Mrs. Adam opened the door to let in the father, she could not help casting a look at the group, and after glancing from the younger man to the elder, said to herself as she closed the door, "Father, sure enough." The likeness was that of outline, which is always most striking at the first moment; the expression had been wrought into the strongest contrasts by such hidden or inconspicuous differences as can make the genius of a Cromwell within the outward type of a father who was no more than a respectable parishioner.
Lapidoth had put on a melancholy expression beforehand, but there was some real wincing in his frame as he said--
"Well, Ezra, my boy, you hardly know me after so many years."
"I know you--too well--father," said Ezra, with a slow biting solemnity which made the word father a reproach.
"Ah, you are not pleased with me. I don't wonder at it. Appearances have been against me. When a man gets into straits he can't do just as he would by himself or anybody else, _I_'ve suffered enough, I know," said Lapidoth, quickly. In speaking he always recovered some glibness and hardihood; and now turning toward Mirah, he held out her purse, saying, "Here's your little purse, my dear. I thought you'd be anxious about it because of that bit of writing. I've emptied it, you'll see, for I had a score to pay for food and lodging. I knew you would like me to clear myself, and here I stand--without a single farthing in my pocket--at the mercy of my children; You can turn me out if you like, without getting a policeman. Say the word, Mirah; say, 'Father, I've had enough of you; you made a pet of me, and spent your all on me, when I couldn't have done without you; but I can do better without you now,'--say that, and I'm gone out like a spark. I shan't spoil your pleasure again." The tears were in his voice as usual, before he had finished.
"You know I could never say it, father," answered Mirah, with not the less anguish because she felt the falsity of everything in his speech except the implied wish to remain in the house.
"Mirah, my sister, leave us!" said Ezra, in a tone of authority.
She looked at her brother falteringly, beseechingly--in awe of his decision, yet unable to go without making a plea for this father who was like something that had grown in her flesh with pain. She went close to her brother, and putting her hand in his, said, in a low voice, but not so low as to be unheard by Lapidoth, "Remember, Ezra--you said my mother would not have shut him out."
"Trust me, and go," said Ezra.
She left the room, but after going a few steps up the stairs, sat down with a palpitating heart. If, because of anything her brother said to him, he went away---
Lapidoth had some sense of what was being prepared for him in his son's mind, but he was beginning to adjust himself to the situation and find a point of view that would give him a cool superiority to any attempt at humiliating him. This haggard son, speaking as from a sepulchre, had the incongruity which selfish levity learns to see in suffering, and until the unrelenting pincers of disease clutch its own flesh. Whatever preaching he might deliver must be taken for a matter of course, as a man finding shelter from hail in an open cathedral! might take a little religious howling that happened to be going on there.
Lapidoth was not born with this sort of callousness: he had achieved it.
"This home that we have here," Ezra began, "is maintained partly by the generosity of a beloved friend who supports me, and partly by the labors of my sister, who supports herself. While we have a home we will not shut you out from it. We will not cast you out to the mercy of your vices. For you are our father, and though you have broken your bond, we acknowledge ours. But I will never trust you. You absconded with money, leaving your debts unpaid; you forsook my mother; you robbed her of her little child and broke her heart; you have become a gambler, and where shame and conscience were there sits an insatiable desire; you were ready to sell my sister--you had sold her, but the price was denied you. The man who has done these things must never expect to be trusted any more. We will share our food with you--you shall have a bed, and clothing. We will do this duty to you, because you are our father. But you will never be trusted. You are an evil man: you made the misery of our mother. That such a man is our father is a brand on our flesh which will not cease smarting. But the Eternal has laid it upon us; and though human justice were to flog you for crimes, and your body fell helpless before the public scorn, we would still say, 'This is our father; make way, that we may carry him out of your sight.'"
Lapidoth, in adjusting himself to what was coming, had not been able to foresee the exact intensity of the lightning or the exact course it would take--that it would not fall outside his frame but through it. He could not foresee what was so new to him as this voice from the soul of his son. It touched that spring of hysterical excitability which Mirah used to witness in him when he sat at home and sobbed. As Ezra ended, Lapidoth threw himself into a chair and cried like a woman, burying his face against the table--and yet, strangely, while this hysterical crying was an inevitable reaction in him under the stress of his son's words, it was also a conscious resource in a difficulty; just as in early life, when he was a bright-faced curly young man, he had been used to avail himself of this subtly-poised physical susceptibility to turn the edge of resentment or disapprobation.
Ezra sat down again and said nothing--exhausted by the shock of his own irrepressible utterance, the outburst of feelings which for years he had borne in solitude and silence. His thin hands trembled on the arms of the chair; he would hardly have found voice to answer a question; he felt as if he had taken a step toward beckoning Death. Meanwhile Mirah's quick expectant ear detected a sound which her heart recognized: she could not stay out of the room any longer. But on opening the door her immediate alarm was for Ezra, and it was to his side that she went, taking his trembling hand in hers, which he pressed and found support in; but he did not speak or even look at her. The father with his face buried was conscious that Mirah had entered, and presently lifted up his head, pressed his handkerchief against his eyes, put out his hand toward her, and said with plaintive hoarseness, "Good-bye, Mirah; your father will not trouble you again. He deserves to die like a dog by the roadside, and he will. If your mother had lived, she would have forgiven me--thirty-four years ago I put the ring on her finger under the _Chuppa_, and we were made one. She would have forgiven me, and we should have spent our old age together. But I haven't deserved it. Good-bye."
He rose from the chair as he said the last "good-bye." Mirah had put her hand in his and held him. She was not tearful and grieving, but frightened and awe-struck, as she cried out--
"No, father, no!" Then turning to her brother, "Ezra, you have not forbidden him?--Stay, father, and leave off wrong things. Ezra, I cannot bear it. How can I say to my father, 'Go and die!'"
"I have not said it," Ezra answered, with great effort. "I have said, stay and be sheltered."
"Then you will stay, father--and be taken care of--and come with me," said Mirah, drawing him toward the door.
This was really what Lapidoth wanted. And for the moment he felt a sort of comfort in recovering his daughter's dutiful attendance, that made a change of habits seem possible to him. She led him down to the parlor below, and said--
"This is my sitting-room when I am not with Ezra, and there is a bed-room behind which shall be yours. You will stay and be good, father. Think that you are come back to my mother, and that she has forgiven you--she speaks to you through me." Mirah's tones were imploring, but she could not give one of her former caresses.
Lapidoth quickly recovered his composure, began to speak to Mirah of the improvement in her voice, and other easy subjects, and when Mrs. Adam came to lay out his supper, entered into converse with her in order to show her that he was not a common person, though his clothes were just now against him.
But in his usual wakefulness at night, he fell to wondering what money Mirah had by her, and went back over old Continental hours at _Roulette_, reproducing the method of his play, and the chances that had frustrated it. He had had his reasons for coming to England, but for most things it was a cursed country.
These were the stronger visions of the night with Lapidoth, and not the worn frame of his ireful son uttering a terrible judgment. Ezra did pass across the gaming-table, and his words were audible; but he passed like an insubstantial ghost, and his words had the heart eaten out of them by numbers and movements that seemed to make the very tissue of Lapidoth's consciousness.
The godhead in us wrings our noble deeds
From our reluctant selves.
It was an unpleasant surprise to Deronda when he returned from the Abbey to find the undesirable father installed in the lodgings at Brompton. Mirah had felt it necessary to speak of Deronda to her father, and even to make him as fully aware as she could of the way in which the friendship with Ezra had begun, and of the sympathy which had cemented it. She passed more lightly over what Deronda had done for her, omitting altogether the rescue from drowning, and speaking of the shelter she had found in Mrs. Meyrick's family so as to leave her father to suppose that it was through these friends Deronda had become acquainted with her. She could not persuade herself to more completeness in her narrative: she could not let the breath of her father's soul pass over her relation to Deronda. And Lapidoth, for reasons, was not eager in his questioning about the circumstances of her flight and arrival in England. But he was much interested in the fact of his children having a beneficent friend apparently high in the world.
It was the brother who told Deronda of this new condition added to their life. "I am become calm in beholding him now," Ezra ended, "and I try to think it possible that my sister's tenderness, and the daily tasting a life of peace, may win him to remain aloof from temptation. I have enjoined her, and she has promised, to trust him with no money. I have convinced her that he will buy with it his own destruction."
Deronda first came on the third day from Ladipoth's arrival. The new clothes for which he had been measured were not yet ready, and wishing to make a favorable impression, he did not choose to present himself in the old ones. He watched for Deronda's departure, and, getting a view of him from the window, was rather surprised at his youthfulness, which Mirah had not mentioned, and which he had somehow thought out of the question in a personage who had taken up a grave friendship and hoary studies with the sepulchral Ezra. Lapidoth began to imagine that Deronda's real or chief motive must be that he was in love with Mirah. And so much the better; for a tie to Mirah had more promise of indulgence for her father than a tie to Ezra: and Lapidoth was not without the hope of recommending himself to Deronda, and of softening any hard prepossessions. He was behaving with much amiability, and trying in all ways at his command to get himself into easy domestication with his children--entering into Mirah's music, showing himself docile about smoking, which Mrs. Adam could not tolerate in her parlor, and walking out in the square with his German pipe, and the tobacco with which Mirah supplied him. He was too acute to offer any present remonstrance against the refusal of money, which Mirah told him that she must persist in as a solemn duty promised to her brother. He was comfortable enough to wait.
The next time Deronda came, Lapidoth, equipped in his new clothes, and satisfied with his own appearance, was in the room with Ezra, who was teaching himself, as a part of his severe duty, to tolerate his father's presence whenever it was imposed. Deronda was cold and distant, the first sight of this man, who had blighted the lives of his wife and children, creating in him a repulsion that was even a physical discomfort. But Lapidoth did not let himself be discouraged, asked leave to stay and hear the reading of papers from the old chest, and actually made himself useful in helping to decipher some difficult German manuscript. This led him to suggest that it might be desirable to make a transcription of the manuscript, and he offered his services for this purpose, and also to make copies of any papers in Roman characters. Though Ezra's young eyes he observed were getting weak, his own were still strong. Deronda accepted the offer, thinking that Lapidoth showed a sign of grace in the willingness to be employed usefully; and he saw a gratified expression in Ezra's face, who, however, presently said, "Let all the writing be done here; for I cannot trust the papers out of my sight, lest there be an accident by burning or otherwise." Poor Ezra felt very much as if he had a convict on leave under his charge. Unless he saw his father working, it was not possible to believe that he would work in good faith. But by this arrangement he fastened on himself the burden of his father's presence, which was made painful not only through his deepest, longest associations, but also through Lapidoth's restlessness of temperament, which showed itself the more as he become familiarized with his situation, and lost any awe he had felt of his son. The fact was, he was putting a strong constraint on himself in confining his attention for the sake of winning Deronda's favor; and like a man in an uncomfortable garment he gave himself relief at every opportunity, going out to smoke, or moving about and talking, or throwing himself back in his chair and remaining silent, but incessantly carrying on a dumb language of facial movement or gesticulation: and if Mirah were in the room, he would fall into his old habit of talk with her, gossiping about their former doings and companions, or repeating quirks and stories, and plots of the plays he used to adapt, in the belief that he could at will command the vivacity of his earlier time. All this was a mortal infliction to Ezra; and when Mirah was at home she tried to relieve him, by getting her father down into the parlor and keeping watch over him there. What duty is made of a single difficult resolve? The difficulty lies in the daily unflinching support of consequences that mar the blessed return of morning with the prospect of irritation to be suppressed or shame to be endured. And such consequences were being borne by these, as by many other heroic children of an unworthy father--with the prospect, at least to Mirah, of their stretching onward through the solid part of life.
Meanwhile Lapidoth's presence had raised a new impalpable partition between Deronda and Mirah--each of them dreading the soiling inferences of his mind, each of them interpreting mistakenly the increased reserve and diffidence of the other. But it was not very long before some light came to Deronda.
As soon as he could, after returning from his brief visit to the Abbey, he had called at Hans Meyrick's rooms, feeling it, on more grounds than one, a due of friendship that Hans should be at once acquainted with the reasons of his late journey, and the changes of intention it had brought about. Hans was not there; he was said to be in the country for a few days; and Deronda, after leaving a note, waited a week, rather expecting a note in return. But receiving no word, and fearing some freak of feeling in the incalculably susceptible Hans, whose proposed sojourn at the Abbey he knew had been deferred, he at length made a second call, and was admitted into the painting-room, where he found his friend in a light coat, without a waistcoat, his long hair still wet from a bath, but with a face looking worn and wizened--anything but country-like. He had taken up his palette and brushes, and stood before his easel when Deronda entered, but the equipment and attitude seemed to have been got up on short notice.
As they shook hands, Deronda said, "You don't look much as if you had been in the country, old fellow. Is it Cambridge you have been to?"
"No," said Hans, curtly, throwing down his palette with the air of one who has begun to feign by mistake; then pushing forward a chair for Deronda, he threw himself into another, and leaned backward with his hands behind his head, while he went on, "I've been to I-don't-know-where--No man's land--and a mortally unpleasant country it is."
"You don't mean to say you have been drinking, Hans," said Deronda, who had seated himself opposite, in anxious survey.
"Nothing so good. I've been smoking opium. I always meant to do it some time or other, to try how much bliss could be got by it; and having found myself just now rather out of other bliss, I thought it judicious to seize the opportunity. But I pledge you my word I shall never tap a cask of that bliss again. It disagrees with my constitution."
"What has been the matter? You were in good spirits enough when you wrote to me."
"Oh, nothing in particular. The world began to look seedy--a sort of cabbage-garden with all the cabbages cut. A malady of genius, you may be sure," said Hans, creasing his face into a smile; "and, in fact, I was tired of being virtuous without reward, especially in this hot London weather."
"Nothing else? No real vexation?" said Deronda.
Hans shook his head.
"I came to tell you of my own affairs, but I can't do it with a good grace if you are to hide yours."
"Haven't an affair in the world," said Hans, in a flighty way, "except a quarrel with a bric-a-brac man. Besides, as it is the first time in our lives that you ever spoke to me about your own affairs, you are only beginning to pay a pretty long debt."
Deronda felt convinced that Hans was behaving artificially, but he trusted to a return of the old frankness by-and-by if he gave his own confidence.
"You laughed at the mystery of my journey to Italy, Hans," he began. "It was for an object that touched my happiness at the very roots. I had never known anything about my parents, and I really went to Genoa to meet my mother. My father has been long dead--died when I was an infant. My mother was the daughter of an eminent Jew; my father was her cousin. Many things had caused me to think of this origin as almost a probability before I set out. I was so far prepared for the result that I was glad of it--glad to find myself a Jew."
"You must not expect me to look surprised, Deronda," said Hans, who had changed his attitude, laying one leg across the other and examining the heel of his slipper.
"You knew it?"
"My mother told me. She went to the house the morning after you had been there--brother and sister both told her. You may imagine we can't rejoice as they do. But whatever you are glad of, I shall come to be glad of in the end--_when_ exactly the end may be I can't predict," said Hans, speaking in a low tone, which was as usual with him as it was to be out of humor with his lot, and yet bent on making no fuss about it.
"I quite understand that you can't share my feeling," said Deronda; "but I could not let silence lie between us on what casts quite a new light over my future. I have taken up some of Mordecai's ideas, and I mean to try and carry them out, so far as one man's efforts can go. I dare say I shall by and by travel to the East and be away for some years."
Hans said nothing, but rose, seized his palette and began to work his brush on it, standing before his picture with his back to Deronda, who also felt himself at a break in his path embarrassed by Hans's embarrassment.
Presently Hans said, again speaking low, and without turning, "Excuse the question, but does Mrs. Grandcourt know of all this?"
"No; and I must beg of you, Hans," said Deronda, rather angrily, "to cease joking on that subject. Any notions you have are wide of the truth--are the very reverse of the truth."
"I am no more inclined to joke than I shall be at my own funeral," said Hans. "But I am not at all sure that you are aware what are my notions on that subject."
"Perhaps not," said Deronda. "But let me say, once for all, that in relation to Mrs. Grandcourt, I never have had, and never shall have the position of a lover. If you have ever seriously put that interpretation on anything you have observed, you are supremely mistaken."
There was silence a little while, and to each the silence was like an irritating air, exaggerating discomfort.
"Perhaps I have been mistaken in another interpretation, also," said Hans, presently.
"What is that?"
"That you had no wish to hold the position of a lover toward another woman, who is neither wife nor widow."
"I can't pretend not to understand you, Meyrick. It is painful that our wishes should clash. I hope you will tell me if you have any ground for supposing that you would succeed."
"That seems rather a superfluous inquiry on your part, Deronda," said Hans, with some irritation.
"Because you are perfectly convinced on the subject--and probably have had the very best evidence to convince you."
"I will be more frank with you than you are with me," said Deronda, still heated by Hans' show of temper, and yet sorry for him. "I have never had the slightest evidence that I should succeed myself. In fact, I have very little hope."
Hans looked round hastily at his friend, but immediately turned to his picture again.
"And in our present situation," said Deronda, hurt by the idea that Hans suspected him of insincerity, and giving an offended emphasis to his words, "I don't see how I can deliberately make known my feeling to her. If she could not return it, I should have embittered her best comfort; for neither she nor I can be parted from her brother, and we should have to meet continually. If I were to cause her that sort of pain by an unwilling betrayal of my feeling, I should be no better than a mischievous animal."
"I don't know that I have ever betrayed _my_ feeling to her," said Hans, as if he were vindicating himself.
"You mean that we are on a level, then; you have no reason to envy me."
"Oh, not the slightest," said Hans, with bitter irony. "You have measured my conceit and know that it out-tops all your advantages."
"I am a nuisance to you, Meyrick. I am sorry, but I can't help it," said Deronda, rising. "After what passed between us before, I wished to have this explanation; and I don't see that any pretensions of mine have made a real difference to you. They are not likely to make any pleasant difference to myself under present circumstances. Now the father is there --did you know that the father is there?"
"Yes. If he were not a Jew I would permit myself to damn him--with faint praise, I mean," said Hans, but with no smile.
"She and I meet under greater constraint than ever. Things might go on in this way for two years without my getting any insight into her feeling toward me. That is the whole state of affairs, Hans. Neither you nor I have injured the other, that I can see. We must put up with this sort of rivalry in a hope that is likely enough to come to nothing. Our friendship can bear that strain, surely."
"No, it can't," said Hans, impetuously, throwing down his tools, thrusting his hands into his coat-pockets, and turning round to face Deronda, who drew back a little and looked at him with amazement. Hans went on in the same tone--
"Our friendship--my friendship--can't bear the strain of behaving to you like an ungrateful dastard and grudging you your happiness. For you _are_ the happiest dog in the world. If Mirah loves anybody better than her brother, _you are the man_."
Hans turned on his heel and threw himself into his chair, looking up at Deronda with an expression the reverse of tender. Something like a shock passed through Deronda, and, after an instant, he said--
"It is a good-natured fiction of yours, Hans."
"I am not in a good-natured mood. I assure you I found the fact disagreeable when it was thrust on me--all the more, or perhaps all the less, because I believed then that your heart was pledged to the duchess. But now, confound you! you turn out to be in love in the right place--a Jew--and everything eligible."
"Tell me what convinced you--there's a good fellow," said Deronda, distrusting a delight that he was unused to.
"Don't ask. Little mother was witness. The upshot is, that Mirah is jealous of the duchess, and the sooner you relieve your mind the better. There! I've cleared off a score or two, and may be allowed to swear at you for getting what you deserve--which is just the very best luck I know of."
"God bless you, Hans!" said Deronda, putting out his hand, which the other took and wrung in silence.