George Eliot, Daniel Deronda: Vol. 7, Ch. 1

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Book VII — The Mother and the Son

Chapter L.

        "If some mortal, born too soon,
  Were laid away in some great trance—the ages
  Coming and going all the while—till dawned
  His true time's advent; and could then record
  The words they spoke who kept watch by his bed,
  Then I might tell more of the breath so light
  Upon my eyelids, and the fingers warm
  Among my hair. Youth is confused; yet never
  So dull was I but, when that spirit passed,
  I turned to him, scarce consciously, as turns
  A water-snake when fairies cross his sleep."
                    —BROWNING: Paracelsus.

This was the letter which Sir Hugo put into Deronda's hands:—


My good friend and yours, Sir Hugo Mallinger, will have told you that I wish to see you. My health is shaken, and I desire there should be no time lost before I deliver to you what I have long withheld. Let nothing hinder you from being at the Albergo dell' Italia in Genoa by the fourteenth of this month. Wait for me there. I am uncertain when I shall be able to make the journey from Spezia, where I shall be staying. That will depend on several things. Wait for me—the Princess Halm-Eberstein. Bring with you the diamond ring that Sir Hugo gave you. I shall like to see it again.—Your unknown mother,


This letter with its colorless wording gave Deronda no clue to what was in reserve for him; but he could not do otherwise than accept Sir Hugo's reticence, which seemed to imply some pledge not to anticipate the mother's disclosures; and the discovery that his life-long conjectures had been mistaken checked further surmise. Deronda could not hinder his imagination from taking a quick flight over what seemed possibilities, but he refused to contemplate any of them as more likely than another, lest he should be nursing it into a dominant desire or repugnance, instead of simply preparing himself with resolve to meet the fact bravely, whatever it might turn out to be.

In this state of mind he could not have communicated to any one the reason for the absence which in some quarters he was obliged to mention beforehand, least of all to Mordecai, whom it would affect as powerfully as it did himself, only in rather a different way. If he were to say, "I am going to learn the truth about my birth," Mordecai's hope would gather what might prove a painful, dangerous excitement. To exclude suppositions, he spoke of his journey as being undertaken by Sir Hugo's wish, and threw as much indifference as he could into his manner of announcing it, saying he was uncertain of its duration, but it would perhaps be very short.

"I will ask to have the child Jacob to stay with me," said Mordecai, comforting himself in this way, after the first mournful glances.

"I will drive round and ask Mrs. Cohen to let him come," said Mirah.

"The grandmother will deny you nothing," said Deronda. "I'm glad you were a little wrong as well as I," he added, smiling at Mordecai. "You thought that old Mrs. Cohen would not bear to see Mirah."