The Project Gutenberg EBook of Silas Marner, by George Eliot

 

 

Title: Silas Marner

       The Weaver of Raveloe

 

Author: George Eliot

 

Posting Date: October 10, 2008 [EBook #550]

Release Date: June, 1996

 

Language: English

 

Character set encoding: ASCII

 

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SILAS MARNER ***

 

 

SILAS MARNER

 

The Weaver of Raveloe

 

 

by

 

George Eliot

 

(Mary Anne Evans)

 

 

 

1861

 

 

 

  "A child, more than all other gifts

  That earth can offer to declining man,

  Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts."

    --WORDSWORTH.

 

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

 

CHAPTER I

 

In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the

farmhouses--and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had

their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak--there might be seen in

districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills,

certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny

country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race.  The

shepherd's dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men

appeared on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what

dog likes a figure bent under a heavy bag?--and these pale men rarely

stirred abroad without that mysterious burden.  The shepherd himself,

though he had good reason to believe that the bag held nothing but

flaxen thread, or else the long rolls of strong linen spun from that

thread, was not quite sure that this trade of weaving, indispensable

though it was, could be carried on entirely without the help of the

Evil One.  In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every

person or thing that was at all unwonted, or even intermittent and

occasional merely, like the visits of the pedlar or the knife-grinder.

No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and

how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who

knew his father and mother? To the peasants of old times, the world

outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and

mystery: to their untravelled thought a state of wandering was a

conception as dim as the winter life of the swallows that came back

with the spring; and even a settler, if he came from distant parts,

hardly ever ceased to be viewed with a remnant of distrust, which would

have prevented any surprise if a long course of inoffensive conduct on

his part had ended in the commission of a crime; especially if he had

any reputation for knowledge, or showed any skill in handicraft.  All

cleverness, whether in the rapid use of that difficult instrument the

tongue, or in some other art unfamiliar to villagers, was in itself

suspicious: honest folk, born and bred in a visible manner, were mostly

not overwise or clever--at least, not beyond such a matter as knowing

the signs of the weather; and the process by which rapidity and

dexterity of any kind were acquired was so wholly hidden, that they

partook of the nature of conjuring.  In this way it came to pass that

those scattered linen-weavers--emigrants from the town into the

country--were to the last regarded as aliens by their rustic

neighbours, and usually contracted the eccentric habits which belong to

a state of loneliness.

 

In the early years of this century, such a linen-weaver, named Silas

Marner, worked at his vocation in a stone cottage that stood among the

nutty hedgerows near the village of Raveloe, and not far from the edge

of a deserted stone-pit.  The questionable sound of Silas's loom, so

unlike the natural cheerful trotting of the winnowing-machine, or the

simpler rhythm of the flail, had a half-fearful fascination for the

Raveloe boys, who would often leave off their nutting or birds'-nesting

to peep in at the window of the stone cottage, counterbalancing a

certain awe at the mysterious action of the loom, by a pleasant sense

of scornful superiority, drawn from the mockery of its alternating

noises, along with the bent, tread-mill attitude of the weaver.  But

sometimes it happened that Marner, pausing to adjust an irregularity in

his thread, became aware of the small scoundrels, and, though chary of

his time, he liked their intrusion so ill that he would descend from

his loom, and, opening the door, would fix on them a gaze that was

always enough to make them take to their legs in terror.  For how was

it possible to believe that those large brown protuberant eyes in Silas

Marner's pale face really saw nothing very distinctly that was not

close to them, and not rather that their dreadful stare could dart

cramp, or rickets, or a wry mouth at any boy who happened to be in the

rear?  They had, perhaps, heard their fathers and mothers hint that

Silas Marner could cure folks' rheumatism if he had a mind, and add,

still more darkly, that if you could only speak the devil fair enough,

he might save you the cost of the doctor.  Such strange lingering

echoes of the old demon-worship might perhaps even now be caught by the

diligent listener among the grey-haired peasantry; for the rude mind

with difficulty associates the ideas of power and benignity.  A shadowy

conception of power that by much persuasion can be induced to refrain

from inflicting harm, is the shape most easily taken by the sense of

the Invisible in the minds of men who have always been pressed close by

primitive wants, and to whom a life of hard toil has never been

illuminated by any enthusiastic religious faith.  To them pain and

mishap present a far wider range of possibilities than gladness and

enjoyment: their imagination is almost barren of the images that feed

desire and hope, but is all overgrown by recollections that are a

perpetual pasture to fear. "Is there anything you can fancy that you

would like to eat?"  I once said to an old labouring man, who was in

his last illness, and who had refused all the food his wife had offered

him.  "No," he answered, "I've never been used to nothing but common

victual, and I can't eat that."  Experience had bred no fancies in him

that could raise the phantasm of appetite.

 

And Raveloe was a village where many of the old echoes lingered,

undrowned by new voices.  Not that it was one of those barren parishes

lying on the outskirts of civilization--inhabited by meagre sheep and

thinly-scattered shepherds: on the contrary, it lay in the rich central

plain of what we are pleased to call Merry England, and held farms

which, speaking from a spiritual point of view, paid highly-desirable

tithes.  But it was nestled in a snug well-wooded hollow, quite an

hour's journey on horseback from any turnpike, where it was never

reached by the vibrations of the coach-horn, or of public opinion.  It

was an important-looking village, with a fine old church and large

churchyard in the heart of it, and two or three large brick-and-stone

homesteads, with well-walled orchards and ornamental weathercocks,

standing close upon the road, and lifting more imposing fronts than the

rectory, which peeped from among the trees on the other side of the

churchyard:--a village which showed at once the summits of its social

life, and told the practised eye that there was no great park and

manor-house in the vicinity, but that there were several chiefs in

Raveloe who could farm badly quite at their ease, drawing enough money

from their bad farming, in those war times, to live in a rollicking

fashion, and keep a jolly Christmas, Whitsun, and Easter tide.

 

It was fifteen years since Silas Marner had first come to Raveloe; he

was then simply a pallid young man, with prominent short-sighted brown

eyes, whose appearance would have had nothing strange for people of

average culture and experience, but for the villagers near whom he had

come to settle it had mysterious peculiarities which corresponded with

the exceptional nature of his occupation, and his advent from an

unknown region called "North'ard".  So had his way of life:--he invited

no comer to step across his door-sill, and he never strolled into the

village to drink a pint at the Rainbow, or to gossip at the

wheelwright's: he sought no man or woman, save for the purposes of his

calling, or in order to supply himself with necessaries; and it was

soon clear to the Raveloe lasses that he would never urge one of them

to accept him against her will--quite as if he had heard them declare

that they would never marry a dead man come to life again.  This view

of Marner's personality was not without another ground than his pale

face and unexampled eyes; for Jem Rodney, the mole-catcher, averred

that one evening as he was returning homeward, he saw Silas Marner

leaning against a stile with a heavy bag on his back, instead of

resting the bag on the stile as a man in his senses would have done;

and that, on coming up to him, he saw that Marner's eyes were set like

a dead man's, and he spoke to him, and shook him, and his limbs were

stiff, and his hands clutched the bag as if they'd been made of iron;

but just as he had made up his mind that the weaver was dead, he came

all right again, like, as you might say, in the winking of an eye, and

said "Good-night", and walked off.  All this Jem swore he had seen,

more by token that it was the very day he had been mole-catching on

Squire Cass's land, down by the old saw-pit.  Some said Marner must

have been in a "fit", a word which seemed to explain things otherwise

incredible; but the argumentative Mr. Macey, clerk of the parish, shook

his head, and asked if anybody was ever known to go off in a fit and

not fall down.  A fit was a stroke, wasn't it?  and it was in the

nature of a stroke to partly take away the use of a man's limbs and

throw him on the parish, if he'd got no children to look to.  No, no;

it was no stroke that would let a man stand on his legs, like a horse

between the shafts, and then walk off as soon as you can say "Gee!"

But there might be such a thing as a man's soul being loose from his

body, and going out and in, like a bird out of its nest and back; and

that was how folks got over-wise, for they went to school in this

shell-less state to those who could teach them more than their

neighbours could learn with their five senses and the parson.  And

where did Master Marner get his knowledge of herbs from--and charms

too, if he liked to give them away?  Jem Rodney's story was no more

than what might have been expected by anybody who had seen how Marner

had cured Sally Oates, and made her sleep like a baby, when her heart

had been beating enough to burst her body, for two months and more,

while she had been under the doctor's care.  He might cure more folks

if he would; but he was worth speaking fair, if it was only to keep him

from doing you a mischief.

 

It was partly to this vague fear that Marner was indebted for

protecting him from the persecution that his singularities might have

drawn upon him, but still more to the fact that, the old linen-weaver

in the neighbouring parish of Tarley being dead, his handicraft made

him a highly welcome settler to the richer housewives of the district,

and even to the more provident cottagers, who had their little stock of

yarn at the year's end. Their sense of his usefulness would have

counteracted any repugnance or suspicion which was not confirmed by a

deficiency in the quality or the tale of the cloth he wove for them.

And the years had rolled on without producing any change in the

impressions of the neighbours concerning Marner, except the change from

novelty to habit.  At the end of fifteen years the Raveloe men said

just the same things about Silas Marner as at the beginning: they did

not say them quite so often, but they believed them much more strongly

when they did say them.  There was only one important addition which

the years had brought: it was, that Master Marner had laid by a fine

sight of money somewhere, and that he could buy up "bigger men" than

himself.

 

But while opinion concerning him had remained nearly stationary, and

his daily habits had presented scarcely any visible change, Marner's

inward life had been a history and a metamorphosis, as that of every

fervid nature must be when it has fled, or been condemned, to solitude.

His life, before he came to Raveloe, had been filled with the movement,

the mental activity, and the close fellowship, which, in that day as in

this, marked the life of an artisan early incorporated in a narrow

religious sect, where the poorest layman has the chance of

distinguishing himself by gifts of speech, and has, at the very least,

the weight of a silent voter in the government of his community.

Marner was highly thought of in that little hidden world, known to

itself as the church assembling in Lantern Yard; he was believed to be

a young man of exemplary life and ardent faith; and a peculiar interest

had been centred in him ever since he had fallen, at a prayer-meeting,

into a mysterious rigidity and suspension of consciousness, which,

lasting for an hour or more, had been mistaken for death.  To have

sought a medical explanation for this phenomenon would have been held

by Silas himself, as well as by his minister and fellow-members, a

wilful self-exclusion from the spiritual significance that might lie

therein.  Silas was evidently a brother selected for a peculiar

discipline; and though the effort to interpret this discipline was

discouraged by the absence, on his part, of any spiritual vision during

his outward trance, yet it was believed by himself and others that its

effect was seen in an accession of light and fervour. A less truthful

man than he might have been tempted into the subsequent creation of a

vision in the form of resurgent memory; a less sane man might have

believed in such a creation; but Silas was both sane and honest,

though, as with many honest and fervent men, culture had not defined

any channels for his sense of mystery, and so it spread itself over the

proper pathway of inquiry and knowledge.  He had inherited from his

mother some acquaintance with medicinal herbs and their preparation--a

little store of wisdom which she had imparted to him as a solemn

bequest--but of late years he had had doubts about the lawfulness of

applying this knowledge, believing that herbs could have no efficacy

without prayer, and that prayer might suffice without herbs; so that

the inherited delight he had in wandering in the fields in search of

foxglove and dandelion and coltsfoot, began to wear to him the

character of a temptation.

 

Among the members of his church there was one young man, a little older

than himself, with whom he had long lived in such close friendship that

it was the custom of their Lantern Yard brethren to call them David and

Jonathan.  The real name of the friend was William Dane, and he, too,

was regarded as a shining instance of youthful piety, though somewhat

given to over-severity towards weaker brethren, and to be so dazzled by

his own light as to hold himself wiser than his teachers.  But whatever

blemishes others might discern in William, to his friend's mind he was

faultless; for Marner had one of those impressible self-doubting

natures which, at an inexperienced age, admire imperativeness and lean

on contradiction.  The expression of trusting simplicity in Marner's

face, heightened by that absence of special observation, that

defenceless, deer-like gaze which belongs to large prominent eyes, was

strongly contrasted by the self-complacent suppression of inward

triumph that lurked in the narrow slanting eyes and compressed lips of

William Dane.  One of the most frequent topics of conversation between

the two friends was Assurance of salvation: Silas confessed that he

could never arrive at anything higher than hope mingled with fear, and

listened with longing wonder when William declared that he had

possessed unshaken assurance ever since, in the period of his

conversion, he had dreamed that he saw the words "calling and election

sure" standing by themselves on a white page in the open Bible.  Such

colloquies have occupied many a pair of pale-faced weavers, whose

unnurtured souls have been like young winged things, fluttering

forsaken in the twilight.

 

It had seemed to the unsuspecting Silas that the friendship had

suffered no chill even from his formation of another attachment of a

closer kind.  For some months he had been engaged to a young

servant-woman, waiting only for a little increase to their mutual

savings in order to their marriage; and it was a great delight to him

that Sarah did not object to William's occasional presence in their

Sunday interviews.  It was at this point in their history that Silas's

cataleptic fit occurred during the prayer-meeting; and amidst the

various queries and expressions of interest addressed to him by his

fellow-members, William's suggestion alone jarred with the general

sympathy towards a brother thus singled out for special dealings.  He

observed that, to him, this trance looked more like a visitation of

Satan than a proof of divine favour, and exhorted his friend to see

that he hid no accursed thing within his soul.  Silas, feeling bound to

accept rebuke and admonition as a brotherly office, felt no resentment,

but only pain, at his friend's doubts concerning him; and to this was

soon added some anxiety at the perception that Sarah's manner towards

him began to exhibit a strange fluctuation between an effort at an

increased manifestation of regard and involuntary signs of shrinking

and dislike.  He asked her if she wished to break off their engagement;

but she denied this: their engagement was known to the church, and had

been recognized in the prayer-meetings; it could not be broken off

without strict investigation, and Sarah could render no reason that

would be sanctioned by the feeling of the community.  At this time the

senior deacon was taken dangerously ill, and, being a childless

widower, he was tended night and day by some of the younger brethren or

sisters. Silas frequently took his turn in the night-watching with

William, the one relieving the other at two in the morning.  The old

man, contrary to expectation, seemed to be on the way to recovery, when

one night Silas, sitting up by his bedside, observed that his usual

audible breathing had ceased.  The candle was burning low, and he had

to lift it to see the patient's face distinctly.  Examination convinced

him that the deacon was dead--had been dead some time, for the limbs

were rigid.  Silas asked himself if he had been asleep, and looked at

the clock: it was already four in the morning. How was it that William

had not come?  In much anxiety he went to seek for help, and soon there

were several friends assembled in the house, the minister among them,

while Silas went away to his work, wishing he could have met William to

know the reason of his non-appearance.  But at six o'clock, as he was

thinking of going to seek his friend, William came, and with him the

minister.  They came to summon him to Lantern Yard, to meet the church

members there; and to his inquiry concerning the cause of the summons

the only reply was, "You will hear."  Nothing further was said until

Silas was seated in the vestry, in front of the minister, with the eyes

of those who to him represented God's people fixed solemnly upon him.

Then the minister, taking out a pocket-knife, showed it to Silas, and

asked him if he knew where he had left that knife?  Silas said, he did

not know that he had left it anywhere out of his own pocket--but he was

trembling at this strange interrogation.  He was then exhorted not to

hide his sin, but to confess and repent.  The knife had been found in

the bureau by the departed deacon's bedside--found in the place where

the little bag of church money had lain, which the minister himself had

seen the day before.  Some hand had removed that bag; and whose hand

could it be, if not that of the man to whom the knife belonged?  For

some time Silas was mute with astonishment: then he said, "God will

clear me: I know nothing about the knife being there, or the money

being gone.  Search me and my dwelling; you will find nothing but three

pound five of my own savings, which William Dane knows I have had these

six months."  At this William groaned, but the minister said, "The

proof is heavy against you, brother Marner.  The money was taken in the

night last past, and no man was with our departed brother but you, for

William Dane declares to us that he was hindered by sudden sickness

from going to take his place as usual, and you yourself said that he

had not come; and, moreover, you neglected the dead body."

 

"I must have slept," said Silas.  Then, after a pause, he added, "Or I

must have had another visitation like that which you have all seen me

under, so that the thief must have come and gone while I was not in the

body, but out of the body.  But, I say again, search me and my

dwelling, for I have been nowhere else."

 

The search was made, and it ended--in William Dane's finding the

well-known bag, empty, tucked behind the chest of drawers in Silas's

chamber!  On this William exhorted his friend to confess, and not to

hide his sin any longer.  Silas turned a look of keen reproach on him,

and said, "William, for nine years that we have gone in and out

together, have you ever known me tell a lie?  But God will clear me."

 

"Brother," said William, "how do I know what you may have done in the

secret chambers of your heart, to give Satan an advantage over you?"

 

Silas was still looking at his friend.  Suddenly a deep flush came over

his face, and he was about to speak impetuously, when he seemed checked

again by some inward shock, that sent the flush back and made him

tremble.  But at last he spoke feebly, looking at William.

 

"I remember now--the knife wasn't in my pocket."

 

William said, "I know nothing of what you mean."  The other persons

present, however, began to inquire where Silas meant to say that the

knife was, but he would give no further explanation: he only said, "I

am sore stricken; I can say nothing.  God will clear me."

 

On their return to the vestry there was further deliberation.  Any

resort to legal measures for ascertaining the culprit was contrary to

the principles of the church in Lantern Yard, according to which

prosecution was forbidden to Christians, even had the case held less

scandal to the community.  But the members were bound to take other

measures for finding out the truth, and they resolved on praying and

drawing lots.  This resolution can be a ground of surprise only to

those who are unacquainted with that obscure religious life which has

gone on in the alleys of our towns.  Silas knelt with his brethren,

relying on his own innocence being certified by immediate divine

interference, but feeling that there was sorrow and mourning behind for

him even then--that his trust in man had been cruelly bruised.  _The

lots declared that Silas Marner was guilty._  He was solemnly suspended

from church-membership, and called upon to render up the stolen money:

only on confession, as the sign of repentance, could he be received

once more within the folds of the church. Marner listened in silence.

At last, when everyone rose to depart, he went towards William Dane and

said, in a voice shaken by agitation--

 

"The last time I remember using my knife, was when I took it out to cut

a strap for you.  I don't remember putting it in my pocket again.

_You_ stole the money, and you have woven a plot to lay the sin at my

door.  But you may prosper, for all that: there is no just God that

governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness

against the innocent."

 

There was a general shudder at this blasphemy.

 

William said meekly, "I leave our brethren to judge whether this is the

voice of Satan or not.  I can do nothing but pray for you, Silas."

 

Poor Marner went out with that despair in his soul--that shaken trust

in God and man, which is little short of madness to a loving nature.

In the bitterness of his wounded spirit, he said to himself, "_She_

will cast me off too."  And he reflected that, if she did not believe

the testimony against him, her whole faith must be upset as his was.

To people accustomed to reason about the forms in which their religious

feeling has incorporated itself, it is difficult to enter into that

simple, untaught state of mind in which the form and the feeling have

never been severed by an act of reflection.  We are apt to think it

inevitable that a man in Marner's position should have begun to

question the validity of an appeal to the divine judgment by drawing

lots; but to him this would have been an effort of independent thought

such as he had never known; and he must have made the effort at a

moment when all his energies were turned into the anguish of

disappointed faith.  If there is an angel who records the sorrows of

men as well as their sins, he knows how many and deep are the sorrows

that spring from false ideas for which no man is culpable.

 

Marner went home, and for a whole day sat alone, stunned by despair,

without any impulse to go to Sarah and attempt to win her belief in his

innocence.  The second day he took refuge from benumbing unbelief, by

getting into his loom and working away as usual; and before many hours

were past, the minister and one of the deacons came to him with the

message from Sarah, that she held her engagement to him at an end.

Silas received the message mutely, and then turned away from the

messengers to work at his loom again.  In little more than a month from

that time, Sarah was married to William Dane; and not long afterwards

it was known to the brethren in Lantern Yard that Silas Marner had

departed from the town.

 

 

 

CHAPTER II

 

Even people whose lives have been made various by learning, sometimes

find it hard to keep a fast hold on their habitual views of life, on

their faith in the Invisible, nay, on the sense that their past joys

and sorrows are a real experience, when they are suddenly transported

to a new land, where the beings around them know nothing of their

history, and share none of their ideas--where their mother earth shows

another lap, and human life has other forms than those on which their

souls have been nourished.  Minds that have been unhinged from their

old faith and love, have perhaps sought this Lethean influence of

exile, in which the past becomes dreamy because its symbols have all

vanished, and the present too is dreamy because it is linked with no

memories.  But even _their_ experience may hardly enable them

thoroughly to imagine what was the effect on a simple weaver like Silas

Marner, when he left his own country and people and came to settle in

Raveloe.  Nothing could be more unlike his native town, set within

sight of the widespread hillsides, than this low, wooded region, where

he felt hidden even from the heavens by the screening trees and

hedgerows.  There was nothing here, when he rose in the deep morning

quiet and looked out on the dewy brambles and rank tufted grass, that

seemed to have any relation with that life centring in Lantern Yard,

which had once been to him the altar-place of high dispensations.  The

whitewashed walls; the little pews where well-known figures entered

with a subdued rustling, and where first one well-known voice and then

another, pitched in a peculiar key of petition, uttered phrases at once

occult and familiar, like the amulet worn on the heart; the pulpit

where the minister delivered unquestioned doctrine, and swayed to and

fro, and handled the book in a long accustomed manner; the very pauses

between the couplets of the hymn, as it was given out, and the

recurrent swell of voices in song: these things had been the channel of

divine influences to Marner--they were the fostering home of his

religious emotions--they were Christianity and God's kingdom upon

earth.  A weaver who finds hard words in his hymn-book knows nothing of

abstractions; as the little child knows nothing of parental love, but

only knows one face and one lap towards which it stretches its arms for

refuge and nurture.

 

And what could be more unlike that Lantern Yard world than the world in

Raveloe?--orchards looking lazy with neglected plenty; the large church

in the wide churchyard, which men gazed at lounging at their own doors

in service-time; the purple-faced farmers jogging along the lanes or

turning in at the Rainbow; homesteads, where men supped heavily and

slept in the light of the evening hearth, and where women seemed to be

laying up a stock of linen for the life to come.  There were no lips in

Raveloe from which a word could fall that would stir Silas Marner's

benumbed faith to a sense of pain. In the early ages of the world, we

know, it was believed that each territory was inhabited and ruled by

its own divinities, so that a man could cross the bordering heights and

be out of the reach of his native gods, whose presence was confined to

the streams and the groves and the hills among which he had lived from

his birth.  And poor Silas was vaguely conscious of something not

unlike the feeling of primitive men, when they fled thus, in fear or in

sullenness, from the face of an unpropitious deity.  It seemed to him

that the Power he had vainly trusted in among the streets and at the

prayer-meetings, was very far away from this land in which he had taken

refuge, where men lived in careless abundance, knowing and needing

nothing of that trust, which, for him, had been turned to bitterness.

The little light he possessed spread its beams so narrowly, that

frustrated belief was a curtain broad enough to create for him the

blackness of night.

 

His first movement after the shock had been to work in his loom; and he

went on with this unremittingly, never asking himself why, now he was

come to Raveloe, he worked far on into the night to finish the tale of

Mrs. Osgood's table-linen sooner than she expected--without

contemplating beforehand the money she would put into his hand for the

work.  He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without

reflection.  Every man's work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to

become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of

his life.  Silas's hand satisfied itself with throwing the shuttle, and

his eye with seeing the little squares in the cloth complete themselves

under his effort.  Then there were the calls of hunger; and Silas, in

his solitude, had to provide his own breakfast, dinner, and supper, to

fetch his own water from the well, and put his own kettle on the fire;

and all these immediate promptings helped, along with the weaving, to

reduce his life to the unquestioning activity of a spinning insect.  He

hated the thought of the past; there was nothing that called out his

love and fellowship toward the strangers he had come amongst; and the

future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him.

Thought was arrested by utter bewilderment, now its old narrow pathway

was closed, and affection seemed to have died under the bruise that had

fallen on its keenest nerves.

 

But at last Mrs. Osgood's table-linen was finished, and Silas was paid

in gold.  His earnings in his native town, where he worked for a

wholesale dealer, had been after a lower rate; he had been paid weekly,

and of his weekly earnings a large proportion had gone to objects of

piety and charity.  Now, for the first time in his life, he had five

bright guineas put into his hand; no man expected a share of them, and

he loved no man that he should offer him a share. But what were the

guineas to him who saw no vista beyond countless days of weaving?  It

was needless for him to ask that, for it was pleasant to him to feel

them in his palm, and look at their bright faces, which were all his

own: it was another element of life, like the weaving and the

satisfaction of hunger, subsisting quite aloof from the life of belief

and love from which he had been cut off. The weaver's hand had known

the touch of hard-won money even before the palm had grown to its full

breadth; for twenty years, mysterious money had stood to him as the

symbol of earthly good, and the immediate object of toil.  He had

seemed to love it little in the years when every penny had its purpose

for him; for he loved the _purpose_ then.  But now, when all purpose

was gone, that habit of looking towards the money and grasping it with

a sense of fulfilled effort made a loam that was deep enough for the

seeds of desire; and as Silas walked homeward across the fields in the

twilight, he drew out the money and thought it was brighter in the

gathering gloom.

 

About this time an incident happened which seemed to open a possibility

of some fellowship with his neighbours.  One day, taking a pair of

shoes to be mended, he saw the cobbler's wife seated by the fire,

suffering from the terrible symptoms of heart-disease and dropsy, which

he had witnessed as the precursors of his mother's death.  He felt a

rush of pity at the mingled sight and remembrance, and, recalling the

relief his mother had found from a simple preparation of foxglove, he

promised Sally Oates to bring her something that would ease her, since

the doctor did her no good.  In this office of charity, Silas felt, for

the first time since he had come to Raveloe, a sense of unity between

his past and present life, which might have been the beginning of his

rescue from the insect-like existence into which his nature had shrunk.

But Sally Oates's disease had raised her into a personage of much

interest and importance among the neighbours, and the fact of her

having found relief from drinking Silas Marner's "stuff" became a

matter of general discourse.  When Doctor Kimble gave physic, it was

natural that it should have an effect; but when a weaver, who came from

nobody knew where, worked wonders with a bottle of brown waters, the

occult character of the process was evident.  Such a sort of thing had

not been known since the Wise Woman at Tarley died; and she had charms

as well as "stuff": everybody went to her when their children had fits.

Silas Marner must be a person of the same sort, for how did he know

what would bring back Sally Oates's breath, if he didn't know a fine

sight more than that?  The Wise Woman had words that she muttered to

herself, so that you couldn't hear what they were, and if she tied a

bit of red thread round the child's toe the while, it would keep off

the water in the head.  There were women in Raveloe, at that present

time, who had worn one of the Wise Woman's little bags round their

necks, and, in consequence, had never had an idiot child, as Ann

Coulter had.  Silas Marner could very likely do as much, and more; and

now it was all clear how he should have come from unknown parts, and be

so "comical-looking". But Sally Oates must mind and not tell the

doctor, for he would be sure to set his face against Marner: he was

always angry about the Wise Woman, and used to threaten those who went

to her that they should have none of his help any more.

 

Silas now found himself and his cottage suddenly beset by mothers who

wanted him to charm away the whooping-cough, or bring back the milk,

and by men who wanted stuff against the rheumatics or the knots in the

hands; and, to secure themselves against a refusal, the applicants

brought silver in their palms.  Silas might have driven a profitable

trade in charms as well as in his small list of drugs; but money on

this condition was no temptation to him: he had never known an impulse

towards falsity, and he drove one after another away with growing

irritation, for the news of him as a wise man had spread even to

Tarley, and it was long before people ceased to take long walks for the

sake of asking his aid.  But the hope in his wisdom was at length

changed into dread, for no one believed him when he said he knew no

charms and could work no cures, and every man and woman who had an

accident or a new attack after applying to him, set the misfortune down

to Master Marner's ill-will and irritated glances.  Thus it came to

pass that his movement of pity towards Sally Oates, which had given him

a transient sense of brotherhood, heightened the repulsion between him

and his neighbours, and made his isolation more complete.

 

Gradually the guineas, the crowns, and the half-crowns grew to a heap,

and Marner drew less and less for his own wants, trying to solve the

problem of keeping himself strong enough to work sixteen hours a-day on

as small an outlay as possible.  Have not men, shut up in solitary

imprisonment, found an interest in marking the moments by straight

strokes of a certain length on the wall, until the growth of the sum of

straight strokes, arranged in triangles, has become a mastering

purpose?  Do we not wile away moments of inanity or fatigued waiting by

repeating some trivial movement or sound, until the repetition has bred

a want, which is incipient habit?  That will help us to understand how

the love of accumulating money grows an absorbing passion in men whose

imaginations, even in the very beginning of their hoard, showed them no

purpose beyond it. Marner wanted the heaps of ten to grow into a

square, and then into a larger square; and every added guinea, while it

was itself a satisfaction, bred a new desire.  In this strange world,

made a hopeless riddle to him, he might, if he had had a less intense

nature, have sat weaving, weaving--looking towards the end of his

pattern, or towards the end of his web, till he forgot the riddle, and

everything else but his immediate sensations; but the money had come to

mark off his weaving into periods, and the money not only grew, but it

remained with him.  He began to think it was conscious of him, as his

loom was, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which

had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces.  He

handled them, he counted them, till their form and colour were like the

satisfaction of a thirst to him; but it was only in the night, when his

work was done, that he drew them out to enjoy their companionship.  He

had taken up some bricks in his floor underneath his loom, and here he

had made a hole in which he set the iron pot that contained his guineas

and silver coins, covering the bricks with sand whenever he replaced

them.  Not that the idea of being robbed presented itself often or

strongly to his mind: hoarding was common in country districts in those

days; there were old labourers in the parish of Raveloe who were known

to have their savings by them, probably inside their flock-beds; but

their rustic neighbours, though not all of them as honest as their

ancestors in the days of King Alfred, had not imaginations bold enough

to lay a plan of burglary.  How could they have spent the money in

their own village without betraying themselves?  They would be obliged

to "run away"--a course as dark and dubious as a balloon journey.

 

So, year after year, Silas Marner had lived in this solitude, his

guineas rising in the iron pot, and his life narrowing and hardening

itself more and more into a mere pulsation of desire and satisfaction

that had no relation to any other being.  His life had reduced itself

to the functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation of

an end towards which the functions tended.  The same sort of process

has perhaps been undergone by wiser men, when they have been cut off

from faith and love--only, instead of a loom and a heap of guineas,

they have had some erudite research, some ingenious project, or some

well-knit theory.  Strangely Marner's face and figure shrank and bent

themselves into a constant mechanical relation to the objects of his

life, so that he produced the same sort of impression as a handle or a

crooked tube, which has no meaning standing apart.  The prominent eyes

that used to look trusting and dreamy, now looked as if they had been

made to see only one kind of thing that was very small, like tiny

grain, for which they hunted everywhere: and he was so withered and

yellow, that, though he was not yet forty, the children always called

him "Old Master Marner".

 

Yet even in this stage of withering a little incident happened, which

showed that the sap of affection was not all gone.  It was one of his

daily tasks to fetch his water from a well a couple of fields off, and

for this purpose, ever since he came to Raveloe, he had had a brown

earthenware pot, which he held as his most precious utensil among the

very few conveniences he had granted himself.  It had been his

companion for twelve years, always standing on the same spot, always

lending its handle to him in the early morning, so that its form had an

expression for him of willing helpfulness, and the impress of its

handle on his palm gave a satisfaction mingled with that of having the

fresh clear water.  One day as he was returning from the well, he

stumbled against the step of the stile, and his brown pot, falling with

force against the stones that overarched the ditch below him, was

broken in three pieces.  Silas picked up the pieces and carried them

home with grief in his heart.  The brown pot could never be of use to

him any more, but he stuck the bits together and propped the ruin in

its old place for a memorial.

 

This is the history of Silas Marner, until the fifteenth year after he

came to Raveloe.  The livelong day he sat in his loom, his ear filled

with its monotony, his eyes bent close down on the slow growth of

sameness in the brownish web, his muscles moving with such even

repetition that their pause seemed almost as much a constraint as the

holding of his breath.  But at night came his revelry: at night he

closed his shutters, and made fast his doors, and drew forth his gold.

Long ago the heap of coins had become too large for the iron pot to

hold them, and he had made for them two thick leather bags, which

wasted no room in their resting-place, but lent themselves flexibly to

every corner.  How the guineas shone as they came pouring out of the

dark leather mouths!  The silver bore no large proportion in amount to

the gold, because the long pieces of linen which formed his chief work

were always partly paid for in gold, and out of the silver he supplied

his own bodily wants, choosing always the shillings and sixpences to

spend in this way. He loved the guineas best, but he would not change

the silver--the crowns and half-crowns that were his own earnings,

begotten by his labour; he loved them all.  He spread them out in heaps

and bathed his hands in them; then he counted them and set them up in

regular piles, and felt their rounded outline between his thumb and

fingers, and thought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned

by the work in his loom, as if they had been unborn children--thought

of the guineas that were coming slowly through the coming years,

through all his life, which spread far away before him, the end quite

hidden by countless days of weaving.  No wonder his thoughts were still

with his loom and his money when he made his journeys through the

fields and the lanes to fetch and carry home his work, so that his

steps never wandered to the hedge-banks and the lane-side in search of

the once familiar herbs: these too belonged to the past, from which his

life had shrunk away, like a rivulet that has sunk far down from the

grassy fringe of its old breadth into a little shivering thread, that

cuts a groove for itself in the barren sand.

 

But about the Christmas of that fifteenth year, a second great change

came over Marner's life, and his history became blent in a singular

manner with the life of his neighbours.

 

 

 

CHAPTER III

 

The greatest man in Raveloe was Squire Cass, who lived in the large red

house with the handsome flight of stone steps in front and the high

stables behind it, nearly opposite the church.  He was only one among

several landed parishioners, but he alone was honoured with the title

of Squire; for though Mr. Osgood's family was also understood to be of

timeless origin--the Raveloe imagination having never ventured back to

that fearful blank when there were no Osgoods--still, he merely owned

the farm he occupied; whereas Squire Cass had a tenant or two, who

complained of the game to him quite as if he had been a lord.

 

It was still that glorious war-time which was felt to be a peculiar

favour of Providence towards the landed interest, and the fall of

prices had not yet come to carry the race of small squires and yeomen

down that road to ruin for which extravagant habits and bad husbandry

were plentifully anointing their wheels.  I am speaking now in relation

to Raveloe and the parishes that resembled it; for our old-fashioned

country life had many different aspects, as all life must have when it

is spread over a various surface, and breathed on variously by

multitudinous currents, from the winds of heaven to the thoughts of

men, which are for ever moving and crossing each other with

incalculable results.  Raveloe lay low among the bushy trees and the

rutted lanes, aloof from the currents of industrial energy and Puritan

earnestness: the rich ate and drank freely, accepting gout and apoplexy

as things that ran mysteriously in respectable families, and the poor

thought that the rich were entirely in the right of it to lead a jolly

life; besides, their feasting caused a multiplication of orts, which

were the heirlooms of the poor.  Betty Jay scented the boiling of

Squire Cass's hams, but her longing was arrested by the unctuous liquor

in which they were boiled; and when the seasons brought round the great

merry-makings, they were regarded on all hands as a fine thing for the

poor.  For the Raveloe feasts were like the rounds of beef and the

barrels of ale--they were on a large scale, and lasted a good while,

especially in the winter-time.  After ladies had packed up their best

gowns and top-knots in bandboxes, and had incurred the risk of fording

streams on pillions with the precious burden in rainy or snowy weather,

when there was no knowing how high the water would rise, it was not to

be supposed that they looked forward to a brief pleasure.  On this

ground it was always contrived in the dark seasons, when there was

little work to be done, and the hours were long, that several

neighbours should keep open house in succession. So soon as Squire

Cass's standing dishes diminished in plenty and freshness, his guests

had nothing to do but to walk a little higher up the village to Mr.

Osgood's, at the Orchards, and they found hams and chines uncut,

pork-pies with the scent of the fire in them, spun butter in all its

freshness--everything, in fact, that appetites at leisure could desire,

in perhaps greater perfection, though not in greater abundance, than at

Squire Cass's.

 

For the Squire's wife had died long ago, and the Red House was without

that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome

love and fear in parlour and kitchen; and this helped to account not

only for there being more profusion than finished excellence in the

holiday provisions, but also for the frequency with which the proud

Squire condescended to preside in the parlour of the Rainbow rather

than under the shadow of his own dark wainscot; perhaps, also, for the

fact that his sons had turned out rather ill.  Raveloe was not a place

where moral censure was severe, but it was thought a weakness in the

Squire that he had kept all his sons at home in idleness; and though

some licence was to be allowed to young men whose fathers could afford

it, people shook their heads at the courses of the second son, Dunstan,

commonly called Dunsey Cass, whose taste for swopping and betting might

turn out to be a sowing of something worse than wild oats.  To be sure,

the neighbours said, it was no matter what became of Dunsey--a spiteful

jeering fellow, who seemed to enjoy his drink the more when other

people went dry--always provided that his doings did not bring trouble

on a family like Squire Cass's, with a monument in the church, and

tankards older than King George.  But it would be a thousand pities if

Mr. Godfrey, the eldest, a fine open-faced good-natured young man who

was to come into the land some day, should take to going along the same

road with his brother, as he had seemed to do of late.  If he went on

in that way, he would lose Miss Nancy Lammeter; for it was well known

that she had looked very shyly on him ever since last Whitsuntide

twelvemonth, when there was so much talk about his being away from home

days and days together. There was something wrong, more than

common--that was quite clear; for Mr. Godfrey didn't look half so

fresh-coloured and open as he used to do.  At one time everybody was

saying, What a handsome couple he and Miss Nancy Lammeter would make!

and if she could come to be mistress at the Red House, there would be a

fine change, for the Lammeters had been brought up in that way, that

they never suffered a pinch of salt to be wasted, and yet everybody in

their household had of the best, according to his place.  Such a

daughter-in-law would be a saving to the old Squire, if she never

brought a penny to her fortune; for it was to be feared that,

notwithstanding his incomings, there were more holes in his pocket than

the one where he put his own hand in.  But if Mr. Godfrey didn't turn

over a new leaf, he might say "Good-bye" to Miss Nancy Lammeter.

 

It was the once hopeful Godfrey who was standing, with his hands in his

side-pockets and his back to the fire, in the dark wainscoted parlour,

one late November afternoon in that fifteenth year of Silas Marner's

life at Raveloe.  The fading grey light fell dimly on the walls

decorated with guns, whips, and foxes' brushes, on coats and hats flung

on the chairs, on tankards sending forth a scent of flat ale, and on a

half-choked fire, with pipes propped up in the chimney-corners: signs

of a domestic life destitute of any hallowing charm, with which the

look of gloomy vexation on Godfrey's blond face was in sad accordance.

He seemed to be waiting and listening for some one's approach, and

presently the sound of a heavy step, with an accompanying whistle, was

heard across the large empty entrance-hall.

 

The door opened, and a thick-set, heavy-looking young man entered, with

the flushed face and the gratuitously elated bearing which mark the

first stage of intoxication.  It was Dunsey, and at the sight of him

Godfrey's face parted with some of its gloom to take on the more active

expression of hatred.  The handsome brown spaniel that lay on the

hearth retreated under the chair in the chimney-corner.

 

"Well, Master Godfrey, what do you want with me?"  said Dunsey, in a

mocking tone.  "You're my elders and betters, you know; I was obliged

to come when you sent for me."

 

"Why, this is what I want--and just shake yourself sober and listen,

will you?"  said Godfrey, savagely.  He had himself been drinking more

than was good for him, trying to turn his gloom into uncalculating

anger.  "I want to tell you, I must hand over that rent of Fowler's to

the Squire, or else tell him I gave it you; for he's threatening to

distrain for it, and it'll all be out soon, whether I tell him or not.

He said, just now, before he went out, he should send word to Cox to

distrain, if Fowler didn't come and pay up his arrears this week.  The

Squire's short o' cash, and in no humour to stand any nonsense; and you

know what he threatened, if ever he found you making away with his

money again.  So, see and get the money, and pretty quickly, will you?"

 

"Oh!"  said Dunsey, sneeringly, coming nearer to his brother and

looking in his face.  "Suppose, now, you get the money yourself, and

save me the trouble, eh?  Since you was so kind as to hand it over to

me, you'll not refuse me the kindness to pay it back for me: it was

your brotherly love made you do it, you know."

 

Godfrey bit his lips and clenched his fist.  "Don't come near me with

that look, else I'll knock you down."

 

"Oh no, you won't," said Dunsey, turning away on his heel, however.

"Because I'm such a good-natured brother, you know. I might get you

turned out of house and home, and cut off with a shilling any day.  I

might tell the Squire how his handsome son was married to that nice

young woman, Molly Farren, and was very unhappy because he couldn't

live with his drunken wife, and I should slip into your place as

comfortable as could be.  But you see, I don't do it--I'm so easy and

good-natured.  You'll take any trouble for me. You'll get the hundred

pounds for me--I know you will."

 

"How can I get the money?"  said Godfrey, quivering.  "I haven't a

shilling to bless myself with.  And it's a lie that you'd slip into my

place: you'd get yourself turned out too, that's all.  For if you begin

telling tales, I'll follow.  Bob's my father's favourite--you know that

very well.  He'd only think himself well rid of you."

 

"Never mind," said Dunsey, nodding his head sideways as he looked out

of the window.  "It 'ud be very pleasant to me to go in your

company--you're such a handsome brother, and we've always been so fond

of quarrelling with one another, I shouldn't know what to do without

you.  But you'd like better for us both to stay at home together; I

know you would.  So you'll manage to get that little sum o' money, and

I'll bid you good-bye, though I'm sorry to part."

 

Dunstan was moving off, but Godfrey rushed after him and seized him by

the arm, saying, with an oath--

 

"I tell you, I have no money: I can get no money."

 

"Borrow of old Kimble."

 

"I tell you, he won't lend me any more, and I shan't ask him."

 

"Well, then, sell Wildfire."

 

"Yes, that's easy talking.  I must have the money directly."

 

"Well, you've only got to ride him to the hunt to-morrow.  There'll be

Bryce and Keating there, for sure.  You'll get more bids than one."

 

"I daresay, and get back home at eight o'clock, splashed up to the

chin.  I'm going to Mrs. Osgood's birthday dance."

 

"Oho!"  said Dunsey, turning his head on one side, and trying to speak

in a small mincing treble.  "And there's sweet Miss Nancy coming; and

we shall dance with her, and promise never to be naughty again, and be

taken into favour, and--"

 

"Hold your tongue about Miss Nancy, you fool," said Godfrey, turning

red, "else I'll throttle you."

 

"What for?"  said Dunsey, still in an artificial tone, but taking a

whip from the table and beating the butt-end of it on his palm. "You've

a very good chance.  I'd advise you to creep up her sleeve again: it

'ud be saving time, if Molly should happen to take a drop too much

laudanum some day, and make a widower of you.  Miss Nancy wouldn't mind

being a second, if she didn't know it.  And you've got a good-natured

brother, who'll keep your secret well, because you'll be so very

obliging to him."

 

"I'll tell you what it is," said Godfrey, quivering, and pale again,

"my patience is pretty near at an end.  If you'd a little more

sharpness in you, you might know that you may urge a man a bit too far,

and make one leap as easy as another.  I don't know but what it is so

now: I may as well tell the Squire everything myself--I should get you

off my back, if I got nothing else.  And, after all, he'll know some

time.  She's been threatening to come herself and tell him.  So, don't

flatter yourself that your secrecy's worth any price you choose to ask.

You drain me of money till I have got nothing to pacify _her_ with, and

she'll do as she threatens some day.  It's all one.  I'll tell my

father everything myself, and you may go to the devil."

 

Dunsey perceived that he had overshot his mark, and that there was a

point at which even the hesitating Godfrey might be driven into

decision.  But he said, with an air of unconcern--

 

"As you please; but I'll have a draught of ale first."  And ringing the

bell, he threw himself across two chairs, and began to rap the

window-seat with the handle of his whip.

 

Godfrey stood, still with his back to the fire, uneasily moving his

fingers among the contents of his side-pockets, and looking at the

floor.  That big muscular frame of his held plenty of animal courage,

but helped him to no decision when the dangers to be braved were such

as could neither be knocked down nor throttled.  His natural

irresolution and moral cowardice were exaggerated by a position in

which dreaded consequences seemed to press equally on all sides, and

his irritation had no sooner provoked him to defy Dunstan and

anticipate all possible betrayals, than the miseries he must bring on

himself by such a step seemed more unendurable to him than the present

evil.  The results of confession were not contingent, they were

certain; whereas betrayal was not certain. From the near vision of that

certainty he fell back on suspense and vacillation with a sense of

repose.  The disinherited son of a small squire, equally disinclined to

dig and to beg, was almost as helpless as an uprooted tree, which, by

the favour of earth and sky, has grown to a handsome bulk on the spot

where it first shot upward. Perhaps it would have been possible to

think of digging with some cheerfulness if Nancy Lammeter were to be

won on those terms; but, since he must irrevocably lose _her_ as well

as the inheritance, and must break every tie but the one that degraded

him and left him without motive for trying to recover his better self,

he could imagine no future for himself on the other side of confession

but that of "'listing for a soldier"--the most desperate step, short of

suicide, in the eyes of respectable families.  No!  he would rather

trust to casualties than to his own resolve--rather go on sitting at

the feast, and sipping the wine he loved, though with the sword hanging

over him and terror in his heart, than rush away into the cold darkness

where there was no pleasure left.  The utmost concession to Dunstan

about the horse began to seem easy, compared with the fulfilment of his

own threat.  But his pride would not let him recommence the

conversation otherwise than by continuing the quarrel.  Dunstan was

waiting for this, and took his ale in shorter draughts than usual.

 

"It's just like you," Godfrey burst out, in a bitter tone, "to talk

about my selling Wildfire in that cool way--the last thing I've got to

call my own, and the best bit of horse-flesh I ever had in my life.

And if you'd got a spark of pride in you, you'd be ashamed to see the

stables emptied, and everybody sneering about it. But it's my belief

you'd sell yourself, if it was only for the pleasure of making somebody

feel he'd got a bad bargain."

 

"Aye, aye," said Dunstan, very placably, "you do me justice, I see.

You know I'm a jewel for 'ticing people into bargains.  For which

reason I advise you to let _me_ sell Wildfire.  I'd ride him to the

hunt to-morrow for you, with pleasure.  I shouldn't look so handsome as

you in the saddle, but it's the horse they'll bid for, and not the

rider."

 

"Yes, I daresay--trust my horse to you!"

 

"As you please," said Dunstan, rapping the window-seat again with an

air of great unconcern.  "It's _you_ have got to pay Fowler's money;

it's none of my business.  You received the money from him when you

went to Bramcote, and _you_ told the Squire it wasn't paid. I'd nothing

to do with that; you chose to be so obliging as to give it me, that was

all.  If you don't want to pay the money, let it alone; it's all one to

me.  But I was willing to accommodate you by undertaking to sell the

horse, seeing it's not convenient to you to go so far to-morrow."

 

Godfrey was silent for some moments.  He would have liked to spring on

Dunstan, wrench the whip from his hand, and flog him to within an inch

of his life; and no bodily fear could have deterred him; but he was

mastered by another sort of fear, which was fed by feelings stronger

even than his resentment.  When he spoke again, it was in a

half-conciliatory tone.

 

"Well, you mean no nonsense about the horse, eh?  You'll sell him all

fair, and hand over the money?  If you don't, you know, everything 'ull

go to smash, for I've got nothing else to trust to. And you'll have

less pleasure in pulling the house over my head, when your own skull's

to be broken too."

 

"Aye, aye," said Dunstan, rising; "all right.  I thought you'd come

round.  I'm the fellow to bring old Bryce up to the scratch. I'll get

you a hundred and twenty for him, if I get you a penny."

 

"But it'll perhaps rain cats and dogs to-morrow, as it did yesterday,

and then you can't go," said Godfrey, hardly knowing whether he wished

for that obstacle or not.

 

"Not _it_," said Dunstan.  "I'm always lucky in my weather.  It might

rain if you wanted to go yourself.  You never hold trumps, you know--I

always do.  You've got the beauty, you see, and I've got the luck, so

you must keep me by you for your crooked sixpence; you'll _ne_-ver get

along without me."

 

"Confound you, hold your tongue!"  said Godfrey, impetuously. "And take

care to keep sober to-morrow, else you'll get pitched on your head

coming home, and Wildfire might be the worse for it."

 

"Make your tender heart easy," said Dunstan, opening the door. "You

never knew me see double when I'd got a bargain to make; it 'ud spoil

the fun.  Besides, whenever I fall, I'm warranted to fall on my legs."

 

With that, Dunstan slammed the door behind him, and left Godfrey to

that bitter rumination on his personal circumstances which was now

unbroken from day to day save by the excitement of sporting, drinking,

card-playing, or the rarer and less oblivious pleasure of seeing Miss

Nancy Lammeter.  The subtle and varied pains springing from the higher

sensibility that accompanies higher culture, are perhaps less pitiable

than that dreary absence of impersonal enjoyment and consolation which

leaves ruder minds to the perpetual urgent companionship of their own

griefs and discontents.  The lives of those rural forefathers, whom we

are apt to think very prosaic figures--men whose only work was to ride

round their land, getting heavier and heavier in their saddles, and who

passed the rest of their days in the half-listless gratification of

senses dulled by monotony--had a certain pathos in them nevertheless.

Calamities came to _them_ too, and their early errors carried hard

consequences: perhaps the love of some sweet maiden, the image of

purity, order, and calm, had opened their eyes to the vision of a life

in which the days would not seem too long, even without rioting; but

the maiden was lost, and the vision passed away, and then what was left

to them, especially when they had become too heavy for the hunt, or for

carrying a gun over the furrows, but to drink and get merry, or to

drink and get angry, so that they might be independent of variety, and

say over again with eager emphasis the things they had said already any

time that twelvemonth? Assuredly, among these flushed and dull-eyed men

there were some whom--thanks to their native human-kindness--even riot

could never drive into brutality; men who, when their cheeks were

fresh, had felt the keen point of sorrow or remorse, had been pierced

by the reeds they leaned on, or had lightly put their limbs in fetters

from which no struggle could loose them; and under these sad

circumstances, common to us all, their thoughts could find no

resting-place outside the ever-trodden round of their own petty history.

 

That, at least, was the condition of Godfrey Cass in this

six-and-twentieth year of his life.  A movement of compunction, helped

by those small indefinable influences which every personal relation

exerts on a pliant nature, had urged him into a secret marriage, which

was a blight on his life.  It was an ugly story of low passion,

delusion, and waking from delusion, which needs not to be dragged from

the privacy of Godfrey's bitter memory.  He had long known that the

delusion was partly due to a trap laid for him by Dunstan, who saw in

his brother's degrading marriage the means of gratifying at once his

jealous hate and his cupidity.  And if Godfrey could have felt himself

simply a victim, the iron bit that destiny had put into his mouth would

have chafed him less intolerably.  If the curses he muttered half aloud

when he was alone had had no other object than Dunstan's diabolical

cunning, he might have shrunk less from the consequences of avowal.

But he had something else to curse--his own vicious folly, which now

seemed as mad and unaccountable to him as almost all our follies and

vices do when their promptings have long passed away.  For four years

he had thought of Nancy Lammeter, and wooed her with tacit patient

worship, as the woman who made him think of the future with joy: she

would be his wife, and would make home lovely to him, as his father's

home had never been; and it would be easy, when she was always near, to

shake off those foolish habits that were no pleasures, but only a

feverish way of annulling vacancy.  Godfrey's was an essentially

domestic nature, bred up in a home where the hearth had no smiles, and

where the daily habits were not chastised by the presence of household

order.  His easy disposition made him fall in unresistingly with the

family courses, but the need of some tender permanent affection, the

longing for some influence that would make the good he preferred easy

to pursue, caused the neatness, purity, and liberal orderliness of the

Lammeter household, sunned by the smile of Nancy, to seem like those

fresh bright hours of the morning when temptations go to sleep and

leave the ear open to the voice of the good angel, inviting to

industry, sobriety, and peace.  And yet the hope of this paradise had

not been enough to save him from a course which shut him out of it for

ever.  Instead of keeping fast hold of the strong silken rope by which

Nancy would have drawn him safe to the green banks where it was easy to

step firmly, he had let himself be dragged back into mud and slime, in

which it was useless to struggle.  He had made ties for himself which

robbed him of all wholesome motive, and were a constant exasperation.

 

Still, there was one position worse than the present: it was the

position he would be in when the ugly secret was disclosed; and the

desire that continually triumphed over every other was that of warding

off the evil day, when he would have to bear the consequences of his

father's violent resentment for the wound inflicted on his family

pride--would have, perhaps, to turn his back on that hereditary ease

and dignity which, after all, was a sort of reason for living, and

would carry with him the certainty that he was banished for ever from

the sight and esteem of Nancy Lammeter.  The longer the interval, the

more chance there was of deliverance from some, at least, of the

hateful consequences to which he had sold himself; the more

opportunities remained for him to snatch the strange gratification of

seeing Nancy, and gathering some faint indications of her lingering

regard.  Towards this gratification he was impelled, fitfully, every

now and then, after having passed weeks in which he had avoided her as

the far-off bright-winged prize that only made him spring forward and

find his chain all the more galling.  One of those fits of yearning was

on him now, and it would have been strong enough to have persuaded him

to trust Wildfire to Dunstan rather than disappoint the yearning, even

if he had not had another reason for his disinclination towards the

morrow's hunt.  That other reason was the fact that the morning's meet

was near Batherley, the market-town where the unhappy woman lived,

whose image became more odious to him every day; and to his thought the

whole vicinage was haunted by her.  The yoke a man creates for himself

by wrong-doing will breed hate in the kindliest nature; and the

good-humoured, affectionate-hearted Godfrey Cass was fast becoming a

bitter man, visited by cruel wishes, that seemed to enter, and depart,

and enter again, like demons who had found in him a ready-garnished

home.

 

What was he to do this evening to pass the time?  He might as well go

to the Rainbow, and hear the talk about the cock-fighting: everybody

was there, and what else was there to be done?  Though, for his own

part, he did not care a button for cock-fighting. Snuff, the brown

spaniel, who had placed herself in front of him, and had been watching

him for some time, now jumped up in impatience for the expected caress.

But Godfrey thrust her away without looking at her, and left the room,

followed humbly by the unresenting Snuff--perhaps because she saw no

other career open to her.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV

 

Dunstan Cass, setting off in the raw morning, at the judiciously quiet

pace of a man who is obliged to ride to cover on his hunter, had to

take his way along the lane which, at its farther extremity, passed by

the piece of unenclosed ground called the Stone-pit, where stood the

cottage, once a stone-cutter's shed, now for fifteen years inhabited by

Silas Marner.  The spot looked very dreary at this season, with the

moist trodden clay about it, and the red, muddy water high up in the

deserted quarry.  That was Dunstan's first thought as he approached it;

the second was, that the old fool of a weaver, whose loom he heard

rattling already, had a great deal of money hidden somewhere.  How was

it that he, Dunstan Cass, who had often heard talk of Marner's

miserliness, had never thought of suggesting to Godfrey that he should

frighten or persuade the old fellow into lending the money on the

excellent security of the young Squire's prospects?  The resource

occurred to him now as so easy and agreeable, especially as Marner's

hoard was likely to be large enough to leave Godfrey a handsome surplus

beyond his immediate needs, and enable him to accommodate his faithful

brother, that he had almost turned the horse's head towards home again.

Godfrey would be ready enough to accept the suggestion: he would snatch

eagerly at a plan that might save him from parting with Wildfire. But

when Dunstan's meditation reached this point, the inclination to go on

grew strong and prevailed.  He didn't want to give Godfrey that

pleasure: he preferred that Master Godfrey should be vexed. Moreover,

Dunstan enjoyed the self-important consciousness of having a horse to

sell, and the opportunity of driving a bargain, swaggering, and

possibly taking somebody in.  He might have all the satisfaction

attendant on selling his brother's horse, and not the less have the

further satisfaction of setting Godfrey to borrow Marner's money.  So

he rode on to cover.

 

Bryce and Keating were there, as Dunstan was quite sure they would

be--he was such a lucky fellow.

 

"Heyday!"  said Bryce, who had long had his eye on Wildfire, "you're on

your brother's horse to-day: how's that?"

 

"Oh, I've swopped with him," said Dunstan, whose delight in lying,

grandly independent of utility, was not to be diminished by the

likelihood that his hearer would not believe him--"Wildfire's mine now."

 

"What!  has he swopped with you for that big-boned hack of yours?" said

Bryce, quite aware that he should get another lie in answer.

 

"Oh, there was a little account between us," said Dunsey, carelessly,

"and Wildfire made it even.  I accommodated him by taking the horse,

though it was against my will, for I'd got an itch for a mare o'

Jortin's--as rare a bit o' blood as ever you threw your leg across.

But I shall keep Wildfire, now I've got him, though I'd a bid of a

hundred and fifty for him the other day, from a man over at

Flitton--he's buying for Lord Cromleck--a fellow with a cast in his

eye, and a green waistcoat.  But I mean to stick to Wildfire: I shan't

get a better at a fence in a hurry.  The mare's got more blood, but

she's a bit too weak in the hind-quarters."

 

Bryce of course divined that Dunstan wanted to sell the horse, and

Dunstan knew that he divined it (horse-dealing is only one of many

human transactions carried on in this ingenious manner); and they both

considered that the bargain was in its first stage, when Bryce replied

ironically--

 

"I wonder at that now; I wonder you mean to keep him; for I never heard

of a man who didn't want to sell his horse getting a bid of half as

much again as the horse was worth.  You'll be lucky if you get a

hundred."

 

Keating rode up now, and the transaction became more complicated. It

ended in the purchase of the horse by Bryce for a hundred and twenty,

to be paid on the delivery of Wildfire, safe and sound, at the

Batherley stables.  It did occur to Dunsey that it might be wise for

him to give up the day's hunting, proceed at once to Batherley, and,

having waited for Bryce's return, hire a horse to carry him home with

the money in his pocket.  But the inclination for a run, encouraged by

confidence in his luck, and by a draught of brandy from his

pocket-pistol at the conclusion of the bargain, was not easy to

overcome, especially with a horse under him that would take the fences

to the admiration of the field.  Dunstan, however, took one fence too

many, and got his horse pierced with a hedge-stake. His own

ill-favoured person, which was quite unmarketable, escaped without

injury; but poor Wildfire, unconscious of his price, turned on his

flank and painfully panted his last.  It happened that Dunstan, a short

time before, having had to get down to arrange his stirrup, had

muttered a good many curses at this interruption, which had thrown him

in the rear of the hunt near the moment of glory, and under this

exasperation had taken the fences more blindly.  He would soon have

been up with the hounds again, when the fatal accident happened; and

hence he was between eager riders in advance, not troubling themselves

about what happened behind them, and far-off stragglers, who were as

likely as not to pass quite aloof from the line of road in which

Wildfire had fallen.  Dunstan, whose nature it was to care more for

immediate annoyances than for remote consequences, no sooner recovered

his legs, and saw that it was all over with Wildfire, than he felt a

satisfaction at the absence of witnesses to a position which no

swaggering could make enviable. Reinforcing himself, after his shake,

with a little brandy and much swearing, he walked as fast as he could

to a coppice on his right hand, through which it occurred to him that

he could make his way to Batherley without danger of encountering any

member of the hunt. His first intention was to hire a horse there and

ride home forthwith, for to walk many miles without a gun in his hand,

and along an ordinary road, was as much out of the question to him as

to other spirited young men of his kind.  He did not much mind about

taking the bad news to Godfrey, for he had to offer him at the same

time the resource of Marner's money; and if Godfrey kicked, as he

always did, at the notion of making a fresh debt from which he himself

got the smallest share of advantage, why, he wouldn't kick long:

Dunstan felt sure he could worry Godfrey into anything.  The idea of

Marner's money kept growing in vividness, now the want of it had become

immediate; the prospect of having to make his appearance with the muddy

boots of a pedestrian at Batherley, and to encounter the grinning

queries of stablemen, stood unpleasantly in the way of his impatience

to be back at Raveloe and carry out his felicitous plan; and a casual

visitation of his waistcoat-pocket, as he was ruminating, awakened his

memory to the fact that the two or three small coins his forefinger

encountered there were of too pale a colour to cover that small debt,

without payment of which the stable-keeper had declared he would never

do any more business with Dunsey Cass.  After all, according to the

direction in which the run had brought him, he was not so very much

farther from home than he was from Batherley; but Dunsey, not being

remarkable for clearness of head, was only led to this conclusion by

the gradual perception that there were other reasons for choosing the

unprecedented course of walking home.  It was now nearly four o'clock,

and a mist was gathering: the sooner he got into the road the better.

He remembered having crossed the road and seen the finger-post only a

little while before Wildfire broke down; so, buttoning his coat,

twisting the lash of his hunting-whip compactly round the handle, and

rapping the tops of his boots with a self-possessed air, as if to

assure himself that he was not at all taken by surprise, he set off

with the sense that he was undertaking a remarkable feat of bodily

exertion, which somehow and at some time he should be able to dress up

and magnify to the admiration of a select circle at the Rainbow.  When

a young gentleman like Dunsey is reduced to so exceptional a mode of

locomotion as walking, a whip in his hand is a desirable corrective to

a too bewildering dreamy sense of unwontedness in his position; and

Dunstan, as he went along through the gathering mist, was always

rapping his whip somewhere.  It was Godfrey's whip, which he had chosen

to take without leave because it had a gold handle; of course no one

could see, when Dunstan held it, that the name _Godfrey Cass_ was cut

in deep letters on that gold handle--they could only see that it was a

very handsome whip. Dunsey was not without fear that he might meet some

acquaintance in whose eyes he would cut a pitiable figure, for mist is

no screen when people get close to each other; but when he at last

found himself in the well-known Raveloe lanes without having met a

soul, he silently remarked that that was part of his usual good luck.

But now the mist, helped by the evening darkness, was more of a screen

than he desired, for it hid the ruts into which his feet were liable to

slip--hid everything, so that he had to guide his steps by dragging his

whip along the low bushes in advance of the hedgerow. He must soon, he

thought, be getting near the opening at the Stone-pits: he should find

it out by the break in the hedgerow.  He found it out, however, by

another circumstance which he had not expected--namely, by certain

gleams of light, which he presently guessed to proceed from Silas

Marner's cottage.  That cottage and the money hidden within it had been

in his mind continually during his walk, and he had been imagining ways

of cajoling and tempting the weaver to part with the immediate

possession of his money for the sake of receiving interest.  Dunstan

felt as if there must be a little frightening added to the cajolery,

for his own arithmetical convictions were not clear enough to afford

him any forcible demonstration as to the advantages of interest; and as

for security, he regarded it vaguely as a means of cheating a man by

making him believe that he would be paid.  Altogether, the operation on

the miser's mind was a task that Godfrey would be sure to hand over to

his more daring and cunning brother: Dunstan had made up his mind to

that; and by the time he saw the light gleaming through the chinks of

Marner's shutters, the idea of a dialogue with the weaver had become so

familiar to him, that it occurred to him as quite a natural thing to

make the acquaintance forthwith.  There might be several conveniences

attending this course: the weaver had possibly got a lantern, and

Dunstan was tired of feeling his way.  He was still nearly

three-quarters of a mile from home, and the lane was becoming

unpleasantly slippery, for the mist was passing into rain. He turned up

the bank, not without some fear lest he might miss the right way, since

he was not certain whether the light were in front or on the side of

the cottage.  But he felt the ground before him cautiously with his

whip-handle, and at last arrived safely at the door.  He knocked

loudly, rather enjoying the idea that the old fellow would be

frightened at the sudden noise.  He heard no movement in reply: all was

silence in the cottage.  Was the weaver gone to bed, then?  If so, why

had he left a light?  That was a strange forgetfulness in a miser.

Dunstan knocked still more loudly, and, without pausing for a reply,

pushed his fingers through the latch-hole, intending to shake the door

and pull the latch-string up and down, not doubting that the door was

fastened. But, to his surprise, at this double motion the door opened,

and he found himself in front of a bright fire which lit up every

corner of the cottage--the bed, the loom, the three chairs, and the

table--and showed him that Marner was not there.

 

Nothing at that moment could be much more inviting to Dunsey than the

bright fire on the brick hearth: he walked in and seated himself by it

at once.  There was something in front of the fire, too, that would

have been inviting to a hungry man, if it had been in a different stage

of cooking.  It was a small bit of pork suspended from the

kettle-hanger by a string passed through a large door-key, in a way

known to primitive housekeepers unpossessed of jacks.  But the pork had

been hung at the farthest extremity of the hanger, apparently to

prevent the roasting from proceeding too rapidly during the owner's

absence.  The old staring simpleton had hot meat for his supper, then?

thought Dunstan.  People had always said he lived on mouldy bread, on

purpose to check his appetite.  But where could he be at this time, and

on such an evening, leaving his supper in this stage of preparation,

and his door unfastened?  Dunstan's own recent difficulty in making his

way suggested to him that the weaver had perhaps gone outside his

cottage to fetch in fuel, or for some such brief purpose, and had

slipped into the Stone-pit.  That was an interesting idea to Dunstan,

carrying consequences of entire novelty.  If the weaver was dead, who

had a right to his money?  Who would know where his money was hidden?

_Who would know that anybody had come to take it away?_  He went no

farther into the subtleties of evidence: the pressing question, "Where

_is_ the money?"  now took such entire possession of him as to make him

quite forget that the weaver's death was not a certainty.  A dull mind,

once arriving at an inference that flatters a desire, is rarely able to

retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started

was purely problematic.  And Dunstan's mind was as dull as the mind of

a possible felon usually is.  There were only three hiding-places where

he had ever heard of cottagers' hoards being found: the thatch, the

bed, and a hole in the floor.  Marner's cottage had no thatch; and

Dunstan's first act, after a train of thought made rapid by the

stimulus of cupidity, was to go up to the bed; but while he did so, his

eyes travelled eagerly over the floor, where the bricks, distinct in

the fire-light, were discernible under the sprinkling of sand.  But not

everywhere; for there was one spot, and one only, which was quite

covered with sand, and sand showing the marks of fingers, which had

apparently been careful to spread it over a given space.  It was near

the treddles of the loom.  In an instant Dunstan darted to that spot,

swept away the sand with his whip, and, inserting the thin end of the

hook between the bricks, found that they were loose.  In haste he

lifted up two bricks, and saw what he had no doubt was the object of

his search; for what could there be but money in those two leathern

bags?  And, from their weight, they must be filled with guineas.

Dunstan felt round the hole, to be certain that it held no more; then

hastily replaced the bricks, and spread the sand over them.  Hardly

more than five minutes had passed since he entered the cottage, but it

seemed to Dunstan like a long while; and though he was without any

distinct recognition of the possibility that Marner might be alive, and

might re-enter the cottage at any moment, he felt an undefinable dread

laying hold on him, as he rose to his feet with the bags in his hand.

He would hasten out into the darkness, and then consider what he should

do with the bags.  He closed the door behind him immediately, that he

might shut in the stream of light: a few steps would be enough to carry

him beyond betrayal by the gleams from the shutter-chinks and the

latch-hole.  The rain and darkness had got thicker, and he was glad of

it; though it was awkward walking with both hands filled, so that it

was as much as he could do to grasp his whip along with one of the

bags.  But when he had gone a yard or two, he might take his time.  So

he stepped forward into the darkness.

 

 

 

CHAPTER V

 

When Dunstan Cass turned his back on the cottage, Silas Marner was not

more than a hundred yards away from it, plodding along from the village

with a sack thrown round his shoulders as an overcoat, and with a horn

lantern in his hand.  His legs were weary, but his mind was at ease,

free from the presentiment of change.  The sense of security more

frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason

it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have

been expected to suggest alarm.  The lapse of time during which a given

event has not happened, is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged

as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of

time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

A man will tell you that he has worked in a mine for forty years unhurt

by an accident as a reason why he should apprehend no danger, though

the roof is beginning to sink; and it is often observable, that the

older a man gets, the more difficult it is to him to retain a believing

conception of his own death.  This influence of habit was necessarily

strong in a man whose life was so monotonous as Marner's--who saw no

new people and heard of no new events to keep alive in him the idea of

the unexpected and the changeful; and it explains simply enough, why

his mind could be at ease, though he had left his house and his

treasure more defenceless than usual.  Silas was thinking with double

complacency of his supper: first, because it would be hot and savoury;

and secondly, because it would cost him nothing.  For the little bit of

pork was a present from that excellent housewife, Miss Priscilla

Lammeter, to whom he had this day carried home a handsome piece of

linen; and it was only on occasion of a present like this, that Silas

indulged himself with roast-meat.  Supper was his favourite meal,

because it came at his time of revelry, when his heart warmed over his

gold; whenever he had roast-meat, he always chose to have it for

supper.  But this evening, he had no sooner ingeniously knotted his

string fast round his bit of pork, twisted the string according to rule

over his door-key, passed it through the handle, and made it fast on

the hanger, than he remembered that a piece of very fine twine was

indispensable to his "setting up" a new piece of work in his loom early

in the morning.  It had slipped his memory, because, in coming from Mr.

Lammeter's, he had not had to pass through the village; but to lose

time by going on errands in the morning was out of the question.  It

was a nasty fog to turn out into, but there were things Silas loved

better than his own comfort; so, drawing his pork to the extremity of

the hanger, and arming himself with his lantern and his old sack, he

set out on what, in ordinary weather, would have been a twenty minutes'

errand.  He could not have locked his door without undoing his

well-knotted string and retarding his supper; it was not worth his

while to make that sacrifice.  What thief would find his way to the

Stone-pits on such a night as this? and why should he come on this

particular night, when he had never come through all the fifteen years

before?  These questions were not distinctly present in Silas's mind;

they merely serve to represent the vaguely-felt foundation of his

freedom from anxiety.

 

He reached his door in much satisfaction that his errand was done: he

opened it, and to his short-sighted eyes everything remained as he had

left it, except that the fire sent out a welcome increase of heat.  He

trod about the floor while putting by his lantern and throwing aside

his hat and sack, so as to merge the marks of Dunstan's feet on the

sand in the marks of his own nailed boots. Then he moved his pork

nearer to the fire, and sat down to the agreeable business of tending

the meat and warming himself at the same time.

 

Any one who had looked at him as the red light shone upon his pale

face, strange straining eyes, and meagre form, would perhaps have

understood the mixture of contemptuous pity, dread, and suspicion with

which he was regarded by his neighbours in Raveloe.  Yet few men could

be more harmless than poor Marner.  In his truthful simple soul, not

even the growing greed and worship of gold could beget any vice

directly injurious to others.  The light of his faith quite put out,

and his affections made desolate, he had clung with all the force of

his nature to his work and his money; and like all objects to which a

man devotes himself, they had fashioned him into correspondence with

themselves.  His loom, as he wrought in it without ceasing, had in its

turn wrought on him, and confirmed more and more the monotonous craving

for its monotonous response.  His gold, as he hung over it and saw it

grow, gathered his power of loving together into a hard isolation like

its own.

 

As soon as he was warm he began to think it would be a long while to

wait till after supper before he drew out his guineas, and it would be

pleasant to see them on the table before him as he ate his unwonted

feast.  For joy is the best of wine, and Silas's guineas were a golden

wine of that sort.

 

He rose and placed his candle unsuspectingly on the floor near his

loom, swept away the sand without noticing any change, and removed the

bricks.  The sight of the empty hole made his heart leap violently, but

the belief that his gold was gone could not come at once--only terror,

and the eager effort to put an end to the terror.  He passed his

trembling hand all about the hole, trying to think it possible that his

eyes had deceived him; then he held the candle in the hole and examined

it curiously, trembling more and more.  At last he shook so violently

that he let fall the candle, and lifted his hands to his head, trying

to steady himself, that he might think.  Had he put his gold somewhere

else, by a sudden resolution last night, and then forgotten it?  A man

falling into dark waters seeks a momentary footing even on sliding

stones; and Silas, by acting as if he believed in false hopes, warded

off the moment of despair.  He searched in every corner, he turned his

bed over, and shook it, and kneaded it; he looked in his brick oven

where he laid his sticks.  When there was no other place to be

searched, he kneeled down again and felt once more all round the hole.

There was no untried refuge left for a moment's shelter from the

terrible truth.

 

Yes, there was a sort of refuge which always comes with the prostration

of thought under an overpowering passion: it was that expectation of

impossibilities, that belief in contradictory images, which is still

distinct from madness, because it is capable of being dissipated by the

external fact.  Silas got up from his knees trembling, and looked round

at the table: didn't the gold lie there after all?  The table was bare.

Then he turned and looked behind him--looked all round his dwelling,

seeming to strain his brown eyes after some possible appearance of the

bags where he had already sought them in vain.  He could see every

object in his cottage--and his gold was not there.

 

Again he put his trembling hands to his head, and gave a wild ringing

scream, the cry of desolation.  For a few moments after, he stood

motionless; but the cry had relieved him from the first maddening

pressure of the truth.  He turned, and tottered towards his loom, and

got into the seat where he worked, instinctively seeking this as the

strongest assurance of reality.

 

And now that all the false hopes had vanished, and the first shock of

certainty was past, the idea of a thief began to present itself, and he

entertained it eagerly, because a thief might be caught and made to

restore the gold.  The thought brought some new strength with it, and

he started from his loom to the door.  As he opened it the rain beat in

upon him, for it was falling more and more heavily. There were no

footsteps to be tracked on such a night--footsteps? When had the thief

come?  During Silas's absence in the daytime the door had been locked,

and there had been no marks of any inroad on his return by daylight.

And in the evening, too, he said to himself, everything was the same as

when he had left it.  The sand and bricks looked as if they had not

been moved.  _Was_ it a thief who had taken the bags?  or was it a

cruel power that no hands could reach, which had delighted in making

him a second time desolate?  He shrank from this vaguer dread, and

fixed his mind with struggling effort on the robber with hands, who

could be reached by hands.  His thoughts glanced at all the neighbours

who had made any remarks, or asked any questions which he might now

regard as a ground of suspicion.  There was Jem Rodney, a known

poacher, and otherwise disreputable: he had often met Marner in his

journeys across the fields, and had said something jestingly about the

weaver's money; nay, he had once irritated Marner, by lingering at the

fire when he called to light his pipe, instead of going about his

business.  Jem Rodney was the man--there was ease in the thought.  Jem

could be found and made to restore the money: Marner did not want to

punish him, but only to get back his gold which had gone from him, and

left his soul like a forlorn traveller on an unknown desert.  The

robber must be laid hold of.  Marner's ideas of legal authority were

confused, but he felt that he must go and proclaim his loss; and the

great people in the village--the clergyman, the constable, and Squire

Cass--would make Jem Rodney, or somebody else, deliver up the stolen

money.  He rushed out in the rain, under the stimulus of this hope,

forgetting to cover his head, not caring to fasten his door; for he

felt as if he had nothing left to lose.  He ran swiftly, till want of

breath compelled him to slacken his pace as he was entering the village

at the turning close to the Rainbow.

 

The Rainbow, in Marner's view, was a place of luxurious resort for rich

and stout husbands, whose wives had superfluous stores of linen; it was

the place where he was likely to find the powers and dignities of

Raveloe, and where he could most speedily make his loss public.  He

lifted the latch, and turned into the bright bar or kitchen on the

right hand, where the less lofty customers of the house were in the

habit of assembling, the parlour on the left being reserved for the

more select society in which Squire Cass frequently enjoyed the double

pleasure of conviviality and condescension.  But the parlour was dark

to-night, the chief personages who ornamented its circle being all at

Mrs. Osgood's birthday dance, as Godfrey Cass was.  And in consequence

of this, the party on the high-screened seats in the kitchen was more

numerous than usual; several personages, who would otherwise have been

admitted into the parlour and enlarged the opportunity of hectoring and

condescension for their betters, being content this evening to vary

their enjoyment by taking their spirits-and-water where they could

themselves hector and condescend in company that called for beer.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI

 

The conversation, which was at a high pitch of animation when Silas

approached the door of the Rainbow, had, as usual, been slow and

intermittent when the company first assembled.  The pipes began to be

puffed in a silence which had an air of severity; the more important

customers, who drank spirits and sat nearest the fire, staring at each

other as if a bet were depending on the first man who winked; while the

beer-drinkers, chiefly men in fustian jackets and smock-frocks, kept

their eyelids down and rubbed their hands across their mouths, as if

their draughts of beer were a funereal duty attended with embarrassing

sadness.  At last Mr. Snell, the landlord, a man of a neutral

disposition, accustomed to stand aloof from human differences as those

of beings who were all alike in need of liquor, broke silence, by

saying in a doubtful tone to his cousin the butcher--

 

"Some folks 'ud say that was a fine beast you druv in yesterday, Bob?"

 

The butcher, a jolly, smiling, red-haired man, was not disposed to

answer rashly.  He gave a few puffs before he spat and replied, "And

they wouldn't be fur wrong, John."

 

After this feeble delusive thaw, the silence set in as severely as

before.

 

"Was it a red Durham?"  said the farrier, taking up the thread of

discourse after the lapse of a few minutes.

 

The farrier looked at the landlord, and the landlord looked at the

butcher, as the person who must take the responsibility of answering.

 

"Red it was," said the butcher, in his good-humoured husky treble--"and

a Durham it was."

 

"Then you needn't tell _me_ who you bought it of," said the farrier,

looking round with some triumph; "I know who it is has got the red

Durhams o' this country-side.  And she'd a white star on her brow, I'll

bet a penny?"  The farrier leaned forward with his hands on his knees

as he put this question, and his eyes twinkled knowingly.

 

"Well; yes--she might," said the butcher, slowly, considering that he

was giving a decided affirmative.  "I don't say contrairy."

 

"I knew that very well," said the farrier, throwing himself backward

again, and speaking defiantly; "if _I_ don't know Mr. Lammeter's cows,

I should like to know who does--that's all. And as for the cow you've

bought, bargain or no bargain, I've been at the drenching of

her--contradick me who will."

 

The farrier looked fierce, and the mild butcher's conversational spirit

was roused a little.

 

"I'm not for contradicking no man," he said; "I'm for peace and

quietness.  Some are for cutting long ribs--I'm for cutting 'em short

myself; but _I_ don't quarrel with 'em.  All I say is, it's a lovely

carkiss--and anybody as was reasonable, it 'ud bring tears into their

eyes to look at it."

 

"Well, it's the cow as I drenched, whatever it is," pursued the

farrier, angrily; "and it was Mr. Lammeter's cow, else you told a lie

when you said it was a red Durham."

 

"I tell no lies," said the butcher, with the same mild huskiness as

before, "and I contradick none--not if a man was to swear himself

black: he's no meat o' mine, nor none o' my bargains.  All I say is,

it's a lovely carkiss.  And what I say, I'll stick to; but I'll quarrel

wi' no man."

 

"No," said the farrier, with bitter sarcasm, looking at the company

generally; "and p'rhaps you aren't pig-headed; and p'rhaps you didn't

say the cow was a red Durham; and p'rhaps you didn't say she'd got a

star on her brow--stick to that, now you're at it."

 

"Come, come," said the landlord; "let the cow alone.  The truth lies

atween you: you're both right and both wrong, as I allays say. And as

for the cow's being Mr. Lammeter's, I say nothing to that; but this I

say, as the Rainbow's the Rainbow.  And for the matter o' that, if the

talk is to be o' the Lammeters, _you_ know the most upo' that head, eh,

Mr. Macey?  You remember when first Mr. Lammeter's father come into

these parts, and took the Warrens?"

 

Mr. Macey, tailor and parish-clerk, the latter of which functions

rheumatism had of late obliged him to share with a small-featured young

man who sat opposite him, held his white head on one side, and twirled

his thumbs with an air of complacency, slightly seasoned with

criticism.  He smiled pityingly, in answer to the landlord's appeal,

and said--

 

"Aye, aye; I know, I know; but I let other folks talk.  I've laid by

now, and gev up to the young uns.  Ask them as have been to school at

Tarley: they've learnt pernouncing; that's come up since my day."

 

"If you're pointing at me, Mr. Macey," said the deputy clerk, with an

air of anxious propriety, "I'm nowise a man to speak out of my place.

As the psalm says--

 

  "I know what's right, nor only so,

  But also practise what I know."

 

 

"Well, then, I wish you'd keep hold o' the tune, when it's set for you;

if you're for prac_tis_ing, I wish you'd prac_tise_ that," said a large

jocose-looking man, an excellent wheelwright in his week-day capacity,

but on Sundays leader of the choir.  He winked, as he spoke, at two of

the company, who were known officially as the "bassoon" and the

"key-bugle", in the confidence that he was expressing the sense of the

musical profession in Raveloe.

 

Mr. Tookey, the deputy-clerk, who shared the unpopularity common to

deputies, turned very red, but replied, with careful moderation--"Mr.

Winthrop, if you'll bring me any proof as I'm in the wrong, I'm not the

man to say I won't alter.  But there's people set up their own ears for

a standard, and expect the whole choir to follow 'em.  There may be two

opinions, I hope."

 

"Aye, aye," said Mr. Macey, who felt very well satisfied with this

attack on youthful presumption; "you're right there, Tookey: there's

allays two 'pinions; there's the 'pinion a man has of himsen, and

there's the 'pinion other folks have on him.  There'd be two 'pinions

about a cracked bell, if the bell could hear itself."

 

"Well, Mr. Macey," said poor Tookey, serious amidst the general

laughter, "I undertook to partially fill up the office of parish-clerk

by Mr. Crackenthorp's desire, whenever your infirmities should make you

unfitting; and it's one of the rights thereof to sing in the

choir--else why have you done the same yourself?"

 

"Ah! but the old gentleman and you are two folks," said Ben Winthrop.

"The old gentleman's got a gift.  Why, the Squire used to invite him to

take a glass, only to hear him sing the "Red Rovier"; didn't he, Mr.

Macey?  It's a nat'ral gift.  There's my little lad Aaron, he's got a

gift--he can sing a tune off straight, like a throstle.  But as for

you, Master Tookey, you'd better stick to your "Amens": your voice is

well enough when you keep it up in your nose.  It's your inside as

isn't right made for music: it's no better nor a hollow stalk."

 

This kind of unflinching frankness was the most piquant form of joke to

the company at the Rainbow, and Ben Winthrop's insult was felt by

everybody to have capped Mr. Macey's epigram.

 

"I see what it is plain enough," said Mr. Tookey, unable to keep cool

any longer.  "There's a consperacy to turn me out o' the choir, as I

shouldn't share the Christmas money--that's where it is.  But I shall

speak to Mr. Crackenthorp; I'll not be put upon by no man."

 

"Nay, nay, Tookey," said Ben Winthrop.  "We'll pay you your share to

keep out of it--that's what we'll do.  There's things folks 'ud pay to

be rid on, besides varmin."

 

"Come, come," said the landlord, who felt that paying people for their

absence was a principle dangerous to society; "a joke's a joke.  We're

all good friends here, I hope.  We must give and take. You're both

right and you're both wrong, as I say.  I agree wi' Mr. Macey here, as

there's two opinions; and if mine was asked, I should say they're both

right.  Tookey's right and Winthrop's right, and they've only got to

split the difference and make themselves even."

 

The farrier was puffing his pipe rather fiercely, in some contempt at

this trivial discussion.  He had no ear for music himself, and never

went to church, as being of the medical profession, and likely to be in

requisition for delicate cows.  But the butcher, having music in his

soul, had listened with a divided desire for Tookey's defeat and for

the preservation of the peace.

 

"To be sure," he said, following up the landlord's conciliatory view,

"we're fond of our old clerk; it's nat'ral, and him used to be such a

singer, and got a brother as is known for the first fiddler in this

country-side.  Eh, it's a pity but what Solomon lived in our village,

and could give us a tune when we liked; eh, Mr. Macey?  I'd keep him in

liver and lights for nothing--that I would."

 

"Aye, aye," said Mr. Macey, in the height of complacency; "our family's

been known for musicianers as far back as anybody can tell. But them

things are dying out, as I tell Solomon every time he comes round;

there's no voices like what there used to be, and there's nobody

remembers what we remember, if it isn't the old crows."

 

"Aye, you remember when first Mr. Lammeter's father come into these

parts, don't you, Mr. Macey?"  said the landlord.

 

"I should think I did," said the old man, who had now gone through that

complimentary process necessary to bring him up to the point of

narration; "and a fine old gentleman he was--as fine, and finer nor the

Mr. Lammeter as now is.  He came from a bit north'ard, so far as I

could ever make out.  But there's nobody rightly knows about those

parts: only it couldn't be far north'ard, nor much different from this

country, for he brought a fine breed o' sheep with him, so there must

be pastures there, and everything reasonable.  We heared tell as he'd

sold his own land to come and take the Warrens, and that seemed odd for

a man as had land of his own, to come and rent a farm in a strange

place.  But they said it was along of his wife's dying; though there's

reasons in things as nobody knows on--that's pretty much what I've made

out; yet some folks are so wise, they'll find you fifty reasons

straight off, and all the while the real reason's winking at 'em in the

corner, and they niver see't.  Howsomever, it was soon seen as we'd got

a new parish'ner as know'd the rights and customs o' things, and kep a

good house, and was well looked on by everybody.  And the young

man--that's the Mr. Lammeter as now is, for he'd niver a sister--soon

begun to court Miss Osgood, that's the sister o' the Mr. Osgood as now

is, and a fine handsome lass she was--eh, you can't think--they pretend

this young lass is like her, but that's the way wi' people as don't

know what come before 'em.  _I_ should know, for I helped the old

rector, Mr. Drumlow as was, I helped him marry 'em."

 

Here Mr. Macey paused; he always gave his narrative in instalments,

expecting to be questioned according to precedent.

 

"Aye, and a partic'lar thing happened, didn't it, Mr. Macey, so as you

were likely to remember that marriage?"  said the landlord, in a

congratulatory tone.

 

"I should think there did--a _very_ partic'lar thing," said Mr. Macey,

nodding sideways.  "For Mr. Drumlow--poor old gentleman, I was fond on

him, though he'd got a bit confused in his head, what wi' age and wi'

taking a drop o' summat warm when the service come of a cold morning.

And young Mr. Lammeter, he'd have no way but he must be married in

Janiwary, which, to be sure, 's a unreasonable time to be married in,

for it isn't like a christening or a burying, as you can't help; and so

Mr. Drumlow--poor old gentleman, I was fond on him--but when he come to

put the questions, he put 'em by the rule o' contrairy, like, and he

says, "Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded wife?"  says he, and then

he says, "Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded husband?" says he.

But the partic'larest thing of all is, as nobody took any notice on it

but me, and they answered straight off "yes", like as if it had been me

saying "Amen" i' the right place, without listening to what went

before."

 

"But _you_ knew what was going on well enough, didn't you, Mr. Macey?

You were live enough, eh?"  said the butcher.

 

"Lor bless you!"  said Mr. Macey, pausing, and smiling in pity at the

impotence of his hearer's imagination--"why, I was all of a tremble: it

was as if I'd been a coat pulled by the two tails, like; for I couldn't

stop the parson, I couldn't take upon me to do that; and yet I said to

myself, I says, "Suppose they shouldn't be fast married, 'cause the

words are contrairy?"  and my head went working like a mill, for I was

allays uncommon for turning things over and seeing all round 'em; and I

says to myself, "Is't the meanin' or the words as makes folks fast i'

wedlock?"  For the parson meant right, and the bride and bridegroom

meant right.  But then, when I come to think on it, meanin' goes but a

little way i' most things, for you may mean to stick things together

and your glue may be bad, and then where are you?  And so I says to

mysen, "It isn't the meanin', it's the glue."  And I was worreted as if

I'd got three bells to pull at once, when we went into the vestry, and

they begun to sign their names.  But where's the use o' talking?--you

can't think what goes on in a 'cute man's inside."

 

"But you held in for all that, didn't you, Mr. Macey?"  said the

landlord.

 

"Aye, I held in tight till I was by mysen wi' Mr. Drumlow, and then I

out wi' everything, but respectful, as I allays did.  And he made light

on it, and he says, "Pooh, pooh, Macey, make yourself easy," he says;

"it's neither the meaning nor the words--it's the re_ges_ter does

it--that's the glue."  So you see he settled it easy; for parsons and

doctors know everything by heart, like, so as they aren't worreted wi'

thinking what's the rights and wrongs o' things, as I'n been many and

many's the time.  And sure enough the wedding turned out all right,

on'y poor Mrs. Lammeter--that's Miss Osgood as was--died afore the

lasses was growed up; but for prosperity and everything respectable,

there's no family more looked on."

 

Every one of Mr. Macey's audience had heard this story many times, but

it was listened to as if it had been a favourite tune, and at certain

points the puffing of the pipes was momentarily suspended, that the

listeners might give their whole minds to the expected words.  But

there was more to come; and Mr. Snell, the landlord, duly put the

leading question.

 

"Why, old Mr. Lammeter had a pretty fortin, didn't they say, when he

come into these parts?"

 

"Well, yes," said Mr. Macey; "but I daresay it's as much as this Mr.

Lammeter's done to keep it whole.  For there was allays a talk as

nobody could get rich on the Warrens: though he holds it cheap, for

it's what they call Charity Land."

 

"Aye, and there's few folks know so well as you how it come to be

Charity Land, eh, Mr. Macey?"  said the butcher.

 

"How should they?"  said the old clerk, with some contempt. "Why, my

grandfather made the grooms' livery for that Mr. Cliff as came and

built the big stables at the Warrens.  Why, they're stables four times

as big as Squire Cass's, for he thought o' nothing but hosses and

hunting, Cliff didn't--a Lunnon tailor, some folks said, as had gone

mad wi' cheating.  For he couldn't ride; lor bless you!  they said he'd

got no more grip o' the hoss than if his legs had been cross-sticks: my

grandfather heared old Squire Cass say so many and many a time.  But

ride he would, as if Old Harry had been a-driving him; and he'd a son,

a lad o' sixteen; and nothing would his father have him do, but he must

ride and ride--though the lad was frighted, they said.  And it was a

common saying as the father wanted to ride the tailor out o' the lad,

and make a gentleman on him--not but what I'm a tailor myself, but in

respect as God made me such, I'm proud on it, for "Macey, tailor", 's

been wrote up over our door since afore the Queen's heads went out on

the shillings. But Cliff, he was ashamed o' being called a tailor, and

he was sore vexed as his riding was laughed at, and nobody o' the

gentlefolks hereabout could abide him.  Howsomever, the poor lad got

sickly and died, and the father didn't live long after him, for he got

queerer nor ever, and they said he used to go out i' the dead o' the

night, wi' a lantern in his hand, to the stables, and set a lot o'

lights burning, for he got as he couldn't sleep; and there he'd stand,

cracking his whip and looking at his hosses; and they said it was a

mercy as the stables didn't get burnt down wi' the poor dumb creaturs

in 'em.  But at last he died raving, and they found as he'd left all

his property, Warrens and all, to a Lunnon Charity, and that's how the

Warrens come to be Charity Land; though, as for the stables, Mr.

Lammeter never uses 'em--they're out o' all charicter--lor bless you!

if you was to set the doors a-banging in 'em, it 'ud sound like thunder

half o'er the parish."

 

"Aye, but there's more going on in the stables than what folks see by

daylight, eh, Mr. Macey?"  said the landlord.

 

"Aye, aye; go that way of a dark night, that's all," said Mr. Macey,

winking mysteriously, "and then make believe, if you like, as you

didn't see lights i' the stables, nor hear the stamping o' the hosses,

nor the cracking o' the whips, and howling, too, if it's tow'rt

daybreak.  "Cliff's Holiday" has been the name of it ever sin' I were a

boy; that's to say, some said as it was the holiday Old Harry gev him

from roasting, like.  That's what my father told me, and he was a

reasonable man, though there's folks nowadays know what happened afore

they were born better nor they know their own business."

 

"What do you say to that, eh, Dowlas?"  said the landlord, turning to

the farrier, who was swelling with impatience for his cue. "There's a

nut for _you_ to crack."

 

Mr. Dowlas was the negative spirit in the company, and was proud of his

position.

 

"Say?  I say what a man _should_ say as doesn't shut his eyes to look

at a finger-post.  I say, as I'm ready to wager any man ten pound, if

he'll stand out wi' me any dry night in the pasture before the Warren

stables, as we shall neither see lights nor hear noises, if it isn't

the blowing of our own noses.  That's what I say, and I've said it many

a time; but there's nobody 'ull ventur a ten-pun' note on their ghos'es

as they make so sure of."

 

"Why, Dowlas, that's easy betting, that is," said Ben Winthrop. "You

might as well bet a man as he wouldn't catch the rheumatise if he stood

up to 's neck in the pool of a frosty night.  It 'ud be fine fun for a

man to win his bet as he'd catch the rheumatise. Folks as believe in

Cliff's Holiday aren't agoing to ventur near it for a matter o' ten

pound."

 

"If Master Dowlas wants to know the truth on it," said Mr. Macey, with

a sarcastic smile, tapping his thumbs together, "he's no call to lay

any bet--let him go and stan' by himself--there's nobody 'ull hinder

him; and then he can let the parish'ners know if they're wrong."

 

"Thank you!  I'm obliged to you," said the farrier, with a snort of

scorn.  "If folks are fools, it's no business o' mine.  _I_ don't want

to make out the truth about ghos'es: I know it a'ready. But I'm not

against a bet--everything fair and open.  Let any man bet me ten pound

as I shall see Cliff's Holiday, and I'll go and stand by myself.  I

want no company.  I'd as lief do it as I'd fill this pipe."

 

"Ah, but who's to watch you, Dowlas, and see you do it?  That's no fair

bet," said the butcher.

 

"No fair bet?"  replied Mr. Dowlas, angrily.  "I should like to hear

any man stand up and say I want to bet unfair.  Come now, Master Lundy,

I should like to hear you say it."

 

"Very like you would," said the butcher.  "But it's no business o'

mine.  You're none o' my bargains, and I aren't a-going to try and

'bate your price.  If anybody 'll bid for you at your own vallying, let

him.  I'm for peace and quietness, I am."

 

"Yes, that's what every yapping cur is, when you hold a stick up at

him," said the farrier.  "But I'm afraid o' neither man nor ghost, and

I'm ready to lay a fair bet.  _I_ aren't a turn-tail cur."

 

"Aye, but there's this in it, Dowlas," said the landlord, speaking in a

tone of much candour and tolerance.  "There's folks, i' my opinion,

they can't see ghos'es, not if they stood as plain as a pike-staff

before 'em.  And there's reason i' that.  For there's my wife, now,

can't smell, not if she'd the strongest o' cheese under her nose.  I

never see'd a ghost myself; but then I says to myself, "Very like I

haven't got the smell for 'em."  I mean, putting a ghost for a smell,

or else contrairiways.  And so, I'm for holding with both sides; for,

as I say, the truth lies between 'em.  And if Dowlas was to go and

stand, and say he'd never seen a wink o' Cliff's Holiday all the night

through, I'd back him; and if anybody said as Cliff's Holiday was

certain sure, for all that, I'd back _him_ too.  For the smell's what I

go by."

 

The landlord's analogical argument was not well received by the

farrier--a man intensely opposed to compromise.

 

"Tut, tut," he said, setting down his glass with refreshed irritation;

"what's the smell got to do with it?  Did ever a ghost give a man a

black eye?  That's what I should like to know.  If ghos'es want me to

believe in 'em, let 'em leave off skulking i' the dark and i' lone

places--let 'em come where there's company and candles."

 

"As if ghos'es 'ud want to be believed in by anybody so ignirant!" said

Mr. Macey, in deep disgust at the farrier's crass incompetence to

apprehend the conditions of ghostly phenomena.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VII

 

Yet the next moment there seemed to be some evidence that ghosts had a

more condescending disposition than Mr. Macey attributed to them; for

the pale thin figure of Silas Marner was suddenly seen standing in the

warm light, uttering no word, but looking round at the company with his

strange unearthly eyes.  The long pipes gave a simultaneous movement,

like the antennae of startled insects, and every man present, not

excepting even the sceptical farrier, had an impression that he saw,

not Silas Marner in the flesh, but an apparition; for the door by which

Silas had entered was hidden by the high-screened seats, and no one had

noticed his approach. Mr. Macey, sitting a long way off the ghost,

might be supposed to have felt an argumentative triumph, which would

tend to neutralize his share of the general alarm.  Had he not always

said that when Silas Marner was in that strange trance of his, his soul

went loose from his body?  Here was the demonstration: nevertheless, on

the whole, he would have been as well contented without it.  For a few

moments there was a dead silence, Marner's want of breath and agitation

not allowing him to speak.  The landlord, under the habitual sense that

he was bound to keep his house open to all company, and confident in

the protection of his unbroken neutrality, at last took on himself the

task of adjuring the ghost.

 

"Master Marner," he said, in a conciliatory tone, "what's lacking to

you?  What's your business here?"

 

"Robbed!"  said Silas, gaspingly.  "I've been robbed!  I want the

constable--and the Justice--and Squire Cass--and Mr. Crackenthorp."

 

"Lay hold on him, Jem Rodney," said the landlord, the idea of a ghost

subsiding; "he's off his head, I doubt.  He's wet through."

 

Jem Rodney was the outermost man, and sat conveniently near Marner's

standing-place; but he declined to give his services.

 

"Come and lay hold on him yourself, Mr. Snell, if you've a mind," said

Jem, rather sullenly.  "He's been robbed, and murdered too, for what I

know," he added, in a muttering tone.

 

"Jem Rodney!"  said Silas, turning and fixing his strange eyes on the

suspected man.

 

"Aye, Master Marner, what do you want wi' me?"  said Jem, trembling a

little, and seizing his drinking-can as a defensive weapon.

 

"If it was you stole my money," said Silas, clasping his hands

entreatingly, and raising his voice to a cry, "give it me back--and I

won't meddle with you.  I won't set the constable on you. Give it me

back, and I'll let you--I'll let you have a guinea."

 

"Me stole your money!"  said Jem, angrily.  "I'll pitch this can at

your eye if you talk o' _my_ stealing your money."

 

"Come, come, Master Marner," said the landlord, now rising resolutely,

and seizing Marner by the shoulder, "if you've got any information to

lay, speak it out sensible, and show as you're in your right mind, if

you expect anybody to listen to you.  You're as wet as a drownded rat.

Sit down and dry yourself, and speak straight forrard."

 

"Ah, to be sure, man," said the farrier, who began to feel that he had

not been quite on a par with himself and the occasion.  "Let's have no

more staring and screaming, else we'll have you strapped for a madman.

That was why I didn't speak at the first--thinks I, the man's run mad."

 

"Aye, aye, make him sit down," said several voices at once, well

pleased that the reality of ghosts remained still an open question.

 

The landlord forced Marner to take off his coat, and then to sit down

on a chair aloof from every one else, in the centre of the circle and

in the direct rays of the fire.  The weaver, too feeble to have any

distinct purpose beyond that of getting help to recover his money,

submitted unresistingly.  The transient fears of the company were now

forgotten in their strong curiosity, and all faces were turned towards

Silas, when the landlord, having seated himself again, said--

 

"Now then, Master Marner, what's this you've got to say--as you've been

robbed?  Speak out."

 

"He'd better not say again as it was me robbed him," cried Jem Rodney,

hastily.  "What could I ha' done with his money?  I could as easy steal

the parson's surplice, and wear it."

 

"Hold your tongue, Jem, and let's hear what he's got to say," said the

landlord.  "Now then, Master Marner."

 

Silas now told his story, under frequent questioning as the mysterious

character of the robbery became evident.

 

This strangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloe

neighbours, of sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his own, and

feeling the presence of faces and voices which were his nearest promise

of help, had doubtless its influence on Marner, in spite of his

passionate preoccupation with his loss.  Our consciousness rarely

registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us:

there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the

smallest sign of the bud.

 

The slight suspicion with which his hearers at first listened to him,

gradually melted away before the convincing simplicity of his distress:

it was impossible for the neighbours to doubt that Marner was telling

the truth, not because they were capable of arguing at once from the

nature of his statements to the absence of any motive for making them

falsely, but because, as Mr. Macey observed, "Folks as had the devil to

back 'em were not likely to be so mushed" as poor Silas was.  Rather,

from the strange fact that the robber had left no traces, and had

happened to know the nick of time, utterly incalculable by mortal

agents, when Silas would go away from home without locking his door,

the more probable conclusion seemed to be, that his disreputable

intimacy in that quarter, if it ever existed, had been broken up, and

that, in consequence, this ill turn had been done to Marner by somebody

it was quite in vain to set the constable after.  Why this

preternatural felon should be obliged to wait till the door was left

unlocked, was a question which did not present itself.

 

"It isn't Jem Rodney as has done this work, Master Marner," said the

landlord.  "You mustn't be a-casting your eye at poor Jem. There may be

a bit of a reckoning against Jem for the matter of a hare or so, if

anybody was bound to keep their eyes staring open, and niver to wink;

but Jem's been a-sitting here drinking his can, like the decentest man

i' the parish, since before you left your house, Master Marner, by your

own account."

 

"Aye, aye," said Mr. Macey; "let's have no accusing o' the innicent.

That isn't the law.  There must be folks to swear again' a man before

he can be ta'en up.  Let's have no accusing o' the innicent, Master

Marner."

 

Memory was not so utterly torpid in Silas that it could not be awakened

by these words.  With a movement of compunction as new and strange to

him as everything else within the last hour, he started from his chair

and went close up to Jem, looking at him as if he wanted to assure

himself of the expression in his face.

 

"I was wrong," he said--"yes, yes--I ought to have thought. There's

nothing to witness against you, Jem.  Only you'd been into my house

oftener than anybody else, and so you came into my head. I don't accuse

you--I won't accuse anybody--only," he added, lifting up his hands to

his head, and turning away with bewildered misery, "I try--I try to

think where my guineas can be."

 

"Aye, aye, they're gone where it's hot enough to melt 'em, I doubt,"

said Mr. Macey.

 

"Tchuh!"  said the farrier.  And then he asked, with a cross-examining

air, "How much money might there be in the bags, Master Marner?"

 

"Two hundred and seventy-two pounds, twelve and sixpence, last night

when I counted it," said Silas, seating himself again, with a groan.

 

"Pooh!  why, they'd be none so heavy to carry.  Some tramp's been in,

that's all; and as for the no footmarks, and the bricks and the sand

being all right--why, your eyes are pretty much like a insect's, Master

Marner; they're obliged to look so close, you can't see much at a time.

It's my opinion as, if I'd been you, or you'd been me--for it comes to

the same thing--you wouldn't have thought you'd found everything as you

left it.  But what I vote is, as two of the sensiblest o' the company

should go with you to Master Kench, the constable's--he's ill i' bed, I

know that much--and get him to appoint one of us his deppity; for

that's the law, and I don't think anybody 'ull take upon him to

contradick me there.  It isn't much of a walk to Kench's; and then, if

it's me as is deppity, I'll go back with you, Master Marner, and

examine your premises; and if anybody's got any fault to find with

that, I'll thank him to stand up and say it out like a man."

 

By this pregnant speech the farrier had re-established his

self-complacency, and waited with confidence to hear himself named as

one of the superlatively sensible men.

 

"Let us see how the night is, though," said the landlord, who also

considered himself personally concerned in this proposition.  "Why, it

rains heavy still," he said, returning from the door.

 

"Well, I'm not the man to be afraid o' the rain," said the farrier.

"For it'll look bad when Justice Malam hears as respectable men like us

had a information laid before 'em and took no steps."

 

The landlord agreed with this view, and after taking the sense of the

company, and duly rehearsing a small ceremony known in high

ecclesiastical life as the _nolo episcopari_, he consented to take on

himself the chill dignity of going to Kench's.  But to the farrier's

strong disgust, Mr. Macey now started an objection to his proposing

himself as a deputy-constable; for that oracular old gentleman,

claiming to know the law, stated, as a fact delivered to him by his

father, that no doctor could be a constable.

 

"And you're a doctor, I reckon, though you're only a cow-doctor--for a

fly's a fly, though it may be a hoss-fly," concluded Mr. Macey,

wondering a little at his own "'cuteness".

 

There was a hot debate upon this, the farrier being of course

indisposed to renounce the quality of doctor, but contending that a

doctor could be a constable if he liked--the law meant, he needn't be

one if he didn't like.  Mr. Macey thought this was nonsense, since the

law was not likely to be fonder of doctors than of other folks.

Moreover, if it was in the nature of doctors more than of other men not

to like being constables, how came Mr. Dowlas to be so eager to act in

that capacity?

 

"_I_ don't want to act the constable," said the farrier, driven into a

corner by this merciless reasoning; "and there's no man can say it of

me, if he'd tell the truth.  But if there's to be any jealousy and

en_vy_ing about going to Kench's in the rain, let them go as like

it--you won't get me to go, I can tell you."

 

By the landlord's intervention, however, the dispute was accommodated.

Mr. Dowlas consented to go as a second person disinclined to act

officially; and so poor Silas, furnished with some old coverings,

turned out with his two companions into the rain again, thinking of the

long night-hours before him, not as those do who long to rest, but as

those who expect to "watch for the morning".

 

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

When Godfrey Cass returned from Mrs. Osgood's party at midnight, he was

not much surprised to learn that Dunsey had not come home. Perhaps he

had not sold Wildfire, and was waiting for another chance--perhaps, on

that foggy afternoon, he had preferred housing himself at the Red Lion

at Batherley for the night, if the run had kept him in that

neighbourhood; for he was not likely to feel much concern about leaving

his brother in suspense.  Godfrey's mind was too full of Nancy

Lammeter's looks and behaviour, too full of the exasperation against

himself and his lot, which the sight of her always produced in him, for

him to give much thought to Wildfire, or to the probabilities of

Dunstan's conduct.

 

The next morning the whole village was excited by the story of the

robbery, and Godfrey, like every one else, was occupied in gathering

and discussing news about it, and in visiting the Stone-pits.  The rain

had washed away all possibility of distinguishing foot-marks, but a

close investigation of the spot had disclosed, in the direction

opposite to the village, a tinder-box, with a flint and steel, half

sunk in the mud.  It was not Silas's tinder-box, for the only one he

had ever had was still standing on his shelf; and the inference

generally accepted was, that the tinder-box in the ditch was somehow

connected with the robbery.  A small minority shook their heads, and

intimated their opinion that it was not a robbery to have much light

thrown on it by tinder-boxes, that Master Marner's tale had a queer

look with it, and that such things had been known as a man's doing

himself a mischief, and then setting the justice to look for the doer.

But when questioned closely as to their grounds for this opinion, and

what Master Marner had to gain by such false pretences, they only shook

their heads as before, and observed that there was no knowing what some

folks counted gain; moreover, that everybody had a right to their own

opinions, grounds or no grounds, and that the weaver, as everybody

knew, was partly crazy.  Mr. Macey, though he joined in the defence of

Marner against all suspicions of deceit, also pooh-poohed the

tinder-box; indeed, repudiated it as a rather impious suggestion,

tending to imply that everything must be done by human hands, and that

there was no power which could make away with the guineas without

moving the bricks. Nevertheless, he turned round rather sharply on Mr.

Tookey, when the zealous deputy, feeling that this was a view of the

case peculiarly suited to a parish-clerk, carried it still farther, and

doubted whether it was right to inquire into a robbery at all when the

circumstances were so mysterious.

 

"As if," concluded Mr. Tookey--"as if there was nothing but what could

be made out by justices and constables."

 

"Now, don't you be for overshooting the mark, Tookey," said Mr. Macey,

nodding his head aside admonishingly.  "That's what you're allays at;

if I throw a stone and hit, you think there's summat better than

hitting, and you try to throw a stone beyond. What I said was against

the tinder-box: I said nothing against justices and constables, for

they're o' King George's making, and it 'ud be ill-becoming a man in a

parish office to fly out again' King George."

 

While these discussions were going on amongst the group outside the

Rainbow, a higher consultation was being carried on within, under the

presidency of Mr. Crackenthorp, the rector, assisted by Squire Cass and

other substantial parishioners.  It had just occurred to Mr. Snell, the

landlord--he being, as he observed, a man accustomed to put two and two

together--to connect with the tinder-box, which, as deputy-constable,

he himself had had the honourable distinction of finding, certain

recollections of a pedlar who had called to drink at the house about a

month before, and had actually stated that he carried a tinder-box

about with him to light his pipe.  Here, surely, was a clue to be

followed out.  And as memory, when duly impregnated with ascertained

facts, is sometimes surprisingly fertile, Mr. Snell gradually recovered

a vivid impression of the effect produced on him by the pedlar's

countenance and conversation.  He had a "look with his eye" which fell

unpleasantly on Mr. Snell's sensitive organism.  To be sure, he didn't

say anything particular--no, except that about the tinder-box--but it

isn't what a man says, it's the way he says it. Moreover, he had a

swarthy foreignness of complexion which boded little honesty.

 

"Did he wear ear-rings?"  Mr. Crackenthorp wished to know, having some

acquaintance with foreign customs.

 

"Well--stay--let me see," said Mr. Snell, like a docile clairvoyante,

who would really not make a mistake if she could help it.  After

stretching the corners of his mouth and contracting his eyes, as if he

were trying to see the ear-rings, he appeared to give up the effort,

and said, "Well, he'd got ear-rings in his box to sell, so it's nat'ral

to suppose he might wear 'em.  But he called at every house, a'most, in

the village; there's somebody else, mayhap, saw 'em in his ears, though

I can't take upon me rightly to say."

 

Mr. Snell was correct in his surmise, that somebody else would remember

the pedlar's ear-rings.  For on the spread of inquiry among the

villagers it was stated with gathering emphasis, that the parson had

wanted to know whether the pedlar wore ear-rings in his ears, and an

impression was created that a great deal depended on the eliciting of

this fact.  Of course, every one who heard the question, not having any

distinct image of the pedlar as _without_ ear-rings, immediately had an

image of him _with_ ear-rings, larger or smaller, as the case might be;

and the image was presently taken for a vivid recollection, so that the

glazier's wife, a well-intentioned woman, not given to lying, and whose

house was among the cleanest in the village, was ready to declare, as

sure as ever she meant to take the sacrament the very next Christmas

that was ever coming, that she had seen big ear-rings, in the shape of

the young moon, in the pedlar's two ears; while Jinny Oates, the

cobbler's daughter, being a more imaginative person, stated not only

that she had seen them too, but that they had made her blood creep, as

it did at that very moment while there she stood.

 

Also, by way of throwing further light on this clue of the tinder-box,

a collection was made of all the articles purchased from the pedlar at

various houses, and carried to the Rainbow to be exhibited there.  In

fact, there was a general feeling in the village, that for the

clearing-up of this robbery there must be a great deal done at the

Rainbow, and that no man need offer his wife an excuse for going there

while it was the scene of severe public duties.

 

Some disappointment was felt, and perhaps a little indignation also,

when it became known that Silas Marner, on being questioned by the

Squire and the parson, had retained no other recollection of the pedlar

than that he had called at his door, but had not entered his house,

having turned away at once when Silas, holding the door ajar, had said

that he wanted nothing.  This had been Silas's testimony, though he

clutched strongly at the idea of the pedlar's being the culprit, if

only because it gave him a definite image of a whereabout for his gold

after it had been taken away from its hiding-place: he could see it now

in the pedlar's box.  But it was observed with some irritation in the

village, that anybody but a "blind creatur" like Marner would have seen

the man prowling about, for how came he to leave his tinder-box in the

ditch close by, if he hadn't been lingering there?  Doubtless, he had

made his observations when he saw Marner at the door.  Anybody might

know--and only look at him--that the weaver was a half-crazy miser.  It

was a wonder the pedlar hadn't murdered him; men of that sort, with

rings in their ears, had been known for murderers often and often;

there had been one tried at the 'sizes, not so long ago but what there

were people living who remembered it.

 

Godfrey Cass, indeed, entering the Rainbow during one of Mr. Snell's

frequently repeated recitals of his testimony, had treated it lightly,

stating that he himself had bought a pen-knife of the pedlar, and

thought him a merry grinning fellow enough; it was all nonsense, he

said, about the man's evil looks.  But this was spoken of in the

village as the random talk of youth, "as if it was only Mr. Snell who

had seen something odd about the pedlar!"  On the contrary, there were

at least half-a-dozen who were ready to go before Justice Malam, and

give in much more striking testimony than any the landlord could

furnish.  It was to be hoped Mr. Godfrey would not go to Tarley and

throw cold water on what Mr. Snell said there, and so prevent the

justice from drawing up a warrant.  He was suspected of intending this,

when, after mid-day, he was seen setting off on horseback in the

direction of Tarley.

 

But by this time Godfrey's interest in the robbery had faded before his

growing anxiety about Dunstan and Wildfire, and he was going, not to

Tarley, but to Batherley, unable to rest in uncertainty about them any

longer.  The possibility that Dunstan had played him the ugly trick of

riding away with Wildfire, to return at the end of a month, when he had

gambled away or otherwise squandered the price of the horse, was a fear

that urged itself upon him more, even, than the thought of an

accidental injury; and now that the dance at Mrs. Osgood's was past, he

was irritated with himself that he had trusted his horse to Dunstan.

Instead of trying to still his fears, he encouraged them, with that

superstitious impression which clings to us all, that if we expect evil

very strongly it is the less likely to come; and when he heard a horse

approaching at a trot, and saw a hat rising above a hedge beyond an

angle of the lane, he felt as if his conjuration had succeeded.  But no

sooner did the horse come within sight, than his heart sank again.  It

was not Wildfire; and in a few moments more he discerned that the rider

was not Dunstan, but Bryce, who pulled up to speak, with a face that

implied something disagreeable.

 

"Well, Mr. Godfrey, that's a lucky brother of yours, that Master

Dunsey, isn't he?"

 

"What do you mean?"  said Godfrey, hastily.

 

"Why, hasn't he been home yet?"  said Bryce.

 

"Home?  no.  What has happened?  Be quick.  What has he done with my

horse?"

 

"Ah, I thought it was yours, though he pretended you had parted with it

to him."

 

"Has he thrown him down and broken his knees?"  said Godfrey, flushed

with exasperation.

 

"Worse than that," said Bryce.  "You see, I'd made a bargain with him

to buy the horse for a hundred and twenty--a swinging price, but I

always liked the horse.  And what does he do but go and stake him--fly

at a hedge with stakes in it, atop of a bank with a ditch before it.

The horse had been dead a pretty good while when he was found.  So he

hasn't been home since, has he?"

 

"Home?  no," said Godfrey, "and he'd better keep away.  Confound me for

a fool!  I might have known this would be the end of it."

 

"Well, to tell you the truth," said Bryce, "after I'd bargained for the

horse, it did come into my head that he might be riding and selling the

horse without your knowledge, for I didn't believe it was his own.  I

knew Master Dunsey was up to his tricks sometimes. But where can he be

gone?  He's never been seen at Batherley.  He couldn't have been hurt,

for he must have walked off."

 

"Hurt?"  said Godfrey, bitterly.  "He'll never be hurt--he's made to

hurt other people."

 

"And so you _did_ give him leave to sell the horse, eh?"  said Bryce.

 

"Yes; I wanted to part with the horse--he was always a little too hard

in the mouth for me," said Godfrey; his pride making him wince under

the idea that Bryce guessed the sale to be a matter of necessity.  "I

was going to see after him--I thought some mischief had happened.  I'll

go back now," he added, turning the horse's head, and wishing he could

get rid of Bryce; for he felt that the long-dreaded crisis in his life

was close upon him. "You're coming on to Raveloe, aren't you?"

 

"Well, no, not now," said Bryce.  "I _was_ coming round there, for I

had to go to Flitton, and I thought I might as well take you in my way,

and just let you know all I knew myself about the horse. I suppose

Master Dunsey didn't like to show himself till the ill news had blown

over a bit.  He's perhaps gone to pay a visit at the Three Crowns, by

Whitbridge--I know he's fond of the house."

 

"Perhaps he is," said Godfrey, rather absently.  Then rousing himself,

he said, with an effort at carelessness, "We shall hear of him soon

enough, I'll be bound."

 

"Well, here's my turning," said Bryce, not surprised to perceive that

Godfrey was rather "down"; "so I'll bid you good-day, and wish I may

bring you better news another time."

 

Godfrey rode along slowly, representing to himself the scene of

confession to his father from which he felt that there was now no

longer any escape.  The revelation about the money must be made the

very next morning; and if he withheld the rest, Dunstan would be sure

to come back shortly, and, finding that he must bear the brunt of his

father's anger, would tell the whole story out of spite, even though he

had nothing to gain by it.  There was one step, perhaps, by which he

might still win Dunstan's silence and put off the evil day: he might

tell his father that he had himself spent the money paid to him by

Fowler; and as he had never been guilty of such an offence before, the

affair would blow over after a little storming. But Godfrey could not

bend himself to this.  He felt that in letting Dunstan have the money,

he had already been guilty of a breach of trust hardly less culpable

than that of spending the money directly for his own behoof; and yet

there was a distinction between the two acts which made him feel that

the one was so much more blackening than the other as to be intolerable

to him.

 

"I don't pretend to be a good fellow," he said to himself; "but I'm not

a scoundrel--at least, I'll stop short somewhere.  I'll bear the

consequences of what I _have_ done sooner than make believe I've done

what I never would have done.  I'd never have spent the money for my

own pleasure--I was tortured into it."

 

Through the remainder of this day Godfrey, with only occasional

fluctuations, kept his will bent in the direction of a complete avowal

to his father, and he withheld the story of Wildfire's loss till the

next morning, that it might serve him as an introduction to heavier

matter.  The old Squire was accustomed to his son's frequent absence

from home, and thought neither Dunstan's nor Wildfire's non-appearance

a matter calling for remark.  Godfrey said to himself again and again,

that if he let slip this one opportunity of confession, he might never

have another; the revelation might be made even in a more odious way

than by Dunstan's malignity: _she_ might come as she had threatened to

do.  And then he tried to make the scene easier to himself by

rehearsal: he made up his mind how he would pass from the admission of

his weakness in letting Dunstan have the money to the fact that Dunstan

had a hold on him which he had been unable to shake off, and how he

would work up his father to expect something very bad before he told

him the fact.  The old Squire was an implacable man: he made

resolutions in violent anger, and he was not to be moved from them

after his anger had subsided--as fiery volcanic matters cool and harden

into rock.  Like many violent and implacable men, he allowed evils to

grow under favour of his own heedlessness, till they pressed upon him

with exasperating force, and then he turned round with fierce severity

and became unrelentingly hard.  This was his system with his tenants:

he allowed them to get into arrears, neglect their fences, reduce their

stock, sell their straw, and otherwise go the wrong way,--and then,

when he became short of money in consequence of this indulgence, he

took the hardest measures and would listen to no appeal.  Godfrey knew

all this, and felt it with the greater force because he had constantly

suffered annoyance from witnessing his father's sudden fits of

unrelentingness, for which his own habitual irresolution deprived him

of all sympathy.  (He was not critical on the faulty indulgence which

preceded these fits; _that_ seemed to him natural enough.)  Still there

was just the chance, Godfrey thought, that his father's pride might see

this marriage in a light that would induce him to hush it up, rather

than turn his son out and make the family the talk of the country for

ten miles round.

 

This was the view of the case that Godfrey managed to keep before him

pretty closely till midnight, and he went to sleep thinking that he had

done with inward debating.  But when he awoke in the still morning

darkness he found it impossible to reawaken his evening thoughts; it

was as if they had been tired out and were not to be roused to further

work.  Instead of arguments for confession, he could now feel the

presence of nothing but its evil consequences: the old dread of

disgrace came back--the old shrinking from the thought of raising a

hopeless barrier between himself and Nancy--the old disposition to rely

on chances which might be favourable to him, and save him from

betrayal.  Why, after all, should he cut off the hope of them by his

own act?  He had seen the matter in a wrong light yesterday.  He had

been in a rage with Dunstan, and had thought of nothing but a thorough

break-up of their mutual understanding; but what it would be really

wisest for him to do, was to try and soften his father's anger against

Dunsey, and keep things as nearly as possible in their old condition.

If Dunsey did not come back for a few days (and Godfrey did not know

but that the rascal had enough money in his pocket to enable him to

keep away still longer), everything might blow over.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX

 

Godfrey rose and took his own breakfast earlier than usual, but

lingered in the wainscoted parlour till his younger brothers had

finished their meal and gone out; awaiting his father, who always took

a walk with his managing-man before breakfast.  Every one breakfasted

at a different hour in the Red House, and the Squire was always the

latest, giving a long chance to a rather feeble morning appetite before

he tried it.  The table had been spread with substantial eatables

nearly two hours before he presented himself--a tall, stout man of

sixty, with a face in which the knit brow and rather hard glance seemed

contradicted by the slack and feeble mouth.  His person showed marks of

habitual neglect, his dress was slovenly; and yet there was something

in the presence of the old Squire distinguishable from that of the

ordinary farmers in the parish, who were perhaps every whit as refined

as he, but, having slouched their way through life with a consciousness

of being in the vicinity of their "betters", wanted that

self-possession and authoritativeness of voice and carriage which

belonged to a man who thought of superiors as remote existences with

whom he had personally little more to do than with America or the

stars.  The Squire had been used to parish homage all his life, used to

the presupposition that his family, his tankards, and everything that

was his, were the oldest and best; and as he never associated with any

gentry higher than himself, his opinion was not disturbed by comparison.

 

He glanced at his son as he entered the room, and said, "What, sir!

haven't _you_ had your breakfast yet?"  but there was no pleasant

morning greeting between them; not because of any unfriendliness, but

because the sweet flower of courtesy is not a growth of such homes as

the Red House.

 

"Yes, sir," said Godfrey, "I've had my breakfast, but I was waiting to

speak to you."

 

"Ah!  well," said the Squire, throwing himself indifferently into his

chair, and speaking in a ponderous coughing fashion, which was felt in

Raveloe to be a sort of privilege of his rank, while he cut a piece of

beef, and held it up before the deer-hound that had come in with him.

"Ring the bell for my ale, will you?  You youngsters' business is your

own pleasure, mostly.  There's no hurry about it for anybody but

yourselves."

 

The Squire's life was quite as idle as his sons', but it was a fiction

kept up by himself and his contemporaries in Raveloe that youth was

exclusively the period of folly, and that their aged wisdom was

constantly in a state of endurance mitigated by sarcasm. Godfrey

waited, before he spoke again, until the ale had been brought and the

door closed--an interval during which Fleet, the deer-hound, had

consumed enough bits of beef to make a poor man's holiday dinner.

 

"There's been a cursed piece of ill-luck with Wildfire," he began;

"happened the day before yesterday."

 

"What!  broke his knees?"  said the Squire, after taking a draught of

ale.  "I thought you knew how to ride better than that, sir. I never

threw a horse down in my life.  If I had, I might ha' whistled for

another, for _my_ father wasn't quite so ready to unstring as some

other fathers I know of.  But they must turn over a new leaf--_they_

must.  What with mortgages and arrears, I'm as short o' cash as a

roadside pauper.  And that fool Kimble says the newspaper's talking

about peace.  Why, the country wouldn't have a leg to stand on.  Prices

'ud run down like a jack, and I should never get my arrears, not if I

sold all the fellows up.  And there's that damned Fowler, I won't put

up with him any longer; I've told Winthrop to go to Cox this very day.

The lying scoundrel told me he'd be sure to pay me a hundred last

month.  He takes advantage because he's on that outlying farm, and

thinks I shall forget him."

 

The Squire had delivered this speech in a coughing and interrupted

manner, but with no pause long enough for Godfrey to make it a pretext

for taking up the word again.  He felt that his father meant to ward

off any request for money on the ground of the misfortune with

Wildfire, and that the emphasis he had thus been led to lay on his

shortness of cash and his arrears was likely to produce an attitude of

mind the utmost unfavourable for his own disclosure. But he must go on,

now he had begun.

 

"It's worse than breaking the horse's knees--he's been staked and

killed," he said, as soon as his father was silent, and had begun to

cut his meat.  "But I wasn't thinking of asking you to buy me another

horse; I was only thinking I'd lost the means of paying you with the

price of Wildfire, as I'd meant to do.  Dunsey took him to the hunt to

sell him for me the other day, and after he'd made a bargain for a

hundred and twenty with Bryce, he went after the hounds, and took some

fool's leap or other that did for the horse at once.  If it hadn't been

for that, I should have paid you a hundred pounds this morning."

 

The Squire had laid down his knife and fork, and was staring at his son

in amazement, not being sufficiently quick of brain to form a probable

guess as to what could have caused so strange an inversion of the

paternal and filial relations as this proposition of his son to pay him

a hundred pounds.

 

"The truth is, sir--I'm very sorry--I was quite to blame," said

Godfrey.  "Fowler did pay that hundred pounds.  He paid it to me, when

I was over there one day last month.  And Dunsey bothered me for the

money, and I let him have it, because I hoped I should be able to pay

it you before this."

 

The Squire was purple with anger before his son had done speaking, and

found utterance difficult.  "You let Dunsey have it, sir?  And how long

have you been so thick with Dunsey that you must _collogue_ with him to

embezzle my money?  Are you turning out a scamp?  I tell you I won't

have it.  I'll turn the whole pack of you out of the house together,

and marry again.  I'd have you to remember, sir, my property's got no

entail on it;--since my grandfather's time the Casses can do as they

like with their land.  Remember that, sir. Let Dunsey have the money!

Why should you let Dunsey have the money?  There's some lie at the

bottom of it."

 

"There's no lie, sir," said Godfrey.  "I wouldn't have spent the money

myself, but Dunsey bothered me, and I was a fool, and let him have it.

But I meant to pay it, whether he did or not.  That's the whole story.

I never meant to embezzle money, and I'm not the man to do it.  You

never knew me do a dishonest trick, sir."

 

"Where's Dunsey, then?  What do you stand talking there for?  Go and

fetch Dunsey, as I tell you, and let him give account of what he wanted

the money for, and what he's done with it.  He shall repent it.  I'll

turn him out.  I said I would, and I'll do it.  He shan't brave me.  Go

and fetch him."

 

"Dunsey isn't come back, sir."

 

"What!  did he break his own neck, then?"  said the Squire, with some

disgust at the idea that, in that case, he could not fulfil his threat.

 

"No, he wasn't hurt, I believe, for the horse was found dead, and

Dunsey must have walked off.  I daresay we shall see him again

by-and-by.  I don't know where he is."

 

"And what must you be letting him have my money for?  Answer me that,"

said the Squire, attacking Godfrey again, since Dunsey was not within

reach.

 

"Well, sir, I don't know," said Godfrey, hesitatingly.  That was a

feeble evasion, but Godfrey was not fond of lying, and, not being

sufficiently aware that no sort of duplicity can long flourish without

the help of vocal falsehoods, he was quite unprepared with invented

motives.

 

"You don't know?  I tell you what it is, sir.  You've been up to some

trick, and you've been bribing him not to tell," said the Squire, with

a sudden acuteness which startled Godfrey, who felt his heart beat

violently at the nearness of his father's guess.  The sudden alarm

pushed him on to take the next step--a very slight impulse suffices for

that on a downward road.

 

"Why, sir," he said, trying to speak with careless ease, "it was a

little affair between me and Dunsey; it's no matter to anybody else.

It's hardly worth while to pry into young men's fooleries: it wouldn't

have made any difference to you, sir, if I'd not had the bad luck to

lose Wildfire.  I should have paid you the money."

 

"Fooleries!  Pshaw!  it's time you'd done with fooleries.  And I'd have

you know, sir, you _must_ ha' done with 'em," said the Squire, frowning

and casting an angry glance at his son.  "Your goings-on are not what I

shall find money for any longer.  There's my grandfather had his

stables full o' horses, and kept a good house, too, and in worse times,

by what I can make out; and so might I, if I hadn't four

good-for-nothing fellows to hang on me like horse-leeches.  I've been

too good a father to you all--that's what it is.  But I shall pull up,

sir."

 

Godfrey was silent.  He was not likely to be very penetrating in his

judgments, but he had always had a sense that his father's indulgence

had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline

that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better

will.  The Squire ate his bread and meat hastily, took a deep draught

of ale, then turned his chair from the table, and began to speak again.

 

"It'll be all the worse for you, you know--you'd need try and help me

keep things together."

 

"Well, sir, I've often offered to take the management of things, but

you know you've taken it ill always, and seemed to think I wanted to

push you out of your place."

 

"I know nothing o' your offering or o' my taking it ill," said the

Squire, whose memory consisted in certain strong impressions unmodified

by detail; "but I know, one while you seemed to be thinking o'

marrying, and I didn't offer to put any obstacles in your way, as some

fathers would.  I'd as lieve you married Lammeter's daughter as

anybody.  I suppose, if I'd said you nay, you'd ha' kept on with it;

but, for want o' contradiction, you've changed your mind.  You're a

shilly-shally fellow: you take after your poor mother.  She never had a

will of her own; a woman has no call for one, if she's got a proper man

for her husband.  But _your_ wife had need have one, for you hardly

know your own mind enough to make both your legs walk one way.  The

lass hasn't said downright she won't have you, has she?"

 

"No," said Godfrey, feeling very hot and uncomfortable; "but I don't

think she will."

 

"Think!  why haven't you the courage to ask her?  Do you stick to it,

you want to have _her_--that's the thing?"

 

"There's no other woman I want to marry," said Godfrey, evasively.

 

"Well, then, let me make the offer for you, that's all, if you haven't

the pluck to do it yourself.  Lammeter isn't likely to be loath for his

daughter to marry into _my_ family, I should think. And as for the

pretty lass, she wouldn't have her cousin--and there's nobody else, as

I see, could ha' stood in your way."

 

"I'd rather let it be, please sir, at present," said Godfrey, in alarm.

"I think she's a little offended with me just now, and I should like to

speak for myself.  A man must manage these things for himself."

 

"Well, speak, then, and manage it, and see if you can't turn over a new

leaf.  That's what a man must do when he thinks o' marrying."

 

"I don't see how I can think of it at present, sir.  You wouldn't like

to settle me on one of the farms, I suppose, and I don't think she'd

come to live in this house with all my brothers.  It's a different sort

of life to what she's been used to."

 

"Not come to live in this house?  Don't tell me.  You ask her, that's

all," said the Squire, with a short, scornful laugh.

 

"I'd rather let the thing be, at present, sir," said Godfrey.  "I hope

you won't try to hurry it on by saying anything."

 

"I shall do what I choose," said the Squire, "and I shall let you know

I'm master; else you may turn out and find an estate to drop into

somewhere else.  Go out and tell Winthrop not to go to Cox's, but wait

for me.  And tell 'em to get my horse saddled.  And stop: look out and

get that hack o' Dunsey's sold, and hand me the money, will you?  He'll

keep no more hacks at my expense.  And if you know where he's

sneaking--I daresay you do--you may tell him to spare himself the

journey o' coming back home.  Let him turn ostler, and keep himself.

He shan't hang on me any more."

 

"I don't know where he is, sir; and if I did, it isn't my place to tell

him to keep away," said Godfrey, moving towards the door.

 

"Confound it, sir, don't stay arguing, but go and order my horse," said

the Squire, taking up a pipe.

 

Godfrey left the room, hardly knowing whether he were more relieved by

the sense that the interview was ended without having made any change

in his position, or more uneasy that he had entangled himself still

further in prevarication and deceit.  What had passed about his

proposing to Nancy had raised a new alarm, lest by some after-dinner

words of his father's to Mr. Lammeter he should be thrown into the

embarrassment of being obliged absolutely to decline her when she

seemed to be within his reach.  He fled to his usual refuge, that of

hoping for some unforeseen turn of fortune, some favourable chance

which would save him from unpleasant consequences--perhaps even justify

his insincerity by manifesting its prudence. And in this point of

trusting to some throw of fortune's dice, Godfrey can hardly be called

specially old-fashioned.  Favourable Chance, I fancy, is the god of all

men who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe

in.  Let even a polished man of these days get into a position he is

ashamed to avow, and his mind will be bent on all the possible issues

that may deliver him from the calculable results of that position.  Let

him live outside his income, or shirk the resolute honest work that

brings wages, and he will presently find himself dreaming of a possible

benefactor, a possible simpleton who may be cajoled into using his

interest, a possible state of mind in some possible person not yet

forthcoming. Let him neglect the responsibilities of his office, and he

will inevitably anchor himself on the chance that the thing left undone

may turn out not to be of the supposed importance.  Let him betray his

friend's confidence, and he will adore that same cunning complexity

called Chance, which gives him the hope that his friend will never

know.  Let him forsake a decent craft that he may pursue the

gentilities of a profession to which nature never called him, and his

religion will infallibly be the worship of blessed Chance, which he

will believe in as the mighty creator of success.  The evil principle

deprecated in that religion is the orderly sequence by which the seed

brings forth a crop after its kind.

 

 

 

CHAPTER X

 

Justice Malam was naturally regarded in Tarley and Raveloe as a man of

capacious mind, seeing that he could draw much wider conclusions

without evidence than could be expected of his neighbours who were not

on the Commission of the Peace.  Such a man was not likely to neglect

the clue of the tinder-box, and an inquiry was set on foot concerning a

pedlar, name unknown, with curly black hair and a foreign complexion,

carrying a box of cutlery and jewellery, and wearing large rings in his

ears.  But either because inquiry was too slow-footed to overtake him,

or because the description applied to so many pedlars that inquiry did

not know how to choose among them, weeks passed away, and there was no

other result concerning the robbery than a gradual cessation of the

excitement it had caused in Raveloe.  Dunstan Cass's absence was hardly

a subject of remark: he had once before had a quarrel with his father,

and had gone off, nobody knew whither, to return at the end of six

weeks, take up his old quarters unforbidden, and swagger as usual.  His

own family, who equally expected this issue, with the sole difference

that the Squire was determined this time to forbid him the old

quarters, never mentioned his absence; and when his uncle Kimble or Mr.

Osgood noticed it, the story of his having killed Wildfire, and

committed some offence against his father, was enough to prevent

surprise.  To connect the fact of Dunsey's disappearance with that of

the robbery occurring on the same day, lay quite away from the track of

every one's thought--even Godfrey's, who had better reason than any one

else to know what his brother was capable of.  He remembered no mention

of the weaver between them since the time, twelve years ago, when it

was their boyish sport to deride him; and, besides, his imagination

constantly created an _alibi_ for Dunstan: he saw him continually in

some congenial haunt, to which he had walked off on leaving

Wildfire--saw him sponging on chance acquaintances, and meditating a

return home to the old amusement of tormenting his elder brother.  Even

if any brain in Raveloe had put the said two facts together, I doubt

whether a combination so injurious to the prescriptive respectability

of a family with a mural monument and venerable tankards, would not

have been suppressed as of unsound tendency.  But Christmas puddings,

brawn, and abundance of spirituous liquors, throwing the mental

originality into the channel of nightmare, are great preservatives

against a dangerous spontaneity of waking thought.

 

When the robbery was talked of at the Rainbow and elsewhere, in good

company, the balance continued to waver between the rational

explanation founded on the tinder-box, and the theory of an

impenetrable mystery that mocked investigation.  The advocates of the

tinder-box-and-pedlar view considered the other side a muddle-headed

and credulous set, who, because they themselves were wall-eyed,

supposed everybody else to have the same blank outlook; and the

adherents of the inexplicable more than hinted that their antagonists

were animals inclined to crow before they had found any corn--mere

skimming-dishes in point of depth--whose clear-sightedness consisted in

supposing there was nothing behind a barn-door because they couldn't

see through it; so that, though their controversy did not serve to

elicit the fact concerning the robbery, it elicited some true opinions

of collateral importance.

 

But while poor Silas's loss served thus to brush the slow current of

Raveloe conversation, Silas himself was feeling the withering

desolation of that bereavement about which his neighbours were arguing

at their ease.  To any one who had observed him before he lost his

gold, it might have seemed that so withered and shrunken a life as his

could hardly be susceptible of a bruise, could hardly endure any

subtraction but such as would put an end to it altogether.  But in

reality it had been an eager life, filled with immediate purpose which

fenced him in from the wide, cheerless unknown.  It had been a clinging

life; and though the object round which its fibres had clung was a dead

disrupted thing, it satisfied the need for clinging.  But now the fence

was broken down--the support was snatched away.  Marner's thoughts

could no longer move in their old round, and were baffled by a blank

like that which meets a plodding ant when the earth has broken away on

its homeward path.  The loom was there, and the weaving, and the

growing pattern in the cloth; but the bright treasure in the hole under

his feet was gone; the prospect of handling and counting it was gone:

the evening had no phantasm of delight to still the poor soul's

craving.  The thought of the money he would get by his actual work

could bring no joy, for its meagre image was only a fresh reminder of

his loss; and hope was too heavily crushed by the sudden blow for his

imagination to dwell on the growth of a new hoard from that small

beginning.

 

He filled up the blank with grief.  As he sat weaving, he every now and

then moaned low, like one in pain: it was the sign that his thoughts

had come round again to the sudden chasm--to the empty evening-time.

And all the evening, as he sat in his loneliness by his dull fire, he

leaned his elbows on his knees, and clasped his head with his hands,

and moaned very low--not as one who seeks to be heard.

 

And yet he was not utterly forsaken in his trouble.  The repulsion

Marner had always created in his neighbours was partly dissipated by

the new light in which this misfortune had shown him.  Instead of a man

who had more cunning than honest folks could come by, and, what was

worse, had not the inclination to use that cunning in a neighbourly

way, it was now apparent that Silas had not cunning enough to keep his

own.  He was generally spoken of as a "poor mushed creatur"; and that

avoidance of his neighbours, which had before been referred to his

ill-will and to a probable addiction to worse company, was now

considered mere craziness.

 

This change to a kindlier feeling was shown in various ways.  The odour

of Christmas cooking being on the wind, it was the season when

superfluous pork and black puddings are suggestive of charity in

well-to-do families; and Silas's misfortune had brought him uppermost

in the memory of housekeepers like Mrs. Osgood. Mr. Crackenthorp, too,

while he admonished Silas that his money had probably been taken from

him because he thought too much of it and never came to church,

enforced the doctrine by a present of pigs' pettitoes, well calculated

to dissipate unfounded prejudices against the clerical character.

Neighbours who had nothing but verbal consolation to give showed a

disposition not only to greet Silas and discuss his misfortune at some

length when they encountered him in the village, but also to take the

trouble of calling at his cottage and getting him to repeat all the

details on the very spot; and then they would try to cheer him by

saying, "Well, Master Marner, you're no worse off nor other poor folks,

after all; and if you was to be crippled, the parish 'ud give you a

'lowance."

 

I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours

with our words is that our goodwill gets adulterated, in spite of

ourselves, before it can pass our lips.  We can send black puddings and

pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own egoism; but language

is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil.  There was

a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe; but it was often of a beery

and bungling sort, and took the shape least allied to the complimentary

and hypocritical.

 

Mr. Macey, for example, coming one evening expressly to let Silas know

that recent events had given him the advantage of standing more

favourably in the opinion of a man whose judgment was not formed

lightly, opened the conversation by saying, as soon as he had seated

himself and adjusted his thumbs--

 

"Come, Master Marner, why, you've no call to sit a-moaning.  You're a

deal better off to ha' lost your money, nor to ha' kep it by foul

means.  I used to think, when you first come into these parts, as you

were no better nor you should be; you were younger a deal than what you

are now; but you were allays a staring, white-faced creatur, partly

like a bald-faced calf, as I may say.  But there's no knowing: it isn't

every queer-looksed thing as Old Harry's had the making of--I mean,

speaking o' toads and such; for they're often harmless, like, and

useful against varmin.  And it's pretty much the same wi' you, as fur

as I can see.  Though as to the yarbs and stuff to cure the breathing,

if you brought that sort o' knowledge from distant parts, you might ha'

been a bit freer of it. And if the knowledge wasn't well come by, why,

you might ha' made up for it by coming to church reg'lar; for, as for

the children as the Wise Woman charmed, I've been at the christening of

'em again and again, and they took the water just as well.  And that's

reasonable; for if Old Harry's a mind to do a bit o' kindness for a

holiday, like, who's got anything against it?  That's my thinking; and

I've been clerk o' this parish forty year, and I know, when the parson

and me does the cussing of a Ash Wednesday, there's no cussing o' folks

as have a mind to be cured without a doctor, let Kimble say what he

will.  And so, Master Marner, as I was saying--for there's windings i'

things as they may carry you to the fur end o' the prayer-book afore

you get back to 'em--my advice is, as you keep up your sperrits; for as

for thinking you're a deep un, and ha' got more inside you nor 'ull

bear daylight, I'm not o' that opinion at all, and so I tell the

neighbours.  For, says I, you talk o' Master Marner making out a

tale--why, it's nonsense, that is: it 'ud take a 'cute man to make a

tale like that; and, says I, he looked as scared as a rabbit."

 

During this discursive address Silas had continued motionless in his

previous attitude, leaning his elbows on his knees, and pressing his

hands against his head.  Mr. Macey, not doubting that he had been

listened to, paused, in the expectation of some appreciatory reply, but

Marner remained silent.  He had a sense that the old man meant to be

good-natured and neighbourly; but the kindness fell on him as sunshine

falls on the wretched--he had no heart to taste it, and felt that it

was very far off him.

 

"Come, Master Marner, have you got nothing to say to that?"  said Mr.

Macey at last, with a slight accent of impatience.

 

"Oh," said Marner, slowly, shaking his head between his hands, "I thank

you--thank you--kindly."

 

"Aye, aye, to be sure: I thought you would," said Mr. Macey; "and my

advice is--have you got a Sunday suit?"

 

"No," said Marner.

 

"I doubted it was so," said Mr. Macey.  "Now, let me advise you to get

a Sunday suit: there's Tookey, he's a poor creatur, but he's got my

tailoring business, and some o' my money in it, and he shall make a

suit at a low price, and give you trust, and then you can come to

church, and be a bit neighbourly.  Why, you've never heared me say

"Amen" since you come into these parts, and I recommend you to lose no

time, for it'll be poor work when Tookey has it all to himself, for I

mayn't be equil to stand i' the desk at all, come another winter."

Here Mr. Macey paused, perhaps expecting some sign of emotion in his

hearer; but not observing any, he went on. "And as for the money for

the suit o' clothes, why, you get a matter of a pound a-week at your

weaving, Master Marner, and you're a young man, eh, for all you look so

mushed.  Why, you couldn't ha' been five-and-twenty when you come into

these parts, eh?"

 

Silas started a little at the change to a questioning tone, and

answered mildly, "I don't know; I can't rightly say--it's a long while

since."

 

After receiving such an answer as this, it is not surprising that Mr.

Macey observed, later on in the evening at the Rainbow, that Marner's

head was "all of a muddle", and that it was to be doubted if he ever

knew when Sunday came round, which showed him a worse heathen than many

a dog.

 

Another of Silas's comforters, besides Mr. Macey, came to him with a

mind highly charged on the same topic.  This was Mrs. Winthrop, the

wheelwright's wife.  The inhabitants of Raveloe were not severely

regular in their church-going, and perhaps there was hardly a person in

the parish who would not have held that to go to church every Sunday in

the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand well with

Heaven, and get an undue advantage over their neighbours--a wish to be

better than the "common run", that would have implied a reflection on

those who had had godfathers and godmothers as well as themselves, and

had an equal right to the burying-service.  At the same time, it was

understood to be requisite for all who were not household servants, or

young men, to take the sacrament at one of the great festivals: Squire

Cass himself took it on Christmas-day; while those who were held to be

"good livers" went to church with greater, though still with moderate,

frequency.

 

Mrs. Winthrop was one of these: she was in all respects a woman of

scrupulous conscience, so eager for duties that life seemed to offer

them too scantily unless she rose at half-past four, though this threw

a scarcity of work over the more advanced hours of the morning, which

it was a constant problem with her to remove.  Yet she had not the

vixenish temper which is sometimes supposed to be a necessary condition

of such habits: she was a very mild, patient woman, whose nature it was

to seek out all the sadder and more serious elements of life, and

pasture her mind upon them.  She was the person always first thought of

in Raveloe when there was illness or death in a family, when leeches

were to be applied, or there was a sudden disappointment in a monthly

nurse.  She was a "comfortable woman"--good-looking,

fresh-complexioned, having her lips always slightly screwed, as if she

felt herself in a sick-room with the doctor or the clergyman present.

But she was never whimpering; no one had seen her shed tears; she was

simply grave and inclined to shake her head and sigh, almost

imperceptibly, like a funereal mourner who is not a relation.  It

seemed surprising that Ben Winthrop, who loved his quart-pot and his

joke, got along so well with Dolly; but she took her husband's jokes

and joviality as patiently as everything else, considering that "men

_would_ be so", and viewing the stronger sex in the light of animals

whom it had pleased Heaven to make naturally troublesome, like bulls

and turkey-cocks.

 

This good wholesome woman could hardly fail to have her mind drawn

strongly towards Silas Marner, now that he appeared in the light of a

sufferer; and one Sunday afternoon she took her little boy Aaron with

her, and went to call on Silas, carrying in her hand some small

lard-cakes, flat paste-like articles much esteemed in Raveloe. Aaron,

an apple-cheeked youngster of seven, with a clean starched frill which

looked like a plate for the apples, needed all his adventurous

curiosity to embolden him against the possibility that the big-eyed

weaver might do him some bodily injury; and his dubiety was much

increased when, on arriving at the Stone-pits, they heard the

mysterious sound of the loom.

 

"Ah, it is as I thought," said Mrs. Winthrop, sadly.

 

They had to knock loudly before Silas heard them; but when he did come

to the door he showed no impatience, as he would once have done, at a

visit that had been unasked for and unexpected. Formerly, his heart had

been as a locked casket with its treasure inside; but now the casket

was empty, and the lock was broken.  Left groping in darkness, with his

prop utterly gone, Silas had inevitably a sense, though a dull and

half-despairing one, that if any help came to him it must come from

without; and there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of

his fellow-men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill.

He opened the door wide to admit Dolly, but without otherwise returning

her greeting than by moving the armchair a few inches as a sign that

she was to sit down in it.  Dolly, as soon as she was seated, removed

the white cloth that covered her lard-cakes, and said in her gravest

way--

 

"I'd a baking yisterday, Master Marner, and the lard-cakes turned out

better nor common, and I'd ha' asked you to accept some, if you'd

thought well.  I don't eat such things myself, for a bit o' bread's

what I like from one year's end to the other; but men's stomichs are

made so comical, they want a change--they do, I know, God help 'em."

 

Dolly sighed gently as she held out the cakes to Silas, who thanked her

kindly and looked very close at them, absently, being accustomed to

look so at everything he took into his hand--eyed all the while by the

wondering bright orbs of the small Aaron, who had made an outwork of

his mother's chair, and was peeping round from behind it.

 

"There's letters pricked on 'em," said Dolly.  "I can't read 'em

myself, and there's nobody, not Mr. Macey himself, rightly knows what

they mean; but they've a good meaning, for they're the same as is on

the pulpit-cloth at church.  What are they, Aaron, my dear?"

 

Aaron retreated completely behind his outwork.

 

"Oh, go, that's naughty," said his mother, mildly.  "Well, whativer the

letters are, they've a good meaning; and it's a stamp as has been in

our house, Ben says, ever since he was a little un, and his mother used

to put it on the cakes, and I've allays put it on too; for if there's

any good, we've need of it i' this world."

 

"It's I. H. S.," said Silas, at which proof of learning Aaron peeped

round the chair again.

 

"Well, to be sure, you can read 'em off," said Dolly.  "Ben's read 'em

to me many and many a time, but they slip out o' my mind again; the

more's the pity, for they're good letters, else they wouldn't be in the

church; and so I prick 'em on all the loaves and all the cakes, though

sometimes they won't hold, because o' the rising--for, as I said, if

there's any good to be got we've need of it i' this world--that we

have; and I hope they'll bring good to you, Master Marner, for it's wi'

that will I brought you the cakes; and you see the letters have held

better nor common."

 

Silas was as unable to interpret the letters as Dolly, but there was no

possibility of misunderstanding the desire to give comfort that made

itself heard in her quiet tones.  He said, with more feeling than

before--"Thank you--thank you kindly."  But he laid down the cakes and

seated himself absently--drearily unconscious of any distinct benefit

towards which the cakes and the letters, or even Dolly's kindness,

could tend for him.

 

"Ah, if there's good anywhere, we've need of it," repeated Dolly, who

did not lightly forsake a serviceable phrase.  She looked at Silas

pityingly as she went on.  "But you didn't hear the church-bells this

morning, Master Marner?  I doubt you didn't know it was Sunday.  Living

so lone here, you lose your count, I daresay; and then, when your loom

makes a noise, you can't hear the bells, more partic'lar now the frost

kills the sound."

 

"Yes, I did; I heard 'em," said Silas, to whom Sunday bells were a mere

accident of the day, and not part of its sacredness.  There had been no

bells in Lantern Yard.

 

"Dear heart!"  said Dolly, pausing before she spoke again.  "But what a

pity it is you should work of a Sunday, and not clean yourself--if you

_didn't_ go to church; for if you'd a roasting bit, it might be as you

couldn't leave it, being a lone man.  But there's the bakehus, if you

could make up your mind to spend a twopence on the oven now and

then,--not every week, in course--I shouldn't like to do that

myself,--you might carry your bit o' dinner there, for it's nothing but

right to have a bit o' summat hot of a Sunday, and not to make it as

you can't know your dinner from Saturday.  But now, upo' Christmas-day,

this blessed Christmas as is ever coming, if you was to take your

dinner to the bakehus, and go to church, and see the holly and the yew,

and hear the anthim, and then take the sacramen', you'd be a deal the

better, and you'd know which end you stood on, and you could put your

trust i' Them as knows better nor we do, seein' you'd ha' done what it

lies on us all to do."

 

Dolly's exhortation, which was an unusually long effort of speech for

her, was uttered in the soothing persuasive tone with which she would

have tried to prevail on a sick man to take his medicine, or a basin of

gruel for which he had no appetite.  Silas had never before been

closely urged on the point of his absence from church, which had only

been thought of as a part of his general queerness; and he was too

direct and simple to evade Dolly's appeal.

 

"Nay, nay," he said, "I know nothing o' church.  I've never been to

church."

 

"No!"  said Dolly, in a low tone of wonderment.  Then bethinking

herself of Silas's advent from an unknown country, she said, "Could it

ha' been as they'd no church where you was born?"

 

"Oh, yes," said Silas, meditatively, sitting in his usual posture of

leaning on his knees, and supporting his head.  "There was churches--a

many--it was a big town.  But I knew nothing of 'em--I went to chapel."

 

Dolly was much puzzled at this new word, but she was rather afraid of

inquiring further, lest "chapel" might mean some haunt of wickedness.

After a little thought, she said--

 

"Well, Master Marner, it's niver too late to turn over a new leaf, and

if you've niver had no church, there's no telling the good it'll do

you.  For I feel so set up and comfortable as niver was, when I've been

and heard the prayers, and the singing to the praise and glory o' God,

as Mr. Macey gives out--and Mr. Crackenthorp saying good words, and

more partic'lar on Sacramen' Day; and if a bit o' trouble comes, I feel

as I can put up wi' it, for I've looked for help i' the right quarter,

and gev myself up to Them as we must all give ourselves up to at the

last; and if we'n done our part, it isn't to be believed as Them as are

above us 'ull be worse nor we are, and come short o' Their'n."

 

Poor Dolly's exposition of her simple Raveloe theology fell rather

unmeaningly on Silas's ears, for there was no word in it that could

rouse a memory of what he had known as religion, and his comprehension

was quite baffled by the plural pronoun, which was no heresy of

Dolly's, but only her way of avoiding a presumptuous familiarity.  He

remained silent, not feeling inclined to assent to the part of Dolly's

speech which he fully understood--her recommendation that he should go

to church.  Indeed, Silas was so unaccustomed to talk beyond the brief

questions and answers necessary for the transaction of his simple

business, that words did not easily come to him without the urgency of

a distinct purpose.

 

But now, little Aaron, having become used to the weaver's awful

presence, had advanced to his mother's side, and Silas, seeming to

notice him for the first time, tried to return Dolly's signs of

good-will by offering the lad a bit of lard-cake.  Aaron shrank back a

little, and rubbed his head against his mother's shoulder, but still

thought the piece of cake worth the risk of putting his hand out for it.

 

"Oh, for shame, Aaron," said his mother, taking him on her lap,

however; "why, you don't want cake again yet awhile.  He's wonderful

hearty," she went on, with a little sigh--"that he is, God knows.  He's

my youngest, and we spoil him sadly, for either me or the father must

allays hev him in our sight--that we must."

 

She stroked Aaron's brown head, and thought it must do Master Marner

good to see such a "pictur of a child".  But Marner, on the other side

of the hearth, saw the neat-featured rosy face as a mere dim round,

with two dark spots in it.

 

"And he's got a voice like a bird--you wouldn't think," Dolly went on;

"he can sing a Christmas carril as his father's taught him; and I take

it for a token as he'll come to good, as he can learn the good tunes so

quick.  Come, Aaron, stan' up and sing the carril to Master Marner,

come."

 

Aaron replied by rubbing his forehead against his mother's shoulder.

 

"Oh, that's naughty," said Dolly, gently.  "Stan' up, when mother tells

you, and let me hold the cake till you've done."

 

Aaron was not indisposed to display his talents, even to an ogre, under

protecting circumstances; and after a few more signs of coyness,

consisting chiefly in rubbing the backs of his hands over his eyes, and

then peeping between them at Master Marner, to see if he looked anxious

for the "carril", he at length allowed his head to be duly adjusted,

and standing behind the table, which let him appear above it only as

far as his broad frill, so that he looked like a cherubic head

untroubled with a body, he began with a clear chirp, and in a melody

that had the rhythm of an industrious hammer

 

  "God rest you, merry gentlemen,

  Let nothing you dismay,

  For Jesus Christ our Savior

  Was born on Christmas-day."

 

 

Dolly listened with a devout look, glancing at Marner in some

confidence that this strain would help to allure him to church.

 

"That's Christmas music," she said, when Aaron had ended, and had

secured his piece of cake again.  "There's no other music equil to the

Christmas music--"Hark the erol angils sing."  And you may judge what

it is at church, Master Marner, with the bassoon and the voices, as you

can't help thinking you've got to a better place a'ready--for I

wouldn't speak ill o' this world, seeing as Them put us in it as knows

best--but what wi' the drink, and the quarrelling, and the bad

illnesses, and the hard dying, as I've seen times and times, one's

thankful to hear of a better.  The boy sings pretty, don't he, Master

Marner?"

 

"Yes," said Silas, absently, "very pretty."

 

The Christmas carol, with its hammer-like rhythm, had fallen on his

ears as strange music, quite unlike a hymn, and could have none of the

effect Dolly contemplated.  But he wanted to show her that he was

grateful, and the only mode that occurred to him was to offer Aaron a

bit more cake.

 

"Oh, no, thank you, Master Marner," said Dolly, holding down Aaron's

willing hands.  "We must be going home now.  And so I wish you

good-bye, Master Marner; and if you ever feel anyways bad in your

inside, as you can't fend for yourself, I'll come and clean up for you,

and get you a bit o' victual, and willing.  But I beg and pray of you

to leave off weaving of a Sunday, for it's bad for soul and body--and

the money as comes i' that way 'ull be a bad bed to lie down on at the

last, if it doesn't fly away, nobody knows where, like the white frost.

And you'll excuse me being that free with you, Master Marner, for I

wish you well--I do.  Make your bow, Aaron."

 

Silas said "Good-bye, and thank you kindly," as he opened the door for

Dolly, but he couldn't help feeling relieved when she was

gone--relieved that he might weave again and moan at his ease.  Her

simple view of life and its comforts, by which she had tried to cheer

him, was only like a report of unknown objects, which his imagination

could not fashion.  The fountains of human love and of faith in a

divine love had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was still the

shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little groove of

sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly against dark

obstruction.

 

And so, notwithstanding the honest persuasions of Mr. Macey and Dolly

Winthrop, Silas spent his Christmas-day in loneliness, eating his meat

in sadness of heart, though the meat had come to him as a neighbourly

present.  In the morning he looked out on the black frost that seemed

to press cruelly on every blade of grass, while the half-icy red pool

shivered under the bitter wind; but towards evening the snow began to

fall, and curtained from him even that dreary outlook, shutting him

close up with his narrow grief.  And he sat in his robbed home through

the livelong evening, not caring to close his shutters or lock his

door, pressing his head between his hands and moaning, till the cold

grasped him and told him that his fire was grey.

 

Nobody in this world but himself knew that he was the same Silas Marner

who had once loved his fellow with tender love, and trusted in an

unseen goodness.  Even to himself that past experience had become dim.

 

But in Raveloe village the bells rang merrily, and the church was

fuller than all through the rest of the year, with red faces among the

abundant dark-green boughs--faces prepared for a longer service than

usual by an odorous breakfast of toast and ale.  Those green boughs,

the hymn and anthem never heard but at Christmas--even the Athanasian

Creed, which was discriminated from the others only as being longer and

of exceptional virtue, since it was only read on rare

occasions--brought a vague exulting sense, for which the grown men

could as little have found words as the children, that something great

and mysterious had been done for them in heaven above and in earth

below, which they were appropriating by their presence.  And then the

red faces made their way through the black biting frost to their own

homes, feeling themselves free for the rest of the day to eat, drink,

and be merry, and using that Christian freedom without diffidence.

 

At Squire Cass's family party that day nobody mentioned Dunstan--nobody

was sorry for his absence, or feared it would be too long. The doctor

and his wife, uncle and aunt Kimble, were there, and the annual

Christmas talk was carried through without any omissions, rising to the

climax of Mr. Kimble's experience when he walked the London hospitals

thirty years back, together with striking professional anecdotes then

gathered.  Whereupon cards followed, with aunt Kimble's annual failure

to follow suit, and uncle Kimble's irascibility concerning the odd

trick which was rarely explicable to him, when it was not on his side,

without a general visitation of tricks to see that they were formed on

sound principles: the whole being accompanied by a strong steaming

odour of spirits-and-water.

 

But the party on Christmas-day, being a strictly family party, was not

the pre-eminently brilliant celebration of the season at the Red House.

It was the great dance on New Year's Eve that made the glory of Squire

Cass's hospitality, as of his forefathers', time out of mind.  This was

the occasion when all the society of Raveloe and Tarley, whether old

acquaintances separated by long rutty distances, or cooled

acquaintances separated by misunderstandings concerning runaway calves,

or acquaintances founded on intermittent condescension, counted on

meeting and on comporting themselves with mutual appropriateness.  This

was the occasion on which fair dames who came on pillions sent their

bandboxes before them, supplied with more than their evening costume;

for the feast was not to end with a single evening, like a paltry town

entertainment, where the whole supply of eatables is put on the table

at once, and bedding is scanty.  The Red House was provisioned as if

for a siege; and as for the spare feather-beds ready to be laid on

floors, they were as plentiful as might naturally be expected in a

family that had killed its own geese for many generations.

 

Godfrey Cass was looking forward to this New Year's Eve with a foolish

reckless longing, that made him half deaf to his importunate companion,

Anxiety.

 

"Dunsey will be coming home soon: there will be a great blow-up, and

how will you bribe his spite to silence?"  said Anxiety.

 

"Oh, he won't come home before New Year's Eve, perhaps," said Godfrey;

"and I shall sit by Nancy then, and dance with her, and get a kind look

from her in spite of herself."

 

"But money is wanted in another quarter," said Anxiety, in a louder

voice, "and how will you get it without selling your mother's diamond

pin?  And if you don't get it...?"

 

"Well, but something may happen to make things easier.  At any rate,

there's one pleasure for me close at hand: Nancy is coming."

 

"Yes, and suppose your father should bring matters to a pass that will

oblige you to decline marrying her--and to give your reasons?"

 

"Hold your tongue, and don't worry me.  I can see Nancy's eyes, just as

they will look at me, and feel her hand in mine already."

 

But Anxiety went on, though in noisy Christmas company; refusing to be

utterly quieted even by much drinking.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI

 

Some women, I grant, would not appear to advantage seated on a pillion,

and attired in a drab joseph and a drab beaver-bonnet, with a crown

resembling a small stew-pan; for a garment suggesting a coachman's

greatcoat, cut out under an exiguity of cloth that would only allow of

miniature capes, is not well adapted to conceal deficiencies of

contour, nor is drab a colour that will throw sallow cheeks into lively

contrast.  It was all the greater triumph to Miss Nancy Lammeter's

beauty that she looked thoroughly bewitching in that costume, as,

seated on the pillion behind her tall, erect father, she held one arm

round him, and looked down, with open-eyed anxiety, at the treacherous

snow-covered pools and puddles, which sent up formidable splashings of

mud under the stamp of Dobbin's foot.  A painter would, perhaps, have

preferred her in those moments when she was free from

self-consciousness; but certainly the bloom on her cheeks was at its

highest point of contrast with the surrounding drab when she arrived at

the door of the Red House, and saw Mr. Godfrey Cass ready to lift her

from the pillion.  She wished her sister Priscilla had come up at the

same time behind the servant, for then she would have contrived that

Mr. Godfrey should have lifted off Priscilla first, and, in the

meantime, she would have persuaded her father to go round to the

horse-block instead of alighting at the door-steps.  It was very

painful, when you had made it quite clear to a young man that you were

determined not to marry him, however much he might wish it, that he

would still continue to pay you marked attentions; besides, why didn't

he always show the same attentions, if he meant them sincerely, instead

of being so strange as Mr. Godfrey Cass was, sometimes behaving as if

he didn't want to speak to her, and taking no notice of her for weeks

and weeks, and then, all on a sudden, almost making love again?

Moreover, it was quite plain he had no real love for her, else he would

not let people have _that_ to say of him which they did say. Did he

suppose that Miss Nancy Lammeter was to be won by any man, squire or no

squire, who led a bad life?  That was not what she had been used to see

in her own father, who was the soberest and best man in that

country-side, only a little hot and hasty now and then, if things were

not done to the minute.

 

All these thoughts rushed through Miss Nancy's mind, in their habitual

succession, in the moments between her first sight of Mr. Godfrey Cass

standing at the door and her own arrival there. Happily, the Squire

came out too and gave a loud greeting to her father, so that, somehow,

under cover of this noise she seemed to find concealment for her

confusion and neglect of any suitably formal behaviour, while she was

being lifted from the pillion by strong arms which seemed to find her

ridiculously small and light. And there was the best reason for

hastening into the house at once, since the snow was beginning to fall

again, threatening an unpleasant journey for such guests as were still

on the road.  These were a small minority; for already the afternoon

was beginning to decline, and there would not be too much time for the

ladies who came from a distance to attire themselves in readiness for

the early tea which was to inspirit them for the dance.

 

There was a buzz of voices through the house, as Miss Nancy entered,

mingled with the scrape of a fiddle preluding in the kitchen; but the

Lammeters were guests whose arrival had evidently been thought of so

much that it had been watched for from the windows, for Mrs. Kimble,

who did the honours at the Red House on these great occasions, came

forward to meet Miss Nancy in the hall, and conduct her up-stairs.

Mrs. Kimble was the Squire's sister, as well as the doctor's wife--a

double dignity, with which her diameter was in direct proportion; so

that, a journey up-stairs being rather fatiguing to her, she did not

oppose Miss Nancy's request to be allowed to find her way alone to the

Blue Room, where the Miss Lammeters' bandboxes had been deposited on

their arrival in the morning.

 

There was hardly a bedroom in the house where feminine compliments were

not passing and feminine toilettes going forward, in various stages, in

space made scanty by extra beds spread upon the floor; and Miss Nancy,

as she entered the Blue Room, had to make her little formal curtsy to a

group of six.  On the one hand, there were ladies no less important

than the two Miss Gunns, the wine merchant's daughters from Lytherly,

dressed in the height of fashion, with the tightest skirts and the

shortest waists, and gazed at by Miss Ladbrook (of the Old Pastures)

with a shyness not unsustained by inward criticism.  Partly, Miss

Ladbrook felt that her own skirt must be regarded as unduly lax by the

Miss Gunns, and partly, that it was a pity the Miss Gunns did not show

that judgment which she herself would show if she were in their place,

by stopping a little on this side of the fashion.  On the other hand,

Mrs. Ladbrook was standing in skull-cap and front, with her turban in

her hand, curtsying and smiling blandly and saying, "After you, ma'am,"

to another lady in similar circumstances, who had politely offered the

precedence at the looking-glass.

 

But Miss Nancy had no sooner made her curtsy than an elderly lady came

forward, whose full white muslin kerchief, and mob-cap round her curls

of smooth grey hair, were in daring contrast with the puffed yellow

satins and top-knotted caps of her neighbours.  She approached Miss

Nancy with much primness, and said, with a slow, treble suavity--

 

"Niece, I hope I see you well in health."  Miss Nancy kissed her aunt's

cheek dutifully, and answered, with the same sort of amiable primness,

"Quite well, I thank you, aunt; and I hope I see you the same."

 

"Thank you, niece; I keep my health for the present.  And how is my

brother-in-law?"

 

These dutiful questions and answers were continued until it was

ascertained in detail that the Lammeters were all as well as usual, and

the Osgoods likewise, also that niece Priscilla must certainly arrive

shortly, and that travelling on pillions in snowy weather was

unpleasant, though a joseph was a great protection.  Then Nancy was

formally introduced to her aunt's visitors, the Miss Gunns, as being

the daughters of a mother known to _their_ mother, though now for the

first time induced to make a journey into these parts; and these ladies

were so taken by surprise at finding such a lovely face and figure in

an out-of-the-way country place, that they began to feel some curiosity

about the dress she would put on when she took off her joseph.  Miss

Nancy, whose thoughts were always conducted with the propriety and

moderation conspicuous in her manners, remarked to herself that the

Miss Gunns were rather hard-featured than otherwise, and that such very

low dresses as they wore might have been attributed to vanity if their

shoulders had been pretty, but that, being as they were, it was not

reasonable to suppose that they showed their necks from a love of

display, but rather from some obligation not inconsistent with sense

and modesty.  She felt convinced, as she opened her box, that this must

be her aunt Osgood's opinion, for Miss Nancy's mind resembled her

aunt's to a degree that everybody said was surprising, considering the

kinship was on Mr. Osgood's side; and though you might not have

supposed it from the formality of their greeting, there was a devoted

attachment and mutual admiration between aunt and niece.  Even Miss

Nancy's refusal of her cousin Gilbert Osgood (on the ground solely that

he was her cousin), though it had grieved her aunt greatly, had not in

the least cooled the preference which had determined her to leave Nancy

several of her hereditary ornaments, let Gilbert's future wife be whom

she might.

 

Three of the ladies quickly retired, but the Miss Gunns were quite

content that Mrs. Osgood's inclination to remain with her niece gave

them also a reason for staying to see the rustic beauty's toilette. And

it was really a pleasure--from the first opening of the bandbox, where

everything smelt of lavender and rose-leaves, to the clasping of the

small coral necklace that fitted closely round her little white neck.

Everything belonging to Miss Nancy was of delicate purity and

nattiness: not a crease was where it had no business to be, not a bit

of her linen professed whiteness without fulfilling its profession; the

very pins on her pincushion were stuck in after a pattern from which

she was careful to allow no aberration; and as for her own person, it

gave the same idea of perfect unvarying neatness as the body of a

little bird.  It is true that her light-brown hair was cropped behind

like a boy's, and was dressed in front in a number of flat rings, that

lay quite away from her face; but there was no sort of coiffure that

could make Miss Nancy's cheek and neck look otherwise than pretty; and

when at last she stood complete in her silvery twilled silk, her lace

tucker, her coral necklace, and coral ear-drops, the Miss Gunns could

see nothing to criticise except her hands, which bore the traces of

butter-making, cheese-crushing, and even still coarser work.  But Miss

Nancy was not ashamed of that, for even while she was dressing she

narrated to her aunt how she and Priscilla had packed their boxes

yesterday, because this morning was baking morning, and since they were

leaving home, it was desirable to make a good supply of meat-pies for

the kitchen; and as she concluded this judicious remark, she turned to

the Miss Gunns that she might not commit the rudeness of not including

them in the conversation.  The Miss Gunns smiled stiffly, and thought

what a pity it was that these rich country people, who could afford to

buy such good clothes (really Miss Nancy's lace and silk were very

costly), should be brought up in utter ignorance and vulgarity.  She

actually said "mate" for "meat", "'appen" for "perhaps", and "oss" for

"horse", which, to young ladies living in good Lytherly society, who

habitually said 'orse, even in domestic privacy, and only said 'appen

on the right occasions, was necessarily shocking.  Miss Nancy, indeed,

had never been to any school higher than Dame Tedman's: her

acquaintance with profane literature hardly went beyond the rhymes she

had worked in her large sampler under the lamb and the shepherdess; and

in order to balance an account, she was obliged to effect her

subtraction by removing visible metallic shillings and sixpences from a

visible metallic total.  There is hardly a servant-maid in these days

who is not better informed than Miss Nancy; yet she had the essential

attributes of a lady--high veracity, delicate honour in her dealings,

deference to others, and refined personal habits,--and lest these

should not suffice to convince grammatical fair ones that her feelings

can at all resemble theirs, I will add that she was slightly proud and

exacting, and as constant in her affection towards a baseless opinion

as towards an erring lover.

 

The anxiety about sister Priscilla, which had grown rather active by

the time the coral necklace was clasped, was happily ended by the

entrance of that cheerful-looking lady herself, with a face made blowsy

by cold and damp.  After the first questions and greetings, she turned

to Nancy, and surveyed her from head to foot--then wheeled her round,

to ascertain that the back view was equally faultless.

 

"What do you think o' _these_ gowns, aunt Osgood?"  said Priscilla,

while Nancy helped her to unrobe.

 

"Very handsome indeed, niece," said Mrs. Osgood, with a slight increase

of formality.  She always thought niece Priscilla too rough.

 

"I'm obliged to have the same as Nancy, you know, for all I'm five

years older, and it makes me look yallow; for she never _will_ have

anything without I have mine just like it, because she wants us to look

like sisters.  And I tell her, folks 'ull think it's my weakness makes

me fancy as I shall look pretty in what she looks pretty in.  For I

_am_ ugly--there's no denying that: I feature my father's family.  But,

law!  I don't mind, do you?"  Priscilla here turned to the Miss Gunns,

rattling on in too much preoccupation with the delight of talking, to

notice that her candour was not appreciated.  "The pretty uns do for

fly-catchers--they keep the men off us.  I've no opinion o' the men,

Miss Gunn--I don't know what _you_ have.  And as for fretting and

stewing about what _they_'ll think of you from morning till night, and

making your life uneasy about what they're doing when they're out o'

your sight--as I tell Nancy, it's a folly no woman need be guilty of,

if she's got a good father and a good home: let her leave it to them as

have got no fortin, and can't help themselves.  As I say, Mr.

Have-your-own-way is the best husband, and the only one I'd ever

promise to obey.  I know it isn't pleasant, when you've been used to

living in a big way, and managing hogsheads and all that, to go and put

your nose in by somebody else's fireside, or to sit down by yourself to

a scrag or a knuckle; but, thank God!  my father's a sober man and

likely to live; and if you've got a man by the chimney-corner, it

doesn't matter if he's childish--the business needn't be broke up."

 

The delicate process of getting her narrow gown over her head without

injury to her smooth curls, obliged Miss Priscilla to pause in this

rapid survey of life, and Mrs. Osgood seized the opportunity of rising

and saying--

 

"Well, niece, you'll follow us.  The Miss Gunns will like to go down."

 

"Sister," said Nancy, when they were alone, "you've offended the Miss

Gunns, I'm sure."

 

"What have I done, child?"  said Priscilla, in some alarm.

 

"Why, you asked them if they minded about being ugly--you're so very

blunt."

 

"Law, did I?  Well, it popped out: it's a mercy I said no more, for I'm

a bad un to live with folks when they don't like the truth.  But as for

being ugly, look at me, child, in this silver-coloured silk--I told you

how it 'ud be--I look as yallow as a daffadil. Anybody 'ud say you

wanted to make a mawkin of me."

 

"No, Priscy, don't say so.  I begged and prayed of you not to let us

have this silk if you'd like another better.  I was willing to have

_your_ choice, you know I was," said Nancy, in anxious self-vindication.

 

"Nonsense, child!  you know you'd set your heart on this; and reason

good, for you're the colour o' cream.  It 'ud be fine doings for you to

dress yourself to suit _my_ skin.  What I find fault with, is that

notion o' yours as I must dress myself just like you. But you do as you

like with me--you always did, from when first you begun to walk.  If

you wanted to go the field's length, the field's length you'd go; and

there was no whipping you, for you looked as prim and innicent as a

daisy all the while."

 

"Priscy," said Nancy, gently, as she fastened a coral necklace, exactly

like her own, round Priscilla's neck, which was very far from being

like her own, "I'm sure I'm willing to give way as far as is right, but

who shouldn't dress alike if it isn't sisters? Would you have us go

about looking as if we were no kin to one another--us that have got no

mother and not another sister in the world?  I'd do what was right, if

I dressed in a gown dyed with cheese-colouring; and I'd rather you'd

choose, and let me wear what pleases you."

 

"There you go again!  You'd come round to the same thing if one talked

to you from Saturday night till Saturday morning.  It'll be fine fun to

see how you'll master your husband and never raise your voice above the

singing o' the kettle all the while.  I like to see the men mastered!"

 

"Don't talk _so_, Priscy," said Nancy, blushing.  "You know I don't

mean ever to be married."

 

"Oh, you never mean a fiddlestick's end!"  said Priscilla, as she

arranged her discarded dress, and closed her bandbox.  "Who shall _I_

have to work for when father's gone, if you are to go and take notions

in your head and be an old maid, because some folks are no better than

they should be?  I haven't a bit o' patience with you--sitting on an

addled egg for ever, as if there was never a fresh un in the world.

One old maid's enough out o' two sisters; and I shall do credit to a

single life, for God A'mighty meant me for it.  Come, we can go down

now.  I'm as ready as a mawkin _can_ be--there's nothing awanting to

frighten the crows, now I've got my ear-droppers in."

 

As the two Miss Lammeters walked into the large parlour together, any

one who did not know the character of both might certainly have

supposed that the reason why the square-shouldered, clumsy,

high-featured Priscilla wore a dress the facsimile of her pretty

sister's, was either the mistaken vanity of the one, or the malicious

contrivance of the other in order to set off her own rare beauty.  But

the good-natured self-forgetful cheeriness and common-sense of

Priscilla would soon have dissipated the one suspicion; and the modest

calm of Nancy's speech and manners told clearly of a mind free from all

disavowed devices.

 

Places of honour had been kept for the Miss Lammeters near the head of

the principal tea-table in the wainscoted parlour, now looking fresh

and pleasant with handsome branches of holly, yew, and laurel, from the

abundant growths of the old garden; and Nancy felt an inward flutter,

that no firmness of purpose could prevent, when she saw Mr. Godfrey

Cass advancing to lead her to a seat between himself and Mr.

Crackenthorp, while Priscilla was called to the opposite side between

her father and the Squire.  It certainly did make some difference to

Nancy that the lover she had given up was the young man of quite the

highest consequence in the parish--at home in a venerable and unique

parlour, which was the extremity of grandeur in her experience, a

parlour where _she_ might one day have been mistress, with the

consciousness that she was spoken of as "Madam Cass", the Squire's

wife.  These circumstances exalted her inward drama in her own eyes,

and deepened the emphasis with which she declared to herself that not

the most dazzling rank should induce her to marry a man whose conduct

showed him careless of his character, but that, "love once, love

always", was the motto of a true and pure woman, and no man should ever

have any right over her which would be a call on her to destroy the

dried flowers that she treasured, and always would treasure, for

Godfrey Cass's sake.  And Nancy was capable of keeping her word to

herself under very trying conditions.  Nothing but a becoming blush

betrayed the moving thoughts that urged themselves upon her as she

accepted the seat next to Mr. Crackenthorp; for she was so

instinctively neat and adroit in all her actions, and her pretty lips

met each other with such quiet firmness, that it would have been

difficult for her to appear agitated.

 

It was not the rector's practice to let a charming blush pass without

an appropriate compliment.  He was not in the least lofty or

aristocratic, but simply a merry-eyed, small-featured, grey-haired man,

with his chin propped by an ample, many-creased white neckcloth which

seemed to predominate over every other point in his person, and somehow

to impress its peculiar character on his remarks; so that to have

considered his amenities apart from his cravat would have been a

severe, and perhaps a dangerous, effort of abstraction.

 

"Ha, Miss Nancy," he said, turning his head within his cravat and

smiling down pleasantly upon her, "when anybody pretends this has been

a severe winter, I shall tell them I saw the roses blooming on New

Year's Eve--eh, Godfrey, what do _you_ say?"

 

Godfrey made no reply, and avoided looking at Nancy very markedly; for

though these complimentary personalities were held to be in excellent

taste in old-fashioned Raveloe society, reverent love has a politeness

of its own which it teaches to men otherwise of small schooling.  But

the Squire was rather impatient at Godfrey's showing himself a dull

spark in this way.  By this advanced hour of the day, the Squire was

always in higher spirits than we have seen him in at the

breakfast-table, and felt it quite pleasant to fulfil the hereditary

duty of being noisily jovial and patronizing: the large silver

snuff-box was in active service and was offered without fail to all

neighbours from time to time, however often they might have declined

the favour.  At present, the Squire had only given an express welcome

to the heads of families as they appeared; but always as the evening

deepened, his hospitality rayed out more widely, till he had tapped the

youngest guests on the back and shown a peculiar fondness for their

presence, in the full belief that they must feel their lives made happy

by their belonging to a parish where there was such a hearty man as

Squire Cass to invite them and wish them well.  Even in this early

stage of the jovial mood, it was natural that he should wish to supply

his son's deficiencies by looking and speaking for him.

 

"Aye, aye," he began, offering his snuff-box to Mr. Lammeter, who for

the second time bowed his head and waved his hand in stiff rejection of

the offer, "us old fellows may wish ourselves young to-night, when we

see the mistletoe-bough in the White Parlour. It's true, most things

are gone back'ard in these last thirty years--the country's going down

since the old king fell ill.  But when I look at Miss Nancy here, I

begin to think the lasses keep up their quality;--ding me if I remember

a sample to match her, not when I was a fine young fellow, and thought

a deal about my pigtail.  No offence to you, madam," he added, bending

to Mrs. Crackenthorp, who sat by him, "I didn't know _you_ when you

were as young as Miss Nancy here."

 

Mrs. Crackenthorp--a small blinking woman, who fidgeted incessantly

with her lace, ribbons, and gold chain, turning her head about and

making subdued noises, very much like a guinea-pig that twitches its

nose and soliloquizes in all company indiscriminately--now blinked and

fidgeted towards the Squire, and said, "Oh, no--no offence."

 

This emphatic compliment of the Squire's to Nancy was felt by others

besides Godfrey to have a diplomatic significance; and her father gave

a slight additional erectness to his back, as he looked across the

table at her with complacent gravity.  That grave and orderly senior

was not going to bate a jot of his dignity by seeming elated at the

notion of a match between his family and the Squire's: he was gratified

by any honour paid to his daughter; but he must see an alteration in

several ways before his consent would be vouchsafed. His spare but

healthy person, and high-featured firm face, that looked as if it had

never been flushed by excess, was in strong contrast, not only with the

Squire's, but with the appearance of the Raveloe farmers generally--in

accordance with a favourite saying of his own, that "breed was stronger

than pasture".

 

"Miss Nancy's wonderful like what her mother was, though; isn't she,

Kimble?"  said the stout lady of that name, looking round for her

husband.

 

But Doctor Kimble (country apothecaries in old days enjoyed that title

without authority of diploma), being a thin and agile man, was flitting

about the room with his hands in his pockets, making himself agreeable

to his feminine patients, with medical impartiality, and being welcomed

everywhere as a doctor by hereditary right--not one of those miserable

apothecaries who canvass for practice in strange neighbourhoods, and

spend all their income in starving their one horse, but a man of

substance, able to keep an extravagant table like the best of his

patients.  Time out of mind the Raveloe doctor had been a Kimble;

Kimble was inherently a doctor's name; and it was difficult to

contemplate firmly the melancholy fact that the actual Kimble had no

son, so that his practice might one day be handed over to a successor

with the incongruous name of Taylor or Johnson.  But in that case the

wiser people in Raveloe would employ Dr. Blick of Flitton--as less

unnatural.

 

"Did you speak to me, my dear?"  said the authentic doctor, coming

quickly to his wife's side; but, as if foreseeing that she would be too

much out of breath to repeat her remark, he went on immediately--"Ha,

Miss Priscilla, the sight of you revives the taste of that

super-excellent pork-pie.  I hope the batch isn't near an end."

 

"Yes, indeed, it is, doctor," said Priscilla; "but I'll answer for it

the next shall be as good.  My pork-pies don't turn out well by chance."

 

"Not as your doctoring does, eh, Kimble?--because folks forget to take

your physic, eh?"  said the Squire, who regarded physic and doctors as

many loyal churchmen regard the church and the clergy--tasting a joke

against them when he was in health, but impatiently eager for their aid

when anything was the matter with him.  He tapped his box, and looked

round with a triumphant laugh.

 

"Ah, she has a quick wit, my friend Priscilla has," said the doctor,

choosing to attribute the epigram to a lady rather than allow a

brother-in-law that advantage over him.  "She saves a little pepper to

sprinkle over her talk--that's the reason why she never puts too much

into her pies.  There's my wife now, she never has an answer at her

tongue's end; but if I offend her, she's sure to scarify my throat with

black pepper the next day, or else give me the colic with watery

greens.  That's an awful tit-for-tat."  Here the vivacious doctor made

a pathetic grimace.

 

"Did you ever hear the like?"  said Mrs. Kimble, laughing above her

double chin with much good-humour, aside to Mrs. Crackenthorp, who

blinked and nodded, and seemed to intend a smile, which, by the

correlation of forces, went off in small twitchings and noises.

 

"I suppose that's the sort of tit-for-tat adopted in your profession,

Kimble, if you've a grudge against a patient," said the rector.

 

"Never do have a grudge against our patients," said Mr. Kimble, "except

when they leave us: and then, you see, we haven't the chance of

prescribing for 'em.  Ha, Miss Nancy," he continued, suddenly skipping

to Nancy's side, "you won't forget your promise? You're to save a dance

for me, you know."

 

"Come, come, Kimble, don't you be too for'ard," said the Squire. "Give

the young uns fair-play.  There's my son Godfrey'll be wanting to have

a round with you if you run off with Miss Nancy. He's bespoke her for

the first dance, I'll be bound.  Eh, sir!  what do you say?"  he

continued, throwing himself backward, and looking at Godfrey.  "Haven't

you asked Miss Nancy to open the dance with you?"

 

Godfrey, sorely uncomfortable under this significant insistence about

Nancy, and afraid to think where it would end by the time his father

had set his usual hospitable example of drinking before and after

supper, saw no course open but to turn to Nancy and say, with as little

awkwardness as possible--

 

"No; I've not asked her yet, but I hope she'll consent--if somebody

else hasn't been before me."

 

"No, I've not engaged myself," said Nancy, quietly, though blushingly.

(If Mr. Godfrey founded any hopes on her consenting to dance with him,

he would soon be undeceived; but there was no need for her to be

uncivil.)

 

"Then I hope you've no objections to dancing with me," said Godfrey,

beginning to lose the sense that there was anything uncomfortable in

this arrangement.

 

"No, no objections," said Nancy, in a cold tone.

 

"Ah, well, you're a lucky fellow, Godfrey," said uncle Kimble; "but

you're my godson, so I won't stand in your way.  Else I'm not so very

old, eh, my dear?"  he went on, skipping to his wife's side again.

"You wouldn't mind my having a second after you were gone--not if I

cried a good deal first?"

 

"Come, come, take a cup o' tea and stop your tongue, do," said

good-humoured Mrs. Kimble, feeling some pride in a husband who must be

regarded as so clever and amusing by the company generally.  If he had

only not been irritable at cards!

 

While safe, well-tested personalities were enlivening the tea in this

way, the sound of the fiddle approaching within a distance at which it

could be heard distinctly, made the young people look at each other

with sympathetic impatience for the end of the meal.

 

"Why, there's Solomon in the hall," said the Squire, "and playing my

fav'rite tune, _I_ believe--"The flaxen-headed ploughboy"--he's for

giving us a hint as we aren't enough in a hurry to hear him play.

Bob," he called out to his third long-legged son, who was at the other

end of the room, "open the door, and tell Solomon to come in.  He shall

give us a tune here."

 

Bob obeyed, and Solomon walked in, fiddling as he walked, for he would

on no account break off in the middle of a tune.

 

"Here, Solomon," said the Squire, with loud patronage.  "Round here, my

man.  Ah, I knew it was "The flaxen-headed ploughboy": there's no finer

tune."

 

Solomon Macey, a small hale old man with an abundant crop of long white

hair reaching nearly to his shoulders, advanced to the indicated spot,

bowing reverently while he fiddled, as much as to say that he respected

the company, though he respected the key-note more.  As soon as he had

repeated the tune and lowered his fiddle, he bowed again to the Squire

and the rector, and said, "I hope I see your honour and your reverence

well, and wishing you health and long life and a happy New Year.  And

wishing the same to you, Mr. Lammeter, sir; and to the other gentlemen,

and the madams, and the young lasses."

 

As Solomon uttered the last words, he bowed in all directions

solicitously, lest he should be wanting in due respect.  But thereupon

he immediately began to prelude, and fell into the tune which he knew

would be taken as a special compliment by Mr. Lammeter.

 

"Thank ye, Solomon, thank ye," said Mr. Lammeter when the fiddle paused

again.  "That's "Over the hills and far away", that is.  My father used

to say to me, whenever we heard that tune, "Ah, lad, _I_ come from over

the hills and far away."  There's a many tunes I don't make head or

tail of; but that speaks to me like the blackbird's whistle.  I suppose

it's the name: there's a deal in the name of a tune."

 

But Solomon was already impatient to prelude again, and presently broke

with much spirit into "Sir Roger de Coverley", at which there was a

sound of chairs pushed back, and laughing voices.

 

"Aye, aye, Solomon, we know what that means," said the Squire, rising.

"It's time to begin the dance, eh?  Lead the way, then, and we'll all

follow you."

 

So Solomon, holding his white head on one side, and playing vigorously,

marched forward at the head of the gay procession into the White

Parlour, where the mistletoe-bough was hung, and multitudinous tallow

candles made rather a brilliant effect, gleaming from among the berried

holly-boughs, and reflected in the old-fashioned oval mirrors fastened

in the panels of the white wainscot.  A quaint procession!  Old

Solomon, in his seedy clothes and long white locks, seemed to be luring

that decent company by the magic scream of his fiddle--luring discreet

matrons in turban-shaped caps, nay, Mrs. Crackenthorp herself, the

summit of whose perpendicular feather was on a level with the Squire's

shoulder--luring fair lasses complacently conscious of very short

waists and skirts blameless of front-folds--luring burly fathers in

large variegated waistcoats, and ruddy sons, for the most part shy and

sheepish, in short nether garments and very long coat-tails.

 

Already Mr. Macey and a few other privileged villagers, who were

allowed to be spectators on these great occasions, were seated on

benches placed for them near the door; and great was the admiration and

satisfaction in that quarter when the couples had formed themselves for

the dance, and the Squire led off with Mrs. Crackenthorp, joining hands

with the rector and Mrs. Osgood. That was as it should be--that was

what everybody had been used to--and the charter of Raveloe seemed to

be renewed by the ceremony. It was not thought of as an unbecoming

levity for the old and middle-aged people to dance a little before

sitting down to cards, but rather as part of their social duties.  For

what were these if not to be merry at appropriate times, interchanging

visits and poultry with due frequency, paying each other

old-established compliments in sound traditional phrases, passing

well-tried personal jokes, urging your guests to eat and drink too much

out of hospitality, and eating and drinking too much in your

neighbour's house to show that you liked your cheer?  And the parson

naturally set an example in these social duties.  For it would not have

been possible for the Raveloe mind, without a peculiar revelation, to

know that a clergyman should be a pale-faced memento of solemnities,

instead of a reasonably faulty man whose exclusive authority to read

prayers and preach, to christen, marry, and bury you, necessarily

coexisted with the right to sell you the ground to be buried in and to

take tithe in kind; on which last point, of course, there was a little

grumbling, but not to the extent of irreligion--not of deeper

significance than the grumbling at the rain, which was by no means

accompanied with a spirit of impious defiance, but with a desire that

the prayer for fine weather might be read forthwith.

 

There was no reason, then, why the rector's dancing should not be

received as part of the fitness of things quite as much as the

Squire's, or why, on the other hand, Mr. Macey's official respect

should restrain him from subjecting the parson's performance to that

criticism with which minds of extraordinary acuteness must necessarily

contemplate the doings of their fallible fellow-men.

 

"The Squire's pretty springe, considering his weight," said Mr. Macey,

"and he stamps uncommon well.  But Mr. Lammeter beats 'em all for

shapes: you see he holds his head like a sodger, and he isn't so

cushiony as most o' the oldish gentlefolks--they run fat in general;

and he's got a fine leg.  The parson's nimble enough, but he hasn't got

much of a leg: it's a bit too thick down'ard, and his knees might be a

bit nearer wi'out damage; but he might do worse, he might do worse.

Though he hasn't that grand way o' waving his hand as the Squire has."

 

"Talk o' nimbleness, look at Mrs. Osgood," said Ben Winthrop, who was

holding his son Aaron between his knees.  "She trips along with her

little steps, so as nobody can see how she goes--it's like as if she

had little wheels to her feet.  She doesn't look a day older nor last

year: she's the finest-made woman as is, let the next be where she

will."

 

"I don't heed how the women are made," said Mr. Macey, with some

contempt.  "They wear nayther coat nor breeches: you can't make much

out o' their shapes."

 

"Fayder," said Aaron, whose feet were busy beating out the tune, "how

does that big cock's-feather stick in Mrs. Crackenthorp's yead?  Is

there a little hole for it, like in my shuttle-cock?"

 

"Hush, lad, hush; that's the way the ladies dress theirselves, that

is," said the father, adding, however, in an undertone to Mr. Macey,

"It does make her look funny, though--partly like a short-necked bottle

wi' a long quill in it.  Hey, by jingo, there's the young Squire

leading off now, wi' Miss Nancy for partners! There's a lass for

you!--like a pink-and-white posy--there's nobody 'ud think as anybody

could be so pritty.  I shouldn't wonder if she's Madam Cass some day,

arter all--and nobody more rightfuller, for they'd make a fine match.

You can find nothing against Master Godfrey's shapes, Macey, _I_'ll bet

a penny."

 

Mr. Macey screwed up his mouth, leaned his head further on one side,

and twirled his thumbs with a presto movement as his eyes followed

Godfrey up the dance.  At last he summed up his opinion.

 

"Pretty well down'ard, but a bit too round i' the shoulder-blades. And

as for them coats as he gets from the Flitton tailor, they're a poor

cut to pay double money for."

 

"Ah, Mr. Macey, you and me are two folks," said Ben, slightly indignant

at this carping.  "When I've got a pot o' good ale, I like to swaller

it, and do my inside good, i'stead o' smelling and staring at it to see

if I can't find faut wi' the brewing.  I should like you to pick me out

a finer-limbed young fellow nor Master Godfrey--one as 'ud knock you

down easier, or 's more pleasanter-looksed when he's piert and merry."

 

"Tchuh!"  said Mr. Macey, provoked to increased severity, "he isn't

come to his right colour yet: he's partly like a slack-baked pie.  And

I doubt he's got a soft place in his head, else why should he be turned

round the finger by that offal Dunsey as nobody's seen o' late, and let

him kill that fine hunting hoss as was the talk o' the country?  And

one while he was allays after Miss Nancy, and then it all went off

again, like a smell o' hot porridge, as I may say. That wasn't my way

when _I_ went a-coorting."

 

"Ah, but mayhap Miss Nancy hung off, like, and your lass didn't," said

Ben.

 

"I should say she didn't," said Mr. Macey, significantly. "Before I

said "sniff", I took care to know as she'd say "snaff", and pretty

quick too.  I wasn't a-going to open _my_ mouth, like a dog at a fly,

and snap it to again, wi' nothing to swaller."

 

"Well, I think Miss Nancy's a-coming round again," said Ben, "for

Master Godfrey doesn't look so down-hearted to-night.  And I see he's

for taking her away to sit down, now they're at the end o' the dance:

that looks like sweethearting, that does."

 

The reason why Godfrey and Nancy had left the dance was not so tender

as Ben imagined.  In the close press of couples a slight accident had

happened to Nancy's dress, which, while it was short enough to show her

neat ankle in front, was long enough behind to be caught under the

stately stamp of the Squire's foot, so as to rend certain stitches at

the waist, and cause much sisterly agitation in Priscilla's mind, as

well as serious concern in Nancy's.  One's thoughts may be much

occupied with love-struggles, but hardly so as to be insensible to a

disorder in the general framework of things. Nancy had no sooner

completed her duty in the figure they were dancing than she said to

Godfrey, with a deep blush, that she must go and sit down till

Priscilla could come to her; for the sisters had already exchanged a

short whisper and an open-eyed glance full of meaning.  No reason less

urgent than this could have prevailed on Nancy to give Godfrey this

opportunity of sitting apart with her. As for Godfrey, he was feeling

so happy and oblivious under the long charm of the country-dance with

Nancy, that he got rather bold on the strength of her confusion, and

was capable of leading her straight away, without leave asked, into the

adjoining small parlour, where the card-tables were set.

 

"Oh no, thank you," said Nancy, coldly, as soon as she perceived where

he was going, "not in there.  I'll wait here till Priscilla's ready to

come to me.  I'm sorry to bring you out of the dance and make myself

troublesome."

 

"Why, you'll be more comfortable here by yourself," said the artful

Godfrey: "I'll leave you here till your sister can come." He spoke in

an indifferent tone.

 

That was an agreeable proposition, and just what Nancy desired; why,

then, was she a little hurt that Mr. Godfrey should make it?  They

entered, and she seated herself on a chair against one of the

card-tables, as the stiffest and most unapproachable position she could

choose.

 

"Thank you, sir," she said immediately.  "I needn't give you any more

trouble.  I'm sorry you've had such an unlucky partner."

 

"That's very ill-natured of you," said Godfrey, standing by her without

any sign of intended departure, "to be sorry you've danced with me."

 

"Oh, no, sir, I don't mean to say what's ill-natured at all," said

Nancy, looking distractingly prim and pretty.  "When gentlemen have so

many pleasures, one dance can matter but very little."

 

"You know that isn't true.  You know one dance with you matters more to

me than all the other pleasures in the world."

 

It was a long, long while since Godfrey had said anything so direct as

that, and Nancy was startled.  But her instinctive dignity and

repugnance to any show of emotion made her sit perfectly still, and

only throw a little more decision into her voice, as she said--

 

"No, indeed, Mr. Godfrey, that's not known to me, and I have very good

reasons for thinking different.  But if it's true, I don't wish to hear

it."

 

"Would you never forgive me, then, Nancy--never think well of me, let

what would happen--would you never think the present made amends for

the past?  Not if I turned a good fellow, and gave up everything you

didn't like?"

 

Godfrey was half conscious that this sudden opportunity of speaking to

Nancy alone had driven him beside himself; but blind feeling had got

the mastery of his tongue.  Nancy really felt much agitated by the

possibility Godfrey's words suggested, but this very pressure of

emotion that she was in danger of finding too strong for her roused all

her power of self-command.

 

"I should be glad to see a good change in anybody, Mr. Godfrey," she

answered, with the slightest discernible difference of tone, "but it

'ud be better if no change was wanted."

 

"You're very hard-hearted, Nancy," said Godfrey, pettishly.  "You might

encourage me to be a better fellow.  I'm very miserable--but you've no

feeling."

 

"I think those have the least feeling that act wrong to begin with,"

said Nancy, sending out a flash in spite of herself. Godfrey was

delighted with that little flash, and would have liked to go on and

make her quarrel with him; Nancy was so exasperatingly quiet and firm.

But she was not indifferent to him _yet_, though--

 

The entrance of Priscilla, bustling forward and saying, "Dear heart

alive, child, let us look at this gown," cut off Godfrey's hopes of a

quarrel.

 

"I suppose I must go now," he said to Priscilla.

 

"It's no matter to me whether you go or stay," said that frank lady,

searching for something in her pocket, with a preoccupied brow.

 

"Do _you_ want me to go?"  said Godfrey, looking at Nancy, who was now

standing up by Priscilla's order.

 

"As you like," said Nancy, trying to recover all her former coldness,

and looking down carefully at the hem of her gown.

 

"Then I like to stay," said Godfrey, with a reckless determination to

get as much of this joy as he could to-night, and think nothing of the

morrow.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII

 

While Godfrey Cass was taking draughts of forgetfulness from the sweet

presence of Nancy, willingly losing all sense of that hidden bond which

at other moments galled and fretted him so as to mingle irritation with

the very sunshine, Godfrey's wife was walking with slow uncertain steps

through the snow-covered Raveloe lanes, carrying her child in her arms.

 

This journey on New Year's Eve was a premeditated act of vengeance

which she had kept in her heart ever since Godfrey, in a fit of

passion, had told her he would sooner die than acknowledge her as his

wife.  There would be a great party at the Red House on New Year's Eve,

she knew: her husband would be smiling and smiled upon, hiding _her_

existence in the darkest corner of his heart.  But she would mar his

pleasure: she would go in her dingy rags, with her faded face, once as

handsome as the best, with her little child that had its father's hair

and eyes, and disclose herself to the Squire as his eldest son's wife.

It is seldom that the miserable can help regarding their misery as a

wrong inflicted by those who are less miserable.  Molly knew that the

cause of her dingy rags was not her husband's neglect, but the demon

Opium to whom she was enslaved, body and soul, except in the lingering

mother's tenderness that refused to give him her hungry child.  She

knew this well; and yet, in the moments of wretched unbenumbed

consciousness, the sense of her want and degradation transformed itself

continually into bitterness towards Godfrey.  _He_ was well off; and if

she had her rights she would be well off too.  The belief that he

repented his marriage, and suffered from it, only aggravated her

vindictiveness. Just and self-reproving thoughts do not come to us too

thickly, even in the purest air, and with the best lessons of heaven

and earth; how should those white-winged delicate messengers make their

way to Molly's poisoned chamber, inhabited by no higher memories than

those of a barmaid's paradise of pink ribbons and gentlemen's jokes?

 

She had set out at an early hour, but had lingered on the road,

inclined by her indolence to believe that if she waited under a warm

shed the snow would cease to fall.  She had waited longer than she

knew, and now that she found herself belated in the snow-hidden

ruggedness of the long lanes, even the animation of a vindictive

purpose could not keep her spirit from failing.  It was seven o'clock,

and by this time she was not very far from Raveloe, but she was not

familiar enough with those monotonous lanes to know how near she was to

her journey's end.  She needed comfort, and she knew but one

comforter--the familiar demon in her bosom; but she hesitated a moment,

after drawing out the black remnant, before she raised it to her lips.

In that moment the mother's love pleaded for painful consciousness

rather than oblivion--pleaded to be left in aching weariness, rather

than to have the encircling arms benumbed so that they could not feel

the dear burden.  In another moment Molly had flung something away, but

it was not the black remnant--it was an empty phial.  And she walked on

again under the breaking cloud, from which there came now and then the

light of a quickly veiled star, for a freezing wind had sprung up since

the snowing had ceased.  But she walked always more and more drowsily,

and clutched more and more automatically the sleeping child at her

bosom.

 

Slowly the demon was working his will, and cold and weariness were his

helpers.  Soon she felt nothing but a supreme immediate longing that

curtained off all futurity--the longing to lie down and sleep.  She had

arrived at a spot where her footsteps were no longer checked by a

hedgerow, and she had wandered vaguely, unable to distinguish any

objects, notwithstanding the wide whiteness around her, and the growing

starlight.  She sank down against a straggling furze bush, an easy

pillow enough; and the bed of snow, too, was soft.  She did not feel

that the bed was cold, and did not heed whether the child would wake

and cry for her.  But her arms had not yet relaxed their instinctive

clutch; and the little one slumbered on as gently as if it had been

rocked in a lace-trimmed cradle.

 

But the complete torpor came at last: the fingers lost their tension,

the arms unbent; then the little head fell away from the bosom, and the

blue eyes opened wide on the cold starlight.  At first there was a

little peevish cry of "mammy", and an effort to regain the pillowing

arm and bosom; but mammy's ear was deaf, and the pillow seemed to be

slipping away backward.  Suddenly, as the child rolled downward on its

mother's knees, all wet with snow, its eyes were caught by a bright

glancing light on the white ground, and, with the ready transition of

infancy, it was immediately absorbed in watching the bright living

thing running towards it, yet never arriving.  That bright living thing

must be caught; and in an instant the child had slipped on all-fours,

and held out one little hand to catch the gleam.  But the gleam would

not be caught in that way, and now the head was held up to see where

the cunning gleam came from.  It came from a very bright place; and the

little one, rising on its legs, toddled through the snow, the old grimy

shawl in which it was wrapped trailing behind it, and the queer little

bonnet dangling at its back--toddled on to the open door of Silas

Marner's cottage, and right up to the warm hearth, where there was a

bright fire of logs and sticks, which had thoroughly warmed the old

sack (Silas's greatcoat) spread out on the bricks to dry.  The little

one, accustomed to be left to itself for long hours without notice from

its mother, squatted down on the sack, and spread its tiny hands

towards the blaze, in perfect contentment, gurgling and making many

inarticulate communications to the cheerful fire, like a new-hatched

gosling beginning to find itself comfortable.  But presently the warmth

had a lulling effect, and the little golden head sank down on the old

sack, and the blue eyes were veiled by their delicate half-transparent

lids.

 

But where was Silas Marner while this strange visitor had come to his

hearth?  He was in the cottage, but he did not see the child. During

the last few weeks, since he had lost his money, he had contracted the

habit of opening his door and looking out from time to time, as if he

thought that his money might be somehow coming back to him, or that

some trace, some news of it, might be mysteriously on the road, and be

caught by the listening ear or the straining eye.  It was chiefly at

night, when he was not occupied in his loom, that he fell into this

repetition of an act for which he could have assigned no definite

purpose, and which can hardly be understood except by those who have

undergone a bewildering separation from a supremely loved object.  In

the evening twilight, and later whenever the night was not dark, Silas

looked out on that narrow prospect round the Stone-pits, listening and

gazing, not with hope, but with mere yearning and unrest.

 

This morning he had been told by some of his neighbours that it was New

Year's Eve, and that he must sit up and hear the old year rung out and

the new rung in, because that was good luck, and might bring his money

back again.  This was only a friendly Raveloe-way of jesting with the

half-crazy oddities of a miser, but it had perhaps helped to throw

Silas into a more than usually excited state.  Since the on-coming of

twilight he had opened his door again and again, though only to shut it

immediately at seeing all distance veiled by the falling snow.  But the

last time he opened it the snow had ceased, and the clouds were parting

here and there.  He stood and listened, and gazed for a long

while--there was really something on the road coming towards him then,

but he caught no sign of it; and the stillness and the wide trackless

snow seemed to narrow his solitude, and touched his yearning with the

chill of despair.  He went in again, and put his right hand on the

latch of the door to close it--but he did not close it: he was

arrested, as he had been already since his loss, by the invisible wand

of catalepsy, and stood like a graven image, with wide but sightless

eyes, holding open his door, powerless to resist either the good or the

evil that might enter there.

 

When Marner's sensibility returned, he continued the action which had

been arrested, and closed his door, unaware of the chasm in his

consciousness, unaware of any intermediate change, except that the

light had grown dim, and that he was chilled and faint.  He thought he

had been too long standing at the door and looking out.  Turning

towards the hearth, where the two logs had fallen apart, and sent forth

only a red uncertain glimmer, he seated himself on his fireside chair,

and was stooping to push his logs together, when, to his blurred

vision, it seemed as if there were gold on the floor in front of the

hearth.  Gold!--his own gold--brought back to him as mysteriously as it

had been taken away!  He felt his heart begin to beat violently, and

for a few moments he was unable to stretch out his hand and grasp the

restored treasure.  The heap of gold seemed to glow and get larger

beneath his agitated gaze.  He leaned forward at last, and stretched

forth his hand; but instead of the hard coin with the familiar

resisting outline, his fingers encountered soft warm curls.  In utter

amazement, Silas fell on his knees and bent his head low to examine the

marvel: it was a sleeping child--a round, fair thing, with soft yellow

rings all over its head.  Could this be his little sister come back to

him in a dream--his little sister whom he had carried about in his arms

for a year before she died, when he was a small boy without shoes or

stockings?  That was the first thought that darted across Silas's blank

wonderment.  _Was_ it a dream?  He rose to his feet again, pushed his

logs together, and, throwing on some dried leaves and sticks, raised a

flame; but the flame did not disperse the vision--it only lit up more

distinctly the little round form of the child, and its shabby clothing.

It was very much like his little sister. Silas sank into his chair

powerless, under the double presence of an inexplicable surprise and a

hurrying influx of memories.  How and when had the child come in

without his knowledge?  He had never been beyond the door.  But along

with that question, and almost thrusting it away, there was a vision of

the old home and the old streets leading to Lantern Yard--and within

that vision another, of the thoughts which had been present with him in

those far-off scenes. The thoughts were strange to him now, like old

friendships impossible to revive; and yet he had a dreamy feeling that

this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life: it

stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe--old quiverings of

tenderness--old impressions of awe at the presentiment of some Power

presiding over his life; for his imagination had not yet extricated

itself from the sense of mystery in the child's sudden presence, and

had formed no conjectures of ordinary natural means by which the event

could have been brought about.

 

But there was a cry on the hearth: the child had awaked, and Marner

stooped to lift it on his knee.  It clung round his neck, and burst

louder and louder into that mingling of inarticulate cries with "mammy"

by which little children express the bewilderment of waking.  Silas

pressed it to him, and almost unconsciously uttered sounds of hushing

tenderness, while he bethought himself that some of his porridge, which

had got cool by the dying fire, would do to feed the child with if it

were only warmed up a little.

 

He had plenty to do through the next hour.  The porridge, sweetened

with some dry brown sugar from an old store which he had refrained from

using for himself, stopped the cries of the little one, and made her

lift her blue eyes with a wide quiet gaze at Silas, as he put the spoon

into her mouth.  Presently she slipped from his knee and began to

toddle about, but with a pretty stagger that made Silas jump up and

follow her lest she should fall against anything that would hurt her.

But she only fell in a sitting posture on the ground, and began to pull

at her boots, looking up at him with a crying face as if the boots hurt

her.  He took her on his knee again, but it was some time before it

occurred to Silas's dull bachelor mind that the wet boots were the

grievance, pressing on her warm ankles.  He got them off with

difficulty, and baby was at once happily occupied with the primary

mystery of her own toes, inviting Silas, with much chuckling, to

consider the mystery too.  But the wet boots had at last suggested to

Silas that the child had been walking on the snow, and this roused him

from his entire oblivion of any ordinary means by which it could have

entered or been brought into his house.  Under the prompting of this

new idea, and without waiting to form conjectures, he raised the child

in his arms, and went to the door.  As soon as he had opened it, there

was the cry of "mammy" again, which Silas had not heard since the

child's first hungry waking.  Bending forward, he could just discern

the marks made by the little feet on the virgin snow, and he followed

their track to the furze bushes.  "Mammy!"  the little one cried again

and again, stretching itself forward so as almost to escape from

Silas's arms, before he himself was aware that there was something more

than the bush before him--that there was a human body, with the head

sunk low in the furze, and half-covered with the shaken snow.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII

 

It was after the early supper-time at the Red House, and the

entertainment was in that stage when bashfulness itself had passed into

easy jollity, when gentlemen, conscious of unusual accomplishments,

could at length be prevailed on to dance a hornpipe, and when the

Squire preferred talking loudly, scattering snuff, and patting his

visitors' backs, to sitting longer at the whist-table--a choice

exasperating to uncle Kimble, who, being always volatile in sober

business hours, became intense and bitter over cards and brandy,

shuffled before his adversary's deal with a glare of suspicion, and

turned up a mean trump-card with an air of inexpressible disgust, as if

in a world where such things could happen one might as well enter on a

course of reckless profligacy. When the evening had advanced to this

pitch of freedom and enjoyment, it was usual for the servants, the

heavy duties of supper being well over, to get their share of amusement

by coming to look on at the dancing; so that the back regions of the

house were left in solitude.

 

There were two doors by which the White Parlour was entered from the

hall, and they were both standing open for the sake of air; but the

lower one was crowded with the servants and villagers, and only the

upper doorway was left free.  Bob Cass was figuring in a hornpipe, and

his father, very proud of this lithe son, whom he repeatedly declared

to be just like himself in his young days in a tone that implied this

to be the very highest stamp of juvenile merit, was the centre of a

group who had placed themselves opposite the performer, not far from

the upper door.  Godfrey was standing a little way off, not to admire

his brother's dancing, but to keep sight of Nancy, who was seated in

the group, near her father.  He stood aloof, because he wished to avoid

suggesting himself as a subject for the Squire's fatherly jokes in

connection with matrimony and Miss Nancy Lammeter's beauty, which were

likely to become more and more explicit.  But he had the prospect of

dancing with her again when the hornpipe was concluded, and in the

meanwhile it was very pleasant to get long glances at her quite

unobserved.

 

But when Godfrey was lifting his eyes from one of those long glances,

they encountered an object as startling to him at that moment as if it

had been an apparition from the dead.  It _was_ an apparition from that

hidden life which lies, like a dark by-street, behind the goodly

ornamented facade that meets the sunlight and the gaze of respectable

admirers.  It was his own child, carried in Silas Marner's arms.  That

was his instantaneous impression, unaccompanied by doubt, though he had

not seen the child for months past; and when the hope was rising that

he might possibly be mistaken, Mr. Crackenthorp and Mr. Lammeter had

already advanced to Silas, in astonishment at this strange advent.

Godfrey joined them immediately, unable to rest without hearing every

word--trying to control himself, but conscious that if any one noticed

him, they must see that he was white-lipped and trembling.

 

But now all eyes at that end of the room were bent on Silas Marner; the

Squire himself had risen, and asked angrily, "How's this?--what's

this?--what do you do coming in here in this way?"

 

"I'm come for the doctor--I want the doctor," Silas had said, in the

first moment, to Mr. Crackenthorp.

 

"Why, what's the matter, Marner?"  said the rector.  "The doctor's

here; but say quietly what you want him for."

 

"It's a woman," said Silas, speaking low, and half-breathlessly, just

as Godfrey came up.  "She's dead, I think--dead in the snow at the

Stone-pits--not far from my door."

 

Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that

moment: it was, that the woman might _not_ be dead.  That was an evil

terror--an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey's

kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from evil wishes

to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.

 

"Hush, hush!"  said Mr. Crackenthorp.  "Go out into the hall there.

I'll fetch the doctor to you.  Found a woman in the snow--and thinks

she's dead," he added, speaking low to the Squire. "Better say as

little about it as possible: it will shock the ladies.  Just tell them

a poor woman is ill from cold and hunger. I'll go and fetch Kimble."

 

By this time, however, the ladies had pressed forward, curious to know

what could have brought the solitary linen-weaver there under such

strange circumstances, and interested in the pretty child, who, half

alarmed and half attracted by the brightness and the numerous company,

now frowned and hid her face, now lifted up her head again and looked

round placably, until a touch or a coaxing word brought back the frown,

and made her bury her face with new determination.

 

"What child is it?"  said several ladies at once, and, among the rest,

Nancy Lammeter, addressing Godfrey.

 

"I don't know--some poor woman's who has been found in the snow, I

believe," was the answer Godfrey wrung from himself with a terrible

effort.  ("After all, _am_ I certain?"  he hastened to add, silently,

in anticipation of his own conscience.)

 

"Why, you'd better leave the child here, then, Master Marner," said

good-natured Mrs. Kimble, hesitating, however, to take those dingy

clothes into contact with her own ornamented satin bodice. "I'll tell

one o' the girls to fetch it."

 

"No--no--I can't part with it, I can't let it go," said Silas,

abruptly.  "It's come to me--I've a right to keep it."

 

The proposition to take the child from him had come to Silas quite

unexpectedly, and his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse,

was almost like a revelation to himself: a minute before, he had no

distinct intention about the child.

 

"Did you ever hear the like?"  said Mrs. Kimble, in mild surprise, to

her neighbour.

 

"Now, ladies, I must trouble you to stand aside," said Mr. Kimble,

coming from the card-room, in some bitterness at the interruption, but

drilled by the long habit of his profession into obedience to

unpleasant calls, even when he was hardly sober.

 

"It's a nasty business turning out now, eh, Kimble?"  said the Squire.

"He might ha' gone for your young fellow--the 'prentice, there--what's

his name?"

 

"Might?  aye--what's the use of talking about might?"  growled uncle

Kimble, hastening out with Marner, and followed by Mr. Crackenthorp and

Godfrey.  "Get me a pair of thick boots, Godfrey, will you?  And stay,

let somebody run to Winthrop's and fetch Dolly--she's the best woman to

get.  Ben was here himself before supper; is he gone?"

 

"Yes, sir, I met him," said Marner; "but I couldn't stop to tell him

anything, only I said I was going for the doctor, and he said the

doctor was at the Squire's.  And I made haste and ran, and there was

nobody to be seen at the back o' the house, and so I went in to where

the company was."

 

The child, no longer distracted by the bright light and the smiling

women's faces, began to cry and call for "mammy", though always

clinging to Marner, who had apparently won her thorough confidence.

Godfrey had come back with the boots, and felt the cry as if some fibre

were drawn tight within him.

 

"I'll go," he said, hastily, eager for some movement; "I'll go and

fetch the woman--Mrs. Winthrop."

 

"Oh, pooh--send somebody else," said uncle Kimble, hurrying away with

Marner.

 

"You'll let me know if I can be of any use, Kimble," said Mr.

Crackenthorp.  But the doctor was out of hearing.

 

Godfrey, too, had disappeared: he was gone to snatch his hat and coat,

having just reflection enough to remember that he must not look like a

madman; but he rushed out of the house into the snow without heeding

his thin shoes.

 

In a few minutes he was on his rapid way to the Stone-pits by the side

of Dolly, who, though feeling that she was entirely in her place in

encountering cold and snow on an errand of mercy, was much concerned at

a young gentleman's getting his feet wet under a like impulse.

 

"You'd a deal better go back, sir," said Dolly, with respectful

compassion.  "You've no call to catch cold; and I'd ask you if you'd be

so good as tell my husband to come, on your way back--he's at the

Rainbow, I doubt--if you found him anyway sober enough to be o' use.

Or else, there's Mrs. Snell 'ud happen send the boy up to fetch and

carry, for there may be things wanted from the doctor's."

 

"No, I'll stay, now I'm once out--I'll stay outside here," said

Godfrey, when they came opposite Marner's cottage.  "You can come and

tell me if I can do anything."

 

"Well, sir, you're very good: you've a tender heart," said Dolly, going

to the door.

 

Godfrey was too painfully preoccupied to feel a twinge of self-reproach

at this undeserved praise.  He walked up and down, unconscious that he

was plunging ankle-deep in snow, unconscious of everything but

trembling suspense about what was going on in the cottage, and the

effect of each alternative on his future lot.  No, not quite

unconscious of everything else.  Deeper down, and half-smothered by

passionate desire and dread, there was the sense that he ought not to

be waiting on these alternatives; that he ought to accept the

consequences of his deeds, own the miserable wife, and fulfil the

claims of the helpless child.  But he had not moral courage enough to

contemplate that active renunciation of Nancy as possible for him: he

had only conscience and heart enough to make him for ever uneasy under

the weakness that forbade the renunciation.  And at this moment his

mind leaped away from all restraint toward the sudden prospect of

deliverance from his long bondage.

 

"Is she dead?"  said the voice that predominated over every other

within him.  "If she is, I may marry Nancy; and then I shall be a good

fellow in future, and have no secrets, and the child--shall be taken

care of somehow."  But across that vision came the other

possibility--"She may live, and then it's all up with me."

 

Godfrey never knew how long it was before the door of the cottage

opened and Mr. Kimble came out.  He went forward to meet his uncle,

prepared to suppress the agitation he must feel, whatever news he was

to hear.

 

"I waited for you, as I'd come so far," he said, speaking first.

 

"Pooh, it was nonsense for you to come out: why didn't you send one of

the men?  There's nothing to be done.  She's dead--has been dead for

hours, I should say."

 

"What sort of woman is she?"  said Godfrey, feeling the blood rush to

his face.

 

"A young woman, but emaciated, with long black hair.  Some

vagrant--quite in rags.  She's got a wedding-ring on, however.  They

must fetch her away to the workhouse to-morrow.  Come, come along."

 

"I want to look at her," said Godfrey.  "I think I saw such a woman

yesterday.  I'll overtake you in a minute or two."

 

Mr. Kimble went on, and Godfrey turned back to the cottage.  He cast

only one glance at the dead face on the pillow, which Dolly had

smoothed with decent care; but he remembered that last look at his

unhappy hated wife so well, that at the end of sixteen years every line

in the worn face was present to him when he told the full story of this

night.

 

He turned immediately towards the hearth, where Silas Marner sat

lulling the child.  She was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep--only

soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which

makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain

awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some

quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky--before a steady glowing

planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a

silent pathway.  The wide-open blue eyes looked up at Godfrey's without

any uneasiness or sign of recognition: the child could make no visible

audible claim on its father; and the father felt a strange mixture of

feelings, a conflict of regret and joy, that the pulse of that little

heart had no response for the half-jealous yearning in his own, when

the blue eyes turned away from him slowly, and fixed themselves on the

weaver's queer face, which was bent low down to look at them, while the

small hand began to pull Marner's withered cheek with loving

disfiguration.

 

"You'll take the child to the parish to-morrow?"  asked Godfrey,

speaking as indifferently as he could.

 

"Who says so?"  said Marner, sharply.  "Will they make me take her?"

 

"Why, you wouldn't like to keep her, should you--an old bachelor like

you?"

 

"Till anybody shows they've a right to take her away from me," said

Marner.  "The mother's dead, and I reckon it's got no father: it's a

lone thing--and I'm a lone thing.  My money's gone, I don't know

where--and this is come from I don't know where.  I know nothing--I'm

partly mazed."

 

"Poor little thing!"  said Godfrey.  "Let me give something towards

finding it clothes."

 

He had put his hand in his pocket and found half-a-guinea, and,

thrusting it into Silas's hand, he hurried out of the cottage to

overtake Mr. Kimble.

 

"Ah, I see it's not the same woman I saw," he said, as he came up.

"It's a pretty little child: the old fellow seems to want to keep it;

that's strange for a miser like him.  But I gave him a trifle to help

him out: the parish isn't likely to quarrel with him for the right to

keep the child."

 

"No; but I've seen the time when I might have quarrelled with him for

it myself.  It's too late now, though.  If the child ran into the fire,

your aunt's too fat to overtake it: she could only sit and grunt like

an alarmed sow.  But what a fool you are, Godfrey, to come out in your

dancing shoes and stockings in this way--and you one of the beaux of

the evening, and at your own house!  What do you mean by such freaks,

young fellow?  Has Miss Nancy been cruel, and do you want to spite her

by spoiling your pumps?"

 

"Oh, everything has been disagreeable to-night.  I was tired to death

of jigging and gallanting, and that bother about the hornpipes.  And

I'd got to dance with the other Miss Gunn," said Godfrey, glad of the

subterfuge his uncle had suggested to him.

 

The prevarication and white lies which a mind that keeps itself

ambitiously pure is as uneasy under as a great artist under the false

touches that no eye detects but his own, are worn as lightly as mere

trimmings when once the actions have become a lie.

 

Godfrey reappeared in the White Parlour with dry feet, and, since the

truth must be told, with a sense of relief and gladness that was too

strong for painful thoughts to struggle with.  For could he not venture

now, whenever opportunity offered, to say the tenderest things to Nancy

Lammeter--to promise her and himself that he would always be just what

she would desire to see him?  There was no danger that his dead wife

would be recognized: those were not days of active inquiry and wide

report; and as for the registry of their marriage, that was a long way

off, buried in unturned pages, away from every one's interest but his

own.  Dunsey might betray him if he came back; but Dunsey might be won

to silence.

 

And when events turn out so much better for a man than he has had

reason to dread, is it not a proof that his conduct has been less

foolish and blameworthy than it might otherwise have appeared?  When we

are treated well, we naturally begin to think that we are not

altogether unmeritorious, and that it is only just we should treat

ourselves well, and not mar our own good fortune.  Where, after all,

would be the use of his confessing the past to Nancy Lammeter, and

throwing away his happiness?--nay, hers?  for he felt some confidence

that she loved him.  As for the child, he would see that it was cared

for: he would never forsake it; he would do everything but own it.

Perhaps it would be just as happy in life without being owned by its

father, seeing that nobody could tell how things would turn out, and

that--is there any other reason wanted?--well, then, that the father

would be much happier without owning the child.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIV

 

There was a pauper's burial that week in Raveloe, and up Kench Yard at

Batherley it was known that the dark-haired woman with the fair child,

who had lately come to lodge there, was gone away again. That was all

the express note taken that Molly had disappeared from the eyes of men.

But the unwept death which, to the general lot, seemed as trivial as

the summer-shed leaf, was charged with the force of destiny to certain

human lives that we know of, shaping their joys and sorrows even to the

end.

 

Silas Marner's determination to keep the "tramp's child" was matter of

hardly less surprise and iterated talk in the village than the robbery

of his money.  That softening of feeling towards him which dated from

his misfortune, that merging of suspicion and dislike in a rather

contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazy, was now accompanied with a

more active sympathy, especially amongst the women.  Notable mothers,

who knew what it was to keep children "whole and sweet"; lazy mothers,

who knew what it was to be interrupted in folding their arms and

scratching their elbows by the mischievous propensities of children

just firm on their legs, were equally interested in conjecturing how a

lone man would manage with a two-year-old child on his hands, and were

equally ready with their suggestions: the notable chiefly telling him

what he had better do, and the lazy ones being emphatic in telling him

what he would never be able to do.

 

Among the notable mothers, Dolly Winthrop was the one whose neighbourly

offices were the most acceptable to Marner, for they were rendered

without any show of bustling instruction.  Silas had shown her the

half-guinea given to him by Godfrey, and had asked her what he should

do about getting some clothes for the child.

 

"Eh, Master Marner," said Dolly, "there's no call to buy, no more nor a

pair o' shoes; for I've got the little petticoats as Aaron wore five

years ago, and it's ill spending the money on them baby-clothes, for

the child 'ull grow like grass i' May, bless it--that it will."

 

And the same day Dolly brought her bundle, and displayed to Marner, one

by one, the tiny garments in their due order of succession, most of

them patched and darned, but clean and neat as fresh-sprung herbs.

This was the introduction to a great ceremony with soap and water, from

which Baby came out in new beauty, and sat on Dolly's knee, handling

her toes and chuckling and patting her palms together with an air of

having made several discoveries about herself, which she communicated

by alternate sounds of "gug-gug-gug", and "mammy".  The "mammy" was not

a cry of need or uneasiness: Baby had been used to utter it without

expecting either tender sound or touch to follow.

 

"Anybody 'ud think the angils in heaven couldn't be prettier," said

Dolly, rubbing the golden curls and kissing them.  "And to think of its

being covered wi' them dirty rags--and the poor mother--froze to death;

but there's Them as took care of it, and brought it to your door,

Master Marner.  The door was open, and it walked in over the snow, like

as if it had been a little starved robin.  Didn't you say the door was

open?"

 

"Yes," said Silas, meditatively.  "Yes--the door was open.  The money's

gone I don't know where, and this is come from I don't know where."

 

He had not mentioned to any one his unconsciousness of the child's

entrance, shrinking from questions which might lead to the fact he

himself suspected--namely, that he had been in one of his trances.

 

"Ah," said Dolly, with soothing gravity, "it's like the night and the

morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the

harvest--one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor

where.  We may strive and scrat and fend, but it's little we can do

arter all--the big things come and go wi' no striving o' our'n--they

do, that they do; and I think you're in the right on it to keep the

little un, Master Marner, seeing as it's been sent to you, though

there's folks as thinks different.  You'll happen be a bit moithered

with it while it's so little; but I'll come, and welcome, and see to it

for you: I've a bit o' time to spare most days, for when one gets up

betimes i' the morning, the clock seems to stan' still tow'rt ten,

afore it's time to go about the victual.  So, as I say, I'll come and

see to the child for you, and welcome."

 

"Thank you... kindly," said Silas, hesitating a little.  "I'll be glad

if you'll tell me things.  But," he added, uneasily, leaning forward to

look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward

against Dolly's arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance--"But I

want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o' somebody else,

and not fond o' me.  I've been used to fending for myself in the

house--I can learn, I can learn."

 

"Eh, to be sure," said Dolly, gently.  "I've seen men as are wonderful

handy wi' children.  The men are awk'ard and contrairy mostly, God help

'em--but when the drink's out of 'em, they aren't unsensible, though

they're bad for leeching and bandaging--so fiery and unpatient.  You

see this goes first, next the skin," proceeded Dolly, taking up the

little shirt, and putting it on.

 

"Yes," said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they

might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head

with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with

purring noises.

 

"See there," said Dolly, with a woman's tender tact, "she's fondest o'

you.  She wants to go o' your lap, I'll be bound.  Go, then: take her,

Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as

you've done for her from the first of her coming to you."

 

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to

himself, at something unknown dawning on his life.  Thought and feeling

were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them

utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of

the gold--that the gold had turned into the child.  He took the

garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted,

of course, by Baby's gymnastics.

 

"There, then!  why, you take to it quite easy, Master Marner," said

Dolly; "but what shall you do when you're forced to sit in your loom?

For she'll get busier and mischievouser every day--she will, bless her.

It's lucky as you've got that high hearth i'stead of a grate, for that

keeps the fire more out of her reach: but if you've got anything as can

be spilt or broke, or as is fit to cut her fingers off, she'll be at

it--and it is but right you should know."

 

Silas meditated a little while in some perplexity.  "I'll tie her to

the leg o' the loom," he said at last--"tie her with a good long strip

o' something."

 

"Well, mayhap that'll do, as it's a little gell, for they're easier

persuaded to sit i' one place nor the lads.  I know what the lads are;

for I've had four--four I've had, God knows--and if you was to take and

tie 'em up, they'd make a fighting and a crying as if you was ringing

the pigs.  But I'll bring you my little chair, and some bits o' red rag

and things for her to play wi'; an' she'll sit and chatter to 'em as if

they was alive.  Eh, if it wasn't a sin to the lads to wish 'em made

different, bless 'em, I should ha' been glad for one of 'em to be a

little gell; and to think as I could ha' taught her to scour, and mend,

and the knitting, and everything. But I can teach 'em this little un,

Master Marner, when she gets old enough."

 

"But she'll be _my_ little un," said Marner, rather hastily. "She'll be

nobody else's."

 

"No, to be sure; you'll have a right to her, if you're a father to her,

and bring her up according.  But," added Dolly, coming to a point which

she had determined beforehand to touch upon, "you must bring her up

like christened folks's children, and take her to church, and let her

learn her catechise, as my little Aaron can say off--the "I believe",

and everything, and "hurt nobody by word or deed",--as well as if he

was the clerk.  That's what you must do, Master Marner, if you'd do the

right thing by the orphin child."

 

Marner's pale face flushed suddenly under a new anxiety.  His mind was

too busy trying to give some definite bearing to Dolly's words for him

to think of answering her.

 

"And it's my belief," she went on, "as the poor little creatur has

never been christened, and it's nothing but right as the parson should

be spoke to; and if you was noways unwilling, I'd talk to Mr. Macey

about it this very day.  For if the child ever went anyways wrong, and

you hadn't done your part by it, Master Marner--'noculation, and

everything to save it from harm--it 'ud be a thorn i' your bed for ever

o' this side the grave; and I can't think as it 'ud be easy lying down

for anybody when they'd got to another world, if they hadn't done their

part by the helpless children as come wi'out their own asking."

 

Dolly herself was disposed to be silent for some time now, for she had

spoken from the depths of her own simple belief, and was much concerned

to know whether her words would produce the desired effect on Silas.

He was puzzled and anxious, for Dolly's word "christened" conveyed no

distinct meaning to him.  He had only heard of baptism, and had only

seen the baptism of grown-up men and women.

 

"What is it as you mean by "christened"?"  he said at last, timidly.

"Won't folks be good to her without it?"

 

"Dear, dear!  Master Marner," said Dolly, with gentle distress and

compassion.  "Had you never no father nor mother as taught you to say

your prayers, and as there's good words and good things to keep us from

harm?"

 

"Yes," said Silas, in a low voice; "I know a deal about that--used to,

used to.  But your ways are different: my country was a good way off."

He paused a few moments, and then added, more decidedly, "But I want to

do everything as can be done for the child.  And whatever's right for

it i' this country, and you think 'ull do it good, I'll act according,

if you'll tell me."

 

"Well, then, Master Marner," said Dolly, inwardly rejoiced, "I'll ask

Mr. Macey to speak to the parson about it; and you must fix on a name

for it, because it must have a name giv' it when it's christened."

 

"My mother's name was Hephzibah," said Silas, "and my little sister was

named after her."

 

"Eh, that's a hard name," said Dolly.  "I partly think it isn't a

christened name."

 

"It's a Bible name," said Silas, old ideas recurring.

 

"Then I've no call to speak again' it," said Dolly, rather startled by

Silas's knowledge on this head; "but you see I'm no scholard, and I'm

slow at catching the words.  My husband says I'm allays like as if I

was putting the haft for the handle--that's what he says--for he's very

sharp, God help him.  But it was awk'ard calling your little sister by

such a hard name, when you'd got nothing big to say, like--wasn't it,

Master Marner?"

 

"We called her Eppie," said Silas.

 

"Well, if it was noways wrong to shorten the name, it 'ud be a deal

handier.  And so I'll go now, Master Marner, and I'll speak about the

christening afore dark; and I wish you the best o' luck, and it's my

belief as it'll come to you, if you do what's right by the orphin

child;--and there's the 'noculation to be seen to; and as to washing

its bits o' things, you need look to nobody but me, for I can do 'em

wi' one hand when I've got my suds about.  Eh, the blessed angil!

You'll let me bring my Aaron one o' these days, and he'll show her his

little cart as his father's made for him, and the black-and-white pup

as he's got a-rearing."

 

Baby _was_ christened, the rector deciding that a double baptism was

the lesser risk to incur; and on this occasion Silas, making himself as

clean and tidy as he could, appeared for the first time within the

church, and shared in the observances held sacred by his neighbours.

He was quite unable, by means of anything he heard or saw, to identify

the Raveloe religion with his old faith; if he could at any time in his

previous life have done so, it must have been by the aid of a strong

feeling ready to vibrate with sympathy, rather than by a comparison of

phrases and ideas: and now for long years that feeling had been

dormant.  He had no distinct idea about the baptism and the

church-going, except that Dolly had said it was for the good of the

child; and in this way, as the weeks grew to months, the child created

fresh and fresh links between his life and the lives from which he had

hitherto shrunk continually into narrower isolation.  Unlike the gold

which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked

solitude--which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song

of birds, and started to no human tones--Eppie was a creature of

endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine,

and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything,

with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that

looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated

circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object

compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and

carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same

blank limit--carried them away to the new things that would come with

the coming years, when Eppie would have learned to understand how her

father Silas cared for her; and made him look for images of that time

in the ties and charities that bound together the families of his

neighbours. The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and

longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the

monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called

him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday,

reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old

winter-flies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and

warming him into joy because _she_ had joy.

 

And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups

were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the sunny midday, or

in the late afternoon when the shadows were lengthening under the

hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head to carry Eppie beyond the

Stone-pits to where the flowers grew, till they reached some favourite

bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers,

and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the

bright petals, calling "Dad-dad's" attention continually by bringing

him the flowers. Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note,

and Silas learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness,

that they might listen for the note to come again: so that when it

came, she set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph.

Sitting on the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once

familiar herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline

and markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding

remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in

Eppie's little world, that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.

 

As the child's mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing

into memory: as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold

narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full

consciousness.

 

It was an influence which must gather force with every new year: the

tones that stirred Silas's heart grew articulate, and called for more

distinct answers; shapes and sounds grew clearer for Eppie's eyes and

ears, and there was more that "Dad-dad" was imperatively required to

notice and account for.  Also, by the time Eppie was three years old,

she developed a fine capacity for mischief, and for devising ingenious

ways of being troublesome, which found much exercise, not only for

Silas's patience, but for his watchfulness and penetration.  Sorely was

poor Silas puzzled on such occasions by the incompatible demands of

love.  Dolly Winthrop told him that punishment was good for Eppie, and

that, as for rearing a child without making it tingle a little in soft

and safe places now and then, it was not to be done.

 

"To be sure, there's another thing you might do, Master Marner," added

Dolly, meditatively: "you might shut her up once i' the coal-hole.

That was what I did wi' Aaron; for I was that silly wi' the youngest

lad, as I could never bear to smack him.  Not as I could find i' my

heart to let him stay i' the coal-hole more nor a minute, but it was

enough to colly him all over, so as he must be new washed and dressed,

and it was as good as a rod to him--that was.  But I put it upo' your

conscience, Master Marner, as there's one of 'em you must

choose--ayther smacking or the coal-hole--else she'll get so masterful,

there'll be no holding her."

 

Silas was impressed with the melancholy truth of this last remark; but

his force of mind failed before the only two penal methods open to him,

not only because it was painful to him to hurt Eppie, but because he

trembled at a moment's contention with her, lest she should love him

the less for it.  Let even an affectionate Goliath get himself tied to

a small tender thing, dreading to hurt it by pulling, and dreading

still more to snap the cord, and which of the two, pray, will be

master?  It was clear that Eppie, with her short toddling steps, must

lead father Silas a pretty dance on any fine morning when circumstances

favoured mischief.

 

For example.  He had wisely chosen a broad strip of linen as a means of

fastening her to his loom when he was busy: it made a broad belt round

her waist, and was long enough to allow of her reaching the truckle-bed

and sitting down on it, but not long enough for her to attempt any

dangerous climbing.  One bright summer's morning Silas had been more

engrossed than usual in "setting up" a new piece of work, an occasion

on which his scissors were in requisition.  These scissors, owing to an

especial warning of Dolly's, had been kept carefully out of Eppie's

reach; but the click of them had had a peculiar attraction for her ear,

and watching the results of that click, she had derived the philosophic

lesson that the same cause would produce the same effect.  Silas had

seated himself in his loom, and the noise of weaving had begun; but he

had left his scissors on a ledge which Eppie's arm was long enough to

reach; and now, like a small mouse, watching her opportunity, she stole

quietly from her corner, secured the scissors, and toddled to the bed

again, setting up her back as a mode of concealing the fact.  She had a

distinct intention as to the use of the scissors; and having cut the

linen strip in a jagged but effectual manner, in two moments she had

run out at the open door where the sunshine was inviting her, while

poor Silas believed her to be a better child than usual.  It was not

until he happened to need his scissors that the terrible fact burst

upon him: Eppie had run out by herself--had perhaps fallen into the

Stone-pit.  Silas, shaken by the worst fear that could have befallen

him, rushed out, calling "Eppie!"  and ran eagerly about the unenclosed

space, exploring the dry cavities into which she might have fallen, and

then gazing with questioning dread at the smooth red surface of the

water.  The cold drops stood on his brow. How long had she been out?

There was one hope--that she had crept through the stile and got into

the fields, where he habitually took her to stroll.  But the grass was

high in the meadow, and there was no descrying her, if she were there,

except by a close search that would be a trespass on Mr. Osgood's crop.

Still, that misdemeanour must be committed; and poor Silas, after

peering all round the hedgerows, traversed the grass, beginning with

perturbed vision to see Eppie behind every group of red sorrel, and to

see her moving always farther off as he approached.  The meadow was

searched in vain; and he got over the stile into the next field,

looking with dying hope towards a small pond which was now reduced to

its summer shallowness, so as to leave a wide margin of good adhesive

mud. Here, however, sat Eppie, discoursing cheerfully to her own small

boot, which she was using as a bucket to convey the water into a deep

hoof-mark, while her little naked foot was planted comfortably on a

cushion of olive-green mud.  A red-headed calf was observing her with

alarmed doubt through the opposite hedge.

 

Here was clearly a case of aberration in a christened child which

demanded severe treatment; but Silas, overcome with convulsive joy at

finding his treasure again, could do nothing but snatch her up, and

cover her with half-sobbing kisses.  It was not until he had carried

her home, and had begun to think of the necessary washing, that he

recollected the need that he should punish Eppie, and "make her

remember".  The idea that she might run away again and come to harm,

gave him unusual resolution, and for the first time he determined to

try the coal-hole--a small closet near the hearth.

 

"Naughty, naughty Eppie," he suddenly began, holding her on his knee,

and pointing to her muddy feet and clothes--"naughty to cut with the

scissors and run away.  Eppie must go into the coal-hole for being

naughty.  Daddy must put her in the coal-hole."

 

He half-expected that this would be shock enough, and that Eppie would

begin to cry.  But instead of that, she began to shake herself on his

knee, as if the proposition opened a pleasing novelty. Seeing that he

must proceed to extremities, he put her into the coal-hole, and held

the door closed, with a trembling sense that he was using a strong

measure.  For a moment there was silence, but then came a little cry,

"Opy, opy!"  and Silas let her out again, saying, "Now Eppie 'ull never

be naughty again, else she must go in the coal-hole--a black naughty

place."

 

The weaving must stand still a long while this morning, for now Eppie

must be washed, and have clean clothes on; but it was to be hoped that

this punishment would have a lasting effect, and save time in

future--though, perhaps, it would have been better if Eppie had cried

more.

 

In half an hour she was clean again, and Silas having turned his back

to see what he could do with the linen band, threw it down again, with

the reflection that Eppie would be good without fastening for the rest

of the morning.  He turned round again, and was going to place her in

her little chair near the loom, when she peeped out at him with black

face and hands again, and said, "Eppie in de toal-hole!"

 

This total failure of the coal-hole discipline shook Silas's belief in

the efficacy of punishment.  "She'd take it all for fun," he observed

to Dolly, "if I didn't hurt her, and that I can't do, Mrs. Winthrop.

If she makes me a bit o' trouble, I can bear it. And she's got no

tricks but what she'll grow out of."

 

"Well, that's partly true, Master Marner," said Dolly, sympathetically;

"and if you can't bring your mind to frighten her off touching things,

you must do what you can to keep 'em out of her way.  That's what I do

wi' the pups as the lads are allays a-rearing.  They _will_ worry and

gnaw--worry and gnaw they will, if it was one's Sunday cap as hung

anywhere so as they could drag it.  They know no difference, God help

'em: it's the pushing o' the teeth as sets 'em on, that's what it is."

 

So Eppie was reared without punishment, the burden of her misdeeds

being borne vicariously by father Silas.  The stone hut was made a soft

nest for her, lined with downy patience: and also in the world that lay

beyond the stone hut she knew nothing of frowns and denials.

 

Notwithstanding the difficulty of carrying her and his yarn or linen at

the same time, Silas took her with him in most of his journeys to the

farmhouses, unwilling to leave her behind at Dolly Winthrop's, who was

always ready to take care of her; and little curly-headed Eppie, the

weaver's child, became an object of interest at several outlying

homesteads, as well as in the village.  Hitherto he had been treated

very much as if he had been a useful gnome or brownie--a queer and

unaccountable creature, who must necessarily be looked at with

wondering curiosity and repulsion, and with whom one would be glad to

make all greetings and bargains as brief as possible, but who must be

dealt with in a propitiatory way, and occasionally have a present of

pork or garden stuff to carry home with him, seeing that without him

there was no getting the yarn woven.  But now Silas met with open

smiling faces and cheerful questioning, as a person whose satisfactions

and difficulties could be understood.  Everywhere he must sit a little

and talk about the child, and words of interest were always ready for

him: "Ah, Master Marner, you'll be lucky if she takes the measles soon

and easy!"--or, "Why, there isn't many lone men 'ud ha' been wishing to

take up with a little un like that: but I reckon the weaving makes you

handier than men as do out-door work--you're partly as handy as a

woman, for weaving comes next to spinning."  Elderly masters and

mistresses, seated observantly in large kitchen arm-chairs, shook their

heads over the difficulties attendant on rearing children, felt Eppie's

round arms and legs, and pronounced them remarkably firm, and told

Silas that, if she turned out well (which, however, there was no

telling), it would be a fine thing for him to have a steady lass to do

for him when he got helpless.  Servant maidens were fond of carrying

her out to look at the hens and chickens, or to see if any cherries

could be shaken down in the orchard; and the small boys and girls

approached her slowly, with cautious movement and steady gaze, like

little dogs face to face with one of their own kind, till attraction

had reached the point at which the soft lips were put out for a kiss.

No child was afraid of approaching Silas when Eppie was near him: there

was no repulsion around him now, either for young or old; for the

little child had come to link him once more with the whole world.

There was love between him and the child that blent them into one, and

there was love between the child and the world--from men and women with

parental looks and tones, to the red lady-birds and the round pebbles.

 

Silas began now to think of Raveloe life entirely in relation to Eppie:

she must have everything that was a good in Raveloe; and he listened

docilely, that he might come to understand better what this life was,

from which, for fifteen years, he had stood aloof as from a strange

thing, with which he could have no communion: as some man who has a

precious plant to which he would give a nurturing home in a new soil,

thinks of the rain, and the sunshine, and all influences, in relation

to his nursling, and asks industriously for all knowledge that will

help him to satisfy the wants of the searching roots, or to guard leaf

and bud from invading harm.  The disposition to hoard had been utterly

crushed at the very first by the loss of his long-stored gold: the

coins he earned afterwards seemed as irrelevant as stones brought to

complete a house suddenly buried by an earthquake; the sense of

bereavement was too heavy upon him for the old thrill of satisfaction

to arise again at the touch of the newly-earned coin.  And now

something had come to replace his hoard which gave a growing purpose to

the earnings, drawing his hope and joy continually onward beyond the

money.

 

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led

them away from the city of destruction.  We see no white-winged angels

now.  But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is

put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and

bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a

little child's.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XV

 

There was one person, as you will believe, who watched with keener

though more hidden interest than any other, the prosperous growth of

Eppie under the weaver's care.  He dared not do anything that would

imply a stronger interest in a poor man's adopted child than could be

expected from the kindliness of the young Squire, when a chance meeting

suggested a little present to a simple old fellow whom others noticed

with goodwill; but he told himself that the time would come when he

might do something towards furthering the welfare of his daughter

without incurring suspicion.  Was he very uneasy in the meantime at his

inability to give his daughter her birthright? I cannot say that he

was.  The child was being taken care of, and would very likely be

happy, as people in humble stations often were--happier, perhaps, than

those brought up in luxury.

 

That famous ring that pricked its owner when he forgot duty and

followed desire--I wonder if it pricked very hard when he set out on

the chase, or whether it pricked but lightly then, and only pierced to

the quick when the chase had long been ended, and hope, folding her

wings, looked backward and became regret?

 

Godfrey Cass's cheek and eye were brighter than ever now.  He was so

undivided in his aims, that he seemed like a man of firmness.  No

Dunsey had come back: people had made up their minds that he was gone

for a soldier, or gone "out of the country", and no one cared to be

specific in their inquiries on a subject delicate to a respectable

family.  Godfrey had ceased to see the shadow of Dunsey across his

path; and the path now lay straight forward to the accomplishment of

his best, longest-cherished wishes.  Everybody said Mr. Godfrey had

taken the right turn; and it was pretty clear what would be the end of

things, for there were not many days in the week that he was not seen

riding to the Warrens.  Godfrey himself, when he was asked jocosely if

the day had been fixed, smiled with the pleasant consciousness of a

lover who could say "yes", if he liked.  He felt a reformed man,

delivered from temptation; and the vision of his future life seemed to

him as a promised land for which he had no cause to fight.  He saw

himself with all his happiness centred on his own hearth, while Nancy

would smile on him as he played with the children.

 

And that other child--not on the hearth--he would not forget it; he

would see that it was well provided for.  That was a father's duty.

 

 

 

 

PART TWO

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVI

 

It was a bright autumn Sunday, sixteen years after Silas Marner had

found his new treasure on the hearth.  The bells of the old Raveloe

church were ringing the cheerful peal which told that the morning

service was ended; and out of the arched doorway in the tower came

slowly, retarded by friendly greetings and questions, the richer

parishioners who had chosen this bright Sunday morning as eligible for

church-going.  It was the rural fashion of that time for the more

important members of the congregation to depart first, while their

humbler neighbours waited and looked on, stroking their bent heads or

dropping their curtsies to any large ratepayer who turned to notice

them.

 

Foremost among these advancing groups of well-clad people, there are

some whom we shall recognize, in spite of Time, who has laid his hand

on them all.  The tall blond man of forty is not much changed in

feature from the Godfrey Cass of six-and-twenty: he is only fuller in

flesh, and has only lost the indefinable look of youth--a loss which is

marked even when the eye is undulled and the wrinkles are not yet come.

Perhaps the pretty woman, not much younger than he, who is leaning on

his arm, is more changed than her husband: the lovely bloom that used

to be always on her cheek now comes but fitfully, with the fresh

morning air or with some strong surprise; yet to all who love human

faces best for what they tell of human experience, Nancy's beauty has a

heightened interest.  Often the soul is ripened into fuller goodness

while age has spread an ugly film, so that mere glances can never

divine the preciousness of the fruit.  But the years have not been so

cruel to Nancy.  The firm yet placid mouth, the clear veracious glance

of the brown eyes, speak now of a nature that has been tested and has

kept its highest qualities; and even the costume, with its dainty

neatness and purity, has more significance now the coquetries of youth

can have nothing to do with it.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Cass (any higher title has died away from Raveloe

lips since the old Squire was gathered to his fathers and his

inheritance was divided) have turned round to look for the tall aged

man and the plainly dressed woman who are a little behind--Nancy having

observed that they must wait for "father and Priscilla"--and now they

all turn into a narrower path leading across the churchyard to a small

gate opposite the Red House.  We will not follow them now; for may

there not be some others in this departing congregation whom we should

like to see again--some of those who are not likely to be handsomely

clad, and whom we may not recognize so easily as the master and

mistress of the Red House?

 

But it is impossible to mistake Silas Marner.  His large brown eyes

seem to have gathered a longer vision, as is the way with eyes that

have been short-sighted in early life, and they have a less vague, a

more answering gaze; but in everything else one sees signs of a frame

much enfeebled by the lapse of the sixteen years.  The weaver's bent

shoulders and white hair give him almost the look of advanced age,

though he is not more than five-and-fifty; but there is the freshest

blossom of youth close by his side--a blonde dimpled girl of eighteen,

who has vainly tried to chastise her curly auburn hair into smoothness

under her brown bonnet: the hair ripples as obstinately as a brooklet

under the March breeze, and the little ringlets burst away from the

restraining comb behind and show themselves below the bonnet-crown.

Eppie cannot help being rather vexed about her hair, for there is no

other girl in Raveloe who has hair at all like it, and she thinks hair

ought to be smooth.  She does not like to be blameworthy even in small

things: you see how neatly her prayer-book is folded in her spotted

handkerchief.

 

That good-looking young fellow, in a new fustian suit, who walks behind

her, is not quite sure upon the question of hair in the abstract, when

Eppie puts it to him, and thinks that perhaps straight hair is the best

in general, but he doesn't want Eppie's hair to be different.  She

surely divines that there is some one behind her who is thinking about

her very particularly, and mustering courage to come to her side as

soon as they are out in the lane, else why should she look rather shy,

and take care not to turn away her head from her father Silas, to whom

she keeps murmuring little sentences as to who was at church and who

was not at church, and how pretty the red mountain-ash is over the

Rectory wall?

 

"I wish _we_ had a little garden, father, with double daisies in, like

Mrs. Winthrop's," said Eppie, when they were out in the lane; "only

they say it 'ud take a deal of digging and bringing fresh soil--and you

couldn't do that, could you, father?  Anyhow, I shouldn't like you to

do it, for it 'ud be too hard work for you."

 

"Yes, I could do it, child, if you want a bit o' garden: these long

evenings, I could work at taking in a little bit o' the waste, just

enough for a root or two o' flowers for you; and again, i' the morning,

I could have a turn wi' the spade before I sat down to the loom.  Why

didn't you tell me before as you wanted a bit o' garden?"

 

"_I_ can dig it for you, Master Marner," said the young man in fustian,

who was now by Eppie's side, entering into the conversation without the

trouble of formalities.  "It'll be play to me after I've done my day's

work, or any odd bits o' time when the work's slack.  And I'll bring

you some soil from Mr. Cass's garden--he'll let me, and willing."

 

"Eh, Aaron, my lad, are you there?"  said Silas; "I wasn't aware of

you; for when Eppie's talking o' things, I see nothing but what she's

a-saying.  Well, if you could help me with the digging, we might get

her a bit o' garden all the sooner."

 

"Then, if you think well and good," said Aaron, "I'll come to the

Stone-pits this afternoon, and we'll settle what land's to be taken in,

and I'll get up an hour earlier i' the morning, and begin on it."

 

"But not if you don't promise me not to work at the hard digging,

father," said Eppie.  "For I shouldn't ha' said anything about it," she

added, half-bashfully, half-roguishly, "only Mrs. Winthrop said as

Aaron 'ud be so good, and--"

 

"And you might ha' known it without mother telling you," said Aaron.

"And Master Marner knows too, I hope, as I'm able and willing to do a

turn o' work for him, and he won't do me the unkindness to anyways take

it out o' my hands."

 

"There, now, father, you won't work in it till it's all easy," said

Eppie, "and you and me can mark out the beds, and make holes and plant

the roots.  It'll be a deal livelier at the Stone-pits when we've got

some flowers, for I always think the flowers can see us and know what

we're talking about.  And I'll have a bit o' rosemary, and bergamot,

and thyme, because they're so sweet-smelling; but there's no lavender

only in the gentlefolks' gardens, I think."

 

"That's no reason why you shouldn't have some," said Aaron, "for I can

bring you slips of anything; I'm forced to cut no end of 'em when I'm

gardening, and throw 'em away mostly.  There's a big bed o' lavender at

the Red House: the missis is very fond of it."

 

"Well," said Silas, gravely, "so as you don't make free for us, or ask

for anything as is worth much at the Red House: for Mr. Cass's been so

good to us, and built us up the new end o' the cottage, and given us

beds and things, as I couldn't abide to be imposin' for garden-stuff or

anything else."

 

"No, no, there's no imposin'," said Aaron; "there's never a garden in

all the parish but what there's endless waste in it for want o'

somebody as could use everything up.  It's what I think to myself

sometimes, as there need nobody run short o' victuals if the land was

made the most on, and there was never a morsel but what could find its

way to a mouth.  It sets one thinking o' that--gardening does.  But I

must go back now, else mother 'ull be in trouble as I aren't there."

 

"Bring her with you this afternoon, Aaron," said Eppie; "I shouldn't

like to fix about the garden, and her not know everything from the

first--should _you_, father?"

 

"Aye, bring her if you can, Aaron," said Silas; "she's sure to have a

word to say as'll help us to set things on their right end."

 

Aaron turned back up the village, while Silas and Eppie went on up the

lonely sheltered lane.

 

"O daddy!"  she began, when they were in privacy, clasping and

squeezing Silas's arm, and skipping round to give him an energetic

kiss.  "My little old daddy!  I'm so glad.  I don't think I shall want

anything else when we've got a little garden; and I knew Aaron would

dig it for us," she went on with roguish triumph--"I knew that very

well."

 

"You're a deep little puss, you are," said Silas, with the mild passive

happiness of love-crowned age in his face; "but you'll make yourself

fine and beholden to Aaron."

 

"Oh, no, I shan't," said Eppie, laughing and frisking; "he likes it."

 

"Come, come, let me carry your prayer-book, else you'll be dropping it,

jumping i' that way."

 

Eppie was now aware that her behaviour was under observation, but it

was only the observation of a friendly donkey, browsing with a log

fastened to his foot--a meek donkey, not scornfully critical of human

trivialities, but thankful to share in them, if possible, by getting

his nose scratched; and Eppie did not fail to gratify him with her

usual notice, though it was attended with the inconvenience of his

following them, painfully, up to the very door of their home.

 

But the sound of a sharp bark inside, as Eppie put the key in the door,

modified the donkey's views, and he limped away again without bidding.

The sharp bark was the sign of an excited welcome that was awaiting

them from a knowing brown terrier, who, after dancing at their legs in

a hysterical manner, rushed with a worrying noise at a tortoise-shell

kitten under the loom, and then rushed back with a sharp bark again, as

much as to say, "I have done my duty by this feeble creature, you

perceive"; while the lady-mother of the kitten sat sunning her white

bosom in the window, and looked round with a sleepy air of expecting

caresses, though she was not going to take any trouble for them.

 

The presence of this happy animal life was not the only change which

had come over the interior of the stone cottage.  There was no bed now

in the living-room, and the small space was well filled with decent

furniture, all bright and clean enough to satisfy Dolly Winthrop's eye.

The oaken table and three-cornered oaken chair were hardly what was

likely to be seen in so poor a cottage: they had come, with the beds

and other things, from the Red House; for Mr. Godfrey Cass, as every

one said in the village, did very kindly by the weaver; and it was

nothing but right a man should be looked on and helped by those who

could afford it, when he had brought up an orphan child, and been

father and mother to her--and had lost his money too, so as he had

nothing but what he worked for week by week, and when the weaving was

going down too--for there was less and less flax spun--and Master

Marner was none so young.  Nobody was jealous of the weaver, for he was

regarded as an exceptional person, whose claims on neighbourly help

were not to be matched in Raveloe.  Any superstition that remained

concerning him had taken an entirely new colour; and Mr. Macey, now a

very feeble old man of fourscore and six, never seen except in his

chimney-corner or sitting in the sunshine at his door-sill, was of

opinion that when a man had done what Silas had done by an orphan

child, it was a sign that his money would come to light again, or

leastwise that the robber would be made to answer for it--for, as Mr.

Macey observed of himself, his faculties were as strong as ever.

 

Silas sat down now and watched Eppie with a satisfied gaze as she

spread the clean cloth, and set on it the potato-pie, warmed up slowly

in a safe Sunday fashion, by being put into a dry pot over a

slowly-dying fire, as the best substitute for an oven.  For Silas would

not consent to have a grate and oven added to his conveniences: he

loved the old brick hearth as he had loved his brown pot--and was it

not there when he had found Eppie?  The gods of the hearth exist for us

still; and let all new faith be tolerant of that fetishism, lest it

bruise its own roots.

 

Silas ate his dinner more silently than usual, soon laying down his

knife and fork, and watching half-abstractedly Eppie's play with Snap

and the cat, by which her own dining was made rather a lengthy

business.  Yet it was a sight that might well arrest wandering

thoughts: Eppie, with the rippling radiance of her hair and the

whiteness of her rounded chin and throat set off by the dark-blue

cotton gown, laughing merrily as the kitten held on with her four claws

to one shoulder, like a design for a jug-handle, while Snap on the

right hand and Puss on the other put up their paws towards a morsel

which she held out of the reach of both--Snap occasionally desisting in

order to remonstrate with the cat by a cogent worrying growl on the

greediness and futility of her conduct; till Eppie relented, caressed

them both, and divided the morsel between them.

 

But at last Eppie, glancing at the clock, checked the play, and said,

"O daddy, you're wanting to go into the sunshine to smoke your pipe.

But I must clear away first, so as the house may be tidy when godmother

comes.  I'll make haste--I won't be long."

 

Silas had taken to smoking a pipe daily during the last two years,

having been strongly urged to it by the sages of Raveloe, as a practice

"good for the fits"; and this advice was sanctioned by Dr. Kimble, on

the ground that it was as well to try what could do no harm--a

principle which was made to answer for a great deal of work in that

gentleman's medical practice.  Silas did not highly enjoy smoking, and

often wondered how his neighbours could be so fond of it; but a humble

sort of acquiescence in what was held to be good, had become a strong

habit of that new self which had been developed in him since he had

found Eppie on his hearth: it had been the only clew his bewildered

mind could hold by in cherishing this young life that had been sent to

him out of the darkness into which his gold had departed.  By seeking

what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything

produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom

and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with

reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to

ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new

impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his

past and present. The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust

which come with all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression

that there had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that

dark shadow over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and

more easy to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually

communicated to her all he could describe of his early life.  The

communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas's

meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of

interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no

key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that

arrested them at every step of the narrative.  It was only by

fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what she

had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas at last

arrived at the climax of the sad story--the drawing of lots, and its

false testimony concerning him; and this had to be repeated in several

interviews, under new questions on her part as to the nature of this

plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the innocent.

 

"And yourn's the same Bible, you're sure o' that, Master Marner--the

Bible as you brought wi' you from that country--it's the same as what

they've got at church, and what Eppie's a-learning to read in?"

 

"Yes," said Silas, "every bit the same; and there's drawing o' lots in

the Bible, mind you," he added in a lower tone.

 

"Oh, dear, dear," said Dolly in a grieved voice, as if she were hearing

an unfavourable report of a sick man's case.  She was silent for some

minutes; at last she said--

 

"There's wise folks, happen, as know how it all is; the parson knows,

I'll be bound; but it takes big words to tell them things, and such as

poor folks can't make much out on.  I can never rightly know the

meaning o' what I hear at church, only a bit here and there, but I know

it's good words--I do.  But what lies upo' your mind--it's this, Master

Marner: as, if Them above had done the right thing by you, They'd never

ha' let you be turned out for a wicked thief when you was innicent."

 

"Ah!"  said Silas, who had now come to understand Dolly's phraseology,

"that was what fell on me like as if it had been red-hot iron; because,

you see, there was nobody as cared for me or clave to me above nor

below.  And him as I'd gone out and in wi' for ten year and more, since

when we was lads and went halves--mine own familiar friend in whom I

trusted, had lifted up his heel again' me, and worked to ruin me."

 

"Eh, but he was a bad un--I can't think as there's another such," said

Dolly.  "But I'm o'ercome, Master Marner; I'm like as if I'd waked and

didn't know whether it was night or morning. I feel somehow as sure as

I do when I've laid something up though I can't justly put my hand on

it, as there was a rights in what happened to you, if one could but

make it out; and you'd no call to lose heart as you did.  But we'll

talk on it again; for sometimes things come into my head when I'm

leeching or poulticing, or such, as I could never think on when I was

sitting still."

 

Dolly was too useful a woman not to have many opportunities of

illumination of the kind she alluded to, and she was not long before

she recurred to the subject.

 

"Master Marner," she said, one day that she came to bring home Eppie's

washing, "I've been sore puzzled for a good bit wi' that trouble o'

yourn and the drawing o' lots; and it got twisted back'ards and

for'ards, as I didn't know which end to lay hold on. But it come to me

all clear like, that night when I was sitting up wi' poor Bessy Fawkes,

as is dead and left her children behind, God help 'em--it come to me as

clear as daylight; but whether I've got hold on it now, or can anyways

bring it to my tongue's end, that I don't know.  For I've often a deal

inside me as'll never come out; and for what you talk o' your folks in

your old country niver saying prayers by heart nor saying 'em out of a

book, they must be wonderful cliver; for if I didn't know "Our Father",

and little bits o' good words as I can carry out o' church wi' me, I

might down o' my knees every night, but nothing could I say."

 

"But you can mostly say something as I can make sense on, Mrs.

Winthrop," said Silas.

 

"Well, then, Master Marner, it come to me summat like this: I can make

nothing o' the drawing o' lots and the answer coming wrong; it 'ud

mayhap take the parson to tell that, and he could only tell us i' big

words.  But what come to me as clear as the daylight, it was when I was

troubling over poor Bessy Fawkes, and it allays comes into my head when

I'm sorry for folks, and feel as I can't do a power to help 'em, not if

I was to get up i' the middle o' the night--it comes into my head as

Them above has got a deal tenderer heart nor what I've got--for I can't

be anyways better nor Them as made me; and if anything looks hard to

me, it's because there's things I don't know on; and for the matter o'

that, there may be plenty o' things I don't know on, for it's little as

I know--that it is. And so, while I was thinking o' that, you come into

my mind, Master Marner, and it all come pouring in:--if _I_ felt i' my

inside what was the right and just thing by you, and them as prayed and

drawed the lots, all but that wicked un, if _they_'d ha' done the right

thing by you if they could, isn't there Them as was at the making on

us, and knows better and has a better will?  And that's all as ever I

can be sure on, and everything else is a big puzzle to me when I think

on it.  For there was the fever come and took off them as were

full-growed, and left the helpless children; and there's the breaking

o' limbs; and them as 'ud do right and be sober have to suffer by them

as are contrairy--eh, there's trouble i' this world, and there's things

as we can niver make out the rights on. And all as we've got to do is

to trusten, Master Marner--to do the right thing as fur as we know, and

to trusten.  For if us as knows so little can see a bit o' good and

rights, we may be sure as there's a good and a rights bigger nor what

we can know--I feel it i' my own inside as it must be so.  And if you

could but ha' gone on trustening, Master Marner, you wouldn't ha' run

away from your fellow-creaturs and been so lone."

 

"Ah, but that 'ud ha' been hard," said Silas, in an under-tone; "it 'ud

ha' been hard to trusten then."

 

"And so it would," said Dolly, almost with compunction; "them things

are easier said nor done; and I'm partly ashamed o' talking."

 

"Nay, nay," said Silas, "you're i' the right, Mrs. Winthrop--you're i'

the right.  There's good i' this world--I've a feeling o' that now; and

it makes a man feel as there's a good more nor he can see, i' spite o'

the trouble and the wickedness.  That drawing o' the lots is dark; but

the child was sent to me: there's dealings with us--there's dealings."

 

This dialogue took place in Eppie's earlier years, when Silas had to

part with her for two hours every day, that she might learn to read at

the dame school, after he had vainly tried himself to guide her in that

first step to learning.  Now that she was grown up, Silas had often

been led, in those moments of quiet outpouring which come to people who

live together in perfect love, to talk with _her_ too of the past, and

how and why he had lived a lonely man until she had been sent to him.

For it would have been impossible for him to hide from Eppie that she

was not his own child: even if the most delicate reticence on the point

could have been expected from Raveloe gossips in her presence, her own

questions about her mother could not have been parried, as she grew up,

without that complete shrouding of the past which would have made a

painful barrier between their minds. So Eppie had long known how her

mother had died on the snowy ground, and how she herself had been found

on the hearth by father Silas, who had taken her golden curls for his

lost guineas brought back to him.  The tender and peculiar love with

which Silas had reared her in almost inseparable companionship with

himself, aided by the seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her

from the lowering influences of the village talk and habits, and had

kept her mind in that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to

be an invariable attribute of rusticity.  Perfect love has a breath of

poetry which can exalt the relations of the least-instructed human

beings; and this breath of poetry had surrounded Eppie from the time

when she had followed the bright gleam that beckoned her to Silas's

hearth; so that it is not surprising if, in other things besides her

delicate prettiness, she was not quite a common village maiden, but had

a touch of refinement and fervour which came from no other teaching

than that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling.  She was too

childish and simple for her imagination to rove into questions about

her unknown father; for a long while it did not even occur to her that

she must have had a father; and the first time that the idea of her

mother having had a husband presented itself to her, was when Silas

showed her the wedding-ring which had been taken from the wasted

finger, and had been carefully preserved by him in a little lackered

box shaped like a shoe.  He delivered this box into Eppie's charge when

she had grown up, and she often opened it to look at the ring: but

still she thought hardly at all about the father of whom it was the

symbol.  Had she not a father very close to her, who loved her better

than any real fathers in the village seemed to love their daughters?

On the contrary, who her mother was, and how she came to die in that

forlornness, were questions that often pressed on Eppie's mind.  Her

knowledge of Mrs. Winthrop, who was her nearest friend next to Silas,

made her feel that a mother must be very precious; and she had again

and again asked Silas to tell her how her mother looked, whom she was

like, and how he had found her against the furze bush, led towards it

by the little footsteps and the outstretched arms.  The furze bush was

there still; and this afternoon, when Eppie came out with Silas into

the sunshine, it was the first object that arrested her eyes and

thoughts.

 

"Father," she said, in a tone of gentle gravity, which sometimes came

like a sadder, slower cadence across her playfulness, "we shall take

the furze bush into the garden; it'll come into the corner, and just

against it I'll put snowdrops and crocuses, 'cause Aaron says they

won't die out, but'll always get more and more."

 

"Ah, child," said Silas, always ready to talk when he had his pipe in

his hand, apparently enjoying the pauses more than the puffs, "it

wouldn't do to leave out the furze bush; and there's nothing prettier,

to my thinking, when it's yallow with flowers.  But it's just come into

my head what we're to do for a fence--mayhap Aaron can help us to a

thought; but a fence we must have, else the donkeys and things 'ull

come and trample everything down.  And fencing's hard to be got at, by

what I can make out."

 

"Oh, I'll tell you, daddy," said Eppie, clasping her hands suddenly,

after a minute's thought.  "There's lots o' loose stones about, some of

'em not big, and we might lay 'em atop of one another, and make a wall.

You and me could carry the smallest, and Aaron 'ud carry the rest--I

know he would."

 

"Eh, my precious un," said Silas, "there isn't enough stones to go all

round; and as for you carrying, why, wi' your little arms you couldn't

carry a stone no bigger than a turnip.  You're dillicate made, my

dear," he added, with a tender intonation--"that's what Mrs. Winthrop

says."

 

"Oh, I'm stronger than you think, daddy," said Eppie; "and if there

wasn't stones enough to go all round, why they'll go part o' the way,

and then it'll be easier to get sticks and things for the rest.  See

here, round the big pit, what a many stones!"

 

She skipped forward to the pit, meaning to lift one of the stones and

exhibit her strength, but she started back in surprise.

 

"Oh, father, just come and look here," she exclaimed--"come and see how

the water's gone down since yesterday.  Why, yesterday the pit was ever

so full!"

 

"Well, to be sure," said Silas, coming to her side.  "Why, that's the

draining they've begun on, since harvest, i' Mr. Osgood's fields, I

reckon.  The foreman said to me the other day, when I passed by 'em,

"Master Marner," he said, "I shouldn't wonder if we lay your bit o'

waste as dry as a bone."  It was Mr. Godfrey Cass, he said, had gone

into the draining: he'd been taking these fields o' Mr. Osgood."

 

"How odd it'll seem to have the old pit dried up!"  said Eppie, turning

away, and stooping to lift rather a large stone.  "See, daddy, I can

carry this quite well," she said, going along with much energy for a

few steps, but presently letting it fall.

 

"Ah, you're fine and strong, aren't you?"  said Silas, while Eppie

shook her aching arms and laughed.  "Come, come, let us go and sit down

on the bank against the stile there, and have no more lifting. You

might hurt yourself, child.  You'd need have somebody to work for

you--and my arm isn't over strong."

 

Silas uttered the last sentence slowly, as if it implied more than met

the ear; and Eppie, when they sat down on the bank, nestled close to

his side, and, taking hold caressingly of the arm that was not over

strong, held it on her lap, while Silas puffed again dutifully at the

pipe, which occupied his other arm.  An ash in the hedgerow behind made

a fretted screen from the sun, and threw happy playful shadows all

about them.

 

"Father," said Eppie, very gently, after they had been sitting in

silence a little while, "if I was to be married, ought I to be married

with my mother's ring?"

 

Silas gave an almost imperceptible start, though the question fell in

with the under-current of thought in his own mind, and then said, in a

subdued tone, "Why, Eppie, have you been a-thinking on it?"

 

"Only this last week, father," said Eppie, ingenuously, "since Aaron

talked to me about it."

 

"And what did he say?"  said Silas, still in the same subdued way, as

if he were anxious lest he should fall into the slightest tone that was

not for Eppie's good.

 

"He said he should like to be married, because he was a-going in

four-and-twenty, and had got a deal of gardening work, now Mr. Mott's

given up; and he goes twice a-week regular to Mr. Cass's, and once to

Mr. Osgood's, and they're going to take him on at the Rectory."

 

"And who is it as he's wanting to marry?"  said Silas, with rather a

sad smile.

 

"Why, me, to be sure, daddy," said Eppie, with dimpling laughter,

kissing her father's cheek; "as if he'd want to marry anybody else!"

 

"And you mean to have him, do you?"  said Silas.

 

"Yes, some time," said Eppie, "I don't know when.  Everybody's married

some time, Aaron says.  But I told him that wasn't true: for, I said,

look at father--he's never been married."

 

"No, child," said Silas, "your father was a lone man till you was sent

to him."

 

"But you'll never be lone again, father," said Eppie, tenderly. "That

was what Aaron said--"I could never think o' taking you away from

Master Marner, Eppie."  And I said, "It 'ud be no use if you did,

Aaron."  And he wants us all to live together, so as you needn't work a

bit, father, only what's for your own pleasure; and he'd be as good as

a son to you--that was what he said."

 

"And should you like that, Eppie?"  said Silas, looking at her.

 

"I shouldn't mind it, father," said Eppie, quite simply.  "And I should

like things to be so as you needn't work much.  But if it wasn't for

that, I'd sooner things didn't change.  I'm very happy: I like Aaron to

be fond of me, and come and see us often, and behave pretty to you--he

always _does_ behave pretty to you, doesn't he, father?"

 

"Yes, child, nobody could behave better," said Silas, emphatically.

"He's his mother's lad."

 

"But I don't want any change," said Eppie.  "I should like to go on a

long, long while, just as we are.  Only Aaron does want a change; and

he made me cry a bit--only a bit--because he said I didn't care for

him, for if I cared for him I should want us to be married, as he did."

 

"Eh, my blessed child," said Silas, laying down his pipe as if it were

useless to pretend to smoke any longer, "you're o'er young to be

married.  We'll ask Mrs. Winthrop--we'll ask Aaron's mother what _she_

thinks: if there's a right thing to do, she'll come at it.  But there's

this to be thought on, Eppie: things _will_ change, whether we like it

or no; things won't go on for a long while just as they are and no

difference.  I shall get older and helplesser, and be a burden on you,

belike, if I don't go away from you altogether.  Not as I mean you'd

think me a burden--I know you wouldn't--but it 'ud be hard upon you;

and when I look for'ard to that, I like to think as you'd have somebody

else besides me--somebody young and strong, as'll outlast your own

life, and take care on you to the end."  Silas paused, and, resting his

wrists on his knees, lifted his hands up and down meditatively as he

looked on the ground.

 

"Then, would you like me to be married, father?"  said Eppie, with a

little trembling in her voice.

 

"I'll not be the man to say no, Eppie," said Silas, emphatically; "but

we'll ask your godmother.  She'll wish the right thing by you and her

son too."

 

"There they come, then," said Eppie.  "Let us go and meet 'em. Oh, the

pipe!  won't you have it lit again, father?"  said Eppie, lifting that

medicinal appliance from the ground.

 

"Nay, child," said Silas, "I've done enough for to-day.  I think,

mayhap, a little of it does me more good than so much at once."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVII

 

While Silas and Eppie were seated on the bank discoursing in the

fleckered shade of the ash tree, Miss Priscilla Lammeter was resisting

her sister's arguments, that it would be better to take tea at the Red

House, and let her father have a long nap, than drive home to the

Warrens so soon after dinner.  The family party (of four only) were

seated round the table in the dark wainscoted parlour, with the Sunday

dessert before them, of fresh filberts, apples, and pears, duly

ornamented with leaves by Nancy's own hand before the bells had rung

for church.

 

A great change has come over the dark wainscoted parlour since we saw

it in Godfrey's bachelor days, and under the wifeless reign of the old

Squire.  Now all is polish, on which no yesterday's dust is ever

allowed to rest, from the yard's width of oaken boards round the

carpet, to the old Squire's gun and whips and walking-sticks, ranged on

the stag's antlers above the mantelpiece.  All other signs of sporting

and outdoor occupation Nancy has removed to another room; but she has

brought into the Red House the habit of filial reverence, and preserves

sacredly in a place of honour these relics of her husband's departed

father.  The tankards are on the side-table still, but the bossed

silver is undimmed by handling, and there are no dregs to send forth

unpleasant suggestions: the only prevailing scent is of the lavender

and rose-leaves that fill the vases of Derbyshire spar.  All is purity

and order in this once dreary room, for, fifteen years ago, it was

entered by a new presiding spirit.

 

"Now, father," said Nancy, "_is_ there any call for you to go home to

tea?  Mayn't you just as well stay with us?--such a beautiful evening

as it's likely to be."

 

The old gentleman had been talking with Godfrey about the increasing

poor-rate and the ruinous times, and had not heard the dialogue between

his daughters.

 

"My dear, you must ask Priscilla," he said, in the once firm voice, now

become rather broken.  "She manages me and the farm too."

 

"And reason good as I should manage you, father," said Priscilla, "else

you'd be giving yourself your death with rheumatism.  And as for the

farm, if anything turns out wrong, as it can't but do in these times,

there's nothing kills a man so soon as having nobody to find fault with

but himself.  It's a deal the best way o' being master, to let somebody

else do the ordering, and keep the blaming in your own hands.  It 'ud

save many a man a stroke, _I_ believe."

 

"Well, well, my dear," said her father, with a quiet laugh, "I didn't

say you don't manage for everybody's good."

 

"Then manage so as you may stay tea, Priscilla," said Nancy, putting

her hand on her sister's arm affectionately.  "Come now; and we'll go

round the garden while father has his nap."

 

"My dear child, he'll have a beautiful nap in the gig, for I shall

drive.  And as for staying tea, I can't hear of it; for there's this

dairymaid, now she knows she's to be married, turned Michaelmas, she'd

as lief pour the new milk into the pig-trough as into the pans.  That's

the way with 'em all: it's as if they thought the world 'ud be new-made

because they're to be married.  So come and let me put my bonnet on,

and there'll be time for us to walk round the garden while the horse is

being put in."

 

When the sisters were treading the neatly-swept garden-walks, between

the bright turf that contrasted pleasantly with the dark cones and

arches and wall-like hedges of yew, Priscilla said--

 

"I'm as glad as anything at your husband's making that exchange o' land

with cousin Osgood, and beginning the dairying.  It's a thousand pities

you didn't do it before; for it'll give you something to fill your

mind.  There's nothing like a dairy if folks want a bit o' worrit to

make the days pass.  For as for rubbing furniture, when you can once

see your face in a table there's nothing else to look for; but there's

always something fresh with the dairy; for even in the depths o' winter

there's some pleasure in conquering the butter, and making it come

whether or no.  My dear," added Priscilla, pressing her sister's hand

affectionately as they walked side by side, "you'll never be low when

you've got a dairy."

 

"Ah, Priscilla," said Nancy, returning the pressure with a grateful

glance of her clear eyes, "but it won't make up to Godfrey: a dairy's

not so much to a man.  And it's only what he cares for that ever makes

me low.  I'm contented with the blessings we have, if he could be

contented."

 

"It drives me past patience," said Priscilla, impetuously, "that way o'

the men--always wanting and wanting, and never easy with what they've

got: they can't sit comfortable in their chairs when they've neither

ache nor pain, but either they must stick a pipe in their mouths, to

make 'em better than well, or else they must be swallowing something

strong, though they're forced to make haste before the next meal comes

in.  But joyful be it spoken, our father was never that sort o' man.

And if it had pleased God to make you ugly, like me, so as the men

wouldn't ha' run after you, we might have kept to our own family, and

had nothing to do with folks as have got uneasy blood in their veins."

 

"Oh, don't say so, Priscilla," said Nancy, repenting that she had

called forth this outburst; "nobody has any occasion to find fault with

Godfrey.  It's natural he should be disappointed at not having any

children: every man likes to have somebody to work for and lay by for,

and he always counted so on making a fuss with 'em when they were

little.  There's many another man 'ud hanker more than he does. He's

the best of husbands."

 

"Oh, I know," said Priscilla, smiling sarcastically, "I know the way o'

wives; they set one on to abuse their husbands, and then they turn

round on one and praise 'em as if they wanted to sell 'em.  But

father'll be waiting for me; we must turn now."

 

The large gig with the steady old grey was at the front door, and Mr.

Lammeter was already on the stone steps, passing the time in recalling

to Godfrey what very fine points Speckle had when his master used to

ride him.

 

"I always _would_ have a good horse, you know," said the old gentleman,

not liking that spirited time to be quite effaced from the memory of

his juniors.

 

"Mind you bring Nancy to the Warrens before the week's out, Mr. Cass,"

was Priscilla's parting injunction, as she took the reins, and shook

them gently, by way of friendly incitement to Speckle.

 

"I shall just take a turn to the fields against the Stone-pits, Nancy,

and look at the draining," said Godfrey.

 

"You'll be in again by tea-time, dear?"

 

"Oh, yes, I shall be back in an hour."

 

It was Godfrey's custom on a Sunday afternoon to do a little

contemplative farming in a leisurely walk.  Nancy seldom accompanied

him; for the women of her generation--unless, like Priscilla, they took

to outdoor management--were not given to much walking beyond their own

house and garden, finding sufficient exercise in domestic duties.  So,

when Priscilla was not with her, she usually sat with Mant's Bible

before her, and after following the text with her eyes for a little

while, she would gradually permit them to wander as her thoughts had

already insisted on wandering.

 

But Nancy's Sunday thoughts were rarely quite out of keeping with the

devout and reverential intention implied by the book spread open before

her.  She was not theologically instructed enough to discern very

clearly the relation between the sacred documents of the past which she

opened without method, and her own obscure, simple life; but the spirit

of rectitude, and the sense of responsibility for the effect of her

conduct on others, which were strong elements in Nancy's character, had

made it a habit with her to scrutinize her past feelings and actions

with self-questioning solicitude.  Her mind not being courted by a

great variety of subjects, she filled the vacant moments by living

inwardly, again and again, through all her remembered experience,

especially through the fifteen years of her married time, in which her

life and its significance had been doubled.  She recalled the small

details, the words, tones, and looks, in the critical scenes which had

opened a new epoch for her by giving her a deeper insight into the

relations and trials of life, or which had called on her for some

little effort of forbearance, or of painful adherence to an imagined or

real duty--asking herself continually whether she had been in any

respect blamable.  This excessive rumination and self-questioning is

perhaps a morbid habit inevitable to a mind of much moral sensibility

when shut out from its due share of outward activity and of practical

claims on its affections--inevitable to a noble-hearted, childless

woman, when her lot is narrow.  "I can do so little--have I done it all

well?"  is the perpetually recurring thought; and there are no voices

calling her away from that soliloquy, no peremptory demands to divert

energy from vain regret or superfluous scruple.

 

There was one main thread of painful experience in Nancy's married

life, and on it hung certain deeply-felt scenes, which were the

oftenest revived in retrospect.  The short dialogue with Priscilla in

the garden had determined the current of retrospect in that frequent

direction this particular Sunday afternoon.  The first wandering of her

thought from the text, which she still attempted dutifully to follow

with her eyes and silent lips, was into an imaginary enlargement of the

defence she had set up for her husband against Priscilla's implied

blame.  The vindication of the loved object is the best balm affection

can find for its wounds:--"A man must have so much on his mind," is the

belief by which a wife often supports a cheerful face under rough

answers and unfeeling words.  And Nancy's deepest wounds had all come

from the perception that the absence of children from their hearth was

dwelt on in her husband's mind as a privation to which he could not

reconcile himself.

 

Yet sweet Nancy might have been expected to feel still more keenly the

denial of a blessing to which she had looked forward with all the

varied expectations and preparations, solemn and prettily trivial,

which fill the mind of a loving woman when she expects to become a

mother.  Was there not a drawer filled with the neat work of her hands,

all unworn and untouched, just as she had arranged it there fourteen

years ago--just, but for one little dress, which had been made the

burial-dress?  But under this immediate personal trial Nancy was so

firmly unmurmuring, that years ago she had suddenly renounced the habit

of visiting this drawer, lest she should in this way be cherishing a

longing for what was not given.

 

Perhaps it was this very severity towards any indulgence of what she

held to be sinful regret in herself, that made her shrink from applying

her own standard to her husband.  "It is very different--it is much

worse for a man to be disappointed in that way: a woman can always be

satisfied with devoting herself to her husband, but a man wants

something that will make him look forward more--and sitting by the fire

is so much duller to him than to a woman."  And always, when Nancy

reached this point in her meditations--trying, with predetermined

sympathy, to see everything as Godfrey saw it--there came a renewal of

self-questioning.  _Had_ she done everything in her power to lighten

Godfrey's privation?  Had she really been right in the resistance which

had cost her so much pain six years ago, and again four years ago--the

resistance to her husband's wish that they should adopt a child?

Adoption was more remote from the ideas and habits of that time than of

our own; still Nancy had her opinion on it.  It was as necessary to her

mind to have an opinion on all topics, not exclusively masculine, that

had come under her notice, as for her to have a precisely marked place

for every article of her personal property: and her opinions were

always principles to be unwaveringly acted on.  They were firm, not

because of their basis, but because she held them with a tenacity

inseparable from her mental action.  On all the duties and proprieties

of life, from filial behaviour to the arrangements of the evening

toilette, pretty Nancy Lammeter, by the time she was three-and-twenty,

had her unalterable little code, and had formed every one of her habits

in strict accordance with that code.  She carried these decided

judgments within her in the most unobtrusive way: they rooted

themselves in her mind, and grew there as quietly as grass.  Years ago,

we know, she insisted on dressing like Priscilla, because "it was right

for sisters to dress alike", and because "she would do what was right

if she wore a gown dyed with cheese-colouring".  That was a trivial but

typical instance of the mode in which Nancy's life was regulated.

 

It was one of those rigid principles, and no petty egoistic feeling,

which had been the ground of Nancy's difficult resistance to her

husband's wish.  To adopt a child, because children of your own had

been denied you, was to try and choose your lot in spite of Providence:

the adopted child, she was convinced, would never turn out well, and

would be a curse to those who had wilfully and rebelliously sought what

it was clear that, for some high reason, they were better without.

When you saw a thing was not meant to be, said Nancy, it was a bounden

duty to leave off so much as wishing for it.  And so far, perhaps, the

wisest of men could scarcely make more than a verbal improvement in her

principle.  But the conditions under which she held it apparent that a

thing was not meant to be, depended on a more peculiar mode of

thinking.  She would have given up making a purchase at a particular

place if, on three successive times, rain, or some other cause of

Heaven's sending, had formed an obstacle; and she would have

anticipated a broken limb or other heavy misfortune to any one who

persisted in spite of such indications.

 

"But why should you think the child would turn out ill?"  said Godfrey,

in his remonstrances.  "She has thriven as well as child can do with

the weaver; and _he_ adopted her.  There isn't such a pretty little

girl anywhere else in the parish, or one fitter for the station we

could give her.  Where can be the likelihood of her being a curse to

anybody?"

 

"Yes, my dear Godfrey," said Nancy, who was sitting with her hands

tightly clasped together, and with yearning, regretful affection in her

eyes.  "The child may not turn out ill with the weaver.  But, then, he

didn't go to seek her, as we should be doing.  It will be wrong: I feel

sure it will.  Don't you remember what that lady we met at the Royston

Baths told us about the child her sister adopted? That was the only

adopting I ever heard of: and the child was transported when it was

twenty-three.  Dear Godfrey, don't ask me to do what I know is wrong: I

should never be happy again.  I know it's very hard for _you_--it's

easier for me--but it's the will of Providence."

 

It might seem singular that Nancy--with her religious theory pieced

together out of narrow social traditions, fragments of church doctrine

imperfectly understood, and girlish reasonings on her small

experience--should have arrived by herself at a way of thinking so

nearly akin to that of many devout people, whose beliefs are held in

the shape of a system quite remote from her knowledge--singular, if we

did not know that human beliefs, like all other natural growths, elude

the barriers of system.

 

Godfrey had from the first specified Eppie, then about twelve years

old, as a child suitable for them to adopt.  It had never occurred to

him that Silas would rather part with his life than with Eppie. Surely

the weaver would wish the best to the child he had taken so much

trouble with, and would be glad that such good fortune should happen to

her: she would always be very grateful to him, and he would be well

provided for to the end of his life--provided for as the excellent part

he had done by the child deserved.  Was it not an appropriate thing for

people in a higher station to take a charge off the hands of a man in a

lower?  It seemed an eminently appropriate thing to Godfrey, for

reasons that were known only to himself; and by a common fallacy, he

imagined the measure would be easy because he had private motives for

desiring it.  This was rather a coarse mode of estimating Silas's

relation to Eppie; but we must remember that many of the impressions

which Godfrey was likely to gather concerning the labouring people

around him would favour the idea that deep affections can hardly go

along with callous palms and scant means; and he had not had the

opportunity, even if he had had the power, of entering intimately into

all that was exceptional in the weaver's experience.  It was only the

want of adequate knowledge that could have made it possible for Godfrey

deliberately to entertain an unfeeling project: his natural kindness

had outlived that blighting time of cruel wishes, and Nancy's praise of

him as a husband was not founded entirely on a wilful illusion.

 

"I was right," she said to herself, when she had recalled all their

scenes of discussion--"I feel I was right to say him nay, though it

hurt me more than anything; but how good Godfrey has been about it!

Many men would have been very angry with me for standing out against

their wishes; and they might have thrown out that they'd had ill-luck

in marrying me; but Godfrey has never been the man to say me an unkind

word.  It's only what he can't hide: everything seems so blank to him,

I know; and the land--what a difference it 'ud make to him, when he

goes to see after things, if he'd children growing up that he was doing

it all for!  But I won't murmur; and perhaps if he'd married a woman

who'd have had children, she'd have vexed him in other ways."

 

This possibility was Nancy's chief comfort; and to give it greater

strength, she laboured to make it impossible that any other wife should

have had more perfect tenderness.  She had been _forced_ to vex him by

that one denial.  Godfrey was not insensible to her loving effort, and

did Nancy no injustice as to the motives of her obstinacy.  It was

impossible to have lived with her fifteen years and not be aware that

an unselfish clinging to the right, and a sincerity clear as the

flower-born dew, were her main characteristics; indeed, Godfrey felt

this so strongly, that his own more wavering nature, too averse to

facing difficulty to be unvaryingly simple and truthful, was kept in a

certain awe of this gentle wife who watched his looks with a yearning

to obey them.  It seemed to him impossible that he should ever confess

to her the truth about Eppie: she would never recover from the

repulsion the story of his earlier marriage would create, told to her

now, after that long concealment.  And the child, too, he thought, must

become an object of repulsion: the very sight of her would be painful.

The shock to Nancy's mingled pride and ignorance of the world's evil

might even be too much for her delicate frame.  Since he had married

her with that secret on his heart, he must keep it there to the last.

Whatever else he did, he could not make an irreparable breach between

himself and this long-loved wife.

 

Meanwhile, why could he not make up his mind to the absence of children

from a hearth brightened by such a wife?  Why did his mind fly uneasily

to that void, as if it were the sole reason why life was not thoroughly

joyous to him?  I suppose it is the way with all men and women who

reach middle age without the clear perception that life never _can_ be

thoroughly joyous: under the vague dullness of the grey hours,

dissatisfaction seeks a definite object, and finds it in the privation

of an untried good.  Dissatisfaction seated musingly on a childless

hearth, thinks with envy of the father whose return is greeted by young

voices--seated at the meal where the little heads rise one above

another like nursery plants, it sees a black care hovering behind every

one of them, and thinks the impulses by which men abandon freedom, and

seek for ties, are surely nothing but a brief madness.  In Godfrey's

case there were further reasons why his thoughts should be continually

solicited by this one point in his lot: his conscience, never

thoroughly easy about Eppie, now gave his childless home the aspect of

a retribution; and as the time passed on, under Nancy's refusal to

adopt her, any retrieval of his error became more and more difficult.

 

On this Sunday afternoon it was already four years since there had been

any allusion to the subject between them, and Nancy supposed that it

was for ever buried.

 

"I wonder if he'll mind it less or more as he gets older," she thought;

"I'm afraid more.  Aged people feel the miss of children: what would

father do without Priscilla?  And if I die, Godfrey will be very

lonely--not holding together with his brothers much.  But I won't be

over-anxious, and trying to make things out beforehand: I must do my

best for the present."

 

With that last thought Nancy roused herself from her reverie, and

turned her eyes again towards the forsaken page.  It had been forsaken

longer than she imagined, for she was presently surprised by the

appearance of the servant with the tea-things.  It was, in fact, a

little before the usual time for tea; but Jane had her reasons.

 

"Is your master come into the yard, Jane?"

 

"No 'm, he isn't," said Jane, with a slight emphasis, of which,

however, her mistress took no notice.

 

"I don't know whether you've seen 'em, 'm," continued Jane, after a

pause, "but there's folks making haste all one way, afore the front

window.  I doubt something's happened.  There's niver a man to be seen

i' the yard, else I'd send and see.  I've been up into the top attic,

but there's no seeing anything for trees.  I hope nobody's hurt, that's

all."

 

"Oh, no, I daresay there's nothing much the matter," said Nancy. "It's

perhaps Mr. Snell's bull got out again, as he did before."

 

"I wish he mayn't gore anybody then, that's all," said Jane, not

altogether despising a hypothesis which covered a few imaginary

calamities.

 

"That girl is always terrifying me," thought Nancy; "I wish Godfrey

would come in."

 

She went to the front window and looked as far as she could see along

the road, with an uneasiness which she felt to be childish, for there

were now no such signs of excitement as Jane had spoken of, and Godfrey

would not be likely to return by the village road, but by the fields.

She continued to stand, however, looking at the placid churchyard with

the long shadows of the gravestones across the bright green hillocks,

and at the glowing autumn colours of the Rectory trees beyond.  Before

such calm external beauty the presence of a vague fear is more

distinctly felt--like a raven flapping its slow wing across the sunny

air.  Nancy wished more and more that Godfrey would come in.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVIII

 

Some one opened the door at the other end of the room, and Nancy felt

that it was her husband.  She turned from the window with gladness in

her eyes, for the wife's chief dread was stilled.

 

"Dear, I'm so thankful you're come," she said, going towards him. "I

began to get--"

 

She paused abruptly, for Godfrey was laying down his hat with trembling

hands, and turned towards her with a pale face and a strange

unanswering glance, as if he saw her indeed, but saw her as part of a

scene invisible to herself.  She laid her hand on his arm, not daring

to speak again; but he left the touch unnoticed, and threw himself into

his chair.

 

Jane was already at the door with the hissing urn.  "Tell her to keep

away, will you?"  said Godfrey; and when the door was closed again he

exerted himself to speak more distinctly.

 

"Sit down, Nancy--there," he said, pointing to a chair opposite him.

"I came back as soon as I could, to hinder anybody's telling you but

me.  I've had a great shock--but I care most about the shock it'll be

to you."

 

"It isn't father and Priscilla?"  said Nancy, with quivering lips,

clasping her hands together tightly on her lap.

 

"No, it's nobody living," said Godfrey, unequal to the considerate

skill with which he would have wished to make his revelation. "It's

Dunstan--my brother Dunstan, that we lost sight of sixteen years ago.

We've found him--found his body--his skeleton."

 

The deep dread Godfrey's look had created in Nancy made her feel these

words a relief.  She sat in comparative calmness to hear what else he

had to tell.  He went on:

 

"The Stone-pit has gone dry suddenly--from the draining, I suppose; and

there he lies--has lain for sixteen years, wedged between two great

stones.  There's his watch and seals, and there's my gold-handled

hunting-whip, with my name on: he took it away, without my knowing, the

day he went hunting on Wildfire, the last time he was seen."

 

Godfrey paused: it was not so easy to say what came next.  "Do you

think he drowned himself?"  said Nancy, almost wondering that her

husband should be so deeply shaken by what had happened all those years

ago to an unloved brother, of whom worse things had been augured.

 

"No, he fell in," said Godfrey, in a low but distinct voice, as if he

felt some deep meaning in the fact.  Presently he added: "Dunstan was

the man that robbed Silas Marner."

 

The blood rushed to Nancy's face and neck at this surprise and shame,

for she had been bred up to regard even a distant kinship with crime as

a dishonour.

 

"O Godfrey!"  she said, with compassion in her tone, for she had

immediately reflected that the dishonour must be felt still more keenly

by her husband.

 

"There was the money in the pit," he continued--"all the weaver's

money.  Everything's been gathered up, and they're taking the skeleton

to the Rainbow.  But I came back to tell you: there was no hindering

it; you must know."

 

He was silent, looking on the ground for two long minutes.  Nancy would

have said some words of comfort under this disgrace, but she refrained,

from an instinctive sense that there was something behind--that Godfrey

had something else to tell her.  Presently he lifted his eyes to her

face, and kept them fixed on her, as he said--

 

"Everything comes to light, Nancy, sooner or later.  When God Almighty

wills it, our secrets are found out.  I've lived with a secret on my

mind, but I'll keep it from you no longer.  I wouldn't have you know it

by somebody else, and not by me--I wouldn't have you find it out after

I'm dead.  I'll tell you now.  It's been "I will" and "I won't" with me

all my life--I'll make sure of myself now."

 

Nancy's utmost dread had returned.  The eyes of the husband and wife

met with awe in them, as at a crisis which suspended affection.

 

"Nancy," said Godfrey, slowly, "when I married you, I hid something

from you--something I ought to have told you.  That woman Marner found

dead in the snow--Eppie's mother--that wretched woman--was my wife:

Eppie is my child."

 

He paused, dreading the effect of his confession.  But Nancy sat quite

still, only that her eyes dropped and ceased to meet his.  She was pale

and quiet as a meditative statue, clasping her hands on her lap.

 

"You'll never think the same of me again," said Godfrey, after a little

while, with some tremor in his voice.

 

She was silent.

 

"I oughtn't to have left the child unowned: I oughtn't to have kept it

from you.  But I couldn't bear to give you up, Nancy.  I was led away

into marrying her--I suffered for it."

 

Still Nancy was silent, looking down; and he almost expected that she

would presently get up and say she would go to her father's. How could

she have any mercy for faults that must seem so black to her, with her

simple, severe notions?

 

But at last she lifted up her eyes to his again and spoke.  There was

no indignation in her voice--only deep regret.

 

"Godfrey, if you had but told me this six years ago, we could have done

some of our duty by the child.  Do you think I'd have refused to take

her in, if I'd known she was yours?"

 

At that moment Godfrey felt all the bitterness of an error that was not

simply futile, but had defeated its own end.  He had not measured this

wife with whom he had lived so long.  But she spoke again, with more

agitation.

 

"And--Oh, Godfrey--if we'd had her from the first, if you'd taken to

her as you ought, she'd have loved me for her mother--and you'd have

been happier with me: I could better have bore my little baby dying,

and our life might have been more like what we used to think it 'ud be."

 

The tears fell, and Nancy ceased to speak.

 

"But you wouldn't have married me then, Nancy, if I'd told you," said

Godfrey, urged, in the bitterness of his self-reproach, to prove to

himself that his conduct had not been utter folly.  "You may think you

would now, but you wouldn't then.  With your pride and your father's,

you'd have hated having anything to do with me after the talk there'd

have been."

 

"I can't say what I should have done about that, Godfrey.  I should

never have married anybody else.  But I wasn't worth doing wrong

for--nothing is in this world.  Nothing is so good as it seems

beforehand--not even our marrying wasn't, you see."  There was a faint

sad smile on Nancy's face as she said the last words.

 

"I'm a worse man than you thought I was, Nancy," said Godfrey, rather

tremulously.  "Can you forgive me ever?"

 

"The wrong to me is but little, Godfrey: you've made it up to

me--you've been good to me for fifteen years.  It's another you did the

wrong to; and I doubt it can never be all made up for."

 

"But we can take Eppie now," said Godfrey.  "I won't mind the world

knowing at last.  I'll be plain and open for the rest o' my life."

 

"It'll be different coming to us, now she's grown up," said Nancy,

shaking her head sadly.  "But it's your duty to acknowledge her and

provide for her; and I'll do my part by her, and pray to God Almighty

to make her love me."

 

"Then we'll go together to Silas Marner's this very night, as soon as

everything's quiet at the Stone-pits."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIX

 

Between eight and nine o'clock that evening, Eppie and Silas were

seated alone in the cottage.  After the great excitement the weaver had

undergone from the events of the afternoon, he had felt a longing for

this quietude, and had even begged Mrs. Winthrop and Aaron, who had

naturally lingered behind every one else, to leave him alone with his

child.  The excitement had not passed away: it had only reached that

stage when the keenness of the susceptibility makes external stimulus

intolerable--when there is no sense of weariness, but rather an

intensity of inward life, under which sleep is an impossibility.  Any

one who has watched such moments in other men remembers the brightness

of the eyes and the strange definiteness that comes over coarse

features from that transient influence.  It is as if a new fineness of

ear for all spiritual voices had sent wonder-working vibrations through

the heavy mortal frame--as if "beauty born of murmuring sound" had

passed into the face of the listener.

 

Silas's face showed that sort of transfiguration, as he sat in his

arm-chair and looked at Eppie.  She had drawn her own chair towards his

knees, and leaned forward, holding both his hands, while she looked up

at him.  On the table near them, lit by a candle, lay the recovered

gold--the old long-loved gold, ranged in orderly heaps, as Silas used

to range it in the days when it was his only joy.  He had been telling

her how he used to count it every night, and how his soul was utterly

desolate till she was sent to him.

 

"At first, I'd a sort o' feeling come across me now and then," he was

saying in a subdued tone, "as if you might be changed into the gold

again; for sometimes, turn my head which way I would, I seemed to see

the gold; and I thought I should be glad if I could feel it, and find

it was come back.  But that didn't last long.  After a bit, I should

have thought it was a curse come again, if it had drove you from me,

for I'd got to feel the need o' your looks and your voice and the touch

o' your little fingers.  You didn't know then, Eppie, when you were

such a little un--you didn't know what your old father Silas felt for

you."

 

"But I know now, father," said Eppie.  "If it hadn't been for you,

they'd have taken me to the workhouse, and there'd have been nobody to

love me."

 

"Eh, my precious child, the blessing was mine.  If you hadn't been sent

to save me, I should ha' gone to the grave in my misery.  The money was

taken away from me in time; and you see it's been kept--kept till it

was wanted for you.  It's wonderful--our life is wonderful."

 

Silas sat in silence a few minutes, looking at the money.  "It takes no

hold of me now," he said, ponderingly--"the money doesn't.  I wonder if

it ever could again--I doubt it might, if I lost you, Eppie.  I might

come to think I was forsaken again, and lose the feeling that God was

good to me."

 

At that moment there was a knocking at the door; and Eppie was obliged

to rise without answering Silas.  Beautiful she looked, with the

tenderness of gathering tears in her eyes and a slight flush on her

cheeks, as she stepped to open the door.  The flush deepened when she

saw Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Cass.  She made her little rustic curtsy, and

held the door wide for them to enter.

 

"We're disturbing you very late, my dear," said Mrs. Cass, taking

Eppie's hand, and looking in her face with an expression of anxious

interest and admiration.  Nancy herself was pale and tremulous.

 

Eppie, after placing chairs for Mr. and Mrs. Cass, went to stand

against Silas, opposite to them.

 

"Well, Marner," said Godfrey, trying to speak with perfect firmness,

"it's a great comfort to me to see you with your money again, that

you've been deprived of so many years.  It was one of my family did you

the wrong--the more grief to me--and I feel bound to make up to you for

it in every way.  Whatever I can do for you will be nothing but paying

a debt, even if I looked no further than the robbery.  But there are

other things I'm beholden--shall be beholden to you for, Marner."

 

Godfrey checked himself.  It had been agreed between him and his wife

that the subject of his fatherhood should be approached very carefully,

and that, if possible, the disclosure should be reserved for the

future, so that it might be made to Eppie gradually.  Nancy had urged

this, because she felt strongly the painful light in which Eppie must

inevitably see the relation between her father and mother.

 

Silas, always ill at ease when he was being spoken to by "betters",

such as Mr. Cass--tall, powerful, florid men, seen chiefly on

horseback--answered with some constraint--

 

"Sir, I've a deal to thank you for a'ready.  As for the robbery, I

count it no loss to me.  And if I did, you couldn't help it: you aren't

answerable for it."

 

"You may look at it in that way, Marner, but I never can; and I hope

you'll let me act according to my own feeling of what's just. I know

you're easily contented: you've been a hard-working man all your life."

 

"Yes, sir, yes," said Marner, meditatively.  "I should ha' been bad off

without my work: it was what I held by when everything else was gone

from me."

 

"Ah," said Godfrey, applying Marner's words simply to his bodily wants,

"it was a good trade for you in this country, because there's been a

great deal of linen-weaving to be done.  But you're getting rather past

such close work, Marner: it's time you laid by and had some rest.  You

look a good deal pulled down, though you're not an old man, _are_ you?"

 

"Fifty-five, as near as I can say, sir," said Silas.

 

"Oh, why, you may live thirty years longer--look at old Macey! And that

money on the table, after all, is but little.  It won't go far either

way--whether it's put out to interest, or you were to live on it as

long as it would last: it wouldn't go far if you'd nobody to keep but

yourself, and you've had two to keep for a good many years now."

 

"Eh, sir," said Silas, unaffected by anything Godfrey was saying, "I'm

in no fear o' want.  We shall do very well--Eppie and me 'ull do well

enough.  There's few working-folks have got so much laid by as that.  I

don't know what it is to gentlefolks, but I look upon it as a

deal--almost too much.  And as for us, it's little we want."

 

"Only the garden, father," said Eppie, blushing up to the ears the

moment after.

 

"You love a garden, do you, my dear?"  said Nancy, thinking that this

turn in the point of view might help her husband.  "We should agree in

that: I give a deal of time to the garden."

 

"Ah, there's plenty of gardening at the Red House," said Godfrey,

surprised at the difficulty he found in approaching a proposition which

had seemed so easy to him in the distance.  "You've done a good part by

Eppie, Marner, for sixteen years.  It 'ud be a great comfort to you to

see her well provided for, wouldn't it?  She looks blooming and

healthy, but not fit for any hardships: she doesn't look like a

strapping girl come of working parents.  You'd like to see her taken

care of by those who can leave her well off, and make a lady of her;

she's more fit for it than for a rough life, such as she might come to

have in a few years' time."

 

A slight flush came over Marner's face, and disappeared, like a passing

gleam.  Eppie was simply wondering Mr. Cass should talk so about things

that seemed to have nothing to do with reality; but Silas was hurt and

uneasy.

 

"I don't take your meaning, sir," he answered, not having words at

command to express the mingled feelings with which he had heard Mr.

Cass's words.

 

"Well, my meaning is this, Marner," said Godfrey, determined to come to

the point.  "Mrs. Cass and I, you know, have no children--nobody to

benefit by our good home and everything else we have--more than enough

for ourselves.  And we should like to have somebody in the place of a

daughter to us--we should like to have Eppie, and treat her in every

way as our own child.  It 'ud be a great comfort to you in your old

age, I hope, to see her fortune made in that way, after you've been at

the trouble of bringing her up so well.  And it's right you should have

every reward for that.  And Eppie, I'm sure, will always love you and

be grateful to you: she'd come and see you very often, and we should

all be on the look-out to do everything we could towards making you

comfortable."

 

A plain man like Godfrey Cass, speaking under some embarrassment,

necessarily blunders on words that are coarser than his intentions, and

that are likely to fall gratingly on susceptible feelings. While he had

been speaking, Eppie had quietly passed her arm behind Silas's head,

and let her hand rest against it caressingly: she felt him trembling

violently.  He was silent for some moments when Mr. Cass had

ended--powerless under the conflict of emotions, all alike painful.

Eppie's heart was swelling at the sense that her father was in

distress; and she was just going to lean down and speak to him, when

one struggling dread at last gained the mastery over every other in

Silas, and he said, faintly--

 

"Eppie, my child, speak.  I won't stand in your way.  Thank Mr. and

Mrs. Cass."

 

Eppie took her hand from her father's head, and came forward a step.

Her cheeks were flushed, but not with shyness this time: the sense that

her father was in doubt and suffering banished that sort of

self-consciousness.  She dropped a low curtsy, first to Mrs. Cass and

then to Mr. Cass, and said--

 

"Thank you, ma'am--thank you, sir.  But I can't leave my father, nor

own anybody nearer than him.  And I don't want to be a lady--thank you

all the same" (here Eppie dropped another curtsy).  "I couldn't give up

the folks I've been used to."

 

Eppie's lips began to tremble a little at the last words.  She

retreated to her father's chair again, and held him round the neck:

while Silas, with a subdued sob, put up his hand to grasp hers.

 

The tears were in Nancy's eyes, but her sympathy with Eppie was,

naturally, divided with distress on her husband's account.  She dared

not speak, wondering what was going on in her husband's mind.

 

Godfrey felt an irritation inevitable to almost all of us when we

encounter an unexpected obstacle.  He had been full of his own

penitence and resolution to retrieve his error as far as the time was

left to him; he was possessed with all-important feelings, that were to

lead to a predetermined course of action which he had fixed on as the

right, and he was not prepared to enter with lively appreciation into

other people's feelings counteracting his virtuous resolves.  The

agitation with which he spoke again was not quite unmixed with anger.

 

"But I've a claim on you, Eppie--the strongest of all claims. It's my

duty, Marner, to own Eppie as my child, and provide for her. She is my

own child--her mother was my wife.  I've a natural claim on her that

must stand before every other."

 

Eppie had given a violent start, and turned quite pale.  Silas, on the

contrary, who had been relieved, by Eppie's answer, from the dread lest

his mind should be in opposition to hers, felt the spirit of resistance

in him set free, not without a touch of parental fierceness.  "Then,

sir," he answered, with an accent of bitterness that had been silent in

him since the memorable day when his youthful hope had perished--"then,

sir, why didn't you say so sixteen year ago, and claim her before I'd

come to love her, i'stead o' coming to take her from me now, when you

might as well take the heart out o' my body?  God gave her to me

because you turned your back upon her, and He looks upon her as mine:

you've no right to her!  When a man turns a blessing from his door, it

falls to them as take it in."

 

"I know that, Marner.  I was wrong.  I've repented of my conduct in

that matter," said Godfrey, who could not help feeling the edge of

Silas's words.

 

"I'm glad to hear it, sir," said Marner, with gathering excitement;

"but repentance doesn't alter what's been going on for sixteen year.

Your coming now and saying "I'm her father" doesn't alter the feelings

inside us.  It's me she's been calling her father ever since she could

say the word."

 

"But I think you might look at the thing more reasonably, Marner," said

Godfrey, unexpectedly awed by the weaver's direct truth-speaking.  "It

isn't as if she was to be taken quite away from you, so that you'd

never see her again.  She'll be very near you, and come to see you very

often.  She'll feel just the same towards you."

 

"Just the same?"  said Marner, more bitterly than ever.  "How'll she

feel just the same for me as she does now, when we eat o' the same bit,

and drink o' the same cup, and think o' the same things from one day's

end to another?  Just the same?  that's idle talk. You'd cut us i' two."

 

Godfrey, unqualified by experience to discern the pregnancy of Marner's

simple words, felt rather angry again.  It seemed to him that the

weaver was very selfish (a judgment readily passed by those who have

never tested their own power of sacrifice) to oppose what was

undoubtedly for Eppie's welfare; and he felt himself called upon, for

her sake, to assert his authority.

 

"I should have thought, Marner," he said, severely--"I should have

thought your affection for Eppie would make you rejoice in what was for

her good, even if it did call upon you to give up something. You ought

to remember your own life's uncertain, and she's at an age now when her

lot may soon be fixed in a way very different from what it would be in

her father's home: she may marry some low working-man, and then,

whatever I might do for her, I couldn't make her well-off.  You're

putting yourself in the way of her welfare; and though I'm sorry to

hurt you after what you've done, and what I've left undone, I feel now

it's my duty to insist on taking care of my own daughter.  I want to do

my duty."

 

It would be difficult to say whether it were Silas or Eppie that was

more deeply stirred by this last speech of Godfrey's.  Thought had been

very busy in Eppie as she listened to the contest between her old

long-loved father and this new unfamiliar father who had suddenly come

to fill the place of that black featureless shadow which had held the

ring and placed it on her mother's finger.  Her imagination had darted

backward in conjectures, and forward in previsions, of what this

revealed fatherhood implied; and there were words in Godfrey's last

speech which helped to make the previsions especially definite.  Not

that these thoughts, either of past or future, determined her

resolution--_that_ was determined by the feelings which vibrated to

every word Silas had uttered; but they raised, even apart from these

feelings, a repulsion towards the offered lot and the newly-revealed

father.

 

Silas, on the other hand, was again stricken in conscience, and alarmed

lest Godfrey's accusation should be true--lest he should be raising his

own will as an obstacle to Eppie's good.  For many moments he was mute,

struggling for the self-conquest necessary to the uttering of the

difficult words.  They came out tremulously.

 

"I'll say no more.  Let it be as you will.  Speak to the child. I'll

hinder nothing."

 

Even Nancy, with all the acute sensibility of her own affections,

shared her husband's view, that Marner was not justifiable in his wish

to retain Eppie, after her real father had avowed himself.  She felt

that it was a very hard trial for the poor weaver, but her code allowed

no question that a father by blood must have a claim above that of any

foster-father.  Besides, Nancy, used all her life to plenteous

circumstances and the privileges of "respectability", could not enter

into the pleasures which early nurture and habit connect with all the

little aims and efforts of the poor who are born poor: to her mind,

Eppie, in being restored to her birthright, was entering on a too long

withheld but unquestionable good.  Hence she heard Silas's last words

with relief, and thought, as Godfrey did, that their wish was achieved.

 

"Eppie, my dear," said Godfrey, looking at his daughter, not without

some embarrassment, under the sense that she was old enough to judge

him, "it'll always be our wish that you should show your love and

gratitude to one who's been a father to you so many years, and we shall

want to help you to make him comfortable in every way. But we hope

you'll come to love us as well; and though I haven't been what a father

should ha' been to you all these years, I wish to do the utmost in my

power for you for the rest of my life, and provide for you as my only

child.  And you'll have the best of mothers in my wife--that'll be a

blessing you haven't known since you were old enough to know it."

 

"My dear, you'll be a treasure to me," said Nancy, in her gentle voice.

"We shall want for nothing when we have our daughter."

 

Eppie did not come forward and curtsy, as she had done before.  She

held Silas's hand in hers, and grasped it firmly--it was a weaver's

hand, with a palm and finger-tips that were sensitive to such

pressure--while she spoke with colder decision than before.

 

"Thank you, ma'am--thank you, sir, for your offers--they're very great,

and far above my wish.  For I should have no delight i' life any more

if I was forced to go away from my father, and knew he was sitting at

home, a-thinking of me and feeling lone.  We've been used to be happy

together every day, and I can't think o' no happiness without him.  And

he says he'd nobody i' the world till I was sent to him, and he'd have

nothing when I was gone.  And he's took care of me and loved me from

the first, and I'll cleave to him as long as he lives, and nobody shall

ever come between him and me."

 

"But you must make sure, Eppie," said Silas, in a low voice--"you must

make sure as you won't ever be sorry, because you've made your choice

to stay among poor folks, and with poor clothes and things, when you

might ha' had everything o' the best."

 

His sensitiveness on this point had increased as he listened to Eppie's

words of faithful affection.

 

"I can never be sorry, father," said Eppie.  "I shouldn't know what to

think on or to wish for with fine things about me, as I haven't been

used to.  And it 'ud be poor work for me to put on things, and ride in

a gig, and sit in a place at church, as 'ud make them as I'm fond of

think me unfitting company for 'em.  What could _I_ care for then?"

 

Nancy looked at Godfrey with a pained questioning glance.  But his eyes

were fixed on the floor, where he was moving the end of his stick, as

if he were pondering on something absently.  She thought there was a

word which might perhaps come better from her lips than from his.

 

"What you say is natural, my dear child--it's natural you should cling

to those who've brought you up," she said, mildly; "but there's a duty

you owe to your lawful father.  There's perhaps something to be given

up on more sides than one.  When your father opens his home to you, I

think it's right you shouldn't turn your back on it."

 

"I can't feel as I've got any father but one," said Eppie, impetuously,

while the tears gathered.  "I've always thought of a little home where

he'd sit i' the corner, and I should fend and do everything for him: I

can't think o' no other home.  I wasn't brought up to be a lady, and I

can't turn my mind to it.  I like the working-folks, and their

victuals, and their ways.  And," she ended passionately, while the

tears fell, "I'm promised to marry a working-man, as'll live with

father, and help me to take care of him."

 

Godfrey looked up at Nancy with a flushed face and smarting dilated

eyes.  This frustration of a purpose towards which he had set out under

the exalted consciousness that he was about to compensate in some

degree for the greatest demerit of his life, made him feel the air of

the room stifling.

 

"Let us go," he said, in an under-tone.

 

"We won't talk of this any longer now," said Nancy, rising. "We're your

well-wishers, my dear--and yours too, Marner.  We shall come and see

you again.  It's getting late now."

 

In this way she covered her husband's abrupt departure, for Godfrey had

gone straight to the door, unable to say more.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XX

 

Nancy and Godfrey walked home under the starlight in silence.  When

they entered the oaken parlour, Godfrey threw himself into his chair,

while Nancy laid down her bonnet and shawl, and stood on the hearth

near her husband, unwilling to leave him even for a few minutes, and

yet fearing to utter any word lest it might jar on his feeling.  At

last Godfrey turned his head towards her, and their eyes met, dwelling

in that meeting without any movement on either side.  That quiet mutual

gaze of a trusting husband and wife is like the first moment of rest or

refuge from a great weariness or a great danger--not to be interfered

with by speech or action which would distract the sensations from the

fresh enjoyment of repose.

 

But presently he put out his hand, and as Nancy placed hers within it,

he drew her towards him, and said--

 

"That's ended!"

 

She bent to kiss him, and then said, as she stood by his side, "Yes,

I'm afraid we must give up the hope of having her for a daughter.  It

wouldn't be right to want to force her to come to us against her will.

We can't alter her bringing up and what's come of it."

 

"No," said Godfrey, with a keen decisiveness of tone, in contrast with

his usually careless and unemphatic speech--"there's debts we can't pay

like money debts, by paying extra for the years that have slipped by.

While I've been putting off and putting off, the trees have been

growing--it's too late now.  Marner was in the right in what he said

about a man's turning away a blessing from his door: it falls to

somebody else.  I wanted to pass for childless once, Nancy--I shall

pass for childless now against my wish."

 

Nancy did not speak immediately, but after a little while she

asked--"You won't make it known, then, about Eppie's being your

daughter?"

 

"No: where would be the good to anybody?--only harm.  I must do what I

can for her in the state of life she chooses.  I must see who it is

she's thinking of marrying."

 

"If it won't do any good to make the thing known," said Nancy, who

thought she might now allow herself the relief of entertaining a

feeling which she had tried to silence before, "I should be very

thankful for father and Priscilla never to be troubled with knowing

what was done in the past, more than about Dunsey: it can't be helped,

their knowing that."

 

"I shall put it in my will--I think I shall put it in my will. I

shouldn't like to leave anything to be found out, like this of Dunsey,"

said Godfrey, meditatively.  "But I can't see anything but difficulties

that 'ud come from telling it now.  I must do what I can to make her

happy in her own way.  I've a notion," he added, after a moment's

pause, "it's Aaron Winthrop she meant she was engaged to.  I remember

seeing him with her and Marner going away from church."

 

"Well, he's very sober and industrious," said Nancy, trying to view the

matter as cheerfully as possible.

 

Godfrey fell into thoughtfulness again.  Presently he looked up at

Nancy sorrowfully, and said--

 

"She's a very pretty, nice girl, isn't she, Nancy?"

 

"Yes, dear; and with just your hair and eyes: I wondered it had never

struck me before."

 

"I think she took a dislike to me at the thought of my being her

father: I could see a change in her manner after that."

 

"She couldn't bear to think of not looking on Marner as her father,"

said Nancy, not wishing to confirm her husband's painful impression.

 

"She thinks I did wrong by her mother as well as by her.  She thinks me

worse than I am.  But she _must_ think it: she can never know all.

It's part of my punishment, Nancy, for my daughter to dislike me.  I

should never have got into that trouble if I'd been true to you--if I

hadn't been a fool.  I'd no right to expect anything but evil could

come of that marriage--and when I shirked doing a father's part too."

 

Nancy was silent: her spirit of rectitude would not let her try to

soften the edge of what she felt to be a just compunction.  He spoke

again after a little while, but the tone was rather changed: there was

tenderness mingled with the previous self-reproach.

 

"And I got _you_, Nancy, in spite of all; and yet I've been grumbling

and uneasy because I hadn't something else--as if I deserved it."

 

"You've never been wanting to me, Godfrey," said Nancy, with quiet

sincerity.  "My only trouble would be gone if you resigned yourself to

the lot that's been given us."

 

"Well, perhaps it isn't too late to mend a bit there.  Though it _is_

too late to mend some things, say what they will."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXI

 

The next morning, when Silas and Eppie were seated at their breakfast,

he said to her--

 

"Eppie, there's a thing I've had on my mind to do this two year, and

now the money's been brought back to us, we can do it.  I've been

turning it over and over in the night, and I think we'll set out

to-morrow, while the fine days last.  We'll leave the house and

everything for your godmother to take care on, and we'll make a little

bundle o' things and set out."

 

"Where to go, daddy?"  said Eppie, in much surprise.

 

"To my old country--to the town where I was born--up Lantern Yard.  I

want to see Mr. Paston, the minister: something may ha' come out to

make 'em know I was innicent o' the robbery.  And Mr. Paston was a man

with a deal o' light--I want to speak to him about the drawing o' the

lots.  And I should like to talk to him about the religion o' this

country-side, for I partly think he doesn't know on it."

 

Eppie was very joyful, for there was the prospect not only of wonder

and delight at seeing a strange country, but also of coming back to

tell Aaron all about it.  Aaron was so much wiser than she was about

most things--it would be rather pleasant to have this little advantage

over him.  Mrs. Winthrop, though possessed with a dim fear of dangers

attendant on so long a journey, and requiring many assurances that it

would not take them out of the region of carriers' carts and slow

waggons, was nevertheless well pleased that Silas should revisit his

own country, and find out if he had been cleared from that false

accusation.

 

"You'd be easier in your mind for the rest o' your life, Master

Marner," said Dolly--"that you would.  And if there's any light to be

got up the yard as you talk on, we've need of it i' this world, and I'd

be glad on it myself, if you could bring it back."

 

So on the fourth day from that time, Silas and Eppie, in their Sunday

clothes, with a small bundle tied in a blue linen handkerchief, were

making their way through the streets of a great manufacturing town.

Silas, bewildered by the changes thirty years had brought over his

native place, had stopped several persons in succession to ask them the

name of this town, that he might be sure he was not under a mistake

about it.

 

"Ask for Lantern Yard, father--ask this gentleman with the tassels on

his shoulders a-standing at the shop door; he isn't in a hurry like the

rest," said Eppie, in some distress at her father's bewilderment, and

ill at ease, besides, amidst the noise, the movement, and the multitude

of strange indifferent faces.

 

"Eh, my child, he won't know anything about it," said Silas;

"gentlefolks didn't ever go up the Yard.  But happen somebody can tell

me which is the way to Prison Street, where the jail is. I know the way

out o' that as if I'd seen it yesterday."

 

With some difficulty, after many turnings and new inquiries, they

reached Prison Street; and the grim walls of the jail, the first object

that answered to any image in Silas's memory, cheered him with the

certitude, which no assurance of the town's name had hitherto given

him, that he was in his native place.

 

"Ah," he said, drawing a long breath, "there's the jail, Eppie; that's

just the same: I aren't afraid now.  It's the third turning on the left

hand from the jail doors--that's the way we must go."

 

"Oh, what a dark ugly place!"  said Eppie.  "How it hides the sky!

It's worse than the Workhouse.  I'm glad you don't live in this town

now, father.  Is Lantern Yard like this street?"

 

"My precious child," said Silas, smiling, "it isn't a big street like

this.  I never was easy i' this street myself, but I was fond o'

Lantern Yard.  The shops here are all altered, I think--I can't make

'em out; but I shall know the turning, because it's the third."

 

"Here it is," he said, in a tone of satisfaction, as they came to a

narrow alley.  "And then we must go to the left again, and then

straight for'ard for a bit, up Shoe Lane: and then we shall be at the

entry next to the o'erhanging window, where there's the nick in the

road for the water to run.  Eh, I can see it all."

 

"O father, I'm like as if I was stifled," said Eppie.  "I couldn't ha'

thought as any folks lived i' this way, so close together.  How pretty

the Stone-pits 'ull look when we get back!"

 

"It looks comical to _me_, child, now--and smells bad.  I can't think

as it usened to smell so."

 

Here and there a sallow, begrimed face looked out from a gloomy doorway

at the strangers, and increased Eppie's uneasiness, so that it was a

longed-for relief when they issued from the alleys into Shoe Lane,

where there was a broader strip of sky.

 

"Dear heart!"  said Silas, "why, there's people coming out o' the Yard

as if they'd been to chapel at this time o' day--a weekday noon!"

 

Suddenly he started and stood still with a look of distressed

amazement, that alarmed Eppie.  They were before an opening in front of

a large factory, from which men and women were streaming for their

midday meal.

 

"Father," said Eppie, clasping his arm, "what's the matter?"

 

But she had to speak again and again before Silas could answer her.

 

"It's gone, child," he said, at last, in strong agitation--"Lantern

Yard's gone.  It must ha' been here, because here's the house with the

o'erhanging window--I know that--it's just the same; but they've made

this new opening; and see that big factory! It's all gone--chapel and

all."

 

"Come into that little brush-shop and sit down, father--they'll let you

sit down," said Eppie, always on the watch lest one of her father's

strange attacks should come on.  "Perhaps the people can tell you all

about it."

 

But neither from the brush-maker, who had come to Shoe Lane only ten

years ago, when the factory was already built, nor from any other

source within his reach, could Silas learn anything of the old Lantern

Yard friends, or of Mr. Paston the minister.

 

"The old place is all swep' away," Silas said to Dolly Winthrop on the

night of his return--"the little graveyard and everything. The old

home's gone; I've no home but this now.  I shall never know whether

they got at the truth o' the robbery, nor whether Mr. Paston could ha'

given me any light about the drawing o' the lots.  It's dark to me,

Mrs. Winthrop, that is; I doubt it'll be dark to the last."

 

"Well, yes, Master Marner," said Dolly, who sat with a placid listening

face, now bordered by grey hairs; "I doubt it may.  It's the will o'

Them above as a many things should be dark to us; but there's some

things as I've never felt i' the dark about, and they're mostly what

comes i' the day's work.  You were hard done by that once, Master

Marner, and it seems as you'll never know the rights of it; but that

doesn't hinder there _being_ a rights, Master Marner, for all it's dark

to you and me."

 

"No," said Silas, "no; that doesn't hinder.  Since the time the child

was sent to me and I've come to love her as myself, I've had light

enough to trusten by; and now she says she'll never leave me, I think I

shall trusten till I die."

 

 

 

CONCLUSION.

 

There was one time of the year which was held in Raveloe to be

especially suitable for a wedding.  It was when the great lilacs and

laburnums in the old-fashioned gardens showed their golden and purple

wealth above the lichen-tinted walls, and when there were calves still

young enough to want bucketfuls of fragrant milk. People were not so

busy then as they must become when the full cheese-making and the

mowing had set in; and besides, it was a time when a light bridal dress

could be worn with comfort and seen to advantage.

 

Happily the sunshine fell more warmly than usual on the lilac tufts the

morning that Eppie was married, for her dress was a very light one.

She had often thought, though with a feeling of renunciation, that the

perfection of a wedding-dress would be a white cotton, with the tiniest

pink sprig at wide intervals; so that when Mrs. Godfrey Cass begged to

provide one, and asked Eppie to choose what it should be, previous

meditation had enabled her to give a decided answer at once.

 

Seen at a little distance as she walked across the churchyard and down

the village, she seemed to be attired in pure white, and her hair

looked like the dash of gold on a lily.  One hand was on her husband's

arm, and with the other she clasped the hand of her father Silas.

 

"You won't be giving me away, father," she had said before they went to

church; "you'll only be taking Aaron to be a son to you."

 

Dolly Winthrop walked behind with her husband; and there ended the

little bridal procession.

 

There were many eyes to look at it, and Miss Priscilla Lammeter was

glad that she and her father had happened to drive up to the door of

the Red House just in time to see this pretty sight.  They had come to

keep Nancy company to-day, because Mr. Cass had had to go away to

Lytherley, for special reasons.  That seemed to be a pity, for

otherwise he might have gone, as Mr. Crackenthorp and Mr. Osgood

certainly would, to look on at the wedding-feast which he had ordered

at the Rainbow, naturally feeling a great interest in the weaver who

had been wronged by one of his own family.

 

"I could ha' wished Nancy had had the luck to find a child like that

and bring her up," said Priscilla to her father, as they sat in the

gig; "I should ha' had something young to think of then, besides the

lambs and the calves."

 

"Yes, my dear, yes," said Mr. Lammeter; "one feels that as one gets

older.  Things look dim to old folks: they'd need have some young eyes

about 'em, to let 'em know the world's the same as it used to be."

 

Nancy came out now to welcome her father and sister; and the wedding

group had passed on beyond the Red House to the humbler part of the

village.

 

Dolly Winthrop was the first to divine that old Mr. Macey, who had been

set in his arm-chair outside his own door, would expect some special

notice as they passed, since he was too old to be at the wedding-feast.

 

"Mr. Macey's looking for a word from us," said Dolly; "he'll be hurt if

we pass him and say nothing--and him so racked with rheumatiz."

 

So they turned aside to shake hands with the old man.  He had looked

forward to the occasion, and had his premeditated speech.

 

"Well, Master Marner," he said, in a voice that quavered a good deal,

"I've lived to see my words come true.  I was the first to say there

was no harm in you, though your looks might be again' you; and I was

the first to say you'd get your money back.  And it's nothing but

rightful as you should.  And I'd ha' said the "Amens", and willing, at

the holy matrimony; but Tookey's done it a good while now, and I hope

you'll have none the worse luck."

 

In the open yard before the Rainbow the party of guests were already

assembled, though it was still nearly an hour before the appointed

feast time.  But by this means they could not only enjoy the slow

advent of their pleasure; they had also ample leisure to talk of Silas

Marner's strange history, and arrive by due degrees at the conclusion

that he had brought a blessing on himself by acting like a father to a

lone motherless child.  Even the farrier did not negative this

sentiment: on the contrary, he took it up as peculiarly his own, and

invited any hardy person present to contradict him.  But he met with no

contradiction; and all differences among the company were merged in a

general agreement with Mr. Snell's sentiment, that when a man had

deserved his good luck, it was the part of his neighbours to wish him

joy.

 

As the bridal group approached, a hearty cheer was raised in the

Rainbow yard; and Ben Winthrop, whose jokes had retained their

acceptable flavour, found it agreeable to turn in there and receive

congratulations; not requiring the proposed interval of quiet at the

Stone-pits before joining the company.

 

Eppie had a larger garden than she had ever expected there now; and in

other ways there had been alterations at the expense of Mr. Cass, the

landlord, to suit Silas's larger family.  For he and Eppie had declared

that they would rather stay at the Stone-pits than go to any new home.

The garden was fenced with stones on two sides, but in front there was

an open fence, through which the flowers shone with answering gladness,

as the four united people came within sight of them.

 

"O father," said Eppie, "what a pretty home ours is!  I think nobody

could be happier than we are."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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