[Mary Anne Evans]
The Weaver of Raveloe
"Achildmore than all other gifts
That earthcan offer to declining man
Brings hopewith itand forward-looking thoughts."
In thedays when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhousesand evengreat ladiesclothed in silk and thread-lacehad theirtoyspinning-wheels of polished oakthere might be seen indistrictsfar away among the lanesor deep in the bosom of thehillscertain pallid undersized menwhoby the side of the brawnycountry-folklooked like the remnants of a disinherited race. Theshepherd'sdog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking menappearedon the uplanddark against the early winter sunset; forwhat doglikes a figure bent under a heavy bag?and these palemen rarelystirred abroad without that mysterious burden. Theshepherdhimselfthough he had good reason to believe that the bagheldnothing but flaxen threador else the long rolls of stronglinen spunfrom that threadwas not quite sure that this trade ofweavingindispensable though it wascould be carried on entirelywithoutthe help of the Evil One. In that far-off time superstitionclungeasily round every person or thing that was at all unwontedor evenintermittent and occasional merelylike the visits of thepedlar orthe knife-grinder. No one knew where wandering men hadtheirhomes or their origin; and how was a man to be explainedunless youat least knew somebody who knew his father and mother?To thepeasants of old timesthe world outside their own directexperiencewas a region of vagueness and mystery: to theiruntravelledthought a state of wandering was a conception as dim asthe winterlife of the swallows that came back with the spring; andeven asettlerif he came from distant partshardly ever ceased tobe viewedwith a remnant of distrustwhich would have prevented anysurpriseif a long course of inoffensive conduct on his part hadended inthe commission of a crime; especially if he had anyreputationfor knowledgeor showed any skill in handicraft. Allclevernesswhether in the rapid use of that difficult instrumentthetongueor in some other art unfamiliar to villagerswas initselfsuspicious: honest folkborn and bred in a visible mannerweremostly not overwise or cleverat leastnot beyond such amatter asknowing the signs of the weather; and the process by whichrapidityand dexterity of any kind were acquired was so whollyhiddenthat they partook of the nature of conjuring. In this wayit came topass that those scattered linen-weaversemigrants fromthe towninto the countrywere to the last regarded as aliens bytheirrustic neighboursand usually contracted the eccentric habitswhichbelong to a state of loneliness.
In theearly years of this centurysuch a linen-weavernamed SilasMarnerworked at his vocation in a stone cottage that stood amongthe nuttyhedgerows near the village of Raveloeand not far fromthe edgeof a deserted stone-pit. The questionable sound of Silas'sloomsounlike the natural cheerful trotting of thewinnowing-machineor the simpler rhythm of the flailhad ahalf-fearfulfascination for the Raveloe boyswho would often leaveoff theirnutting or birds'-nesting to peep in at the window of thestonecottagecounterbalancing a certain awe at the mysteriousaction ofthe loomby a pleasant sense of scornful superioritydrawn fromthe mockery of its alternating noisesalong with thebenttread-mill attitude of the weaver. But sometimes it happenedthatMarnerpausing to adjust an irregularity in his threadbecameaware ofthe small scoundrelsandthough chary of his timehelikedtheir intrusion so ill that he would descend from his loomandopening the doorwould fix on them a gaze that was alwaysenough tomake them take to their legs in terror. For how was itpossibleto believe that those large brown protuberant eyes in SilasMarner'spale face really saw nothing very distinctly that was notclose tothemand not rather that their dreadful stare could dartcramporricketsor a wry mouth at any boy who happened to be inthe rear? They hadperhapsheard their fathers and mothers hintthat SilasMarner could cure folks' rheumatism if he had a mindandaddstillmore darklythat if you could only speak the devil fairenoughhemight save you the cost of the doctor. Such strangelingeringechoes of the old demon-worship might perhaps even now becaught bythe diligent listener among the grey-haired peasantry; forthe rudemind with difficulty associates the ideas of power andbenignity. A shadowy conception of power that by much persuasioncan beinduced to refrain from inflicting harmis the shape mosteasilytaken by the sense of the Invisible in the minds of men whohavealways been pressed close by primitive wantsand to whom alife ofhard toil has never been illuminated by any enthusiasticreligiousfaith. To them pain and mishap present a far wider rangeofpossibilities than gladness and enjoyment: their imagination isalmostbarren of the images that feed desire and hopebut is allovergrownby recollections that are a perpetual pasture to fear."Isthere anything you can fancy that you would like to eat?" Ionce saidto an old labouring manwho was in his last illnessandwho hadrefused all the food his wife had offered him. "No"heanswered"I've never been used to nothing but common victualandI can'teat that." Experience had bred no fancies in him thatcouldraise the phantasm of appetite.
AndRaveloe was a village where many of the old echoes lingeredundrownedby new voices. Not that it was one of those barrenparisheslying on the outskirts of civilizationinhabited bymeagresheep and thinly-scattered shepherds: on the contraryit layin therich central plain of what we are pleased to call MerryEnglandand held farms whichspeaking from a spiritual point ofviewpaidhighly-desirable tithes. But it was nestled in a snugwell-woodedhollowquite an hour's journey on horseback from anyturnpikewhere it was never reached by the vibrations of thecoach-hornor of public opinion. It was an important-lookingvillagewith a fine old church and large churchyard in the heart ofitandtwo or three large brick-and-stone homesteadswithwell-walledorchards and ornamental weathercocksstanding closeupon theroadand lifting more imposing fronts than the rectorywhichpeeped from among the trees on the other side of thechurchyard:avillage which showed at once the summits of itssociallifeand told the practised eye that there was no great parkandmanor-house in the vicinitybut that there were several chiefsin Raveloewho could farm badly quite at their easedrawing enoughmoney fromtheir bad farmingin those war timesto live in arollickingfashionand keep a jolly ChristmasWhitsunand Eastertide.
It wasfifteen years since Silas Marner had first come to Raveloe;he wasthen simply a pallid young manwith prominent short-sightedbrowneyeswhose appearance would have had nothing strange forpeople ofaverage culture and experiencebut for the villagers nearwhom hehad come to settle it had mysterious peculiarities whichcorrespondedwith the exceptional nature of his occupationand hisadventfrom an unknown region called "North'ard". So had hiswayof life:heinvited no comer to step across his door-silland heneverstrolled into the village to drink a pint at the Rainboworto gossipat the wheelwright's: he sought no man or womansave forthepurposes of his callingor in order to supply himself withnecessaries;and it was soon clear to the Raveloe lasses that hewouldnever urge one of them to accept him against her willquiteas if hehad heard them declare that they would never marry a deadman cometo life again. This view of Marner's personality was notwithoutanother ground than his pale face and unexampled eyes; forJemRodneythe mole-catcheraverred that one evening as he wasreturninghomewardhe saw Silas Marner leaning against a stile witha heavybag on his backinstead of resting the bag on the stile asa man inhis senses would have done; and thaton coming up to himhe sawthat Marner's eyes were set like a dead man'sand he spoketo himand shook himand his limbs were stiffand his handsclutchedthe bag as if they'd been made of iron; but just as he hadmade uphis mind that the weaver was deadhe came all right againlikeasyou might sayin the winking of an eyeand said"Good-night"and walked off. All this Jem swore he had seenmore bytoken that it was the very day he had been mole-catching onSquireCass's landdown by the old saw-pit. Some said Marner musthave beenin a "fit"a word which seemed to explain thingsotherwiseincredible; but the argumentative Mr. Maceyclerk of theparishshook his headand asked if anybody was ever known to gooff in afit and not fall down. A fit was a strokewasn't it? andit was inthe nature of a stroke to partly take away the use of aman'slimbs and throw him on the parishif he'd got no children tolook to. Nono; it was no stroke that would let a man stand on hislegslikea horse between the shaftsand then walk off as soon asyou cansay "Gee!" But there might be such a thing as a man'ssoul beingloose from his bodyand going out and inlike a birdout of itsnest and back; and that was how folks got over-wiseforthey wentto school in this shell-less state to those who couldteach themmore than their neighbours could learn with their fivesenses andthe parson. And where did Master Marner get hisknowledgeof herbs fromand charms tooif he liked to give themaway? Jem Rodney's story was no more than what might have beenexpectedby anybody who had seen how Marner had cured Sally Oatesand madeher sleep like a babywhen her heart had been beatingenough toburst her bodyfor two months and morewhile she hadbeen underthe doctor's care. He might cure more folks if he would;but he wasworth speaking fairif it was only to keep him fromdoing youa mischief.
It waspartly to this vague fear that Marner was indebted forprotectinghim from the persecution that his singularities mighthave drawnupon himbut still more to the fact thatthe oldlinen-weaverin the neighbouring parish of Tarley being deadhishandicraftmade him a highly welcome settler to the richerhousewivesof the districtand even to the more providentcottagerswho had their little stock of yarn at the year's end.Theirsense of his usefulness would have counteracted any repugnanceorsuspicion which was not confirmed by a deficiency in the qualityor thetale of the cloth he wove for them. And the years had rolledon withoutproducing any change in the impressions of the neighboursconcerningMarnerexcept the change from novelty to habit. At theend offifteen years the Raveloe men said just the same things aboutSilasMarner as at the beginning: they did not say them quite sooftenbutthey believed them much more strongly when they did saythem. There was only one important addition which the years hadbrought:it wasthat Master Marner had laid by a fine sight ofmoneysomewhereand that he could buy up "bigger men" thanhimself.
But whileopinion concerning him had remained nearly stationaryandhis dailyhabits had presented scarcely any visible changeMarner'sinwardlife had been a history and a metamorphosisas that of everyfervidnature must be when it has fledor been condemnedtosolitude. His lifebefore he came to Raveloehad been filled withthemovementthe mental activityand the close fellowshipwhichin thatday as in thismarked the life of an artisan earlyincorporatedin a narrow religious sectwhere the poorest laymanhas thechance of distinguishing himself by gifts of speechandhasatthe very leastthe weight of a silent voter in thegovernmentof his community. Marner was highly thought of in thatlittlehidden worldknown to itself as the church assembling inLanternYard; he was believed to be a young man of exemplary lifeand ardentfaith; and a peculiar interest had been centred in himever sincehe had fallenat a prayer-meetinginto a mysteriousrigidityand suspension of consciousnesswhichlasting for an houror morehad been mistaken for death. To have sought a medicalexplanationfor this phenomenon would have been held by Silashimselfas well as by his minister and fellow-membersa wilfulself-exclusionfrom the spiritual significance that might lietherein. Silas was evidently a brother selected for a peculiardiscipline;and though the effort to interpret this discipline wasdiscouragedby the absenceon his partof any spiritual visionduring hisoutward tranceyet it was believed by himself and othersthat itseffect was seen in an accession of light and fervour.A lesstruthful man than he might have been tempted into thesubsequentcreation of a vision in the form of resurgent memory; aless saneman might have believed in such a creation; but Silas wasboth saneand honestthoughas with many honest and fervent menculturehad not defined any channels for his sense of mysteryandso itspread itself over the proper pathway of inquiry andknowledge. He had inherited from his mother some acquaintance withmedicinalherbs and their preparationa little store of wisdomwhich shehad imparted to him as a solemn bequestbut of lateyears hehad had doubts about the lawfulness of applying thisknowledgebelieving that herbs could have no efficacy withoutprayerand that prayer might suffice without herbs; so that theinheriteddelight he had in wandering in the fields in search offoxgloveand dandelion and coltsfootbegan to wear to him thecharacterof a temptation.
Among themembers of his church there was one young mana littleolder thanhimselfwith whom he had long lived in such closefriendshipthat it was the custom of their Lantern Yard brethren tocall themDavid and Jonathan. The real name of the friend wasWilliamDaneand hetoowas regarded as a shining instance ofyouthfulpietythough somewhat given to over-severity towardsweakerbrethrenand to be so dazzled by his own light as to holdhimselfwiser than his teachers. But whatever blemishes othersmightdiscern in Williamto his friend's mind he was faultless; forMarner hadone of those impressible self-doubting natures whichataninexperienced ageadmire imperativeness and lean oncontradiction. The expression of trusting simplicity in Marner'sfaceheightened by that absence of special observationthatdefencelessdeer-like gaze which belongs to large prominent eyeswasstrongly contrasted by the self-complacent suppression of inwardtriumphthat lurked in the narrow slanting eyes and compressed lipsof WilliamDane. One of the most frequent topics of conversationbetweenthe two friends was Assurance of salvation: Silas confessedthat hecould never arrive at anything higher than hope mingled withfearandlistened with longing wonder when William declared that hehadpossessed unshaken assurance ever sincein the period of hisconversionhe had dreamed that he saw the words "calling andelectionsure" standing by themselves on a white page in the openBible. Such colloquies have occupied many a pair of pale-facedweaverswhose unnurtured souls have been like young winged thingsflutteringforsaken in the twilight.
It hadseemed to the unsuspecting Silas that the friendship hadsufferedno chill even from his formation of another attachment of acloserkind. For some months he had been engaged to a youngservant-womanwaiting only for a little increase to their mutualsavings inorder to their marriage; and it was a great delight tohim thatSarah did not object to William's occasional presence intheirSunday interviews. It was at this point in their history thatSilas'scataleptic fit occurred during the prayer-meeting; andamidst thevarious queries and expressions of interest addressed tohim by hisfellow-membersWilliam's suggestion alone jarred withthegeneral sympathy towards a brother thus singled out for specialdealings. He observed thatto himthis trance looked more like avisitationof Satan than a proof of divine favourand exhorted hisfriend tosee that he hid no accursed thing within his soul. Silasfeelingbound to accept rebuke and admonition as a brotherly officefelt noresentmentbut only painat his friend's doubts concerninghim; andto this was soon added some anxiety at the perception thatSarah'smanner towards him began to exhibit a strange fluctuationbetween aneffort at an increased manifestation of regard andinvoluntarysigns of shrinking and dislike. He asked her if shewished tobreak off their engagement; but she denied this: theirengagementwas known to the churchand had been recognized in theprayer-meetings;it could not be broken off without strictinvestigationand Sarah could render no reason that would besanctionedby the feeling of the community. At this time the seniordeacon wastaken dangerously illandbeing a childless widowerhewas tendednight and day by some of the younger brethren or sisters.Silasfrequently took his turn in the night-watching with Williamthe onerelieving the other at two in the morning. The old mancontraryto expectationseemed to be on the way to recoverywhenone nightSilassitting up by his bedsideobserved that his usualaudiblebreathing had ceased. The candle was burning lowand hehad tolift it to see the patient's face distinctly. Examinationconvincedhim that the deacon was deadhad been dead some timefor thelimbs were rigid. Silas asked himself if he had beenasleepand looked at the clock: it was already four in the morning.How was itthat William had not come? In much anxiety he went toseek forhelpand soon there were several friends assembled in thehousetheminister among themwhile Silas went away to his workwishing hecould have met William to know the reason of hisnon-appearance. But at six o'clockas he was thinking of going toseek hisfriendWilliam cameand with him the minister. They cameto summonhim to Lantern Yardto meet the church members there; andto hisinquiry concerning the cause of the summons the only replywas"Youwill hear." Nothing further was said until Silas wasseated inthe vestryin front of the ministerwith the eyes ofthose whoto him represented God's people fixed solemnly upon him.Then theministertaking out a pocket-knifeshowed it to Silasand askedhim if he knew where he had left that knife? Silas saidhe did notknow that he had left it anywhere out of his own pocketbut he wastrembling at this strange interrogation. He was thenexhortednot to hide his sinbut to confess and repent. The knifehad beenfound in the bureau by the departed deacon's bedsidefound inthe place where the little bag of church money had lainwhich theminister himself had seen the day before. Some hand hadremovedthat bag; and whose hand could it beif not that of the manto whomthe knife belonged? For some time Silas was mute withastonishment:then he said"God will clear me: I know nothingabout theknife being thereor the money being gone. Search me andmydwelling; you will find nothing but three pound five of my ownsavingswhich William Dane knows I have had these six months." AtthisWilliam groanedbut the minister said"The proof is heavyagainstyoubrother Marner. The money was taken in the night lastpastandno man was with our departed brother but youfor WilliamDanedeclares to us that he was hindered by sudden sickness fromgoing totake his place as usualand you yourself said that he hadnot come;andmoreoveryou neglected the dead body."
"Imust have slept" said Silas. Thenafter a pauseheadded"Or Imust have had another visitation like that which you have allseen meunderso that the thief must have come and gone while I wasnot in thebodybut out of the body. ButI say againsearch meand mydwellingfor I have been nowhere else."
The searchwas madeand it endedin William Dane's finding thewell-knownbagemptytucked behind the chest of drawers in Silas'schamber! On this William exhorted his friend to confessand not tohide hissin any longer. Silas turned a look of keen reproach onhimandsaid"Williamfor nine years that we have gone in andouttogetherhave you ever known me tell a lie? But God will clearme."
"Brother"said William"how do I know what you may have done inthe secretchambers of your heartto give Satan an advantage overyou?"
Silas wasstill looking at his friend. Suddenly a deep flush cameover hisfaceand he was about to speak impetuouslywhen he seemedcheckedagain by some inward shockthat sent the flush back andmade himtremble. But at last he spoke feeblylooking at William.
"Iremember nowthe knife wasn't in my pocket."
Williamsaid"I know nothing of what you mean." The otherpersonspresenthoweverbegan to inquire where Silas meant to saythat theknife wasbut he would give no further explanation: heonly said"I am sore stricken; I can say nothing. God will clearme."
On theirreturn to the vestry there was further deliberation. Anyresort tolegal measures for ascertaining the culprit was contraryto theprinciples of the church in Lantern Yardaccording to whichprosecutionwas forbidden to Christianseven had the case held lessscandal tothe community. But the members were bound to take othermeasuresfor finding out the truthand they resolved on praying anddrawinglots. This resolution can be a ground of surprise only tothose whoare unacquainted with that obscure religious life whichhas goneon in the alleys of our towns. Silas knelt with hisbrethrenrelying on his own innocence being certified by immediatedivineinterferencebut feeling that there was sorrow and mourningbehind forhim even thenthat his trust in man had been cruellybruised. _The lots declared that Silas Marner was guilty._ He wassolemnlysuspended from church-membershipand called upon to renderup thestolen money: only on confessionas the sign of repentancecould hebe received once more within the folds of the church.Marnerlistened in silence. At lastwhen everyone rose to departhe wenttowards William Dane and saidin a voice shaken by agitation
"Thelast time I remember using my knifewas when I took it out tocut astrap for you. I don't remember putting it in my pocketagain. _You_ stole the moneyand you have woven a plot to lay thesin at mydoor. But you may prosperfor all that: there is no justGod thatgoverns the earth righteouslybut a God of liesthatbearswitness against the innocent."
There wasa general shudder at this blasphemy.
Williamsaid meekly"I leave our brethren to judge whether this isthe voiceof Satan or not. I can do nothing but pray for youSilas."
PoorMarner went out with that despair in his soulthat shakentrust inGod and manwhich is little short of madness to a lovingnature. In the bitterness of his wounded spirithe said tohimself"_She_ will cast me off too." And he reflected thatifshe didnot believe the testimony against himher whole faith mustbe upsetas his was. To people accustomed to reason about the formsin whichtheir religious feeling has incorporated itselfit isdifficultto enter into that simpleuntaught state of mind in whichthe formand the feeling have never been severed by an act ofreflection. We are apt to think it inevitable that a man inMarner'sposition should have begun to question the validity of anappeal tothe divine judgment by drawing lots; but to him this wouldhave beenan effort of independent thought such as he had neverknown; andhe must have made the effort at a moment when all hisenergieswere turned into the anguish of disappointed faith. Ifthere isan angel who records the sorrows of men as well as theirsinsheknows how many and deep are the sorrows that spring fromfalseideas for which no man is culpable.
Marnerwent homeand for a whole day sat alonestunned by despairwithoutany impulse to go to Sarah and attempt to win her belief inhisinnocence. The second day he took refuge from benumbingunbeliefby getting into his loom and working away as usual; andbeforemany hours were pastthe minister and one of the deaconscame tohim with the message from Sarahthat she held herengagementto him at an end. Silas received the message mutelyandthenturned away from the messengers to work at his loom again. Inlittlemore than a month from that timeSarah was married toWilliamDane; and not long afterwards it was known to the brethrenin LanternYard that Silas Marner had departed from the town.
Evenpeople whose lives have been made various by learningsometimesfind it hard to keep a fast hold on their habitual viewsof lifeon their faith in the Invisiblenayon the sense thattheir pastjoys and sorrows are a real experiencewhen they aresuddenlytransported to a new landwhere the beings around themknownothing of their historyand share none of their ideaswheretheir mother earth shows another lapand human life has otherforms thanthose on which their souls have been nourished. Mindsthat havebeen unhinged from their old faith and lovehave perhapssoughtthis Lethean influence of exilein which the past becomesdreamybecause its symbols have all vanishedand the present too isdreamybecause it is linked with no memories. But even _their_experiencemay hardly enable them thoroughly to imagine what was theeffect ona simple weaver like Silas Marnerwhen he left his owncountryand people and came to settle in Raveloe. Nothing could bemoreunlike his native townset within sight of the widespreadhillsidesthan this lowwooded regionwhere he felt hidden evenfrom theheavens by the screening trees and hedgerows. There wasnothingherewhen he rose in the deep morning quiet and looked outon thedewy brambles and rank tufted grassthat seemed to have anyrelationwith that life centring in Lantern Yardwhich had oncebeen tohim the altar-place of high dispensations. The whitewashedwalls; thelittle pews where well-known figures entered with asubduedrustlingand where first one well-known voice and thenanotherpitched in a peculiar key of petitionuttered phrases atonceoccult and familiarlike the amulet worn on the heart; thepulpitwhere the minister delivered unquestioned doctrineandswayed toand froand handled the book in a long accustomed manner;the verypauses between the couplets of the hymnas it was givenoutandthe recurrent swell of voices in song: these things hadbeen thechannel of divine influences to Marnerthey were thefosteringhome of his religious emotionsthey were Christianityand God'skingdom upon earth. A weaver who finds hard words in hishymn-bookknows nothing of abstractions; as the little child knowsnothing ofparental lovebut only knows one face and one laptowardswhich it stretches its arms for refuge and nurture.
And whatcould be more unlike that Lantern Yard world than the worldinRaveloe?orchards looking lazy with neglected plenty; thelargechurch in the wide churchyardwhich men gazed at lounging attheir owndoors in service-time; the purple-faced farmers joggingalong thelanes or turning in at the Rainbow; homesteadswhere mensuppedheavily and slept in the light of the evening hearthandwherewomen seemed to be laying up a stock of linen for the life tocome. There were no lips in Raveloe from which a word could fallthat wouldstir Silas Marner's benumbed faith to a sense of pain.In theearly ages of the worldwe knowit was believed that eachterritorywas inhabited and ruled by its own divinitiesso that aman couldcross the bordering heights and be out of the reach of hisnativegodswhose presence was confined to the streams and thegroves andthe hills among which he had lived from his birth. Andpoor Silaswas vaguely conscious of something not unlike the feelingofprimitive menwhen they fled thusin fear or in sullennessfrom theface of an unpropitious deity. It seemed to him that thePower hehad vainly trusted in among the streets and at theprayer-meetingswas very far away from this land in which he hadtakenrefugewhere men lived in careless abundanceknowing andneedingnothing of that trustwhichfor himhad been turned tobitterness. The little light he possessed spread its beams sonarrowlythat frustrated belief was a curtain broad enough tocreate forhim the blackness of night.
His firstmovement after the shock had been to work in his loom; andhe went onwith this unremittinglynever asking himself whynow hewas cometo Raveloehe worked far on into the night to finish thetale ofMrs. Osgood's table-linen sooner than she expectedwithoutcontemplating beforehand the money she would put into hishand forthe work. He seemed to weavelike the spiderfrom pureimpulsewithout reflection. Every man's workpursued steadilytends inthis way to become an end in itselfand so to bridge overtheloveless chasms of his life. Silas's hand satisfied itself withthrowingthe shuttleand his eye with seeing the little squares inthe clothcomplete themselves under his effort. Then there were thecalls ofhunger; and Silasin his solitudehad to provide his ownbreakfastdinnerand supperto fetch his own water from the welland puthis own kettle on the fire; and all these immediatepromptingshelpedalong with the weavingto reduce his life to theunquestioningactivity of a spinning insect. He hated the thoughtof thepast; there was nothing that called out his love andfellowshiptoward the strangers he had come amongst; and the futurewas alldarkfor there was no Unseen Love that cared for him.Thoughtwas arrested by utter bewildermentnow its old narrowpathwaywas closedand affection seemed to have died under thebruisethat had fallen on its keenest nerves.
But atlast Mrs. Osgood's table-linen was finishedand Silas waspaid ingold. His earnings in his native townwhere he worked forawholesale dealerhad been after a lower rate; he had been paidweeklyand of his weekly earnings a large proportion had gone toobjects ofpiety and charity. Nowfor the first time in his lifehe hadfive bright guineas put into his hand; no man expected ashare ofthemand he loved no man that he should offer him a share.But whatwere the guineas to him who saw no vista beyond countlessdays ofweaving? It was needless for him to ask thatfor it waspleasantto him to feel them in his palmand look at their brightfaceswhich were all his own: it was another element of lifeliketheweaving and the satisfaction of hungersubsisting quite alooffrom thelife of belief and love from which he had been cut off.Theweaver's hand had known the touch of hard-won money even beforethe palmhad grown to its full breadth; for twenty yearsmysteriousmoney hadstood to him as the symbol of earthly goodand theimmediateobject of toil. He had seemed to love it little in theyears whenevery penny had its purpose for him; for he loved the_purpose_then. But nowwhen all purpose was gonethat habit oflookingtowards the money and grasping it with a sense of fulfilledeffortmade a loam that was deep enough for the seeds of desire; andas Silaswalked homeward across the fields in the twilighthe drewout themoney and thought it was brighter in the gathering gloom.
About thistime an incident happened which seemed to open apossibilityof some fellowship with his neighbours. One daytakinga pair ofshoes to be mendedhe saw the cobbler's wife seated bythe firesuffering from the terrible symptoms of heart-disease anddropsywhich he had witnessed as the precursors of his mother'sdeath. He felt a rush of pity at the mingled sight and remembranceandrecalling the relief his mother had found from a simplepreparationof foxglovehe promised Sally Oates to bring hersomethingthat would ease hersince the doctor did her no good. Inthisoffice of charitySilas feltfor the first time since he hadcome toRaveloea sense of unity between his past and present lifewhichmight have been the beginning of his rescue from theinsect-likeexistence into which his nature had shrunk. But SallyOates'sdisease had raised her into a personage of much interest andimportanceamong the neighboursand the fact of her having foundrelieffrom drinking Silas Marner's "stuff" became a matter ofgeneraldiscourse. When Doctor Kimble gave physicit was naturalthat itshould have an effect; but when a weaverwho came fromnobodyknew whereworked wonders with a bottle of brown waterstheoccultcharacter of the process was evident. Such a sort of thinghad notbeen known since the Wise Woman at Tarley died; and she hadcharms aswell as "stuff": everybody went to her when theirchildrenhad fits. Silas Marner must be a person of the same sortfor howdid he know what would bring back Sally Oates's breathifhe didn'tknow a fine sight more than that? The Wise Woman hadwords thatshe muttered to herselfso that you couldn't hear whatthey wereand if she tied a bit of red thread round the child's toethe whileit would keep off the water in the head. There werewomen inRaveloeat that present timewho had worn one of the WiseWoman'slittle bags round their necksandin consequencehadnever hadan idiot childas Ann Coulter had. Silas Marner couldverylikely do as muchand more; and now it was all clear how heshouldhave come from unknown partsand be so "comical-looking".But SallyOates must mind and not tell the doctorfor he would besure toset his face against Marner: he was always angry about theWiseWomanand used to threaten those who went to her that theyshouldhave none of his help any more.
Silas nowfound himself and his cottage suddenly beset by motherswho wantedhim to charm away the whooping-coughor bring back themilkandby men who wanted stuff against the rheumatics or theknots inthe hands; andto secure themselves against a refusaltheapplicantsbrought silver in their palms. Silas might have driven aprofitabletrade in charms as well as in his small list of drugs;but moneyon this condition was no temptation to him: he had neverknown animpulse towards falsityand he drove one after anotheraway withgrowing irritationfor the news of him as a wise man hadspreadeven to Tarleyand it was long before people ceased to takelong walksfor the sake of asking his aid. But the hope in hiswisdom wasat length changed into dreadfor no one believed himwhen hesaid he knew no charms and could work no curesand everyman andwoman who had an accident or a new attack after applying tohimsetthe misfortune down to Master Marner's ill-will andirritatedglances. Thus it came to pass that his movement of pitytowardsSally Oateswhich had given him a transient sense ofbrotherhoodheightened the repulsion between him and hisneighboursand made his isolation more complete.
Graduallythe guineasthe crownsand the half-crowns grew to aheapandMarner drew less and less for his own wantstrying tosolve theproblem of keeping himself strong enough to work sixteenhoursa-day on as small an outlay as possible. Have not menshutup insolitary imprisonmentfound an interest in marking themoments bystraight strokes of a certain length on the walluntilthe growthof the sum of straight strokesarranged in triangleshas becomea mastering purpose? Do we not wile away moments ofinanity orfatigued waiting by repeating some trivial movement orsounduntil the repetition has bred a wantwhich is incipienthabit? That will help us to understand how the love of accumulatingmoneygrows an absorbing passion in men whose imaginationseven inthe verybeginning of their hoardshowed them no purpose beyond it.Marnerwanted the heaps of ten to grow into a squareand then intoa largersquare; and every added guineawhile it was itself asatisfactionbred a new desire. In this strange worldmade ahopelessriddle to himhe mightif he had had a less intensenaturehave sat weavingweavinglooking towards the end of hispatternor towards the end of his webtill he forgot the riddleandeverything else but his immediate sensations; but the money hadcome tomark off his weaving into periodsand the money not onlygrewbutit remained with him. He began to think it was consciousof himashis loom wasand he would on no account have exchangedthosecoinswhich had become his familiarsfor other coins withunknownfaces. He handled themhe counted themtill their formand colourwere like the satisfaction of a thirst to him; but it wasonly inthe nightwhen his work was donethat he drew them out toenjoytheir companionship. He had taken up some bricks in his floorunderneathhis loomand here he had made a hole in which he set theiron potthat contained his guineas and silver coinscovering thebrickswith sand whenever he replaced them. Not that the idea ofbeingrobbed presented itself often or strongly to his mind:hoardingwas common in country districts in those days; there wereoldlabourers in the parish of Raveloe who were known to have theirsavings bythemprobably inside their flock-beds; but their rusticneighboursthough not all of them as honest as their ancestors inthe daysof King Alfredhad not imaginations bold enough to lay aplan ofburglary. How could they have spent the money in their ownvillagewithout betraying themselves? They would be obliged to"runaway"a course as dark and dubious as a balloon journey.
Soyearafter yearSilas Marner had lived in this solitudehisguineasrising in the iron potand his life narrowing and hardeningitselfmore and more into a mere pulsation of desire andsatisfactionthat had no relation to any other being. His life hadreduceditself to the functions of weaving and hoardingwithout anycontemplationof an end towards which the functions tended. Thesame sortof process has perhaps been undergone by wiser menwhenthey havebeen cut off from faith and loveonlyinstead of aloom and aheap of guineasthey have had some erudite researchsomeingenious projector some well-knit theory. StrangelyMarner'sface and figure shrank and bent themselves into a constantmechanicalrelation to the objects of his lifeso that he producedthe samesort of impression as a handle or a crooked tubewhich hasno meaningstanding apart. The prominent eyes that used to looktrustingand dreamynow looked as if they had been made to see onlyone kindof thing that was very smalllike tiny grainfor whichtheyhunted everywhere: and he was so withered and yellowthatthough hewas not yet fortythe children always called him "OldMasterMarner".
Yet evenin this stage of withering a little incident happenedwhichshowed that the sap of affection was not all gone. It was oneof hisdaily tasks to fetch his water from a well a couple of fieldsoffandfor this purposeever since he came to Raveloehe had hada brownearthenware potwhich he held as his most precious utensilamong thevery few conveniences he had granted himself. It had beenhiscompanion for twelve yearsalways standing on the same spotalwayslending its handle to him in the early morningso that itsform hadan expression for him of willing helpfulnessand theimpress ofits handle on his palm gave a satisfaction mingled withthat ofhaving the fresh clear water. One day as he was returningfrom thewellhe stumbled against the step of the stileand hisbrown potfalling with force against the stones that overarched theditchbelow himwas broken in three pieces. Silas picked up thepieces andcarried them home with grief in his heart. The brown potcouldnever be of use to him any morebut he stuck the bitstogetherand propped the ruin in its old place for a memorial.
This isthe history of Silas Marneruntil the fifteenth year afterhe came toRaveloe. The livelong day he sat in his loomhis earfilledwith its monotonyhis eyes bent close down on the slowgrowth ofsameness in the brownish webhis muscles moving with suchevenrepetition that their pause seemed almost as much a constraintas theholding of his breath. But at night came his revelry: atnight heclosed his shuttersand made fast his doorsand drewforth hisgold. Long ago the heap of coins had become too large forthe ironpot to hold themand he had made for them two thickleatherbagswhich wasted no room in their resting-placebut lentthemselvesflexibly to every corner. How the guineas shone as theycamepouring out of the dark leather mouths! The silver bore nolargeproportion in amount to the goldbecause the long pieces oflinenwhich formed his chief work were always partly paid for ingoldandout of the silver he supplied his own bodily wantschoosingalways the shillings and sixpences to spend in this way.He lovedthe guineas bestbut he would not change the silverthecrowns andhalf-crowns that were his own earningsbegotten by hislabour; heloved them all. He spread them out in heaps and bathedhis handsin them; then he counted them and set them up in regularpilesandfelt their rounded outline between his thumb and fingersandthought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned by thework inhis loomas if they had been unborn childrenthought oftheguineas that were coming slowly through the coming yearsthroughall his lifewhich spread far away before himthe endquitehidden by countless days of weaving. No wonder his thoughtswere stillwith his loom and his money when he made his journeysthroughthe fields and the lanes to fetch and carry home his workso thathis steps never wandered to the hedge-banks and thelane-sidein search of the once familiar herbs: these too belongedto thepastfrom which his life had shrunk awaylike a rivuletthat hassunk far down from the grassy fringe of its old breadthinto alittle shivering threadthat cuts a groove for itself in thebarrensand.
But aboutthe Christmas of that fifteenth yeara second greatchangecame over Marner's lifeand his history became blent in asingularmanner with the life of his neighbours.
Thegreatest man in Raveloe was Squire Casswho lived in the largered housewith the handsome flight of stone steps in front and thehighstables behind itnearly opposite the church. He was only oneamongseveral landed parishionersbut he alone was honoured withthe titleof Squire; for though Mr. Osgood's family was alsounderstoodto be of timeless originthe Raveloe imaginationhavingnever ventured back to that fearful blank when there were noOsgoodsstillhe merely owned the farm he occupied; whereasSquireCass had a tenant or twowho complained of the game to himquite asif he had been a lord.
It wasstill that glorious war-time which was felt to be a peculiarfavour ofProvidence towards the landed interestand the fall ofprices hadnot yet come to carry the race of small squires andyeomendown that road to ruin for which extravagant habits and badhusbandrywere plentifully anointing their wheels. I am speakingnow inrelation to Raveloe and the parishes that resembled it; forourold-fashioned country life had many different aspectsas alllife musthave when it is spread over a various surfaceandbreathedon variously by multitudinous currentsfrom the winds ofheaven tothe thoughts of menwhich are for ever moving andcrossingeach other with incalculable results. Raveloe lay lowamong thebushy trees and the rutted lanesaloof from the currentsofindustrial energy and Puritan earnestness: the rich ate and drankfreelyaccepting gout and apoplexy as things that ran mysteriouslyinrespectable familiesand the poor thought that the rich wereentirelyin the right of it to lead a jolly life; besidestheirfeastingcaused a multiplication of ortswhich were the heirloomsof thepoor. Betty Jay scented the boiling of Squire Cass's hamsbut herlonging was arrested by the unctuous liquor in which theywereboiled; and when the seasons brought round the greatmerry-makingsthey were regarded on all hands as a fine thing forthe poor. For the Raveloe feasts were like the rounds of beef andthebarrels of alethey were on a large scaleand lasted a goodwhileespecially in the winter-time. After ladies had packed uptheir bestgowns and top-knots in bandboxesand had incurred therisk offording streams on pillions with the precious burden inrainy orsnowy weatherwhen there was no knowing how high the waterwouldriseit was not to be supposed that they looked forward to abriefpleasure. On this ground it was always contrived in the darkseasonswhen there was little work to be doneand the hours werelongthatseveral neighbours should keep open house in succession.So soon asSquire Cass's standing dishes diminished in plenty andfreshnesshis guests had nothing to do but to walk a little higherup thevillage to Mr. Osgood'sat the Orchardsand they found hamsand chinesuncutpork-pies with the scent of the fire in themspunbutter inall its freshnesseverythingin factthat appetitesat leisurecould desirein perhaps greater perfectionthough notin greaterabundancethan at Squire Cass's.
For theSquire's wife had died long agoand the Red House waswithoutthat presence of the wife and mother which is the fountainofwholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen; and this helpedto accountnot only for there being more profusion than finishedexcellencein the holiday provisionsbut also for the frequencywith whichthe proud Squire condescended to preside in the parlourof theRainbow rather than under the shadow of his own darkwainscot;perhapsalsofor the fact that his sons had turned outratherill. Raveloe was not a place where moral censure was severebut it wasthought a weakness in the Squire that he had kept all hissons athome in idleness; and though some licence was to be allowedto youngmen whose fathers could afford itpeople shook their headsat thecourses of the second sonDunstancommonly called DunseyCasswhose taste for swopping and betting might turn out to be asowing ofsomething worse than wild oats. To be suretheneighbourssaidit was no matter what became of Dunseyaspitefuljeering fellowwho seemed to enjoy his drink the more whenotherpeople went dryalways provided that his doings did notbringtrouble on a family like Squire Cass'swith a monument in thechurchand tankards older than King George. But it would be athousandpities if Mr. Godfreythe eldesta fine open-facedgood-naturedyoung man who was to come into the land some dayshouldtake to going along the same road with his brotheras he hadseemed todo of late. If he went on in that wayhe would lose MissNancyLammeter; for it was well known that she had looked very shylyon himever since last Whitsuntide twelvemonthwhen there was somuch talkabout his being away from home days and days together.There wassomething wrongmore than commonthat was quite clear;for Mr.Godfrey didn't look half so fresh-coloured and open as heused todo. At one time everybody was sayingWhat a handsomecouple heand Miss Nancy Lammeter would make! and if she could cometo bemistress at the Red Housethere would be a fine changefortheLammeters had been brought up in that waythat they neversuffered apinch of salt to be wastedand yet everybody in theirhouseholdhad of the bestaccording to his place. Such adaughter-in-lawwould be a saving to the old Squireif she neverbrought apenny to her fortune; for it was to be feared thatnotwithstandinghis incomingsthere were more holes in his pocketthan theone where he put his own hand in. But if Mr. Godfreydidn'tturn over a new leafhe might say "Good-bye" to Miss NancyLammeter.
It was theonce hopeful Godfrey who was standingwith his hands inhisside-pockets and his back to the firein the dark wainscotedparlourone late November afternoon in that fifteenth year of SilasMarner'slife at Raveloe. The fading grey light fell dimly on thewallsdecorated with gunswhipsand foxes' brusheson coats andhats flungon the chairson tankards sending forth a scent of flataleandon a half-choked firewith pipes propped up in thechimney-corners:signs of a domestic life destitute of any hallowingcharmwith which the look of gloomy vexation on Godfrey's blondface wasin sad accordance. He seemed to be waiting and listeningfor someone's approachand presently the sound of a heavy stepwith anaccompanying whistlewas heard across the large emptyentrance-hall.
The dooropenedand a thick-setheavy-looking young man enteredwith theflushed face and the gratuitously elated bearing which markthe firststage of intoxication. It was Dunseyand at the sight ofhimGodfrey's face parted with some of its gloom to take on the moreactiveexpression of hatred. The handsome brown spaniel that lay onthe hearthretreated under the chair in the chimney-corner.
"WellMaster Godfreywhat do you want with me?" said Dunseyina mockingtone. "You're my elders and bettersyou know; I wasobliged tocome when you sent for me."
"Whythis is what I wantand just shake yourself sober andlistenwill you?" said Godfreysavagely. He had himselfbeendrinkingmore than was good for himtrying to turn his gloom intouncalculatinganger. "I want to tell youI must hand over thatrent ofFowler's to the Squireor else tell him I gave it you; forhe'sthreatening to distrain for itand it'll all be out soonwhether Itell him or not. He saidjust nowbefore he went outhe shouldsend word to Cox to distrainif Fowler didn't come andpay up hisarrears this week. The Squire's short o' cashand in nohumour tostand any nonsense; and you know what he threatenedifever hefound you making away with his money again. Sosee and getthe moneyand pretty quicklywill you?"
"Oh!" said Dunseysneeringlycoming nearer to his brother andlooking inhis face. "Supposenowyou get the money yourselfand saveme the troubleeh? Since you was so kind as to hand itover tomeyou'll not refuse me the kindness to pay it back for me:it wasyour brotherly love made you do ityou know."
Godfreybit his lips and clenched his fist. "Don't come near mewith thatlookelse I'll knock you down."
"Ohnoyou won't" said Dunseyturning away on his heelhowever. "Because I'm such a good-natured brotheryou know.I mightget you turned out of house and homeand cut off with ashillingany day. I might tell the Squire how his handsome son wasmarried tothat nice young womanMolly Farrenand was very unhappybecause hecouldn't live with his drunken wifeand I should slipinto yourplace as comfortable as could be. But you seeI don't doitI'm soeasy and good-natured. You'll take any trouble for me.You'll getthe hundred pounds for meI know you will."
"Howcan I get the money?" said Godfreyquivering. "Ihaven'ta shillingto bless myself with. And it's a lie that you'd slipinto myplace: you'd get yourself turned out toothat's all. Forif youbegin telling talesI'll follow. Bob's my father'sfavouriteyouknow that very well. He'd only think himself wellrid ofyou."
"Nevermind" said Dunseynodding his head sideways as he lookedout of thewindow. "It 'ud be very pleasant to me to go in yourcompanyyou'resuch a handsome brotherand we've always been sofond ofquarrelling with one anotherI shouldn't know what to dowithoutyou. But you'd like better for us both to stay at hometogether;I know you would. So you'll manage to get that little sumo' moneyand I'll bid you good-byethough I'm sorry to part."
Dunstanwas moving offbut Godfrey rushed after him and seized himby thearmsayingwith an oath
"Itell youI have no money: I can get no money."
"Borrowof old Kimble."
"Itell youhe won't lend me any moreand I shan't ask him."
"Yesthat's easy talking. I must have the money directly."
"Wellyou've only got to ride him to the hunt to-morrow. There'llbe Bryceand Keating therefor sure. You'll get more bids thanone."
"Idaresayand get back home at eight o'clocksplashed up to thechin. I'm going to Mrs. Osgood's birthday dance."
"Oho!" said Dunseyturning his head on one sideand trying tospeak in asmall mincing treble. "And there's sweet Miss Nancycoming;and we shall dance with herand promise never to be naughtyagainandbe taken into favourand "
"Holdyour tongue about Miss Nancyyou fool" said Godfreyturningred"else I'll throttle you."
"Whatfor?" said Dunseystill in an artificial tonebut takinga whipfrom the table and beating the butt-end of it on his palm."You'vea very good chance. I'd advise you to creep up her sleeveagain: it'ud be saving timeif Molly should happen to take a droptoo muchlaudanum some dayand make a widower of you. Miss Nancywouldn'tmind being a secondif she didn't know it. And you've gotagood-natured brotherwho'll keep your secret wellbecause you'llbe so veryobliging to him."
"I'lltell you what it is" said Godfreyquiveringand paleagain"mypatience is pretty near at an end. If you'd a littlemoresharpness in youyou might know that you may urge a man a bittoo farand make one leap as easy as another. I don't know butwhat it isso now: I may as well tell the Squire everything myselfI shouldget you off my backif I got nothing else. Andafterallhe'llknow some time. She's been threatening to come herselfand tellhim. Sodon't flatter yourself that your secrecy's worthany priceyou choose to ask. You drain me of money till I have gotnothing topacify _her_ withand she'll do as she threatens someday. It's all one. I'll tell my father everything myselfand youmay go tothe devil."
Dunseyperceived that he had overshot his markand that there was apoint atwhich even the hesitating Godfrey might be driven intodecision. But he saidwith an air of unconcern
"Asyou please; but I'll have a draught of ale first." Andringingthe bellhe threw himself across two chairsand began torap thewindow-seat with the handle of his whip.
Godfreystoodstill with his back to the fireuneasily moving hisfingersamong the contents of his side-pocketsand looking at thefloor. That big muscular frame of his held plenty of animalcouragebut helped him to no decision when the dangers to be bravedwere suchas could neither be knocked down nor throttled. Hisnaturalirresolution and moral cowardice were exaggerated by apositionin which dreaded consequences seemed to press equally onall sidesand his irritation had no sooner provoked him to defyDunstanand anticipate all possible betrayalsthan the miseries hemust bringon himself by such a step seemed more unendurable to himthan thepresent evil. The results of confession were notcontingentthey were certain; whereas betrayal was not certain.From thenear vision of that certainty he fell back on suspense andvacillationwith a sense of repose. The disinherited son of a smallsquireequally disinclined to dig and to begwas almost ashelplessas an uprooted treewhichby the favour of earth and skyhas grownto a handsome bulk on the spot where it first shot upward.Perhaps itwould have been possible to think of digging with somecheerfulnessif Nancy Lammeter were to be won on those terms; butsince hemust irrevocably lose _her_ as well as the inheritanceandmust breakevery tie but the one that degraded him and left himwithoutmotive for trying to recover his better selfhe couldimagine nofuture for himself on the other side of confession butthat of"'listing for a soldier"the most desperate stepshortofsuicidein the eyes of respectable families. No! hewouldrathertrust to casualties than to his own resolverather go onsitting atthe feastand sipping the wine he lovedthough with theswordhanging over him and terror in his heartthan rush away intothe colddarkness where there was no pleasure left. The utmostconcessionto Dunstan about the horse began to seem easycomparedwith thefulfilment of his own threat. But his pride would not lethimrecommence the conversation otherwise than by continuing thequarrel. Dunstan was waiting for thisand took his ale in shorterdraughtsthan usual.
"It'sjust like you" Godfrey burst outin a bitter tone"totalk aboutmy selling Wildfire in that cool waythe last thingI've gotto call my ownand the best bit of horse-flesh I ever hadin mylife. And if you'd got a spark of pride in youyou'd beashamed tosee the stables emptiedand everybody sneering about it.But it'smy belief you'd sell yourselfif it was only for thepleasureof making somebody feel he'd got a bad bargain."
"Ayeaye" said Dunstanvery placably"you do me justiceIsee. You know I'm a jewel for 'ticing people into bargains. Forwhichreason I advise you to let _me_ sell Wildfire. I'd ride himto thehunt to-morrow for youwith pleasure. I shouldn't look sohandsomeas you in the saddlebut it's the horse they'll bid forand notthe rider."
"YesI daresaytrust my horse to you!"
"Asyou please" said Dunstanrapping the window-seat again withan air ofgreat unconcern. "It's _you_ have got to pay Fowler'smoney;it's none of my business. You received the money from himwhen youwent to Bramcoteand _you_ told the Squire it wasn't paid.I'dnothing to do with that; you chose to be so obliging as to giveit methat was all. If you don't want to pay the moneylet italone;it's all one to me. But I was willing to accommodate you byundertakingto sell the horseseeing it's not convenient to you togo so farto-morrow."
Godfreywas silent for some moments. He would have liked to springonDunstanwrench the whip from his handand flog him to within aninch ofhis life; and no bodily fear could have deterred him; but hewasmastered by another sort of fearwhich was fed by feelingsstrongereven than his resentment. When he spoke againit was in ahalf-conciliatorytone.
"Wellyou mean no nonsense about the horseeh? You'll sell himall fairand hand over the money? If you don'tyou knoweverything'ull go to smashfor I've got nothing else to trust to.And you'llhave less pleasure in pulling the house over my headwhen yourown skull's to be broken too."
"Ayeaye" said Dunstanrising; "all right. I thoughtyou'dcomeround. I'm the fellow to bring old Bryce up to the scratch.I'll getyou a hundred and twenty for himif I get you a penny."
"Butit'll perhaps rain cats and dogs to-morrowas it didyesterdayand then you can't go" said Godfreyhardly knowingwhether hewished for that obstacle or not.
"Not_it_" said Dunstan. "I'm always lucky in myweather. Itmight rainif you wanted to go yourself. You never hold trumpsyouknowIalways do. You've got the beautyyou seeand I've gotthe luckso you must keep me by you for your crooked sixpence;you'll_ne_-ver get along without me."
"Confoundyouhold your tongue!" said Godfreyimpetuously."Andtake care to keep sober to-morrowelse you'll get pitched onyour headcoming homeand Wildfire might be the worse for it."
"Makeyour tender heart easy" said Dunstanopening the door."Younever knew me see double when I'd got a bargain to make; it'ud spoilthe fun. Besideswhenever I fallI'm warranted to fallon mylegs."
With thatDunstan slammed the door behind himand left Godfrey tothatbitter rumination on his personal circumstances which was nowunbrokenfrom day to day save by the excitement of sportingdrinkingcard-playingor the rarer and less oblivious pleasure ofseeingMiss Nancy Lammeter. The subtle and varied pains springingfrom thehigher sensibility that accompanies higher cultureareperhapsless pitiable than that dreary absence of impersonalenjoymentand consolation which leaves ruder minds to the perpetualurgentcompanionship of their own griefs and discontents. The livesof thoserural forefatherswhom we are apt to think very prosaicfiguresmenwhose only work was to ride round their landgettingheavierand heavier in their saddlesand who passed the rest oftheir daysin the half-listless gratification of senses dulled bymonotonyhada certain pathos in them nevertheless. Calamitiescame to_them_ tooand their early errors carried hardconsequences:perhaps the love of some sweet maidenthe image ofpurityorderand calmhad opened their eyes to the vision of alife inwhich the days would not seem too longeven withoutrioting;but the maiden was lostand the vision passed awayandthen whatwas left to themespecially when they had become tooheavy forthe huntor for carrying a gun over the furrowsbut todrink andget merryor to drink and get angryso that they mightbeindependent of varietyand say over again with eager emphasisthe thingsthey had said already any time that twelvemonth?Assuredlyamong these flushed and dull-eyed men there were somewhomthanksto their native human-kindnesseven riot couldneverdrive into brutality; men whowhen their cheeks were freshhad feltthe keen point of sorrow or remorsehad been pierced bythe reedsthey leaned onor had lightly put their limbs in fettersfrom whichno struggle could loose them; and under these sadcircumstancescommon to us alltheir thoughts could find noresting-placeoutside the ever-trodden round of their own pettyhistory.
Thatatleastwas the condition of Godfrey Cass in thissix-and-twentiethyear of his life. A movement of compunctionhelped bythose small indefinable influences which every personalrelationexerts on a pliant naturehad urged him into a secretmarriagewhich was a blight on his life. It was an ugly story oflowpassiondelusionand waking from delusionwhich needs not tobe draggedfrom the privacy of Godfrey's bitter memory. He had longknown thatthe delusion was partly due to a trap laid for him byDunstanwho saw in his brother's degrading marriage the means ofgratifyingat once his jealous hate and his cupidity. And ifGodfreycould have felt himself simply a victimthe iron bit thatdestinyhad put into his mouth would have chafed him lessintolerably. If the curses he muttered half aloud when he was alonehad had noother object than Dunstan's diabolical cunninghe mighthaveshrunk less from the consequences of avowal. But he hadsomethingelse to cursehis own vicious follywhich now seemedas mad andunaccountable to him as almost all our follies and vicesdo whentheir promptings have long passed away. For four years hehadthought of Nancy Lammeterand wooed her with tacit patientworshipas the woman who made him think of the future with joy: shewould behis wifeand would make home lovely to himas hisfather'shome had never been; and it would be easywhen she wasalwaysnearto shake off those foolish habits that were nopleasuresbut only a feverish way of annulling vacancy. Godfrey'swas anessentially domestic naturebred up in a home where thehearth hadno smilesand where the daily habits were not chastisedby thepresence of household order. His easy disposition made himfall inunresistingly with the family coursesbut the need of sometenderpermanent affectionthe longing for some influence thatwould makethe good he preferred easy to pursuecaused theneatnesspurityand liberal orderliness of the Lammeter householdsunned bythe smile of Nancyto seem like those fresh bright hoursof themorning when temptations go to sleep and leave the ear opento thevoice of the good angelinviting to industrysobrietyandpeace. And yet the hope of this paradise had not been enough tosave himfrom a course which shut him out of it for ever. Insteadof keepingfast hold of the strong silken rope by which Nancy wouldhave drawnhim safe to the green banks where it was easy to stepfirmlyhehad let himself be dragged back into mud and slimeinwhich itwas useless to struggle. He had made ties for himselfwhichrobbed him of all wholesome motiveand were a constantexasperation.
Stillthere was one position worse than the present: it was thepositionhe would be in when the ugly secret was disclosed; and thedesirethat continually triumphed over every other was that ofwardingoff the evil daywhen he would have to bear theconsequencesof his father's violent resentment for the woundinflictedon his family pridewould haveperhapsto turn hisback onthat hereditary ease and dignity whichafter allwas asort ofreason for livingand would carry with him the certaintythat hewas banished for ever from the sight and esteem of NancyLammeter. The longer the intervalthe more chance there was ofdeliverancefrom someat leastof the hateful consequences towhich hehad sold himself; the more opportunities remained for himto snatchthe strange gratification of seeing Nancyand gatheringsome faintindications of her lingering regard. Towards thisgratificationhe was impelledfitfullyevery now and thenafterhavingpassed weeks in which he had avoided her as the far-offbright-wingedprize that only made him spring forward and find hischain allthe more galling. One of those fits of yearning was onhim nowand it would have been strong enough to have persuaded himto trustWildfire to Dunstan rather than disappoint the yearningeven if hehad not had another reason for his disinclination towardsthemorrow's hunt. That other reason was the fact that themorning'smeet was near Batherleythe market-town where the unhappywomanlivedwhose image became more odious to him every day; and tohisthought the whole vicinage was haunted by her. The yoke a mancreatesfor himself by wrong-doing will breed hate in the kindliestnature;and the good-humouredaffectionate-hearted Godfrey Cass wasfastbecoming a bitter manvisited by cruel wishesthat seemed toenteranddepartand enter againlike demons who had found in himaready-garnished home.
What washe to do this evening to pass the time? He might as wellgo to theRainbowand hear the talk about the cock-fighting:everybodywas thereand what else was there to be done? Thoughfor hisown parthe did not care a button for cock-fighting.Snuffthebrown spanielwho had placed herself in front of himand hadbeen watching him for some timenow jumped up in impatiencefor theexpected caress. But Godfrey thrust her away withoutlooking atherand left the roomfollowed humbly by theunresentingSnuffperhaps because she saw no other career open toher.
DunstanCasssetting off in the raw morningat the judiciouslyquiet paceof a man who is obliged to ride to cover on his hunterhad totake his way along the lane whichat its farther extremitypassed bythe piece of unenclosed ground called the Stone-pitwherestood thecottageonce a stone-cutter's shednow for fifteen yearsinhabitedby Silas Marner. The spot looked very dreary at thisseasonwith the moist trodden clay about itand the redmuddywater highup in the deserted quarry. That was Dunstan's firstthought ashe approached it; the second wasthat the old fool of aweaverwhose loom he heard rattling alreadyhad a great deal ofmoneyhidden somewhere. How was it that heDunstan Casswho hadoftenheard talk of Marner's miserlinesshad never thought ofsuggestingto Godfrey that he should frighten or persuade the oldfellowinto lending the money on the excellent security of the youngSquire'sprospects? The resource occurred to him now as so easy andagreeableespecially as Marner's hoard was likely to be largeenough toleave Godfrey a handsome surplus beyond his immediateneedsandenable him to accommodate his faithful brotherthat hehad almostturned the horse's head towards home again. Godfreywould beready enough to accept the suggestion: he would snatcheagerly ata plan that might save him from parting with Wildfire.But whenDunstan's meditation reached this pointthe inclination togo on grewstrong and prevailed. He didn't want to give Godfreythatpleasure: he preferred that Master Godfrey should be vexed.MoreoverDunstan enjoyed the self-important consciousness of havinga horse toselland the opportunity of driving a bargainswaggeringand possibly taking somebody in. He might have all thesatisfactionattendant on selling his brother's horseand not theless havethe further satisfaction of setting Godfrey to borrowMarner'smoney. So he rode on to cover.
Bryce andKeating were thereas Dunstan was quite sure they wouldbehe wassuch a lucky fellow.
"Heyday!" said Brycewho had long had his eye on Wildfire"you'reon your brother's horse to-day: how's that?"
"OhI've swopped with him" said Dunstanwhose delight in lyinggrandlyindependent of utilitywas not to be diminished by thelikelihoodthat his hearer would not believe him"Wildfire'smine now."
"What! has he swopped with you for that big-boned hack of yours?"saidBrycequite aware that he should get another lie in answer.
"Ohthere was a little account between us" said Dunseycarelessly"and Wildfire made it even. I accommodated him bytaking thehorsethough it was against my willfor I'd got an itchfor a mareo' Jortin'sas rare a bit o' blood as ever you threwyour legacross. But I shall keep Wildfirenow I've got himthough I'da bid of a hundred and fifty for him the other dayfroma man overat Flittonhe's buying for Lord Cromlecka fellowwith acast in his eyeand a green waistcoat. But I mean to sticktoWildfire: I shan't get a better at a fence in a hurry. Themare's gotmore bloodbut she's a bit too weak in thehind-quarters."
Bryce ofcourse divined that Dunstan wanted to sell the horseandDunstanknew that he divined it (horse-dealing is only one of manyhumantransactions carried on in this ingenious manner); and theybothconsidered that the bargain was in its first stagewhen Brycerepliedironically
"Iwonder at that now; I wonder you mean to keep him; for I neverheard of aman who didn't want to sell his horse getting a bid ofhalf asmuch again as the horse was worth. You'll be lucky if youget ahundred."
Keatingrode up nowand the transaction became more complicated.It endedin the purchase of the horse by Bryce for a hundred andtwentytobe paid on the delivery of Wildfiresafe and soundattheBatherley stables. It did occur to Dunsey that it might be wisefor him togive up the day's huntingproceed at once to Batherleyandhaving waited for Bryce's returnhire a horse to carry himhome withthe money in his pocket. But the inclination for a runencouragedby confidence in his luckand by a draught of brandyfrom hispocket-pistol at the conclusion of the bargainwas noteasy toovercomeespecially with a horse under him that would takethe fencesto the admiration of the field. Dunstanhowevertookone fencetoo manyand got his horse pierced with a hedge-stake.His ownill-favoured personwhich was quite unmarketableescapedwithoutinjury; but poor Wildfireunconscious of his priceturnedon hisflank and painfully panted his last. It happened thatDunstanashort time beforehaving had to get down to arrange hisstirruphad muttered a good many curses at this interruptionwhichhad thrownhim in the rear of the hunt near the moment of gloryandunder thisexasperation had taken the fences more blindly. He wouldsoon havebeen up with the hounds againwhen the fatal accidenthappened;and hence he was between eager riders in advancenottroublingthemselves about what happened behind themand far-offstragglerswho were as likely as not to pass quite aloof from theline ofroad in which Wildfire had fallen. Dunstanwhose nature itwas tocare more for immediate annoyances than for remoteconsequencesno sooner recovered his legsand saw that it was allover withWildfirethan he felt a satisfaction at the absence ofwitnessesto a position which no swaggering could make enviable.Reinforcinghimselfafter his shakewith a little brandy and muchswearinghe walked as fast as he could to a coppice on his righthandthrough which it occurred to him that he could make his way toBatherleywithout danger of encountering any member of the hunt.His firstintention was to hire a horse there and ride homeforthwithfor to walk many miles without a gun in his handandalong anordinary roadwas as much out of the question to him as tootherspirited young men of his kind. He did not much mind abouttaking thebad news to Godfreyfor he had to offer him at the sametime theresource of Marner's money; and if Godfrey kickedas healwaysdidat the notion of making a fresh debt from which hehimselfgot the smallest share of advantagewhyhe wouldn't kicklong:Dunstan felt sure he could worry Godfrey into anything. Theidea ofMarner's money kept growing in vividnessnow the want of ithad becomeimmediate; the prospect of having to make his appearancewith themuddy boots of a pedestrian at Batherleyand to encounterthegrinning queries of stablemenstood unpleasantly in the way ofhisimpatience to be back at Raveloe and carry out his felicitousplan; anda casual visitation of his waistcoat-pocketas he wasruminatingawakened his memory to the fact that the two or threesmallcoins his forefinger encountered there were of too pale acolour tocover that small debtwithout payment of which thestable-keeperhad declared he would never do any more business withDunseyCass. After allaccording to the direction in which the runhadbrought himhe was not so very much farther from home than hewas fromBatherley; but Dunseynot being remarkable for clearnessof headwas only led to this conclusion by the gradual perceptionthat therewere other reasons for choosing the unprecedented courseof walkinghome. It was now nearly four o'clockand a mist wasgathering:the sooner he got into the road the better. Herememberedhaving crossed the road and seen the finger-post only alittlewhile before Wildfire broke down; sobuttoning his coattwistingthe lash of his hunting-whip compactly round the handleandrapping the tops of his boots with a self-possessed airas ifto assurehimself that he was not at all taken by surprisehe setoff withthe sense that he was undertaking a remarkable feat ofbodilyexertionwhich somehow and at some time he should be able todress upand magnify to the admiration of a select circle at theRainbow. When a young gentleman like Dunsey is reduced to soexceptionala mode of locomotion as walkinga whip in his hand is adesirablecorrective to a too bewildering dreamy sense ofunwontednessin his position; and Dunstanas he went along throughthegathering mistwas always rapping his whip somewhere. It wasGodfrey'swhipwhich he had chosen to take without leave because ithad a goldhandle; of course no one could seewhen Dunstan held itthat thename _Godfrey Cass_ was cut in deep letters on that goldhandletheycould only see that it was a very handsome whip.Dunsey wasnot without fear that he might meet some acquaintance inwhose eyeshe would cut a pitiable figurefor mist is no screenwhenpeople get close to each other; but when he at last foundhimself inthe well-known Raveloe lanes without having met a soulhesilently remarked that that was part of his usual good luck. Butnow themisthelped by the evening darknesswas more of a screenthan hedesiredfor it hid the ruts into which his feet were liableto sliphideverythingso that he had to guide his steps bydragginghis whip along the low bushes in advance of the hedgerow.He mustsoonhe thoughtbe getting near the opening at theStone-pits:he should find it out by the break in the hedgerow. Hefound itouthoweverby another circumstance which he had notexpectednamelyby certain gleams of lightwhich he presentlyguessed toproceed from Silas Marner's cottage. That cottage andthe moneyhidden within it had been in his mind continually duringhis walkand he had been imagining ways of cajoling and temptingthe weaverto part with the immediate possession of his money forthe sakeof receiving interest. Dunstan felt as if there must be alittlefrightening added to the cajoleryfor his own arithmeticalconvictionswere not clear enough to afford him any forcibledemonstrationas to the advantages of interest; and as for securityheregarded it vaguely as a means of cheating a man by making himbelievethat he would be paid. Altogetherthe operation on themiser'smind was a task that Godfrey would be sure to hand over tohis moredaring and cunning brother: Dunstan had made up his mind tothat; andby the time he saw the light gleaming through the chinksofMarner's shuttersthe idea of a dialogue with the weaver hadbecome sofamiliar to himthat it occurred to him as quite anaturalthing to make the acquaintance forthwith. There might beseveralconveniences attending this course: the weaver had possiblygot alanternand Dunstan was tired of feeling his way. He wasstillnearly three-quarters of a mile from homeand the lane wasbecomingunpleasantly slipperyfor the mist was passing into rain.He turnedup the banknot without some fear lest he might miss theright waysince he was not certain whether the light were in frontor on theside of the cottage. But he felt the ground before himcautiouslywith his whip-handleand at last arrived safely at thedoor. He knocked loudlyrather enjoying the idea that the oldfellowwould be frightened at the sudden noise. He heard nomovementin reply: all was silence in the cottage. Was the weavergone tobedthen? If sowhy had he left a light? That was astrangeforgetfulness in a miser. Dunstan knocked still moreloudlyandwithout pausing for a replypushed his fingers throughthelatch-holeintending to shake the door and pull thelatch-stringup and downnot doubting that the door was fastened.Buttohis surpriseat this double motion the door openedand hefoundhimself in front of a bright fire which lit up every corner ofthecottagethe bedthe loomthe three chairsand the tableand showedhim that Marner was not there.
Nothing atthat moment could be much more inviting to Dunsey thanthe brightfire on the brick hearth: he walked in and seated himselfby it atonce. There was something in front of the firetoothatwould havebeen inviting to a hungry manif it had been in adifferentstage of cooking. It was a small bit of pork suspendedfrom thekettle-hanger by a string passed through a large door-keyin a wayknown to primitive housekeepers unpossessed of jacks. Butthe porkhad been hung at the farthest extremity of the hangerapparentlyto prevent the roasting from proceeding too rapidlyduring theowner's absence. The old staring simpleton had hot meatfor hissupperthen? thought Dunstan. People had always said helived onmouldy breadon purpose to check his appetite. But wherecould hebe at this timeand on such an eveningleaving his supperin thisstage of preparationand his door unfastened? Dunstan'sown recentdifficulty in making his way suggested to him that theweaver hadperhaps gone outside his cottage to fetch in fuelor forsome suchbrief purposeand had slipped into the Stone-pit. Thatwas aninteresting idea to Dunstancarrying consequences of entirenovelty. If the weaver was deadwho had a right to his money? Whowould knowwhere his money was hidden? _Who would know that anybodyhad cometo take it away?_ He went no farther into the subtleties ofevidence:the pressing question"Where _is_ the money?" nowtooksuchentire possession of him as to make him quite forget that theweaver'sdeath was not a certainty. A dull mindonce arriving ataninference that flatters a desireis rarely able to retain theimpressionthat the notion from which the inference started waspurelyproblematic. And Dunstan's mind was as dull as the mind of apossiblefelon usually is. There were only three hiding-placeswhere hehad ever heard of cottagers' hoards being found: thethatchthe bedand a hole in the floor. Marner's cottage had nothatch;and Dunstan's first actafter a train of thought made rapidby thestimulus of cupiditywas to go up to the bed; but while hedid sohis eyes travelled eagerly over the floorwhere the bricksdistinctin the fire-lightwere discernible under the sprinkling ofsand. But not everywhere; for there was one spotand one onlywhich wasquite covered with sandand sand showing the marks offingerswhich had apparently been careful to spread it over a givenspace. It was near the treddles of the loom. In an instant Dunstandarted tothat spotswept away the sand with his whipandinsertingthe thin end of the hook between the bricksfound thatthey wereloose. In haste he lifted up two bricksand saw what hehad nodoubt was the object of his search; for what could there bebut moneyin those two leathern bags? Andfrom their weighttheymust befilled with guineas. Dunstan felt round the holeto becertainthat it held no more; then hastily replaced the bricksandspread thesand over them. Hardly more than five minutes had passedsince heentered the cottagebut it seemed to Dunstan like a longwhile; andthough he was without any distinct recognition of thepossibilitythat Marner might be aliveand might re-enter thecottage atany momenthe felt an undefinable dread laying hold onhimas herose to his feet with the bags in his hand. He wouldhasten outinto the darknessand then consider what he should dowith thebags. He closed the door behind him immediatelythat hemight shutin the stream of light: a few steps would be enough tocarry himbeyond betrayal by the gleams from the shutter-chinks andthelatch-hole. The rain and darkness had got thickerand he wasglad ofit; though it was awkward walking with both hands filledsothat itwas as much as he could do to grasp his whip along with oneof thebags. But when he had gone a yard or twohe might take histime. So he stepped forward into the darkness.
WhenDunstan Cass turned his back on the cottageSilas Marner wasnot morethan a hundred yards away from itplodding along from thevillagewith a sack thrown round his shoulders as an overcoatandwith ahorn lantern in his hand. His legs were wearybut his mindwas ateasefree from the presentiment of change. The sense ofsecuritymore frequently springs from habit than from convictionand forthis reason it often subsists after such a change in theconditionsas might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapseof timeduring which a given event has not happenedisin thislogic ofhabitconstantly alleged as a reason why the event shouldneverhappeneven when the lapse of time is precisely the addedconditionwhich makes the event imminent. A man will tell you thathe hasworked in a mine for forty years unhurt by an accident as areason whyhe should apprehend no dangerthough the roof isbeginningto sink; and it is often observablethat the older a mangetsthemore difficult it is to him to retain a believingconceptionof his own death. This influence of habit wasnecessarilystrong in a man whose life was so monotonous as Marner'swho saw nonew people and heard of no new events to keep alive inhim theidea of the unexpected and the changeful; and it explainssimplyenoughwhy his mind could be at easethough he had left hishouse andhis treasure more defenceless than usual. Silas wasthinkingwith double complacency of his supper: firstbecause itwould behot and savoury; and secondlybecause it would cost himnothing. For the little bit of pork was a present from thatexcellenthousewifeMiss Priscilla Lammeterto whom he had thisdaycarried home a handsome piece of linen; and it was only onoccasionof a present like thisthat Silas indulged himself withroast-meat. Supper was his favourite mealbecause it came at histime ofrevelrywhen his heart warmed over his gold; whenever hehadroast-meathe always chose to have it for supper. But thiseveninghe had no sooner ingeniously knotted his string fast roundhis bit ofporktwisted the string according to rule over hisdoor-keypassed it through the handleand made it fast on thehangerthan he remembered that a piece of very fine twine wasindispensableto his "setting up" a new piece of work in his loomearly inthe morning. It had slipped his memorybecausein comingfrom Mr.Lammeter'she had not had to pass through the village; butto losetime by going on errands in the morning was out of thequestion. It was a nasty fog to turn out intobut there werethingsSilas loved better than his own comfort; sodrawing his porkto theextremity of the hangerand arming himself with his lanternand hisold sackhe set out on whatin ordinary weatherwouldhave beena twenty minutes' errand. He could not have locked hisdoorwithout undoing his well-knotted string and retarding hissupper; itwas not worth his while to make that sacrifice. Whatthiefwould find his way to the Stone-pits on such a night as this?and whyshould he come on this particular nightwhen he had nevercomethrough all the fifteen years before? These questions were notdistinctlypresent in Silas's mind; they merely serve to representthevaguely-felt foundation of his freedom from anxiety.
He reachedhis door in much satisfaction that his errand was done:he openeditand to his short-sighted eyes everything remained ashe hadleft itexcept that the fire sent out a welcome increase ofheat. He trod about the floor while putting by his lantern andthrowingaside his hat and sackso as to merge the marks ofDunstan'sfeet on the sand in the marks of his own nailed boots.Then hemoved his pork nearer to the fireand sat down to theagreeablebusiness of tending the meat and warming himself at thesame time.
Any onewho had looked at him as the red light shone upon his palefacestrange straining eyesand meagre formwould perhaps haveunderstoodthe mixture of contemptuous pitydreadand suspicionwith whichhe was regarded by his neighbours in Raveloe. Yet fewmen couldbe more harmless than poor Marner. In his truthful simplesoulnoteven the growing greed and worship of gold could beget anyvicedirectly injurious to others. The light of his faith quite putoutandhis affections made desolatehe had clung with all theforce ofhis nature to his work and his money; and like all objectsto which aman devotes himselfthey had fashioned him intocorrespondencewith themselves. His loomas he wrought in itwithoutceasinghad in its turn wrought on himand confirmed moreand morethe monotonous craving for its monotonous response. Hisgoldashe hung over it and saw it growgathered his power oflovingtogether into a hard isolation like its own.
As soon ashe was warm he began to think it would be a long while towait tillafter supper before he drew out his guineasand it wouldbepleasant to see them on the table before him as he ate hisunwontedfeast. For joy is the best of wineand Silas's guineaswere agolden wine of that sort.
He roseand placed his candle unsuspectingly on the floor near hisloomswept away the sand without noticing any changeand removedthebricks. The sight of the empty hole made his heart leapviolentlybut the belief that his gold was gone could not come atonceonlyterrorand the eager effort to put an end to theterror. He passed his trembling hand all about the holetrying tothink itpossible that his eyes had deceived him; then he held thecandle inthe hole and examined it curiouslytrembling more andmore. At last he shook so violently that he let fall the candleand liftedhis hands to his headtrying to steady himselfthat hemightthink. Had he put his gold somewhere elseby a suddenresolutionlast nightand then forgotten it? A man falling intodarkwaters seeks a momentary footing even on sliding stones; andSilasbyacting as if he believed in false hopeswarded off themoment ofdespair. He searched in every cornerhe turned his bedoverandshook itand kneaded it; he looked in his brick ovenwhere helaid his sticks. When there was no other place to besearchedhe kneeled down again and felt once more all round thehole. There was no untried refuge left for a moment's shelter fromtheterrible truth.
Yestherewas a sort of refuge which always comes with theprostrationof thought under an overpowering passion: it was thatexpectationof impossibilitiesthat belief in contradictory imageswhich isstill distinct from madnessbecause it is capable of beingdissipatedby the external fact. Silas got up from his kneestremblingand looked round at the table: didn't the gold lie thereafterall? The table was bare. Then he turned and looked behindhimlookedall round his dwellingseeming to strain his browneyes aftersome possible appearance of the bags where he had alreadysoughtthem in vain. He could see every object in his cottageand hisgold was not there.
Again heput his trembling hands to his headand gave a wildringingscreamthe cry of desolation. For a few moments afterhestoodmotionless; but the cry had relieved him from the firstmaddeningpressure of the truth. He turnedand tottered towardshis loomand got into the seat where he workedinstinctivelyseekingthis as the strongest assurance of reality.
And nowthat all the false hopes had vanishedand the first shockofcertainty was pastthe idea of a thief began to present itselfand heentertained it eagerlybecause a thief might be caught andmade torestore the gold. The thought brought some new strengthwith itand he started from his loom to the door. As he opened itthe rainbeat in upon himfor it was falling more and more heavily.There wereno footsteps to be tracked on such a nightfootsteps?When hadthe thief come? During Silas's absence in the daytime thedoor hadbeen lockedand there had been no marks of any inroad onhis returnby daylight. And in the eveningtoohe said tohimselfeverything was the same as when he had left it. The sandand brickslooked as if they had not been moved. _Was_ it a thiefwho hadtaken the bags? or was it a cruel power that no hands couldreachwhich had delighted in making him a second time desolate? Heshrankfrom this vaguer dreadand fixed his mind with strugglingeffort onthe robber with handswho could be reached by hands. Histhoughtsglanced at all the neighbours who had made any remarksorasked anyquestions which he might now regard as a ground ofsuspicion. There was Jem Rodneya known poacherand otherwisedisreputable:he had often met Marner in his journeys across thefieldsand had said something jestingly about the weaver's money;nayhehad once irritated Marnerby lingering at the fire when hecalled tolight his pipeinstead of going about his business. JemRodney wasthe manthere was ease in the thought. Jem could befound andmade to restore the money: Marner did not want to punishhimbutonly to get back his gold which had gone from himand lefthis soullike a forlorn traveller on an unknown desert. The robbermust belaid hold of. Marner's ideas of legal authority wereconfusedbut he felt that he must go and proclaim his loss; and thegreatpeople in the villagethe clergymanthe constableandSquireCasswould make Jem Rodneyor somebody elsedeliver upthe stolenmoney. He rushed out in the rainunder the stimulus ofthis hopeforgetting to cover his headnot caring to fasten hisdoor; forhe felt as if he had nothing left to lose. He ranswiftlytill want of breath compelled him to slacken his pace as hewasentering the village at the turning close to the Rainbow.
TheRainbowin Marner's viewwas a place of luxurious resort forrich andstout husbandswhose wives had superfluous stores oflinen; itwas the place where he was likely to find the powers anddignitiesof Raveloeand where he could most speedily make his losspublic. He lifted the latchand turned into the bright bar orkitchen onthe right handwhere the less lofty customers of thehouse werein the habit of assemblingthe parlour on the left beingreservedfor the more select society in which Squire Cass frequentlyenjoyedthe double pleasure of conviviality and condescension. Buttheparlour was dark to-nightthe chief personages who ornamentedits circlebeing all at Mrs. Osgood's birthday danceas GodfreyCass was. And in consequence of thisthe party on thehigh-screenedseats in the kitchen was more numerous than usual;severalpersonageswho would otherwise have been admitted into theparlourand enlarged the opportunity of hectoring and condescensionfor theirbettersbeing content this evening to vary theirenjoymentby taking their spirits-and-water where they couldthemselveshector and condescend in company that called for beer.
Theconversationwhich was at a high pitch of animation when Silasapproachedthe door of the Rainbowhadas usualbeen slow andintermittentwhen the company first assembled. The pipes began tobe puffedin a silence which had an air of severity; the moreimportantcustomerswho drank spirits and sat nearest the firestaring ateach other as if a bet were depending on the first manwhowinked; while the beer-drinkerschiefly men in fustian jacketsandsmock-frockskept their eyelids down and rubbed their handsacrosstheir mouthsas if their draughts of beer were a funerealdutyattended with embarrassing sadness. At last Mr. Snellthelandlorda man of a neutral dispositionaccustomed to stand alooffrom humandifferences as those of beings who were all alike in needof liquorbroke silenceby saying in a doubtful tone to his cousinthebutcher
"Somefolks 'ud say that was a fine beast you druv in yesterdayBob?"
Thebutchera jollysmilingred-haired manwas not disposed toanswerrashly. He gave a few puffs before he spat and replied"Andthey wouldn't be fur wrongJohn."
After thisfeeble delusive thawthe silence set in as severely asbefore.
"Wasit a red Durham?" said the farriertaking up the threadofdiscourseafter the lapse of a few minutes.
Thefarrier looked at the landlordand the landlord looked at thebutcheras the person who must take the responsibility ofanswering.
"Redit was" said the butcherin his good-humoured husky treble"anda Durham it was."
"Thenyou needn't tell _me_ who you bought it of" said thefarrierlooking round with some triumph; "I know who it is has gotthe redDurhams o' this country-side. And she'd a white star on herbrowI'llbet a penny?" The farrier leaned forward with his handson hisknees as he put this questionand his eyes twinkledknowingly.
"Well;yesshe might" said the butcherslowlyconsideringthat hewas giving a decided affirmative. "I don't saycontrairy."
"Iknew that very well" said the farrierthrowing himselfbackwardagainand speaking defiantly; "if _I_ don't knowMr.Lammeter's cowsI should like to know who doesthat's all.And as forthe cow you've boughtbargain or no bargainI've beenat thedrenching of hercontradick me who will."
Thefarrier looked fierceand the mild butcher's conversationalspirit wasroused a little.
"I'mnot for contradicking no man" he said; "I'm for peace andquietness. Some are for cutting long ribsI'm for cutting 'emshortmyself; but _I_ don't quarrel with 'em. All I say isit's alovelycarkissand anybody as was reasonableit 'ud bring tearsinto theireyes to look at it."
"Wellit's the cow as I drenchedwhatever it is" pursued thefarrierangrily; "and it was Mr. Lammeter's cowelse you told alie whenyou said it was a red Durham."
"Itell no lies" said the butcherwith the same mild huskinessas before"and I contradick nonenot if a man was to swearhimselfblack: he's no meat o' minenor none o' my bargains. All Isay isit's a lovely carkiss. And what I sayI'll stick to; butI'llquarrel wi' no man."
"No"said the farrierwith bitter sarcasmlooking at thecompanygenerally; "and p'rhaps you aren't pig-headed; and p'rhapsyou didn'tsay the cow was a red Durham; and p'rhaps you didn't sayshe'd gota star on her browstick to thatnow you're at it."
"Comecome" said the landlord; "let the cow alone. Thetruthliesatween you: you're both right and both wrongas I allays say.And as forthe cow's being Mr. Lammeter'sI say nothing to that;but this Isayas the Rainbow's the Rainbow. And for the matter o'thatifthe talk is to be o' the Lammeters_you_ know the mostupo' thatheadehMr. Macey? You remember when firstMr.Lammeter's father come into these partsand took the Warrens?"
Mr. Maceytailor and parish-clerkthe latter of which functionsrheumatismhad of late obliged him to share with a small-featuredyoung manwho sat opposite himheld his white head on one sideandtwirledhis thumbs with an air of complacencyslightly seasonedwithcriticism. He smiled pityinglyin answer to the landlord'sappealand said
"Ayeaye; I knowI know; but I let other folks talk. I've laidby nowand gev up to the young uns. Ask them as have been toschool atTarley: they've learnt pernouncing; that's come up sincemy day."
"Ifyou're pointing at meMr. Macey" said the deputy clerkwithan air ofanxious propriety"I'm nowise a man to speak out of myplace. As the psalm says
"Iknow what's rightnor only soButalso practise what I know."
"WellthenI wish you'd keep hold o' the tunewhen it's set foryou; ifyou're for prac_tis_ingI wish you'd prac_tise_ that"said alarge jocose-looking manan excellent wheelwright in hisweek-daycapacitybut on Sundays leader of the choir. He winkedas hespokeat two of the companywho were known officially as the"bassoon"and the "key-bugle"in the confidence that he wasexpressingthe sense of the musical profession in Raveloe.
Mr.Tookeythe deputy-clerkwho shared the unpopularity common todeputiesturned very redbut repliedwith careful moderation"Mr.Winthropif you'll bring me any proof as I'm in the wrongI'm notthe man to say I won't alter. But there's people set uptheir ownears for a standardand expect the whole choir to follow'em. There may be two opinionsI hope."
"Ayeaye" said Mr. Maceywho felt very well satisfied with thisattack onyouthful presumption; "you're right thereTookey:there'sallays two 'pinions; there's the 'pinion a man has ofhimsenand there's the 'pinion other folks have on him. There'd betwo'pinions about a cracked bellif the bell could hear itself."
"WellMr. Macey" said poor Tookeyserious amidst the generallaughter"I undertook to partially fill up the office ofparish-clerkby Mr. Crackenthorp's desirewhenever your infirmitiesshouldmake you unfitting; and it's one of the rights thereof tosing inthe choirelse why have you done the same yourself?"
"Ah! but the old gentleman and you are two folks" said BenWinthrop. "The old gentleman's got a gift. Whythe Squire usedto invitehim to take a glassonly to hear him sing the "RedRovier";didn't heMr. Macey? It's a nat'ral gift. There's mylittle ladAaronhe's got a gifthe can sing a tune offstraightlike a throstle. But as for youMaster Tookeyyou'dbetterstick to your "Amens": your voice is well enough when youkeep it upin your nose. It's your inside as isn't right made formusic:it's no better nor a hollow stalk."
This kindof unflinching frankness was the most piquant form of joketo thecompany at the Rainbowand Ben Winthrop's insult was felt byeverybodyto have capped Mr. Macey's epigram.
"Isee what it is plain enough" said Mr. Tookeyunable to keepcool anylonger. "There's a consperacy to turn me out o' thechoirasI shouldn't share the Christmas moneythat's where itis. But I shall speak to Mr. Crackenthorp; I'll not be put upon byno man."
"NaynayTookey" said Ben Winthrop. "We'll pay you yourshareto keepout of itthat's what we'll do. There's things folks 'udpay to berid onbesides varmin."
"Comecome" said the landlordwho felt that paying people fortheirabsence was a principle dangerous to society; "a joke's ajoke. We're all good friends hereI hope. We must give and take.You'reboth right and you're both wrongas I say. I agree wi'Mr. Maceyhereas there's two opinions; and if mine was askedIshould saythey're both right. Tookey's right and Winthrop's rightandthey've only got to split the difference and make themselveseven."
Thefarrier was puffing his pipe rather fiercelyin some contemptat thistrivial discussion. He had no ear for music himselfandnever wentto churchas being of the medical professionand likelyto be inrequisition for delicate cows. But the butcherhavingmusic inhis soulhad listened with a divided desire for Tookey'sdefeat andfor the preservation of the peace.
"Tobe sure" he saidfollowing up the landlord's conciliatoryview"we're fond of our old clerk; it's nat'raland him used tobe such asingerand got a brother as is known for the firstfiddler inthis country-side. Ehit's a pity but what Solomonlived inour villageand could give us a tune when we liked; ehMr.Macey? I'd keep him in liver and lights for nothingthat Iwould."
"Ayeaye" said Mr. Maceyin the height of complacency; "ourfamily'sbeen known for musicianers as far back as anybody can tell.But themthings are dying outas I tell Solomon every time he comesround;there's no voices like what there used to beand there'snobodyremembers what we rememberif it isn't the old crows."
"Ayeyou remember when first Mr. Lammeter's father come into thesepartsdon't youMr. Macey?" said the landlord.
"Ishould think I did" said the old manwho had now gone throughthatcomplimentary process necessary to bring him up to the point ofnarration;"and a fine old gentleman he wasas fineand finernor theMr. Lammeter as now is. He came from a bit north'ardsofar as Icould ever make out. But there's nobody rightly knowsaboutthose parts: only it couldn't be far north'ardnor muchdifferentfrom this countryfor he brought a fine breed o' sheepwith himso there must be pastures thereand everythingreasonable. We heared tell as he'd sold his own land to come andtake theWarrensand that seemed odd for a man as had land of hisowntocome and rent a farm in a strange place. But they said itwas alongof his wife's dying; though there's reasons in things asnobodyknows onthat's pretty much what I've made out; yet somefolks areso wisethey'll find you fifty reasons straight offandall thewhile the real reason's winking at 'em in the cornerandthey niversee't. Howsomeverit was soon seen as we'd got a newparish'neras know'd the rights and customs o' thingsand kep agoodhouseand was well looked on by everybody. And the young manthat's theMr. Lammeter as now isfor he'd niver a sistersoon begunto court Miss Osgoodthat's the sister o' the Mr. Osgoodas now isand a fine handsome lass she wasehyou can't thinktheypretend this young lass is like herbut that's the way wi'people asdon't know what come before 'em. _I_ should knowfor Ihelped theold rectorMr. Drumlow as wasI helped him marry 'em."
Here Mr.Macey paused; he always gave his narrative in instalmentsexpectingto be questioned according to precedent.
"Ayeand a partic'lar thing happeneddidn't itMr. Maceyso asyou werelikely to remember that marriage?" said the landlordinacongratulatory tone.
"Ishould think there dida _very_ partic'lar thing" saidMr. Maceynodding sideways. "For Mr. Drumlowpoor oldgentlemanI was fond on himthough he'd got a bit confused in hisheadwhatwi' age and wi' taking a drop o' summat warm when theservicecome of a cold morning. And young Mr. Lammeterhe'd haveno way buthe must be married in Janiwarywhichto be sure's aunreasonabletime to be married infor it isn't like a christeningor aburyingas you can't help; and so Mr. Drumlowpoor oldgentlemanI was fond on himbut when he come to put thequestionshe put 'em by the rule o' contrairylikeand he says"Wiltthou have this man to thy wedded wife?" says heand thenhesays"Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded husband?" says he.But thepartic'larest thing of all isas nobody took any notice onit but meand they answered straight off "yes"like as if it hadbeen mesaying "Amen" i' the right placewithout listening to whatwentbefore."
"But_you_ knew what was going on well enoughdidn't youMr.Macey? You were live enougheh?" said the butcher.
"Lorbless you!" said Mr. Maceypausingand smiling in pityattheimpotence of his hearer's imagination"whyI was all of atremble:it was as if I'd been a coat pulled by the two tailslike;for Icouldn't stop the parsonI couldn't take upon me to do that;and yet Isaid to myselfI says"Suppose they shouldn't be fastmarried'cause the words are contrairy?" and my head went workinglike amillfor I was allays uncommon for turning things over andseeing allround 'em; and I says to myself"Is't the meanin' or thewords asmakes folks fast i' wedlock?" For the parson meant rightand thebride and bridegroom meant right. But thenwhen I come tothink onitmeanin' goes but a little way i' most thingsfor youmay meanto stick things together and your glue may be badand thenwhere areyou? And so I says to mysen"It isn't the meanin'it'stheglue." And I was worreted as if I'd got three bells topull atoncewhenwe went into the vestryand they begun to sign theirnames. But where's the use o' talking?you can't think whatgoes on ina 'cute man's inside."
"Butyou held in for all thatdidn't youMr. Macey?" said thelandlord.
"AyeI held in tight till I was by mysen wi' Mr. Drumlowand thenI out wi'everythingbut respectfulas I allays did. And he madelight onitand he says"PoohpoohMaceymake yourself easy"he says;"it's neither the meaning nor the wordsit's there_ges_terdoes itthat's the glue." So you see he settled iteasy; forparsons and doctors know everything by heartlikeso astheyaren't worreted wi' thinking what's the rights and wrongs o'thingsasI'n been many and many's the time. And sure enough theweddingturned out all righton'y poor Mrs. Lammeterthat's MissOsgood aswasdied afore the lasses was growed up; but forprosperityand everything respectablethere's no family more lookedon."
Every oneof Mr. Macey's audience had heard this story many timesbut it waslistened to as if it had been a favourite tuneand atcertainpoints the puffing of the pipes was momentarily suspendedthat thelisteners might give their whole minds to the expectedwords. But there was more to come; and Mr. Snellthe landlordduly putthe leading question.
"Whyold Mr. Lammeter had a pretty fortindidn't they saywhenhe comeinto these parts?"
"Wellyes" said Mr. Macey; "but I daresay it's as much as thisMr.Lammeter's done to keep it whole. For there was allays a talkas nobodycould get rich on the Warrens: though he holds it cheapfor it'swhat they call Charity Land."
"Ayeand there's few folks know so well as you how it come to beCharityLandehMr. Macey?" said the butcher.
"Howshould they?" said the old clerkwith some contempt."Whymy grandfather made the grooms' livery for that Mr. Cliff ascame andbuilt the big stables at the Warrens. Whythey're stablesfour timesas big as Squire Cass'sfor he thought o' nothing buthosses andhuntingCliff didn'ta Lunnon tailorsome folkssaidashad gone mad wi' cheating. For he couldn't ride; lor blessyou! they said he'd got no more grip o' the hoss than if his legshad beencross-sticks: my grandfather heared old Squire Cass say somany andmany a time. But ride he wouldas if Old Harry had beena-drivinghim; and he'd a sona lad o' sixteen; and nothing wouldhis fatherhave him dobut he must ride and ridethough the ladwasfrightedthey said. And it was a common saying as the fatherwanted toride the tailor out o' the ladand make a gentleman onhimnot butwhat I'm a tailor myselfbut in respect as God mademe suchI'm proud on itfor "Maceytailor"'s been wrote up overour doorsince afore the Queen's heads went out on the shillings.But Cliffhe was ashamed o' being called a tailorand he was sorevexed ashis riding was laughed atand nobody o' the gentlefolkshereaboutcould abide him. Howsomeverthe poor lad got sickly anddiedandthe father didn't live long after himfor he got queerernor everand they said he used to go out i' the dead o' the nightwi' alantern in his handto the stablesand set a lot o' lightsburningfor he got as he couldn't sleep; and there he'd standcrackinghis whip and looking at his hosses; and they said it was amercy asthe stables didn't get burnt down wi' the poor dumbcreatursin 'em. But at last he died ravingand they found as he'dleft allhis propertyWarrens and allto a Lunnon Charityandthat's howthe Warrens come to be Charity Land; thoughas for thestablesMr. Lammeter never uses 'emthey're out o' all charicterlor blessyou! if you was to set the doors a-banging in 'emit'ud soundlike thunder half o'er the parish."
"Ayebut there's more going on in the stables than what folks seebydaylightehMr. Macey?" said the landlord.
"Ayeaye; go that way of a dark nightthat's all" saidMr. Maceywinking mysteriously"and then make believeif youlikeasyou didn't see lights i' the stablesnor hear the stampingo' thehossesnor the cracking o' the whipsand howlingtooifit'stow'rt daybreak. "Cliff's Holiday" has been the nameof itever sin'I were a boy; that's to saysome said as it was theholidayOld Harry gev him from roastinglike. That's what myfathertold meand he was a reasonable manthough there's folksnowadaysknow what happened afore they were born better nor theyknow theirown business."
"Whatdo you say to thatehDowlas?" said the landlordturningto thefarrierwho was swelling with impatience for his cue."There'sa nut for _you_ to crack."
Mr. Dowlaswas the negative spirit in the companyand was proud ofhisposition.
"Say? I say what a man _should_ say as doesn't shut his eyes tolook at afinger-post. I sayas I'm ready to wager any man tenpoundifhe'll stand out wi' me any dry night in the pasture beforethe Warrenstablesas we shall neither see lights nor hear noisesif itisn't the blowing of our own noses. That's what I sayandI've saidit many a time; but there's nobody 'ull ventur a ten-pun'note ontheir ghos'es as they make so sure of."
"WhyDowlasthat's easy bettingthat is" said Ben Winthrop."Youmight as well bet a man as he wouldn't catch the rheumatise ifhe stoodup to 's neck in the pool of a frosty night. It 'ud befine funfor a man to win his bet as he'd catch the rheumatise.Folks asbelieve in Cliff's Holiday aren't agoing to ventur near itfor amatter o' ten pound."
"IfMaster Dowlas wants to know the truth on it" said Mr. Maceywith asarcastic smiletapping his thumbs together"he's no callto lay anybetlet him go and stan' by himselfthere's nobody'ullhinder him; and then he can let the parish'ners know if they'rewrong."
"Thankyou! I'm obliged to you" said the farrierwith a snortof scorn. "If folks are foolsit's no business o' mine. _I_don't wantto make out the truth about ghos'es: I know it a'ready.But I'mnot against a beteverything fair and open. Let any manbet me tenpound as I shall see Cliff's Holidayand I'll go andstand bymyself. I want no company. I'd as lief do it as I'd fillthispipe."
"Ahbut who's to watch youDowlasand see you do it? That's nofair bet"said the butcher.
"Nofair bet?" replied Mr. Dowlasangrily. "Ishould like tohear anyman stand up and say I want to bet unfair. Come nowMasterLundyI should like to hear you say it."
"Verylike you would" said the butcher. "But it's nobusinesso' mine. You're none o' my bargainsand I aren't a-going to tryand 'bateyour price. If anybody 'll bid for you at your ownvallyinglet him. I'm for peace and quietnessI am."
"Yesthat's what every yapping cur iswhen you hold a stick up athim"said the farrier. "But I'm afraid o' neither man norghostand I'mready to lay a fair bet. _I_ aren't a turn-tail cur."
"Ayebut there's this in itDowlas" said the landlordspeakingin a toneof much candour and tolerance. "There's folksi' myopinionthey can't see ghos'esnot if they stood as plain as apike-staffbefore 'em. And there's reason i' that. For there's mywifenowcan't smellnot if she'd the strongest o' cheese underher nose. I never see'd a ghost myself; but then I says to myself"Verylike I haven't got the smell for 'em." I meanputting aghost fora smellor else contrairiways. And soI'm for holdingwith bothsides; foras I saythe truth lies between 'em. And ifDowlas wasto go and standand say he'd never seen a wink o'Cliff'sHoliday all the night throughI'd back him; and if anybodysaid asCliff's Holiday was certain surefor all thatI'd back_him_too. For the smell's what I go by."
Thelandlord's analogical argument was not well received by thefarrieraman intensely opposed to compromise.
"Tuttut" he saidsetting down his glass with refreshedirritation;"what's the smell got to do with it? Did ever a ghostgive a mana black eye? That's what I should like to know. Ifghos'eswant me to believe in 'emlet 'em leave off skulking i' thedark andi' lone placeslet 'em come where there's company andcandles."
"Asif ghos'es 'ud want to be believed in by anybody so ignirant!"said Mr.Maceyin deep disgust at the farrier's crass incompetencetoapprehend the conditions of ghostly phenomena.
Yet thenext moment there seemed to be some evidence that ghosts hada morecondescending disposition than Mr. Macey attributed to them;for thepale thin figure of Silas Marner was suddenly seen standingin thewarm lightuttering no wordbut looking round at thecompanywith his strange unearthly eyes. The long pipes gave asimultaneousmovementlike the antennae of startled insectsandevery manpresentnot excepting even the sceptical farrierhad animpressionthat he sawnot Silas Marner in the fleshbut anapparition;for the door by which Silas had entered was hidden bythehigh-screened seatsand no one had noticed his approach.Mr. Maceysitting a long way off the ghostmight be supposed tohave feltan argumentative triumphwhich would tend to neutralizehis shareof the general alarm. Had he not always said that whenSilasMarner was in that strange trance of hishis soul went loosefrom hisbody? Here was the demonstration: neverthelesson thewholehewould have been as well contented without it. For a fewmomentsthere was a dead silenceMarner's want of breath andagitationnot allowing him to speak. The landlordunder thehabitualsense that he was bound to keep his house open to allcompanyand confident in the protection of his unbroken neutralityat lasttook on himself the task of adjuring the ghost.
"MasterMarner" he saidin a conciliatory tone"what's lackingto you? What's your business here?"
"Robbed!" said Silasgaspingly. "I've been robbed! I want theconstableandthe Justiceand Squire CassandMr.Crackenthorp."
"Layhold on himJem Rodney" said the landlordthe idea of aghostsubsiding; "he's off his headI doubt. He's wet through."
Jem Rodneywas the outermost manand sat conveniently near Marner'sstanding-place;but he declined to give his services.
"Comeand lay hold on him yourselfMr. Snellif you've a mind"said Jemrather sullenly. "He's been robbedand murdered toofor what Iknow" he addedin a muttering tone.
"JemRodney!" said Silasturning and fixing his strange eyesonthesuspected man.
"AyeMaster Marnerwhat do you want wi' me?" said Jemtremblinga littleand seizing his drinking-can as a defensiveweapon.
"Ifit was you stole my money" said Silasclasping his handsentreatinglyand raising his voice to a cry"give it me backand Iwon't meddle with you. I won't set the constable on you.Give it mebackand I'll let youI'll let you have a guinea."
"Mestole your money!" said Jemangrily. "I'llpitch this canat youreye if you talk o' _my_ stealing your money."
"ComecomeMaster Marner" said the landlordnow risingresolutelyand seizing Marner by the shoulder"if you've got anyinformationto layspeak it out sensibleand show as you're inyour rightmindif you expect anybody to listen to you. You're aswet as adrownded rat. Sit down and dry yourselfand speakstraightforrard."
"Ahto be sureman" said the farrierwho began to feel that hehad notbeen quite on a par with himself and the occasion. "Let'shave nomore staring and screamingelse we'll have you strapped fora madman. That was why I didn't speak at the firstthinks Itheman's runmad."
"Ayeayemake him sit down" said several voices at oncewellpleasedthat the reality of ghosts remained still an open question.
Thelandlord forced Marner to take off his coatand then to sitdown on achair aloof from every one elsein the centre of thecircle andin the direct rays of the fire. The weavertoo feebleto haveany distinct purpose beyond that of getting help to recoverhis moneysubmitted unresistingly. The transient fears of thecompanywere now forgotten in their strong curiosityand all faceswereturned towards Silaswhen the landlordhaving seated himselfagainsaid
"NowthenMaster Marnerwhat's this you've got to sayasyou'vebeen robbed? Speak out."
"He'dbetter not say again as it was me robbed him" cried JemRodneyhastily. "What could I ha' done with his money? Icouldas easysteal the parson's surpliceand wear it."
"Holdyour tongueJemand let's hear what he's got to say" saidthelandlord. "Now thenMaster Marner."
Silas nowtold his storyunder frequent questioning as themysteriouscharacter of the robbery became evident.
Thisstrangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloeneighboursof sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his ownandfeelingthe presence of faces and voices which were his nearestpromise ofhelphad doubtless its influence on Marnerin spite ofhispassionate preoccupation with his loss. Our consciousnessrarelyregisters the beginning of a growth within us any more thanwithoutus: there have been many circulations of the sap before wedetect thesmallest sign of the bud.
The slightsuspicion with which his hearers at first listened tohimgradually melted away before the convincing simplicity of hisdistress:it was impossible for the neighbours to doubt that Marnerwastelling the truthnot because they were capable of arguing atonce fromthe nature of his statements to the absence of any motivefor makingthem falselybut becauseas Mr. Macey observed"Folksas had thedevil to back 'em were not likely to be so mushed" aspoor Silaswas. Ratherfrom the strange fact that the robber hadleft notracesand had happened to know the nick of timeutterlyincalculableby mortal agentswhen Silas would go away from homewithoutlocking his doorthe more probable conclusion seemed to bethat hisdisreputable intimacy in that quarterif it ever existedhad beenbroken upand thatin consequencethis ill turn had beendone toMarner by somebody it was quite in vain to set the constableafter. Why this preternatural felon should be obliged to wait tillthe doorwas left unlockedwas a question which did not presentitself.
"Itisn't Jem Rodney as has done this workMaster Marner" saidthelandlord. "You mustn't be a-casting your eye at poor Jem.There maybe a bit of a reckoning against Jem for the matter of ahare orsoif anybody was bound to keep their eyes staring openand niverto wink; but Jem's been a-sitting here drinking his canlike thedecentest man i' the parishsince before you left yourhouseMaster Marnerby your own account."
"Ayeaye" said Mr. Macey; "let's have no accusing o' theinnicent. That isn't the law. There must be folks to swear again'a manbefore he can be ta'en up. Let's have no accusing o' theinnicentMaster Marner."
Memory wasnot so utterly torpid in Silas that it could not beawakenedby these words. With a movement of compunction as new andstrange tohim as everything else within the last hourhe startedfrom hischair and went close up to Jemlooking at him as if hewanted toassure himself of the expression in his face.
"Iwas wrong" he said"yesyesI ought to have thought.There'snothing to witness against youJem. Only you'd been intomy houseoftener than anybody elseand so you came into my head.I don'taccuse youI won't accuse anybodyonly" he addedlifting uphis hands to his headand turning away with bewilderedmisery"ItryI try to think where my guineas can be."
"Ayeayethey're gone where it's hot enough to melt 'emIdoubt"said Mr. Macey.
"Tchuh!" said the farrier. And then he askedwith across-examiningair"How much money might there be in the bagsMasterMarner?"
"Twohundred and seventy-two poundstwelve and sixpencelastnight whenI counted it" said Silasseating himself againwith agroan.
"Pooh! whythey'd be none so heavy to carry. Some tramp's beeninthat'sall; and as for the no footmarksand the bricks and thesand beingall rightwhyyour eyes are pretty much like ainsect'sMaster Marner; they're obliged to look so closeyou can'tsee muchat a time. It's my opinion asif I'd been youor you'dbeen meforit comes to the same thingyou wouldn't havethoughtyou'd found everything as you left it. But what I vote isas two ofthe sensiblest o' the company should go with you to MasterKenchtheconstable'she's ill i' bedI know that muchandget him toappoint one of us his deppity; for that's the lawand Idon'tthink anybody 'ull take upon him to contradick me there. Itisn't muchof a walk to Kench's; and thenif it's me as is deppityI'll goback with youMaster Marnerand examine your premises; andifanybody's got any fault to find with thatI'll thank him tostand upand say it out like a man."
By thispregnant speech the farrier had re-established hisself-complacencyand waited with confidence to hear himself namedas one ofthe superlatively sensible men.
"Letus see how the night isthough" said the landlordwho alsoconsideredhimself personally concerned in this proposition. "Whyit rainsheavy still" he saidreturning from the door.
"WellI'm not the man to be afraid o' the rain" said thefarrier. "For it'll look bad when Justice Malam hears asrespectablemen like us had a information laid before 'em and tookno steps."
Thelandlord agreed with this viewand after taking the sense ofthecompanyand duly rehearsing a small ceremony known in highecclesiasticallife as the _nolo episcopari_he consented to takeon himselfthe chill dignity of going to Kench's. But to thefarrier'sstrong disgustMr. Macey now started an objection to hisproposinghimself as a deputy-constable; for that oracular oldgentlemanclaiming to know the lawstatedas a fact delivered tohim by hisfatherthat no doctor could be a constable.
"Andyou're a doctorI reckonthough you're only a cow-doctorfor afly's a flythough it may be a hoss-fly" concludedMr. Maceywondering a little at his own "'cuteness".
There wasa hot debate upon thisthe farrier being of courseindisposedto renounce the quality of doctorbut contending that adoctorcould be a constable if he likedthe law meanthe needn'tbe one ifhe didn't like. Mr. Macey thought this was nonsensesince thelaw was not likely to be fonder of doctors than of otherfolks. Moreoverif it was in the nature of doctors more than ofother mennot to like being constableshow came Mr. Dowlas to be soeager toact in that capacity?
"_I_don't want to act the constable" said the farrierdriveninto acorner by this merciless reasoning; "and there's no man cansay it ofmeif he'd tell the truth. But if there's to be anyjealousyand en_vy_ing about going to Kench's in the rainlet themgo as likeityou won't get me to goI can tell you."
By thelandlord's interventionhoweverthe dispute wasaccommodated. Mr. Dowlas consented to go as a second persondisinclinedto act officially; and so poor Silasfurnished withsome oldcoveringsturned out with his two companions into the rainagainthinking of the long night-hours before himnot as those dowho longto restbut as those who expect to "watch for themorning".
WhenGodfrey Cass returned from Mrs. Osgood's party at midnighthewas notmuch surprised to learn that Dunsey had not come home.Perhaps hehad not sold Wildfireand was waiting for another chanceperhapson that foggy afternoonhe had preferred housinghimself atthe Red Lion at Batherley for the nightif the run hadkept himin that neighbourhood; for he was not likely to feel muchconcernabout leaving his brother in suspense. Godfrey's mind wastoo fullof Nancy Lammeter's looks and behaviourtoo full of theexasperationagainst himself and his lotwhich the sight of heralwaysproduced in himfor him to give much thought to Wildfireorto theprobabilities of Dunstan's conduct.
The nextmorning the whole village was excited by the story of therobberyand Godfreylike every one elsewas occupied in gatheringanddiscussing news about itand in visiting the Stone-pits. Therain hadwashed away all possibility of distinguishing foot-marksbut aclose investigation of the spot had disclosedin thedirectionopposite to the villagea tinder-boxwith a flint andsteelhalf sunk in the mud. It was not Silas's tinder-boxfor theonly onehe had ever had was still standing on his shelf; and theinferencegenerally accepted wasthat the tinder-box in the ditchwassomehow connected with the robbery. A small minority shooktheirheadsand intimated their opinion that it was not a robberyto havemuch light thrown on it by tinder-boxesthat MasterMarner'stale had a queer look with itand that such things hadbeen knownas a man's doing himself a mischiefand then setting thejustice tolook for the doer. But when questioned closely as totheirgrounds for this opinionand what Master Marner had to gainby suchfalse pretencesthey only shook their heads as beforeandobservedthat there was no knowing what some folks counted gain;moreoverthat everybody had a right to their own opinionsgroundsor nogroundsand that the weaveras everybody knewwas partlycrazy. Mr. Maceythough he joined in the defence of Marner againstallsuspicions of deceitalso pooh-poohed the tinder-box; indeedrepudiatedit as a rather impious suggestiontending to imply thateverythingmust be done by human handsand that there was no powerwhichcould make away with the guineas without moving the bricks.Neverthelesshe turned round rather sharply on Mr. Tookeywhen thezealousdeputyfeeling that this was a view of the case peculiarlysuited toa parish-clerkcarried it still fartherand doubtedwhether itwas right to inquire into a robbery at all when thecircumstanceswere so mysterious.
"Asif" concluded Mr. Tookey"as if there was nothing butwhat couldbe made out by justices and constables."
"Nowdon't you be for overshooting the markTookey" saidMr. Maceynodding his head aside admonishingly. "That's whatyou'reallays at; if I throw a stone and hityou think there'ssummatbetter than hittingand you try to throw a stone beyond.What Isaid was against the tinder-box: I said nothing againstjusticesand constablesfor they're o' King George's makingand it'ud beill-becoming a man in a parish office to fly out again' KingGeorge."
Whilethese discussions were going on amongst the group outside theRainbowahigher consultation was being carried on withinunderthepresidency of Mr. Crackenthorpthe rectorassisted by SquireCass andother substantial parishioners. It had just occurred toMr. Snellthe landlordhe beingas he observeda manaccustomedto put two and two togetherto connect with thetinder-boxwhichas deputy-constablehe himself had had thehonourabledistinction of findingcertain recollections of a pedlarwho hadcalled to drink at the house about a month beforeand hadactuallystated that he carried a tinder-box about with him to lighthis pipe. Heresurelywas a clue to be followed out. And asmemorywhen duly impregnated with ascertained factsis sometimessurprisinglyfertileMr. Snell gradually recovered a vividimpressionof the effect produced on him by the pedlar's countenanceandconversation. He had a "look with his eye" which fellunpleasantlyon Mr. Snell's sensitive organism. To be surehedidn't sayanything particularnoexcept that about thetinder-boxbutit isn't what a man saysit's the way he says it.Moreoverhe had a swarthy foreignness of complexion which bodedlittlehonesty.
"Didhe wear ear-rings?" Mr. Crackenthorp wished to knowhavingsomeacquaintance with foreign customs.
"Wellstayletme see" said Mr. Snelllike a docileclairvoyantewho would really not make a mistake if she could helpit. After stretching the corners of his mouth and contracting hiseyesasif he were trying to see the ear-ringshe appeared to giveup theeffortand said"Wellhe'd got ear-rings in his box tosellsoit's nat'ral to suppose he might wear 'em. But he calledat everyhousea'mostin the village; there's somebody elsemayhapsaw 'em in his earsthough I can't take upon me rightly tosay."
Mr. Snellwas correct in his surmisethat somebody else wouldrememberthe pedlar's ear-rings. For on the spread of inquiry amongthevillagers it was stated with gathering emphasisthat the parsonhad wantedto know whether the pedlar wore ear-rings in his earsand animpression was created that a great deal depended on theelicitingof this fact. Of courseevery one who heard thequestionnot having any distinct image of the pedlar as _without_ear-ringsimmediately had an image of him _with_ ear-ringslargerorsmalleras the case might be; and the image was presently takenfor avivid recollectionso that the glazier's wifeawell-intentionedwomannot given to lyingand whose house wasamong thecleanest in the villagewas ready to declareas sure asever shemeant to take the sacrament the very next Christmas thatwas evercomingthat she had seen big ear-ringsin the shape ofthe youngmoonin the pedlar's two ears; while Jinny Oatesthecobbler'sdaughterbeing a more imaginative personstated not onlythat shehad seen them toobut that they had made her blood creepas it didat that very moment while there she stood.
Alsobyway of throwing further light on this clue of thetinder-boxa collection was made of all the articles purchased fromthe pedlarat various housesand carried to the Rainbow to beexhibitedthere. In factthere was a general feeling in thevillagethat for the clearing-up of this robbery there must be agreat dealdone at the Rainbowand that no man need offer his wifean excusefor going there while it was the scene of severe publicduties.
Somedisappointment was feltand perhaps a little indignation alsowhen itbecame known that Silas Marneron being questioned by theSquire andthe parsonhad retained no other recollection of thepedlarthan that he had called at his doorbut had not entered hishousehaving turned away at once when Silasholding the door ajarhad saidthat he wanted nothing. This had been Silas's testimonythough heclutched strongly at the idea of the pedlar's being theculpritif only because it gave him a definite image of awhereaboutfor his gold after it had been taken away from itshiding-place:he could see it now in the pedlar's box. But it wasobservedwith some irritation in the villagethat anybody but a"blindcreatur" like Marner would have seen the man prowlingaboutforhow came he to leave his tinder-box in the ditch closebyif hehadn't been lingering there? Doubtlesshe had made hisobservationswhen he saw Marner at the door. Anybody might knowand onlylook at himthat the weaver was a half-crazy miser. Itwas awonder the pedlar hadn't murdered him; men of that sortwithrings intheir earshad been known for murderers often and often;there hadbeen one tried at the 'sizesnot so long ago but whatthere werepeople living who remembered it.
GodfreyCassindeedentering the Rainbow during one of Mr. Snell'sfrequentlyrepeated recitals of his testimonyhad treated itlightlystating that he himself had bought a pen-knife of thepedlarand thought him a merry grinning fellow enough; it was allnonsensehe saidabout the man's evil looks. But this was spokenof in thevillage as the random talk of youth"as if it was onlyMr. Snellwho had seen something odd about the pedlar!" On thecontrarythere were at least half-a-dozen who were ready to gobeforeJustice Malamand give in much more striking testimony thanany thelandlord could furnish. It was to be hoped Mr. Godfreywould notgo to Tarley and throw cold water on what Mr. Snell saidthereandso prevent the justice from drawing up a warrant. He wassuspectedof intending thiswhenafter mid-dayhe was seensettingoff on horseback in the direction of Tarley.
But bythis time Godfrey's interest in the robbery had faded beforehisgrowing anxiety about Dunstan and Wildfireand he was goingnot toTarleybut to Batherleyunable to rest in uncertainty aboutthem anylonger. The possibility that Dunstan had played him theugly trickof riding away with Wildfireto return at the end of amonthwhen he had gambled away or otherwise squandered the price ofthe horsewas a fear that urged itself upon him moreeventhanthethought of an accidental injury; and now that the dance atMrs.Osgood's was pasthe was irritated with himself that he hadtrustedhis horse to Dunstan. Instead of trying to still his fearsheencouraged themwith that superstitious impression which clingsto us allthat if we expect evil very strongly it is the lesslikely tocome; and when he heard a horse approaching at a trotandsaw a hatrising above a hedge beyond an angle of the lanehe feltas if hisconjuration had succeeded. But no sooner did the horsecomewithin sightthan his heart sank again. It was not Wildfire;and in afew moments more he discerned that the rider was notDunstanbut Brycewho pulled up to speakwith a face that impliedsomethingdisagreeable.
"WellMr. Godfreythat's a lucky brother of yoursthat MasterDunseyisn't he?"
"Whatdo you mean?" said Godfreyhastily.
"Whyhasn't he been home yet?" said Bryce.
"Home? no. What has happened? Be quick. What has he donewithmy horse?"
"AhI thought it was yoursthough he pretended you had partedwith it tohim."
"Hashe thrown him down and broken his knees?" said Godfreyflushedwith exasperation.
"Worsethan that" said Bryce. "You seeI'd made a bargainwithhim to buythe horse for a hundred and twentya swinging pricebut Ialways liked the horse. And what does he do but go and stakehimfly ata hedge with stakes in itatop of a bank with a ditchbeforeit. The horse had been dead a pretty good while when he wasfound. So he hasn't been home sincehas he?"
"Home? no" said Godfrey"and he'd better keep away. Confoundme for afool! I might have known this would be the end of it."
"Wellto tell you the truth" said Bryce"after I'd bargainedfor thehorseit did come into my head that he might be riding andsellingthe horse without your knowledgefor I didn't believe itwas hisown. I knew Master Dunsey was up to his tricks sometimes.But wherecan he be gone? He's never been seen at Batherley. Hecouldn'thave been hurtfor he must have walked off."
"Hurt?" said Godfreybitterly. "He'll never be hurthe'smade tohurt other people."
"Andso you _did_ give him leave to sell the horseeh?" saidBryce.
"Yes;I wanted to part with the horsehe was always a little toohard inthe mouth for me" said Godfrey; his pride making him winceunder theidea that Bryce guessed the sale to be a matter ofnecessity. "I was going to see after himI thought somemischiefhad happened. I'll go back now" he addedturning thehorse'sheadand wishing he could get rid of Bryce; for he feltthat thelong-dreaded crisis in his life was close upon him."You'recoming on to Raveloearen't you?"
"Wellnonot now" said Bryce. "I _was_ coming roundtherefor I hadto go to Flittonand I thought I might as well take youin my wayand just let you know all I knew myself about the horse.I supposeMaster Dunsey didn't like to show himself till the illnews hadblown over a bit. He's perhaps gone to pay a visit at theThreeCrownsby WhitbridgeI know he's fond of the house."
"Perhapshe is" said Godfreyrather absently. Then rousinghimselfhe saidwith an effort at carelessness"We shall hear ofhim soonenoughI'll be bound."
"Wellhere's my turning" said Brycenot surprised to perceivethatGodfrey was rather "down"; "so I'll bid you good-dayandwish I maybring you better news another time."
Godfreyrode along slowlyrepresenting to himself the scene ofconfessionto his father from which he felt that there was now nolonger anyescape. The revelation about the money must be made thevery nextmorning; and if he withheld the restDunstan would besure tocome back shortlyandfinding that he must bear the bruntof hisfather's angerwould tell the whole story out of spiteeventhough hehad nothing to gain by it. There was one stepperhapsby whichhe might still win Dunstan's silence and put off the evilday: hemight tell his father that he had himself spent the moneypaid tohim by Fowler; and as he had never been guilty of such anoffencebeforethe affair would blow over after a little storming.ButGodfrey could not bend himself to this. He felt that in lettingDunstanhave the moneyhe had already been guilty of a breach oftrusthardly less culpable than that of spending the money directlyfor hisown behoof; and yet there was a distinction between the twoacts whichmade him feel that the one was so much more blackeningthan theother as to be intolerable to him.
"Idon't pretend to be a good fellow" he said to himself; "butI'm not ascoundrelat leastI'll stop short somewhere. I'llbear theconsequences of what I _have_ done sooner than make believeI've donewhat I never would have done. I'd never have spent themoney formy own pleasureI was tortured into it."
Throughthe remainder of this day Godfreywith only occasionalfluctuationskept his will bent in the direction of a completeavowal tohis fatherand he withheld the story of Wildfire's losstill thenext morningthat it might serve him as an introduction toheaviermatter. The old Squire was accustomed to his son's frequentabsencefrom homeand thought neither Dunstan's nor Wildfire'snon-appearancea matter calling for remark. Godfrey said to himselfagain andagainthat if he let slip this one opportunity ofconfessionhe might never have another; the revelation might bemade evenin a more odious way than by Dunstan's malignity: _she_might comeas she had threatened to do. And then he tried to makethe sceneeasier to himself by rehearsal: he made up his mind how hewould passfrom the admission of his weakness in letting Dunstanhave themoney to the fact that Dunstan had a hold on him which hehad beenunable to shake offand how he would work up his father toexpectsomething very bad before he told him the fact. The oldSquire wasan implacable man: he made resolutions in violent angerand he wasnot to be moved from them after his anger had subsidedas fieryvolcanic matters cool and harden into rock. Like manyviolentand implacable menhe allowed evils to grow under favour ofhis ownheedlessnesstill they pressed upon him with exasperatingforceandthen he turned round with fierce severity and becameunrelentinglyhard. This was his system with his tenants: heallowedthem to get into arrearsneglect their fencesreduce theirstocksell their strawand otherwise go the wrong wayandthenwhenhe became short of money in consequence of thisindulgencehe took the hardest measures and would listen to noappeal. Godfrey knew all thisand felt it with the greater forcebecause hehad constantly suffered annoyance from witnessing hisfather'ssudden fits of unrelentingnessfor which his own habitualirresolutiondeprived him of all sympathy. (He was not critical onthe faultyindulgence which preceded these fits; _that_ seemed tohimnatural enough.) Still there was just the chanceGodfreythoughtthat his father's pride might see this marriage in a lightthat wouldinduce him to hush it uprather than turn his son outand makethe family the talk of the country for ten miles round.
This wasthe view of the case that Godfrey managed to keep beforehim prettyclosely till midnightand he went to sleep thinking thathe haddone with inward debating. But when he awoke in the stillmorningdarkness he found it impossible to reawaken his eveningthoughts;it was as if they had been tired out and were not to beroused tofurther work. Instead of arguments for confessionhecould nowfeel the presence of nothing but its evil consequences:the olddread of disgrace came backthe old shrinking from thethought ofraising a hopeless barrier between himself and Nancythe olddisposition to rely on chances which might be favourable tohimandsave him from betrayal. Whyafter allshould he cut offthe hopeof them by his own act? He had seen the matter in a wronglightyesterday. He had been in a rage with Dunstanand hadthought ofnothing but a thorough break-up of their mutualunderstanding;but what it would be really wisest for him to dowasto try andsoften his father's anger against Dunseyand keep thingsas nearlyas possible in their old condition. If Dunsey did notcome backfor a few days (and Godfrey did not know but that therascal hadenough money in his pocket to enable him to keep awaystilllonger)everything might blow over.
Godfreyrose and took his own breakfast earlier than usualbutlingeredin the wainscoted parlour till his younger brothers hadfinishedtheir meal and gone out; awaiting his fatherwho alwaystook awalk with his managing-man before breakfast. Every onebreakfastedat a different hour in the Red Houseand the Squire wasalways thelatestgiving a long chance to a rather feeble morningappetitebefore he tried it. The table had been spread withsubstantialeatables nearly two hours before he presented himselfa tallstout man of sixtywith a face in which the knit brow andratherhard glance seemed contradicted by the slack and feeblemouth. His person showed marks of habitual neglecthis dress wasslovenly;and yet there was something in the presence of the oldSquiredistinguishable from that of the ordinary farmers in theparishwho were perhaps every whit as refined as hebuthavingslouchedtheir way through life with a consciousness of being in thevicinityof their "betters"wanted that self-possession andauthoritativenessof voice and carriage which belonged to a man whothought ofsuperiors as remote existences with whom he hadpersonallylittle more to do than with America or the stars. TheSquire hadbeen used to parish homage all his lifeused to thepresuppositionthat his familyhis tankardsand everything thatwas hiswere the oldest and best; and as he never associated withany gentryhigher than himselfhis opinion was not disturbed bycomparison.
He glancedat his son as he entered the roomand said"Whatsir!haven't_you_ had your breakfast yet?" but there was no pleasantmorninggreeting between them; not because of any unfriendlinessbutbecause the sweet flower of courtesy is not a growth of suchhomes asthe Red House.
"Yessir" said Godfrey"I've had my breakfastbut I waswaiting tospeak to you."
"Ah! well" said the Squirethrowing himself indifferently intohis chairand speaking in a ponderous coughing fashionwhich wasfelt inRaveloe to be a sort of privilege of his rankwhile he cuta piece ofbeefand held it up before the deer-hound that had comein withhim. "Ring the bell for my alewill you? Youyoungsters'businessis your own pleasuremostly. There's no hurry about itforanybody but yourselves."
TheSquire's life was quite as idle as his sons'but it was afictionkept up by himself and his contemporaries in Raveloe thatyouth wasexclusively the period of follyand that their agedwisdom wasconstantly in a state of endurance mitigated by sarcasm.Godfreywaitedbefore he spoke againuntil the ale had beenbroughtand the door closedan interval during which Fleetthedeer-houndhad consumed enough bits of beef to make a poor man'sholidaydinner.
"There'sbeen a cursed piece of ill-luck with Wildfire" he began;"happenedthe day before yesterday."
"What! broke his knees?" said the Squireafter taking a draughtof ale. "I thought you knew how to ride better than thatsir.I neverthrew a horse down in my life. If I hadI might ha'whistledfor anotherfor _my_ father wasn't quite so ready tounstringas some other fathers I know of. But they must turn over anewleaf_they_ must. What with mortgages and arrearsI'm asshort o'cash as a roadside pauper. And that fool Kimble says thenewspaper'stalking about peace. Whythe country wouldn't have aleg tostand on. Prices 'ud run down like a jackand I shouldnever getmy arrearsnot if I sold all the fellows up. And there'sthatdamned FowlerI won't put up with him any longer; I've toldWinthropto go to Cox this very day. The lying scoundrel told mehe'd besure to pay me a hundred last month. He takes advantagebecausehe's on that outlying farmand thinks I shall forget him."
The Squirehad delivered this speech in a coughing and interruptedmannerbut with no pause long enough for Godfrey to make it apretextfor taking up the word again. He felt that his father meantto wardoff any request for money on the ground of the misfortunewithWildfireand that the emphasis he had thus been led to lay onhisshortness of cash and his arrears was likely to produce anattitudeof mind the utmost unfavourable for his own disclosure.But hemust go onnow he had begun.
"It'sworse than breaking the horse's kneeshe's been staked andkilled"he saidas soon as his father was silentand had begunto cut hismeat. "But I wasn't thinking of asking you to buy meanotherhorse; I was only thinking I'd lost the means of paying youwith theprice of Wildfireas I'd meant to do. Dunsey took him tothe huntto sell him for me the other dayand after he'd made abargainfor a hundred and twenty with Brycehe went after thehoundsand took some fool's leap or other that did for the horse atonce. If it hadn't been for thatI should have paid you a hundredpoundsthis morning."
The Squirehad laid down his knife and forkand was staring at hisson inamazementnot being sufficiently quick of brain to form aprobableguess as to what could have caused so strange an inversionof thepaternal and filial relations as this proposition of his sonto pay hima hundred pounds.
"Thetruth issirI'm very sorryI was quite to blame"saidGodfrey. "Fowler did pay that hundred pounds. Hepaid it tomewhen Iwas over there one day last month. And Dunsey botheredme for themoneyand I let him have itbecause I hoped I should beable topay it you before this."
The Squirewas purple with anger before his son had done speakingand foundutterance difficult. "You let Dunsey have itsir? Andhow longhave you been so thick with Dunsey that you must _collogue_with himto embezzle my money? Are you turning out a scamp? I tellyou Iwon't have it. I'll turn the whole pack of you out of thehousetogetherand marry again. I'd have you to remembersirmyproperty'sgot no entail on it;since my grandfather's time theCasses cando as they like with their land. Remember thatsir.Let Dunseyhave the money! Why should you let Dunsey have themoney? There's some lie at the bottom of it."
"There'sno liesir" said Godfrey. "I wouldn't have spentthemoneymyselfbut Dunsey bothered meand I was a fooland let himhave it. But I meant to pay itwhether he did or not. That's thewholestory. I never meant to embezzle moneyand I'm not the manto do it. You never knew me do a dishonest tricksir."
"Where'sDunseythen? What do you stand talking there for? Goand fetchDunseyas I tell youand let him give account of what hewanted themoney forand what he's done with it. He shall repentit. I'll turn him out. I said I wouldand I'll do it. Heshan'tbrave me. Go and fetch him."
"Dunseyisn't come backsir."
"What! did he break his own neckthen?" said the Squirewithsomedisgust at the idea thatin that casehe could not fulfil histhreat.
"Nohe wasn't hurtI believefor the horse was found deadandDunseymust have walked off. I daresay we shall see him againby-and-by. I don't know where he is."
"Andwhat must you be letting him have my money for? Answer methat"said the Squireattacking Godfrey againsince Dunsey wasnot withinreach.
"WellsirI don't know" said Godfreyhesitatingly. That was afeebleevasionbut Godfrey was not fond of lyingandnot beingsufficientlyaware that no sort of duplicity can long flourishwithoutthe help of vocal falsehoodshe was quite unprepared withinventedmotives.
"Youdon't know? I tell you what it issir. You've been up tosometrickand you've been bribing him not to tell" said theSquirewith a sudden acuteness which startled Godfreywho felt hisheart beatviolently at the nearness of his father's guess. Thesuddenalarm pushed him on to take the next stepa very slightimpulsesuffices for that on a downward road.
"Whysir" he saidtrying to speak with careless ease"it wasa littleaffair between me and Dunsey; it's no matter to anybodyelse. It's hardly worth while to pry into young men's fooleries: itwouldn'thave made any difference to yousirif I'd not had thebad luckto lose Wildfire. I should have paid you the money."
"Fooleries! Pshaw! it's time you'd done with fooleries. And I'dhave youknowsiryou _must_ ha' done with 'em" said the Squirefrowningand casting an angry glance at his son. "Your goings-onare notwhat I shall find money for any longer. There's mygrandfatherhad his stables full o' horsesand kept a good housetooandin worse timesby what I can make out; and so might IifI hadn'tfour good-for-nothing fellows to hang on me likehorse-leeches. I've been too good a father to you allthat'swhat itis. But I shall pull upsir."
Godfreywas silent. He was not likely to be very penetrating in hisjudgmentsbut he had always had a sense that his father'sindulgencehad not been kindnessand had had a vague longing forsomediscipline that would have checked his own errant weakness andhelped hisbetter will. The Squire ate his bread and meat hastilytook adeep draught of alethen turned his chair from the tableand beganto speak again.
"It'llbe all the worse for youyou knowyou'd need try andhelp mekeep things together."
"WellsirI've often offered to take the management of thingsbut youknow you've taken it ill alwaysand seemed to think Iwanted topush you out of your place."
"Iknow nothing o' your offering or o' my taking it ill" said theSquirewhose memory consisted in certain strong impressionsunmodifiedby detail; "but I knowone while you seemed to bethinkingo' marryingand I didn't offer to put any obstacles inyour wayas some fathers would. I'd as lieve you marriedLammeter'sdaughter as anybody. I supposeif I'd said you nayyou'd ha'kept on with it; butfor want o' contradictionyou'vechangedyour mind. You're a shilly-shally fellow: you take afteryour poormother. She never had a will of her own; a woman has nocall foroneif she's got a proper man for her husband. But _your_wife hadneed have onefor you hardly know your own mind enough tomake bothyour legs walk one way. The lass hasn't said downrightshe won'thave youhas she?"
"No"said Godfreyfeeling very hot and uncomfortable; "but Idon'tthink she will."
"Think! why haven't you the courage to ask her? Do you stick toityouwant to have _her_that's the thing?"
"There'sno other woman I want to marry" said Godfreyevasively.
"Wellthenlet me make the offer for youthat's allif youhaven'tthe pluck to do it yourself. Lammeter isn't likely to beloath forhis daughter to marry into _my_ familyI should think.And as forthe pretty lassshe wouldn't have her cousinandthere'snobody elseas I seecould ha' stood in your way."
"I'drather let it beplease sirat present" said Godfreyinalarm. "I think she's a little offended with me just nowand Ishouldlike to speak for myself. A man must manage these things forhimself."
"Wellspeakthenand manage itand see if you can't turn over anew leaf. That's what a man must do when he thinks o' marrying."
"Idon't see how I can think of it at presentsir. You wouldn'tlike tosettle me on one of the farmsI supposeand I don't thinkshe'd cometo live in this house with all my brothers. It's adifferentsort of life to what she's been used to."
"Notcome to live in this house? Don't tell me. You ask herthat'sall" said the Squirewith a shortscornful laugh.
"I'drather let the thing beat presentsir" said Godfrey. "Ihope youwon't try to hurry it on by saying anything."
"Ishall do what I choose" said the Squire"and I shall letyouknow I'mmaster; else you may turn out and find an estate to dropintosomewhere else. Go out and tell Winthrop not to go to Cox'sbut waitfor me. And tell 'em to get my horse saddled. And stop:look outand get that hack o' Dunsey's soldand hand me the moneywill you? He'll keep no more hacks at my expense. And if you knowwhere he'ssneakingI daresay you doyou may tell him to sparehimselfthe journey o' coming back home. Let him turn ostlerandkeephimself. He shan't hang on me any more."
"Idon't know where he issir; and if I didit isn't my place totell himto keep away" said Godfreymoving towards the door.
"Confounditsirdon't stay arguingbut go and order my horse"said theSquiretaking up a pipe.
Godfreyleft the roomhardly knowing whether he were more relievedby thesense that the interview was ended without having made anychange inhis positionor more uneasy that he had entangled himselfstillfurther in prevarication and deceit. What had passed abouthisproposing to Nancy had raised a new alarmlest by someafter-dinnerwords of his father's to Mr. Lammeter he should bethrowninto the embarrassment of being obliged absolutely to declineher whenshe seemed to be within his reach. He fled to his usualrefugethat of hoping for some unforeseen turn of fortunesomefavourablechance which would save him from unpleasant consequencesperhapseven justify his insincerity by manifesting its prudence.And inthis point of trusting to some throw of fortune's diceGodfreycan hardly be called specially old-fashioned. FavourableChanceIfancyis the god of all men who follow their own devicesinstead ofobeying a law they believe in. Let even a polished manof thesedays get into a position he is ashamed to avowand hismind willbe bent on all the possible issues that may deliver himfrom thecalculable results of that position. Let him live outsidehisincomeor shirk the resolute honest work that brings wagesandhe willpresently find himself dreaming of a possible benefactorapossiblesimpleton who may be cajoled into using his interestapossiblestate of mind in some possible person not yet forthcoming.Let himneglect the responsibilities of his officeand he willinevitablyanchor himself on the chance that the thing left undonemay turnout not to be of the supposed importance. Let him betrayhisfriend's confidenceand he will adore that same cunningcomplexitycalled Chancewhich gives him the hope that his friendwill neverknow. Let him forsake a decent craft that he may pursuethegentilities of a profession to which nature never called himand hisreligion will infallibly be the worship of blessed Chancewhich hewill believe in as the mighty creator of success. The evilprincipledeprecated in that religion is the orderly sequence bywhich theseed brings forth a crop after its kind.
JusticeMalam was naturally regarded in Tarley and Raveloe as a manofcapacious mindseeing that he could draw much wider conclusionswithoutevidence than could be expected of his neighbours who werenot on theCommission of the Peace. Such a man was not likely toneglectthe clue of the tinder-boxand an inquiry was set on footconcerninga pedlarname unknownwith curly black hair and aforeigncomplexioncarrying a box of cutlery and jewelleryandwearinglarge rings in his ears. But either because inquiry was tooslow-footedto overtake himor because the description applied toso manypedlars that inquiry did not know how to choose among themweekspassed awayand there was no other result concerning therobberythan a gradual cessation of the excitement it had caused inRaveloe. Dunstan Cass's absence was hardly a subject of remark: hehad oncebefore had a quarrel with his fatherand had gone offnobodyknew whitherto return at the end of six weekstake up hisoldquarters unforbiddenand swagger as usual. His own familywhoequallyexpected this issuewith the sole difference that theSquire wasdetermined this time to forbid him the old quartersnevermentioned his absence; and when his uncle Kimble or Mr. Osgoodnoticeditthe story of his having killed Wildfireand committedsomeoffence against his fatherwas enough to prevent surprise. Toconnectthe fact of Dunsey's disappearance with that of the robberyoccurringon the same daylay quite away from the track of everyone'sthoughteven Godfrey'swho had better reason than any oneelse toknow what his brother was capable of. He remembered nomention ofthe weaver between them since the timetwelve years agowhen itwas their boyish sport to deride him; andbesideshisimaginationconstantly created an _alibi_ for Dunstan: he saw himcontinuallyin some congenial hauntto which he had walked off onleavingWildfiresaw him sponging on chance acquaintancesandmeditatinga return home to the old amusement of tormenting hiselderbrother. Even if any brain in Raveloe had put the said twofactstogetherI doubt whether a combination so injurious to theprescriptiverespectability of a family with a mural monument andvenerabletankardswould not have been suppressed as of unsoundtendency. But Christmas puddingsbrawnand abundance ofspirituousliquorsthrowing the mental originality into the channelofnightmareare great preservatives against a dangerousspontaneityof waking thought.
When therobbery was talked of at the Rainbow and elsewherein goodcompanythe balance continued to waver between the rationalexplanationfounded on the tinder-boxand the theory of animpenetrablemystery that mocked investigation. The advocates ofthetinder-box-and-pedlar view considered the other side amuddle-headedand credulous setwhobecause they themselves werewall-eyedsupposed everybody else to have the same blank outlook;and theadherents of the inexplicable more than hinted that theirantagonistswere animals inclined to crow before they had found anycornmereskimming-dishes in point of depthwhoseclear-sightednessconsisted in supposing there was nothing behind abarn-doorbecause they couldn't see through it; so thatthoughtheircontroversy did not serve to elicit the fact concerning therobberyit elicited some true opinions of collateral importance.
But whilepoor Silas's loss served thus to brush the slow current ofRaveloeconversationSilas himself was feeling the witheringdesolationof that bereavement about which his neighbours werearguing attheir ease. To any one who had observed him before helost hisgoldit might have seemed that so withered and shrunken alife ashis could hardly be susceptible of a bruisecould hardlyendure anysubtraction but such as would put an end to italtogether. But in reality it had been an eager lifefilled withimmediatepurpose which fenced him in from the widecheerlessunknown. It had been a clinging life; and though the object roundwhich itsfibres had clung was a dead disrupted thingit satisfiedthe needfor clinging. But now the fence was broken downthesupportwas snatched away. Marner's thoughts could no longer movein theirold roundand were baffled by a blank like that whichmeets aplodding ant when the earth has broken away on its homewardpath. The loom was thereand the weavingand the growing patternin thecloth; but the bright treasure in the hole under his feet wasgone; theprospect of handling and counting it was gone: the eveninghad nophantasm of delight to still the poor soul's craving. Thethought ofthe money he would get by his actual work could bring nojoyforits meagre image was only a fresh reminder of his loss; andhope wastoo heavily crushed by the sudden blow for his imaginationto dwellon the growth of a new hoard from that small beginning.
He filledup the blank with grief. As he sat weavinghe every nowand thenmoaned lowlike one in pain: it was the sign that histhoughtshad come round again to the sudden chasmto the emptyevening-time. And all the eveningas he sat in his loneliness byhis dullfirehe leaned his elbows on his kneesand clasped hishead withhis handsand moaned very lownot as one who seeks tobe heard.
And yet hewas not utterly forsaken in his trouble. The repulsionMarner hadalways created in his neighbours was partly dissipated bythe newlight in which this misfortune had shown him. Instead of aman whohad more cunning than honest folks could come byandwhatwas worsehad not the inclination to use that cunning in aneighbourlywayit was now apparent that Silas had not cunningenough tokeep his own. He was generally spoken of as a "poormushedcreatur"; and that avoidance of his neighbourswhich hadbeforebeen referred to his ill-will and to a probable addiction toworsecompanywas now considered mere craziness.
Thischange to a kindlier feeling was shown in various ways. Theodour ofChristmas cooking being on the windit was the season whensuperfluouspork and black puddings are suggestive of charity inwell-to-dofamilies; and Silas's misfortune had brought himuppermostin the memory of housekeepers like Mrs. Osgood.Mr.Crackenthorptoowhile he admonished Silas that his money hadprobablybeen taken from him because he thought too much of it andnever cameto churchenforced the doctrine by a present of pigs'pettitoeswell calculated to dissipate unfounded prejudices againsttheclerical character. Neighbours who had nothing but verbalconsolationto give showed a disposition not only to greet Silas anddiscusshis misfortune at some length when they encountered him inthevillagebut also to take the trouble of calling at his cottageandgetting him to repeat all the details on the very spot; and thenthey wouldtry to cheer him by saying"WellMaster Marneryou'reno worseoff nor other poor folksafter all; and if you was to becrippledthe parish 'ud give you a 'lowance."
I supposeone reason why we are seldom able to comfort ourneighbourswith our words is that our goodwill gets adulteratedinspite ofourselvesbefore it can pass our lips. We can send blackpuddingsand pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our ownegoism;but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of amingledsoil. There was a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe;but it wasoften of a beery and bungling sortand took the shapeleastallied to the complimentary and hypocritical.
Mr. Maceyfor examplecoming one evening expressly to let Silasknow thatrecent events had given him the advantage of standing morefavourablyin the opinion of a man whose judgment was not formedlightlyopened the conversation by sayingas soon as he had seatedhimselfand adjusted his thumbs
"ComeMaster Marnerwhyyou've no call to sit a-moaning. You'rea dealbetter off to ha' lost your moneynor to ha' kep it by foulmeans. I used to thinkwhen you first come into these partsasyou wereno better nor you should be; you were younger a deal thanwhat youare now; but you were allays a staringwhite-facedcreaturpartly like a bald-faced calfas I may say. But there'snoknowing: it isn't every queer-looksed thing as Old Harry's hadthe makingofI meanspeaking o' toads and such; for they'reoftenharmlesslikeand useful against varmin. And it's prettymuch thesame wi' youas fur as I can see. Though as to the yarbsand stuffto cure the breathingif you brought that sort o'knowledgefrom distant partsyou might ha' been a bit freer of it.And if theknowledge wasn't well come bywhyyou might ha' made upfor it bycoming to church reg'lar; foras for the children as theWise WomancharmedI've been at the christening of 'em again andagainandthey took the water just as well. And that's reasonable;for if OldHarry's a mind to do a bit o' kindness for a holidaylikewho's got anything against it? That's my thinking; and I'vebeen clerko' this parish forty yearand I knowwhen the parsonand medoes the cussing of a Ash Wednesdaythere's no cussing o'folks ashave a mind to be cured without a doctorlet Kimble saywhat hewill. And soMaster Marneras I was sayingfor there'swindingsi' things as they may carry you to the fur end o' theprayer-bookafore you get back to 'emmy advice isas you keepup yoursperrits; for as for thinking you're a deep unand ha' gotmoreinside you nor 'ull bear daylightI'm not o' that opinion atallandso I tell the neighbours. Forsays Iyou talk o' MasterMarnermaking out a talewhyit's nonsensethat is: it 'ud takea 'cuteman to make a tale like that; andsays Ihe looked asscared asa rabbit."
Duringthis discursive address Silas had continued motionless in hispreviousattitudeleaning his elbows on his kneesand pressing hishandsagainst his head. Mr. Maceynot doubting that he had beenlistenedtopausedin the expectation of some appreciatory replybut Marnerremained silent. He had a sense that the old man meantto begood-natured and neighbourly; but the kindness fell on him assunshinefalls on the wretchedhe had no heart to taste itandfelt thatit was very far off him.
"ComeMaster Marnerhave you got nothing to say to that?" saidMr. Maceyat lastwith a slight accent of impatience.
"Oh"said Marnerslowlyshaking his head between his hands"Ithankyouthank youkindly."
"Ayeayeto be sure: I thought you would" said Mr. Macey; "andmy adviceishave you got a Sunday suit?"
"Idoubted it was so" said Mr. Macey. "Nowlet meadvise youto get aSunday suit: there's Tookeyhe's a poor creaturbut he'sgot mytailoring businessand some o' my money in itand he shallmake asuit at a low priceand give you trustand then you cancome tochurchand be a bit neighbourly. Whyyou've never hearedme say"Amen" since you come into these partsand I recommend youto lose notimefor it'll be poor work when Tookey has it all tohimselffor I mayn't be equil to stand i' the desk at allcomeanotherwinter." Here Mr. Macey pausedperhaps expecting somesign ofemotion in his hearer; but not observing anyhe went on."Andas for the money for the suit o' clotheswhyyou get amatter ofa pound a-week at your weavingMaster Marnerand you'rea youngmanehfor all you look so mushed. Whyyou couldn't ha'beenfive-and-twenty when you come into these partseh?"
Silasstarted a little at the change to a questioning toneandansweredmildly"I don't know; I can't rightly sayit's a longwhilesince."
Afterreceiving such an answer as thisit is not surprising thatMr. Maceyobservedlater on in the evening at the RainbowthatMarner'shead was "all of a muddle"and that it was to be doubtedif he everknew when Sunday came roundwhich showed him a worseheathenthan many a dog.
Another ofSilas's comfortersbesides Mr. Maceycame to him with amindhighly charged on the same topic. This was Mrs. Winthropthewheelwright'swife. The inhabitants of Raveloe were not severelyregular intheir church-goingand perhaps there was hardly a personin theparish who would not have held that to go to church everySunday inthe calendar would have shown a greedy desire to standwell withHeavenand get an undue advantage over their neighboursa wish tobe better than the "common run"that would haveimplied areflection on those who had had godfathers and godmothersas well asthemselvesand had an equal right to theburying-service. At the same timeit was understood to berequisitefor all who were not household servantsor young mentotake thesacrament at one of the great festivals: Squire Casshimselftook it on Christmas-day; while those who were held to be"goodlivers" went to church with greaterthough still withmoderatefrequency.
Mrs.Winthrop was one of these: she was in all respects a woman ofscrupulousconscienceso eager for duties that life seemed to offerthem tooscantily unless she rose at half-past fourthough thisthrew ascarcity of work over the more advanced hours of themorningwhich it was a constant problem with her to remove. Yetshe hadnot the vixenish temper which is sometimes supposed to be anecessarycondition of such habits: she was a very mildpatientwomanwhose nature it was to seek out all the sadder and moreseriouselements of lifeand pasture her mind upon them. She wasthe personalways first thought of in Raveloe when there was illnessor deathin a familywhen leeches were to be appliedor there wasa suddendisappointment in a monthly nurse. She was a "comfortablewoman"good-lookingfresh-complexionedhaving her lips alwaysslightlyscrewedas if she felt herself in a sick-room with thedoctor orthe clergyman present. But she was never whimpering; noone hadseen her shed tears; she was simply grave and inclined toshake herhead and sighalmost imperceptiblylike a funerealmournerwho is not a relation. It seemed surprising that BenWinthropwho loved his quart-pot and his jokegot along so wellwithDolly; but she took her husband's jokes and joviality aspatientlyas everything elseconsidering that "men _would_ beso"and viewing the stronger sex in the light of animals whom ithadpleased Heaven to make naturally troublesomelike bulls andturkey-cocks.
This goodwholesome woman could hardly fail to have her mind drawnstronglytowards Silas Marnernow that he appeared in the light ofasufferer; and one Sunday afternoon she took her little boy Aaronwith herand went to call on Silascarrying in her hand some smalllard-cakesflat paste-like articles much esteemed in Raveloe.Aaronanapple-cheeked youngster of sevenwith a clean starchedfrillwhich looked like a plate for the applesneeded all hisadventurouscuriosity to embolden him against the possibility thatthebig-eyed weaver might do him some bodily injury; and his dubietywas muchincreased whenon arriving at the Stone-pitsthey heardthemysterious sound of the loom.
"Ahit is as I thought" said Mrs. Winthropsadly.
They hadto knock loudly before Silas heard them; but when he didcome tothe door he showed no impatienceas he would once havedoneat avisit that had been unasked for and unexpected.Formerlyhis heart had been as a locked casket with its treasureinside;but now the casket was emptyand the lock was broken. Leftgroping indarknesswith his prop utterly goneSilas hadinevitablya sensethough a dull and half-despairing onethat ifany helpcame to him it must come from without; and there was aslightstirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-menafaintconsciousness of dependence on their goodwill. He opened thedoor wideto admit Dollybut without otherwise returning hergreetingthan by moving the armchair a few inches as a sign that shewas to sitdown in it. Dollyas soon as she was seatedremovedthe whitecloth that covered her lard-cakesand said in her gravestway
"I'da baking yisterdayMaster Marnerand the lard-cakes turnedout betternor commonand I'd ha' asked you to accept someifyou'dthought well. I don't eat such things myselffor a bit o'bread'swhat I like from one year's end to the other; but men'sstomichsare made so comicalthey want a changethey doI knowGod help'em."
Dollysighed gently as she held out the cakes to Silaswho thankedher kindlyand looked very close at themabsentlybeing accustomedto look soat everything he took into his handeyed all the whileby thewondering bright orbs of the small Aaronwho had made anoutwork ofhis mother's chairand was peeping round from behind it.
"There'sletters pricked on 'em" said Dolly. "I can't read'emmyselfand there's nobodynot Mr. Macey himselfrightly knowswhat theymean; but they've a good meaningfor they're the same asis on thepulpit-cloth at church. What are theyAaronmy dear?"
Aaronretreated completely behind his outwork.
"Ohgothat's naughty" said his mothermildly. "Wellwhativerthe letters arethey've a good meaning; and it's a stampas hasbeen in our houseBen saysever since he was a little unand hismother used to put it on the cakesand I've allays put iton too;for if there's any goodwe've need of it i' this world."
"It'sI. H. S." said Silasat which proof of learning Aaronpeepedround the chair again.
"Wellto be sureyou can read 'em off" said Dolly. "Ben'sread 'emto me many and many a timebut they slip out o' my mindagain; themore's the pityfor they're good letterselse theywouldn'tbe in the church; and so I prick 'em on all the loaves andall thecakesthough sometimes they won't holdbecause o' therisingforas I saidif there's any good to be got we've needof it i'this worldthat we have; and I hope they'll bring goodto youMaster Marnerfor it's wi' that will I brought you thecakes; andyou see the letters have held better nor common."
Silas wasas unable to interpret the letters as Dollybut there wasnopossibility of misunderstanding the desire to give comfort thatmadeitself heard in her quiet tones. He saidwith more feelingthanbefore"Thank youthank you kindly." But he laid downthe cakesand seated himself absentlydrearily unconscious of anydistinctbenefit towards which the cakes and the lettersor evenDolly'skindnesscould tend for him.
"Ahif there's good anywherewe've need of it" repeated Dollywho didnot lightly forsake a serviceable phrase. She looked atSilaspityingly as she went on. "But you didn't hear thechurch-bellsthis morningMaster Marner? I doubt you didn't knowit wasSunday. Living so lone hereyou lose your countI daresay;and thenwhen your loom makes a noiseyou can't hear the bellsmorepartic'lar now the frost kills the sound."
"YesI did; I heard 'em" said Silasto whom Sunday bells were amereaccident of the dayand not part of its sacredness. There hadbeen nobells in Lantern Yard.
"Dearheart!" said Dollypausing before she spoke again. "Butwhat apity it is you should work of a Sundayand not cleanyourselfifyou _didn't_ go to church; for if you'd a roastingbititmight be as you couldn't leave itbeing a lone man. Butthere'sthe bakehusif you could make up your mind to spend atwopenceon the oven now and thennot every weekin courseIshouldn'tlike to do that myselfyou might carry your bit o'dinnertherefor it's nothing but right to have a bit o' summat hotof aSundayand not to make it as you can't know your dinner fromSaturday. But nowupo' Christmas-daythis blessed Christmas as isevercomingif you was to take your dinner to the bakehusand goto churchand see the holly and the yewand hear the anthimandthen takethe sacramen'you'd be a deal the betterand you'd knowwhich endyou stood onand you could put your trust i' Them asknowsbetter nor we doseein' you'd ha' done what it lies on us allto do."
Dolly'sexhortationwhich was an unusually long effort of speechfor herwas uttered in the soothing persuasive tone with which shewould havetried to prevail on a sick man to take his medicineor abasin ofgruel for which he had no appetite. Silas had never beforebeenclosely urged on the point of his absence from churchwhichhad onlybeen thought of as a part of his general queerness; and hewas toodirect and simple to evade Dolly's appeal.
"Naynay" he said"I know nothing o' church. I've neverbeentochurch."
"No!" said Dollyin a low tone of wonderment. Then bethinkingherself ofSilas's advent from an unknown countryshe said"Couldit ha'been as they'd no church where you was born?"
"Ohyes" said Silasmeditativelysitting in his usual postureof leaningon his kneesand supporting his head. "There waschurchesamanyit was a big town. But I knew nothing of 'emI went tochapel."
Dolly wasmuch puzzled at this new wordbut she was rather afraidofinquiring furtherlest "chapel" might mean some haunt ofwickedness. After a little thoughtshe said
"WellMaster Marnerit's niver too late to turn over a new leafand ifyou've niver had no churchthere's no telling the good it'lldo you. For I feel so set up and comfortable as niver waswhenI've beenand heard the prayersand the singing to the praise andglory o'Godas Mr. Macey gives outand Mr. Crackenthorp sayinggoodwordsand more partic'lar on Sacramen' Day; and if a bit o'troublecomesI feel as I can put up wi' itfor I've looked forhelp i'the right quarterand gev myself up to Them as we must allgiveourselves up to at the last; and if we'n done our partitisn't tobe believed as Them as are above us 'ull be worse nor weareandcome short o' Their'n."
PoorDolly's exposition of her simple Raveloe theology fell ratherunmeaninglyon Silas's earsfor there was no word in it that couldrouse amemory of what he had known as religionand hiscomprehensionwas quite baffled by the plural pronounwhich was noheresy ofDolly'sbut only her way of avoiding a presumptuousfamiliarity. He remained silentnot feeling inclined to assent tothe partof Dolly's speech which he fully understoodherrecommendationthat he should go to church. IndeedSilas was sounaccustomedto talk beyond the brief questions and answersnecessaryfor the transaction of his simple businessthat words didnot easilycome to him without the urgency of a distinct purpose.
But nowlittle Aaronhaving become used to the weaver's awfulpresencehad advanced to his mother's sideand Silasseeming tonotice himfor the first timetried to return Dolly's signs ofgood-willby offering the lad a bit of lard-cake. Aaron shrank backa littleand rubbed his head against his mother's shoulderbutstillthought the piece of cake worth the risk of putting his handout forit.
"Ohfor shameAaron" said his mothertaking him on her laphowever;"whyyou don't want cake again yet awhile. He'swonderfulhearty" she went onwith a little sigh"that he isGodknows. He's my youngestand we spoil him sadlyfor either meor thefather must allays hev him in our sightthat we must."
Shestroked Aaron's brown headand thought it must do Master Marnergood tosee such a "pictur of a child". But Marneron theotherside ofthe hearthsaw the neat-featured rosy face as a mere dimroundwith two dark spots in it.
"Andhe's got a voice like a birdyou wouldn't think" Dollywent on;"he can sing a Christmas carril as his father's taughthim; and Itake it for a token as he'll come to goodas he canlearn thegood tunes so quick. ComeAaronstan' up and sing thecarril toMaster Marnercome."
Aaronreplied by rubbing his forehead against his mother's shoulder.
"Ohthat's naughty" said Dollygently. "Stan' upwhenmothertells youand let me hold the cake till you've done."
Aaron wasnot indisposed to display his talentseven to an ogreunderprotecting circumstances; and after a few more signs ofcoynessconsisting chiefly in rubbing the backs of his hands overhis eyesand then peeping between them at Master Marnerto see ifhe lookedanxious for the "carril"he at length allowed his headto be dulyadjustedand standing behind the tablewhich let himappearabove it only as far as his broad frillso that he lookedlike acherubic head untroubled with a bodyhe began with a clearchirpandin a melody that had the rhythm of an industrious hammer
"Godrest youmerry gentlemenLetnothing you dismayForJesus Christ our SaviorWasborn on Christmas-day."
Dollylistened with a devout lookglancing at Marner in someconfidencethat this strain would help to allure him to church.
"That'sChristmas music" she saidwhen Aaron had endedand hadsecuredhis piece of cake again. "There's no other music equil totheChristmas music"Hark the erol angils sing." And youmayjudge whatit is at churchMaster Marnerwith the bassoon and thevoicesasyou can't help thinking you've got to a better placea'readyforI wouldn't speak ill o' this worldseeing as Themput us init as knows bestbut what wi' the drinkand thequarrellingand the bad illnessesand the hard dyingas I've seentimes andtimesone's thankful to hear of a better. The boy singsprettydon't heMaster Marner?"
"Yes"said Silasabsently"very pretty."
TheChristmas carolwith its hammer-like rhythmhad fallen on hisears asstrange musicquite unlike a hymnand could have none ofthe effectDolly contemplated. But he wanted to show her that hewasgratefuland the only mode that occurred to him was to offerAaron abit more cake.
"Ohnothank youMaster Marner" said Dollyholding downAaron'swilling hands. "We must be going home now. And so Iwishyougood-byeMaster Marner; and if you ever feel anyways bad inyourinsideas you can't fend for yourselfI'll come and clean upfor youand get you a bit o' victualand willing. But I beg andpray ofyou to leave off weaving of a Sundayfor it's bad for soulandbodyand the money as comes i' that way 'ull be a bad bed tolie downon at the lastif it doesn't fly awaynobody knows wherelike thewhite frost. And you'll excuse me being that free withyouMaster Marnerfor I wish you wellI do. Make your bowAaron."
Silas said"Good-byeand thank you kindly" as he opened the doorfor Dollybut he couldn't help feeling relieved when she was gonerelievedthat he might weave again and moan at his ease. Hersimpleview of life and its comfortsby which she had tried tocheer himwas only like a report of unknown objectswhich hisimaginationcould not fashion. The fountains of human love and offaith in adivine love had not yet been unlockedand his soul wasstill theshrunken rivuletwith only this differencethat itslittlegroove of sand was blocked upand it wandered confusedlyagainstdark obstruction.
And sonotwithstanding the honest persuasions of Mr. Macey andDollyWinthropSilas spent his Christmas-day in lonelinesseatinghis meatin sadness of heartthough the meat had come to him as aneighbourlypresent. In the morning he looked out on the blackfrost thatseemed to press cruelly on every blade of grasswhilethehalf-icy red pool shivered under the bitter wind; but towardseveningthe snow began to falland curtained from him even thatdrearyoutlookshutting him close up with his narrow grief. And hesat in hisrobbed home through the livelong eveningnot caring toclose hisshutters or lock his doorpressing his head between hishands andmoaningtill the cold grasped him and told him that hisfire wasgrey.
Nobody inthis world but himself knew that he was the same SilasMarner whohad once loved his fellow with tender loveand trustedin anunseen goodness. Even to himself that past experience hadbecomedim.
But inRaveloe village the bells rang merrilyand the church wasfullerthan all through the rest of the yearwith red faces amongtheabundant dark-green boughsfaces prepared for a longerservicethan usual by an odorous breakfast of toast and ale. Thosegreenboughsthe hymn and anthem never heard but at Christmaseven theAthanasian Creedwhich was discriminated from the othersonly asbeing longer and of exceptional virtuesince it was onlyread onrare occasionsbrought a vague exulting sensefor whichthe grownmen could as little have found words as the childrenthatsomethinggreat and mysterious had been done for them in heavenabove andin earth belowwhich they were appropriating by theirpresence. And then the red faces made their way through the blackbitingfrost to their own homesfeeling themselves free for therest ofthe day to eatdrinkand be merryand using thatChristianfreedom without diffidence.
At SquireCass's family party that day nobody mentioned Dunstannobody wassorry for his absenceor feared it would be too long.The doctorand his wifeuncle and aunt Kimblewere thereand theannualChristmas talk was carried through without any omissionsrising tothe climax of Mr. Kimble's experience when he walked theLondonhospitals thirty years backtogether with strikingprofessionalanecdotes then gathered. Whereupon cards followedwith auntKimble's annual failure to follow suitand uncle Kimble'sirascibilityconcerning the odd trick which was rarely explicable tohimwhenit was not on his sidewithout a general visitation oftricks tosee that they were formed on sound principles: the wholebeingaccompanied by a strong steaming odour of spirits-and-water.
But theparty on Christmas-daybeing a strictly family partywasnot thepre-eminently brilliant celebration of the season at the RedHouse. It was the great dance on New Year's Eve that made the gloryof SquireCass's hospitalityas of his forefathers'time out ofmind. This was the occasion when all the society of Raveloe andTarleywhether old acquaintances separated by long rutty distancesor cooledacquaintances separated by misunderstandings concerningrunawaycalvesor acquaintances founded on intermittentcondescensioncounted on meeting and on comporting themselves withmutualappropriateness. This was the occasion on which fair dameswho cameon pillions sent their bandboxes before themsupplied withmore thantheir evening costume; for the feast was not to end with asingleeveninglike a paltry town entertainmentwhere the wholesupply ofeatables is put on the table at onceand bedding isscanty. The Red House was provisioned as if for a siege; and as forthe sparefeather-beds ready to be laid on floorsthey were asplentifulas might naturally be expected in a family that had killedits owngeese for many generations.
GodfreyCass was looking forward to this New Year's Eve with afoolishreckless longingthat made him half deaf to his importunatecompanionAnxiety.
"Dunseywill be coming home soon: there will be a great blow-upand howwill you bribe his spite to silence?" said Anxiety.
"Ohhe won't come home before New Year's Eveperhaps" saidGodfrey;"and I shall sit by Nancy thenand dance with herandget a kindlook from her in spite of herself."
"Butmoney is wanted in another quarter" said Anxietyin aloudervoice"and how will you get it without selling yourmother'sdiamond pin? And if you don't get it...?"
"Wellbut something may happen to make things easier. At anyratethere's one pleasure for me close at hand: Nancy is coming."
"Yesand suppose your father should bring matters to a pass thatwilloblige you to decline marrying herand to give yourreasons?"
"Holdyour tongueand don't worry me. I can see Nancy's eyesjust asthey will look at meand feel her hand in mine already."
ButAnxiety went onthough in noisy Christmas company; refusing tobe utterlyquieted even by much drinking.
SomewomenI grantwould not appear to advantage seated on apillionand attired in a drab joseph and a drab beaver-bonnetwitha crownresembling a small stew-pan; for a garment suggesting acoachman'sgreatcoatcut out under an exiguity of cloth that wouldonly allowof miniature capesis not well adapted to concealdeficienciesof contournor is drab a colour that will throw sallowcheeksinto lively contrast. It was all the greater triumph to MissNancyLammeter's beauty that she looked thoroughly bewitching inthatcostumeasseated on the pillion behind her tallerectfathershe held one arm round himand looked downwith open-eyedanxietyat the treacherous snow-covered pools and puddleswhichsent upformidable splashings of mud under the stamp of Dobbin'sfoot. A painter wouldperhapshave preferred her in those momentswhen shewas free from self-consciousness; but certainly the bloomon hercheeks was at its highest point of contrast with thesurroundingdrab when she arrived at the door of the Red Houseandsaw Mr.Godfrey Cass ready to lift her from the pillion. She wishedher sisterPriscilla had come up at the same time behind theservantfor then she would have contrived that Mr. Godfrey shouldhavelifted off Priscilla firstandin the meantimeshe wouldhavepersuaded her father to go round to the horse-block instead ofalightingat the door-steps. It was very painfulwhen you had madeit quiteclear to a young man that you were determined not to marryhimhowever much he might wish itthat he would still continue topay youmarked attentions; besideswhy didn't he always show thesameattentionsif he meant them sincerelyinstead of being sostrange asMr. Godfrey Cass wassometimes behaving as if he didn'twant tospeak to herand taking no notice of her for weeks andweeksandthenall on a suddenalmost making love again?Moreoverit was quite plain he had no real love for herelse hewould notlet people have _that_ to say of him which they did say.Did hesuppose that Miss Nancy Lammeter was to be won by any mansquire orno squirewho led a bad life? That was not what she hadbeen usedto see in her own fatherwho was the soberest and bestman inthat country-sideonly a little hot and hasty now and thenif thingswere not done to the minute.
All thesethoughts rushed through Miss Nancy's mindin theirhabitualsuccessionin the moments between her first sight ofMr.Godfrey Cass standing at the door and her own arrival there.Happilythe Squire came out too and gave a loud greeting to herfathersothatsomehowunder cover of this noise she seemed tofindconcealment for her confusion and neglect of any suitablyformalbehaviourwhile she was being lifted from the pillion bystrongarms which seemed to find her ridiculously small and light.And therewas the best reason for hastening into the house at oncesince thesnow was beginning to fall againthreatening anunpleasantjourney for such guests as were still on the road. Thesewere asmall minority; for already the afternoon was beginning todeclineand there would not be too much time for the ladies whocame froma distance to attire themselves in readiness for the earlytea whichwas to inspirit them for the dance.
There wasa buzz of voices through the houseas Miss Nancy enteredmingledwith the scrape of a fiddle preluding in the kitchen; buttheLammeters were guests whose arrival had evidently been thoughtof so muchthat it had been watched for from the windowsforMrs.Kimblewho did the honours at the Red House on these greatoccasionscame forward to meet Miss Nancy in the halland conductherup-stairs. Mrs. Kimble was the Squire's sisteras well as thedoctor'swifea double dignitywith which her diameter was indirectproportion; so thata journey up-stairs being ratherfatiguingto hershe did not oppose Miss Nancy's request to beallowed tofind her way alone to the Blue Roomwhere the MissLammeters'bandboxes had been deposited on their arrival in themorning.
There washardly a bedroom in the house where feminine complimentswere notpassing and feminine toilettes going forwardin variousstagesinspace made scanty by extra beds spread upon the floor;and MissNancyas she entered the Blue Roomhad to make her littleformalcurtsy to a group of six. On the one handthere were ladiesno lessimportant than the two Miss Gunnsthe wine merchant'sdaughtersfrom Lytherlydressed in the height of fashionwith thetightestskirts and the shortest waistsand gazed at by MissLadbrook(of the Old Pastures) with a shyness not unsustained byinwardcriticism. PartlyMiss Ladbrook felt that her own skirtmust beregarded as unduly lax by the Miss Gunnsand partlythatit was apity the Miss Gunns did not show that judgment which sheherselfwould show if she were in their placeby stopping a littleon thisside of the fashion. On the other handMrs. Ladbrook wasstandingin skull-cap and frontwith her turban in her handcurtsyingand smiling blandly and saying"After youma'am" toanotherlady in similar circumstanceswho had politely offered theprecedenceat the looking-glass.
But MissNancy had no sooner made her curtsy than an elderly ladycameforwardwhose full white muslin kerchiefand mob-cap roundher curlsof smooth grey hairwere in daring contrast with thepuffedyellow satins and top-knotted caps of her neighbours. SheapproachedMiss Nancy with much primnessand saidwith a slowtreblesuavity
"NieceI hope I see you well in health." Miss Nancy kissed heraunt'scheek dutifullyand answeredwith the same sort of amiableprimness"Quite wellI thank youaunt; and I hope I see you thesame."
"Thankyouniece; I keep my health for the present. And how is mybrother-in-law?"
Thesedutiful questions and answers were continued until it wasascertainedin detail that the Lammeters were all as well as usualand theOsgoods likewisealso that niece Priscilla must certainlyarriveshortlyand that travelling on pillions in snowy weather wasunpleasantthough a joseph was a great protection. Then Nancy wasformallyintroduced to her aunt's visitorsthe Miss Gunnsas beingthedaughters of a mother known to _their_ motherthough now forthe firsttime induced to make a journey into these parts; and theseladieswere so taken by surprise at finding such a lovely face andfigure inan out-of-the-way country placethat they began to feelsomecuriosity about the dress she would put on when she took offherjoseph. Miss Nancywhose thoughts were always conducted withthepropriety and moderation conspicuous in her mannersremarked toherselfthat the Miss Gunns were rather hard-featured thanotherwiseand that such very low dresses as they wore might havebeenattributed to vanity if their shoulders had been prettybutthatbeing as they wereit was not reasonable to suppose that theyshowedtheir necks from a love of displaybut rather from someobligationnot inconsistent with sense and modesty. She feltconvincedas she opened her boxthat this must be her auntOsgood'sopinionfor Miss Nancy's mind resembled her aunt's to adegreethat everybody said was surprisingconsidering the kinshipwas on Mr.Osgood's side; and though you might not have supposed itfrom theformality of their greetingthere was a devoted attachmentand mutualadmiration between aunt and niece. Even Miss Nancy'srefusal ofher cousin Gilbert Osgood (on the ground solely that hewas hercousin)though it had grieved her aunt greatlyhad not inthe leastcooled the preference which had determined her to leaveNancyseveral of her hereditary ornamentslet Gilbert's future wifebe whomshe might.
Three ofthe ladies quickly retiredbut the Miss Gunns were quitecontentthat Mrs. Osgood's inclination to remain with her niece gavethem alsoa reason for staying to see the rustic beauty's toilette.And it wasreally a pleasurefrom the first opening of thebandboxwhere everything smelt of lavender and rose-leavesto theclaspingof the small coral necklace that fitted closely round herlittlewhite neck. Everything belonging to Miss Nancy was ofdelicatepurity and nattiness: not a crease was where it had nobusinessto benot a bit of her linen professed whiteness withoutfulfillingits profession; the very pins on her pincushion werestuck inafter a pattern from which she was careful to allow noaberration;and as for her own personit gave the same idea ofperfectunvarying neatness as the body of a little bird. It is truethat herlight-brown hair was cropped behind like a boy'sand wasdressed infront in a number of flat ringsthat lay quite away fromher face;but there was no sort of coiffure that could make MissNancy'scheek and neck look otherwise than pretty; and when at lastshe stoodcomplete in her silvery twilled silkher lace tuckerhercoralnecklaceand coral ear-dropsthe Miss Gunns could seenothing tocriticise except her handswhich bore the traces ofbutter-makingcheese-crushingand even still coarser work. ButMiss Nancywas not ashamed of thatfor even while she was dressingshenarrated to her aunt how she and Priscilla had packed theirboxesyesterdaybecause this morning was baking morningand sincethey wereleaving homeit was desirable to make a good supply ofmeat-piesfor the kitchen; and as she concluded this judiciousremarkshe turned to the Miss Gunns that she might not commit therudenessof not including them in the conversation. The Miss Gunnssmiledstifflyand thought what a pity it was that these richcountrypeoplewho could afford to buy such good clothes (reallyMissNancy's lace and silk were very costly)should be brought upin utterignorance and vulgarity. She actually said "mate" for"meat""'appen" for "perhaps"and "oss" for"horse"whichtoyoung ladies living in good Lytherly societywhohabituallysaid 'orseeven in domestic privacyand only said'appen onthe right occasionswas necessarily shocking. MissNancyindeedhad never been to any school higher than DameTedman's:her acquaintance with profane literature hardly wentbeyond therhymes she had worked in her large sampler under the lamband theshepherdess; and in order to balance an accountshe wasobliged toeffect her subtraction by removing visible metallicshillingsand sixpences from a visible metallic total. There ishardly aservant-maid in these days who is not better informed thanMissNancy; yet she had the essential attributes of a ladyhighveracitydelicate honour in her dealingsdeference to othersandrefinedpersonal habitsand lest these should not suffice toconvincegrammatical fair ones that her feelings can at all resembletheirsIwill add that she was slightly proud and exactingand asconstantin her affection towards a baseless opinion as towards anerringlover.
Theanxiety about sister Priscillawhich had grown rather active bythe timethe coral necklace was claspedwas happily ended by theentranceof that cheerful-looking lady herselfwith a face madeblowsy bycold and damp. After the first questions and greetingsshe turnedto Nancyand surveyed her from head to footthenwheeledher roundto ascertain that the back view was equallyfaultless.
"Whatdo you think o' _these_ gownsaunt Osgood?" saidPriscillawhile Nancy helped her to unrobe.
"Veryhandsome indeedniece" said Mrs. Osgoodwith a slightincreaseof formality. She always thought niece Priscilla toorough.
"I'mobliged to have the same as Nancyyou knowfor all I'm fiveyearsolderand it makes me look yallow; for she never _will_ haveanythingwithout I have mine just like itbecause she wants us tolook likesisters. And I tell herfolks 'ull think it's myweaknessmakes me fancy as I shall look pretty in what she looksprettyin. For I _am_ uglythere's no denying that: I feature myfather'sfamily. Butlaw! I don't minddo you?" Priscilla hereturned tothe Miss Gunnsrattling on in too much preoccupation withthedelight of talkingto notice that her candour was notappreciated. "The pretty uns do for fly-catchersthey keep themen offus. I've no opinion o' the menMiss GunnI don't knowwhat _you_have. And as for fretting and stewing about what_they_'llthink of you from morning till nightand making your lifeuneasyabout what they're doing when they're out o' your sightasI tellNancyit's a folly no woman need be guilty ofif she's gota goodfather and a good home: let her leave it to them as have gotno fortinand can't help themselves. As I sayMr.Have-your-own-way is the best husbandand the only one I'd everpromise toobey. I know it isn't pleasantwhen you've been used toliving ina big wayand managing hogsheads and all thatto go andput yournose in by somebody else's firesideor to sit down byyourselfto a scrag or a knuckle; butthank God! my father's asober manand likely to live; and if you've got a man by thechimney-cornerit doesn't matter if he's childishthe businessneedn't bebroke up."
Thedelicate process of getting her narrow gown over her headwithoutinjury to her smooth curlsobliged Miss Priscilla to pausein thisrapid survey of lifeand Mrs. Osgood seized the opportunityof risingand saying
"Wellnieceyou'll follow us. The Miss Gunns will like to godown."
"Sister"said Nancywhen they were alone"you've offended theMissGunnsI'm sure."
"Whathave I donechild?" said Priscillain some alarm.
"Whyyou asked them if they minded about being uglyyou're soveryblunt."
"Lawdid I? Wellit popped out: it's a mercy I said no moreforI'm a badun to live with folks when they don't like the truth. Butas forbeing uglylook at mechildin this silver-coloured silkI told youhow it 'ud beI look as yallow as a daffadil.Anybody'ud say you wanted to make a mawkin of me."
"NoPriscydon't say so. I begged and prayed of you not to letus havethis silk if you'd like another better. I was willing tohave_your_ choiceyou know I was" said Nancyin anxiousself-vindication.
"Nonsensechild! you know you'd set your heart on this; andreasongoodfor you're the colour o' cream. It 'ud be fine doingsfor you todress yourself to suit _my_ skin. What I find faultwithisthat notion o' yours as I must dress myself just like you.But you doas you like with meyou always didfrom when firstyou begunto walk. If you wanted to go the field's lengththefield'slength you'd go; and there was no whipping youfor youlooked asprim and innicent as a daisy all the while."
"Priscy"said Nancygentlyas she fastened a coral necklaceexactlylike her ownround Priscilla's neckwhich was very farfrom beinglike her own"I'm sure I'm willing to give way as faras isrightbut who shouldn't dress alike if it isn't sisters?Would youhave us go about looking as if we were no kin to oneanotherusthat have got no mother and not another sister in theworld? I'd do what was rightif I dressed in a gown dyed withcheese-colouring;and I'd rather you'd chooseand let me wear whatpleasesyou."
"Thereyou go again! You'd come round to the same thing if onetalked toyou from Saturday night till Saturday morning. It'll befine funto see how you'll master your husband and never raise yourvoiceabove the singing o' the kettle all the while. I like to seethe menmastered!"
"Don'ttalk _so_Priscy" said Nancyblushing. "You know Idon't meanever to be married."
"Ohyou never mean a fiddlestick's end!" said Priscillaasshearrangedher discarded dressand closed her bandbox. "Who shall_I_ haveto work for when father's goneif you are to go and takenotions inyour head and be an old maidbecause some folks are nobetterthan they should be? I haven't a bit o' patience with yousitting onan addled egg for everas if there was never a fresh unin theworld. One old maid's enough out o' two sisters; and I shalldo creditto a single lifefor God A'mighty meant me for it. Comewe can godown now. I'm as ready as a mawkin _can_ bethere'snothingawanting to frighten the crowsnow I've got my ear-droppersin."
As the twoMiss Lammeters walked into the large parlour togetherany onewho did not know the character of both might certainly havesupposedthat the reason why the square-shoulderedclumsyhigh-featuredPriscilla wore a dress the facsimile of her prettysister'swas either the mistaken vanity of the oneor themaliciouscontrivance of the other in order to set off her own rarebeauty. But the good-natured self-forgetful cheeriness andcommon-senseof Priscilla would soon have dissipated the onesuspicion;and the modest calm of Nancy's speech and manners toldclearly ofa mind free from all disavowed devices.
Places ofhonour had been kept for the Miss Lammeters near the headof theprincipal tea-table in the wainscoted parlournow lookingfresh andpleasant with handsome branches of hollyyewand laurelfrom theabundant growths of the old garden; and Nancy felt aninwardflutterthat no firmness of purpose could preventwhen shesaw Mr.Godfrey Cass advancing to lead her to a seat between himselfand Mr.Crackenthorpwhile Priscilla was called to the oppositesidebetween her father and the Squire. It certainly did make somedifferenceto Nancy that the lover she had given up was the youngman ofquite the highest consequence in the parishat home in avenerableand unique parlourwhich was the extremity of grandeur inherexperiencea parlour where _she_ might one day have beenmistresswith the consciousness that she was spoken of as "MadamCass"the Squire's wife. These circumstances exalted her inwarddrama inher own eyesand deepened the emphasis with which shedeclaredto herself that not the most dazzling rank should induceher tomarry a man whose conduct showed him careless of hischaracterbut that"love oncelove always"was the motto of atrue andpure womanand no man should ever have any right over herwhichwould be a call on her to destroy the dried flowers that shetreasuredand always would treasurefor Godfrey Cass's sake. AndNancy wascapable of keeping her word to herself under very tryingconditions. Nothing but a becoming blush betrayed the movingthoughtsthat urged themselves upon her as she accepted the seatnext toMr. Crackenthorp; for she was so instinctively neat andadroit inall her actionsand her pretty lips met each other withsuch quietfirmnessthat it would have been difficult for her toappearagitated.
It was notthe rector's practice to let a charming blush passwithout anappropriate compliment. He was not in the least lofty oraristocraticbut simply a merry-eyedsmall-featuredgrey-hairedmanwithhis chin propped by an amplemany-creased white neckclothwhichseemed to predominate over every other point in his personandsomehow to impress its peculiar character on his remarks; sothat tohave considered his amenities apart from his cravat wouldhave beena severeand perhaps a dangerouseffort of abstraction.
"HaMiss Nancy" he saidturning his head within his cravat andsmilingdown pleasantly upon her"when anybody pretends this hasbeen asevere winterI shall tell them I saw the roses blooming onNew Year'sEveehGodfreywhat do _you_ say?"
Godfreymade no replyand avoided looking at Nancy very markedly;for thoughthese complimentary personalities were held to be inexcellenttaste in old-fashioned Raveloe societyreverent love hasapoliteness of its own which it teaches to men otherwise of smallschooling. But the Squire was rather impatient at Godfrey's showinghimself adull spark in this way. By this advanced hour of the daythe Squirewas always in higher spirits than we have seen him in atthebreakfast-tableand felt it quite pleasant to fulfil thehereditaryduty of being noisily jovial and patronizing: the largesilversnuff-box was in active service and was offered without failto allneighbours from time to timehowever often they might havedeclinedthe favour. At presentthe Squire had only given anexpresswelcome to the heads of families as they appeared; butalways asthe evening deepenedhis hospitality rayed out morewidelytill he had tapped the youngest guests on the back and showna peculiarfondness for their presencein the full belief that theymust feeltheir lives made happy by their belonging to a parishwherethere was such a hearty man as Squire Cass to invite them andwish themwell. Even in this early stage of the jovial moodit wasnaturalthat he should wish to supply his son's deficiencies bylookingand speaking for him.
"Ayeaye" he beganoffering his snuff-box to Mr. Lammeterwhofor thesecond time bowed his head and waved his hand in stiffrejectionof the offer"us old fellows may wish ourselves youngto-nightwhen we see the mistletoe-bough in the White Parlour.It's truemost things are gone back'ard in these last thirty yearsthecountry's going down since the old king fell ill. But when Ilook atMiss Nancy hereI begin to think the lasses keep up theirquality;dingme if I remember a sample to match hernot when Iwas a fineyoung fellowand thought a deal about my pigtail. Nooffence toyoumadam" he addedbending to Mrs. Crackenthorpwhosat byhim"I didn't know _you_ when you were as young as MissNancyhere."
Mrs.Crackenthorpa small blinking womanwho fidgetedincessantlywith her laceribbonsand gold chainturning her headabout andmaking subdued noisesvery much like a guinea-pig thattwitchesits nose and soliloquizes in all company indiscriminatelynowblinked and fidgeted towards the Squireand said"Ohnonooffence."
Thisemphatic compliment of the Squire's to Nancy was felt by othersbesidesGodfrey to have a diplomatic significance; and her fathergave aslight additional erectness to his backas he looked acrossthe tableat her with complacent gravity. That grave and orderlysenior wasnot going to bate a jot of his dignity by seeming elatedat thenotion of a match between his family and the Squire's: he wasgratifiedby any honour paid to his daughter; but he must see analterationin several ways before his consent would be vouchsafed.His sparebut healthy personand high-featured firm facethatlooked asif it had never been flushed by excesswas in strongcontrastnot only with the Squire'sbut with the appearance of theRaveloefarmers generallyin accordance with a favourite sayingof hisownthat "breed was stronger than pasture".
"MissNancy's wonderful like what her mother wasthough; isn'tsheKimble?" said the stout lady of that namelooking roundforherhusband.
But DoctorKimble (country apothecaries in old days enjoyed thattitlewithout authority of diploma)being a thin and agile manwasflittingabout the room with his hands in his pocketsmakinghimselfagreeable to his feminine patientswith medicalimpartialityand being welcomed everywhere as a doctor byhereditaryrightnot one of those miserable apothecaries whocanvassfor practice in strange neighbourhoodsand spend all theirincome instarving their one horsebut a man of substanceable tokeep anextravagant table like the best of his patients. Time outof mindthe Raveloe doctor had been a Kimble; Kimble was inherentlya doctor'sname; and it was difficult to contemplate firmly themelancholyfact that the actual Kimble had no sonso that hispracticemight one day be handed over to a successor with theincongruousname of Taylor or Johnson. But in that case the wiserpeople inRaveloe would employ Dr. Blick of Flittonas lessunnatural.
"Didyou speak to memy dear?" said the authentic doctorcomingquickly tohis wife's side; butas if foreseeing that she would betoo muchout of breath to repeat her remarkhe went on immediately"HaMiss Priscillathe sight of you revives the taste of thatsuper-excellentpork-pie. I hope the batch isn't near an end."
"Yesindeedit isdoctor" said Priscilla; "but I'll answerfor it thenext shall be as good. My pork-pies don't turn out wellbychance."
"Notas your doctoring doesehKimble?because folks forgetto takeyour physiceh?" said the Squirewho regarded physic anddoctors asmany loyal churchmen regard the church and the clergytasting ajoke against them when he was in healthbut impatientlyeager fortheir aid when anything was the matter with him. Hetapped hisboxand looked round with a triumphant laugh.
"Ahshe has a quick witmy friend Priscilla has" said thedoctorchoosing to attribute the epigram to a lady rather thanallow abrother-in-law that advantage over him. "She saves alittlepepper to sprinkle over her talkthat's the reason why shenever putstoo much into her pies. There's my wife nowshe neverhas ananswer at her tongue's end; but if I offend hershe's sureto scarifymy throat with black pepper the next dayor else give methe colicwith watery greens. That's an awful tit-for-tat." Herethevivacious doctor made a pathetic grimace.
"Didyou ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Kimblelaughing aboveher doublechin with much good-humouraside to Mrs. Crackenthorpwhoblinked and noddedand seemed to intend a smilewhichby thecorrelationof forceswent off in small twitchings and noises.
"Isuppose that's the sort of tit-for-tat adopted in yourprofessionKimbleif you've a grudge against a patient" said therector.
"Neverdo have a grudge against our patients" said Mr. Kimble"exceptwhen they leave us: and thenyou seewe haven't thechance ofprescribing for 'em. HaMiss Nancy" he continuedsuddenlyskipping to Nancy's side"you won't forget your promise?You're tosave a dance for meyou know."
"ComecomeKimbledon't you be too for'ard" said the Squire."Givethe young uns fair-play. There's my son Godfrey'll bewanting tohave a round with you if you run off with Miss Nancy.He'sbespoke her for the first danceI'll be bound. Ehsir! whatdo yousay?" he continuedthrowing himself backwardand lookingatGodfrey. "Haven't you asked Miss Nancy to open the dancewithyou?"
Godfreysorely uncomfortable under this significant insistenceaboutNancyand afraid to think where it would end by the time hisfather hadset his usual hospitable example of drinking before andaftersuppersaw no course open but to turn to Nancy and saywithas littleawkwardness as possible
"No;I've not asked her yetbut I hope she'll consentifsomebodyelse hasn't been before me."
"NoI've not engaged myself" said Nancyquietlythoughblushingly. (If Mr. Godfrey founded any hopes on her consenting todance withhimhe would soon be undeceived; but there was no needfor her tobe uncivil.)
"ThenI hope you've no objections to dancing with me" saidGodfreybeginning to lose the sense that there was anythinguncomfortablein this arrangement.
"Nono objections" said Nancyin a cold tone.
"Ahwellyou're a lucky fellowGodfrey" said uncle Kimble;"butyou're my godsonso I won't stand in your way. Else I'm notso veryoldehmy dear?" he went onskipping to his wife's sideagain. "You wouldn't mind my having a second after you were gonenot if Icried a good deal first?"
"Comecometake a cup o' tea and stop your tonguedo" saidgood-humouredMrs. Kimblefeeling some pride in a husband who mustberegarded as so clever and amusing by the company generally. Ifhe hadonly not been irritable at cards!
Whilesafewell-tested personalities were enlivening the tea inthis waythe sound of the fiddle approaching within a distance atwhich itcould be heard distinctlymade the young people look ateach otherwith sympathetic impatience for the end of the meal.
"Whythere's Solomon in the hall" said the Squire"and playingmyfav'rite tune_I_ believe"The flaxen-headed ploughboy"he's forgiving us a hint as we aren't enough in a hurry to hear himplay. Bob" he called out to his third long-legged sonwho was atthe otherend of the room"open the doorand tell Solomon to comein. He shall give us a tune here."
Bobobeyedand Solomon walked infiddling as he walkedfor hewould onno account break off in the middle of a tune.
"HereSolomon" said the Squirewith loud patronage. "Roundheremyman. AhI knew it was "The flaxen-headed ploughboy":there's nofiner tune."
SolomonMaceya small hale old man with an abundant crop of longwhite hairreaching nearly to his shouldersadvanced to theindicatedspotbowing reverently while he fiddledas much as tosay thathe respected the companythough he respected the key-notemore. As soon as he had repeated the tune and lowered his fiddlehe bowedagain to the Squire and the rectorand said"I hope Isee yourhonour and your reverence welland wishing you health andlong lifeand a happy New Year. And wishing the same to youMr.Lammetersir; and to the other gentlemenand the madamsandthe younglasses."
As Solomonuttered the last wordshe bowed in all directionssolicitouslylest he should be wanting in due respect. Butthereuponhe immediately began to preludeand fell into the tunewhich heknew would be taken as a special compliment byMr.Lammeter.
"ThankyeSolomonthank ye" said Mr. Lammeter when the fiddlepausedagain. "That's "Over the hills and far away"that is. Myfatherused to say to mewhenever we heard that tune"Ahlad_I_come fromover the hills and far away." There's a many tunes Idon't makehead or tail of; but that speaks to me like theblackbird'swhistle. I suppose it's the name: there's a deal in thename of atune."
ButSolomon was already impatient to prelude againand presentlybroke withmuch spirit into "Sir Roger de Coverley"at whichthere wasa sound of chairs pushed backand laughing voices.
"AyeayeSolomonwe know what that means" said the Squirerising. "It's time to begin the danceeh? Lead the waythenand we'llall follow you."
SoSolomonholding his white head on one sideand playingvigorouslymarched forward at the head of the gay procession intothe WhiteParlourwhere the mistletoe-bough was hungandmultitudinoustallow candles made rather a brilliant effectgleamingfrom among the berried holly-boughsand reflected in theold-fashionedoval mirrors fastened in the panels of the whitewainscot. A quaint procession! Old Solomonin his seedy clothesand longwhite locksseemed to be luring that decent company by themagicscream of his fiddleluring discreet matrons inturban-shapedcapsnayMrs. Crackenthorp herselfthe summit ofwhoseperpendicular feather was on a level with the Squire'sshoulderluringfair lasses complacently conscious of very shortwaists andskirts blameless of front-foldsluring burly fathersin largevariegated waistcoatsand ruddy sonsfor the most partshy andsheepishin short nether garments and very long coat-tails.
AlreadyMr. Macey and a few other privileged villagerswho wereallowed tobe spectators on these great occasionswere seated onbenchesplaced for them near the door; and great was the admirationandsatisfaction in that quarter when the couples had formedthemselvesfor the danceand the Squire led off withMrs.Crackenthorpjoining hands with the rector and Mrs. Osgood.That wasas it should bethat was what everybody had been used toand thecharter of Raveloe seemed to be renewed by the ceremony.It was notthought of as an unbecoming levity for the old andmiddle-agedpeople to dance a little before sitting down to cardsbut ratheras part of their social duties. For what were these ifnot to bemerry at appropriate timesinterchanging visits andpoultrywith due frequencypaying each other old-establishedcomplimentsin sound traditional phrasespassing well-triedpersonaljokesurging your guests to eat and drink too much out ofhospitalityand eating and drinking too much in your neighbour'shouse toshow that you liked your cheer? And the parson naturallyset anexample in these social duties. For it would not have beenpossiblefor the Raveloe mindwithout a peculiar revelationtoknow thata clergyman should be a pale-faced memento of solemnitiesinstead ofa reasonably faulty man whose exclusive authority to readprayersand preachto christenmarryand bury younecessarilycoexistedwith the right to sell you the ground to be buried in andto taketithe in kind; on which last pointof coursethere was alittlegrumblingbut not to the extent of irreligionnot ofdeepersignificance than the grumbling at the rainwhich was by nomeansaccompanied with a spirit of impious defiancebut with adesirethat the prayer for fine weather might be read forthwith.
There wasno reasonthenwhy the rector's dancing should not bereceivedas part of the fitness of things quite as much as theSquire'sor whyon the other handMr. Macey's official respectshouldrestrain him from subjecting the parson's performance to thatcriticismwith which minds of extraordinary acuteness mustnecessarilycontemplate the doings of their fallible fellow-men.
"TheSquire's pretty springeconsidering his weight" saidMr. Macey"and he stamps uncommon well. But Mr. Lammeter beats'em allfor shapes: you see he holds his head like a sodgerand heisn't socushiony as most o' the oldish gentlefolksthey run fatingeneral; and he's got a fine leg. The parson's nimble enoughbut hehasn't got much of a leg: it's a bit too thick down'ardandhis kneesmight be a bit nearer wi'out damage; but he might doworsehemight do worse. Though he hasn't that grand way o' wavinghis handas the Squire has."
"Talko' nimblenesslook at Mrs. Osgood" said Ben Winthropwhowasholding his son Aaron between his knees. "She trips alongwithher littlestepsso as nobody can see how she goesit's like asif she hadlittle wheels to her feet. She doesn't look a day oldernor lastyear: she's the finest-made woman as islet the next bewhere shewill."
"Idon't heed how the women are made" said Mr. Maceywith somecontempt. "They wear nayther coat nor breeches: you can't makemuch outo' their shapes."
"Fayder"said Aaronwhose feet were busy beating out the tune"howdoes that big cock's-feather stick in Mrs. Crackenthorp'syead? Is there a little hole for itlike in my shuttle-cock?"
"Hushladhush; that's the way the ladies dress theirselvesthatis"said the fatheraddinghoweverin an undertone toMr. Macey"It does make her look funnythoughpartly like ashort-neckedbottle wi' a long quill in it. Heyby jingothere'sthe youngSquire leading off nowwi' Miss Nancy for partners!There's alass for you!like a pink-and-white posythere'snobody 'udthink as anybody could be so pritty. I shouldn't wonderif she'sMadam Cass some dayarter alland nobody morerightfullerfor they'd make a fine match. You can find nothingagainstMaster Godfrey's shapesMacey_I_'ll bet a penny."
Mr. Maceyscrewed up his mouthleaned his head further on one sideandtwirled his thumbs with a presto movement as his eyes followedGodfrey upthe dance. At last he summed up his opinion.
"Prettywell down'ardbut a bit too round i' the shoulder-blades.And as forthem coats as he gets from the Flitton tailorthey're apoor cutto pay double money for."
"AhMr. Maceyyou and me are two folks" said Benslightlyindignantat this carping. "When I've got a pot o' good aleIlike toswaller itand do my inside goodi'stead o' smelling andstaring atit to see if I can't find faut wi' the brewing. I shouldlike youto pick me out a finer-limbed young fellow nor MasterGodfreyoneas 'ud knock you down easieror 's morepleasanter-looksedwhen he's piert and merry."
"Tchuh!" said Mr. Maceyprovoked to increased severity"heisn't cometo his right colour yet: he's partly like a slack-bakedpie. And I doubt he's got a soft place in his headelse why shouldhe beturned round the finger by that offal Dunsey as nobody's seeno' lateand let him kill that fine hunting hoss as was the talk o'thecountry? And one while he was allays after Miss Nancyand thenit allwent off againlike a smell o' hot porridgeas I may say.Thatwasn't my way when _I_ went a-coorting."
"Ahbut mayhap Miss Nancy hung offlikeand your lass didn't"said Ben.
"Ishould say she didn't" said Mr. Maceysignificantly."BeforeI said "sniff"I took care to know as she'd say "snaff"and prettyquick too. I wasn't a-going to open _my_ mouthlike adog at aflyand snap it to againwi' nothing to swaller."
"WellI think Miss Nancy's a-coming round again" said Ben"forMasterGodfrey doesn't look so down-hearted to-night. And I seehe's fortaking her away to sit downnow they're at the end o' thedance:that looks like sweetheartingthat does."
The reasonwhy Godfrey and Nancy had left the dance was not sotender asBen imagined. In the close press of couples a slightaccidenthad happened to Nancy's dresswhichwhile it was shortenough toshow her neat ankle in frontwas long enough behind to becaughtunder the stately stamp of the Squire's footso as to rendcertainstitches at the waistand cause much sisterly agitation inPriscilla'smindas well as serious concern in Nancy's. One'sthoughtsmay be much occupied with love-strugglesbut hardly so asto beinsensible to a disorder in the general framework of things.Nancy hadno sooner completed her duty in the figure they weredancingthan she said to Godfreywith a deep blushthat she mustgo and sitdown till Priscilla could come to her; for the sistershadalready exchanged a short whisper and an open-eyed glance fullofmeaning. No reason less urgent than this could have prevailedonNancy togive Godfrey this opportunity of sitting apart with her.As forGodfreyhe was feeling so happy and oblivious under the longcharm ofthe country-dance with Nancythat he got rather bold onthestrength of her confusionand was capable of leading herstraightawaywithout leave askedinto the adjoining smallparlourwhere the card-tables were set.
"Ohnothank you" said Nancycoldlyas soon as she perceivedwhere hewas going"not in there. I'll wait here till Priscilla'sready tocome to me. I'm sorry to bring you out of the dance andmakemyself troublesome."
"Whyyou'll be more comfortable here by yourself" said theartfulGodfrey: "I'll leave you here till your sister can come."He spokein an indifferent tone.
That wasan agreeable propositionand just what Nancy desired; whythenwasshe a little hurt that Mr. Godfrey should make it? Theyenteredand she seated herself on a chair against one of thecard-tablesas the stiffest and most unapproachable position shecouldchoose.
"Thankyousir" she said immediately. "I needn't give youanymoretrouble. I'm sorry you've had such an unlucky partner."
"That'svery ill-natured of you" said Godfreystanding by herwithoutany sign of intended departure"to be sorry you've dancedwith me."
"OhnosirI don't mean to say what's ill-natured at all" saidNancylooking distractingly prim and pretty. "When gentlemenhaveso manypleasuresone dance can matter but very little."
"Youknow that isn't true. You know one dance with you mattersmore to methan all the other pleasures in the world."
It was alonglong while since Godfrey had said anything so directas thatand Nancy was startled. But her instinctive dignity andrepugnanceto any show of emotion made her sit perfectly stillandonly throwa little more decision into her voiceas she said
"NoindeedMr. Godfreythat's not known to meand I have verygoodreasons for thinking different. But if it's trueI don't wishto hearit."
"Wouldyou never forgive methenNancynever think well of melet whatwould happenwould you never think the present madeamends forthe past? Not if I turned a good fellowand gave upeverythingyou didn't like?"
Godfreywas half conscious that this sudden opportunity of speakingto Nancyalone had driven him beside himself; but blind feeling hadgot themastery of his tongue. Nancy really felt much agitated bythepossibility Godfrey's words suggestedbut this very pressure ofemotionthat she was in danger of finding too strong for her rousedall herpower of self-command.
"Ishould be glad to see a good change in anybodyMr. Godfrey"sheansweredwith the slightest discernible difference of tone"butit 'ud be better if no change was wanted."
"You'revery hard-heartedNancy" said Godfreypettishly. "Youmightencourage me to be a better fellow. I'm very miserablebutyou've nofeeling."
"Ithink those have the least feeling that act wrong to beginwith"said Nancysending out a flash in spite of herself.Godfreywas delighted with that little flashand would have likedto go onand make her quarrel with him; Nancy was so exasperatinglyquiet andfirm. But she was not indifferent to him _yet_though
Theentrance of Priscillabustling forward and saying"Dear heartalivechildlet us look at this gown" cut off Godfrey's hopes ofa quarrel.
"Isuppose I must go now" he said to Priscilla.
"It'sno matter to me whether you go or stay" said that frankladysearching for something in her pocketwith a preoccupiedbrow.
"Do_you_ want me to go?" said Godfreylooking at Nancywhowasnowstanding up by Priscilla's order.
"Asyou like" said Nancytrying to recover all her formercoldnessand looking down carefully at the hem of her gown.
"ThenI like to stay" said Godfreywith a reckless determinationto get asmuch of this joy as he could to-nightand think nothingof themorrow.
WhileGodfrey Cass was taking draughts of forgetfulness from thesweetpresence of Nancywillingly losing all sense of that hiddenbond whichat other moments galled and fretted him so as to mingleirritationwith the very sunshineGodfrey's wife was walking withslowuncertain steps through the snow-covered Raveloe lanescarryingher child in her arms.
Thisjourney on New Year's Eve was a premeditated act of vengeancewhich shehad kept in her heart ever since Godfreyin a fit ofpassionhad told her he would sooner die than acknowledge her ashis wife. There would be a great party at the Red House on NewYear'sEveshe knew: her husband would be smiling and smiled uponhiding_her_ existence in the darkest corner of his heart. But shewould marhis pleasure: she would go in her dingy ragswith herfadedfaceonce as handsome as the bestwith her little child thathad itsfather's hair and eyesand disclose herself to the Squireas hiseldest son's wife. It is seldom that the miserable can helpregardingtheir misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are lessmiserable. Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not herhusband'sneglectbut the demon Opium to whom she was enslavedbody andsoulexcept in the lingering mother's tenderness thatrefused togive him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yetin themoments of wretched unbenumbed consciousnessthe sense ofher wantand degradation transformed itself continually intobitternesstowards Godfrey. _He_ was well off; and if she had herrights shewould be well off too. The belief that he repented hismarriageand suffered from itonly aggravated her vindictiveness.Just andself-reproving thoughts do not come to us too thicklyevenin thepurest airand with the best lessons of heaven and earth;how shouldthose white-winged delicate messengers make their way toMolly'spoisoned chamberinhabited by no higher memories than thoseof abarmaid's paradise of pink ribbons and gentlemen's jokes?
She hadset out at an early hourbut had lingered on the roadinclinedby her indolence to believe that if she waited under a warmshed thesnow would cease to fall. She had waited longer than sheknewandnow that she found herself belated in the snow-hiddenruggednessof the long laneseven the animation of a vindictivepurposecould not keep her spirit from failing. It was seveno'clockand by this time she was not very far from Raveloebut shewas notfamiliar enough with those monotonous lanes to know how nearshe was toher journey's end. She needed comfortand she knew butonecomforterthe familiar demon in her bosom; but she hesitateda momentafter drawing out the black remnantbefore she raised itto herlips. In that moment the mother's love pleaded for painfulconsciousnessrather than oblivionpleaded to be left in achingwearinessrather than to have the encircling arms benumbed so thatthey couldnot feel the dear burden. In another moment Molly hadflungsomething awaybut it was not the black remnantit was anemptyphial. And she walked on again under the breaking cloudfromwhichthere came now and then the light of a quickly veiled starfor afreezing wind had sprung up since the snowing had ceased. Butshe walkedalways more and more drowsilyand clutched more and moreautomaticallythe sleeping child at her bosom.
Slowly thedemon was working his willand cold and weariness werehishelpers. Soon she felt nothing but a supreme immediate longingthatcurtained off all futuritythe longing to lie down andsleep. She had arrived at a spot where her footsteps were no longerchecked bya hedgerowand she had wandered vaguelyunable todistinguishany objectsnotwithstanding the wide whiteness aroundherandthe growing starlight. She sank down against a stragglingfurzebushan easy pillow enough; and the bed of snowtoowassoft. She did not feel that the bed was coldand did not heedwhetherthe child would wake and cry for her. But her arms had notyetrelaxed their instinctive clutch; and the little one slumberedon asgently as if it had been rocked in a lace-trimmed cradle.
But thecomplete torpor came at last: the fingers lost theirtensionthe arms unbent; then the little head fell away from thebosomandthe blue eyes opened wide on the cold starlight. Atfirstthere was a little peevish cry of "mammy"and an effort toregain thepillowing arm and bosom; but mammy's ear was deafandthe pillowseemed to be slipping away backward. Suddenlyas thechildrolled downward on its mother's kneesall wet with snowitseyes werecaught by a bright glancing light on the white groundandwiththe ready transition of infancyit was immediatelyabsorbedin watching the bright living thing running towards ityetneverarriving. That bright living thing must be caught; and in aninstantthe child had slipped on all-foursand held out one littlehand tocatch the gleam. But the gleam would not be caught in thatwayandnow the head was held up to see where the cunning gleamcamefrom. It came from a very bright place; and the little onerising onits legstoddled through the snowthe old grimy shawl inwhich itwas wrapped trailing behind itand the queer little bonnetdanglingat its backtoddled on to the open door of SilasMarner'scottageand right up to the warm hearthwhere there was abrightfire of logs and stickswhich had thoroughly warmed the oldsack(Silas's greatcoat) spread out on the bricks to dry. Thelittleoneaccustomed to be left to itself for long hours withoutnoticefrom its mothersquatted down on the sackand spread itstiny handstowards the blazein perfect contentmentgurgling andmakingmany inarticulate communications to the cheerful firelike anew-hatchedgosling beginning to find itself comfortable. Butpresentlythe warmth had a lulling effectand the little goldenhead sankdown on the old sackand the blue eyes were veiled bytheirdelicate half-transparent lids.
But wherewas Silas Marner while this strange visitor had come tohishearth? He was in the cottagebut he did not see the child.During thelast few weekssince he had lost his moneyhe hadcontractedthe habit of opening his door and looking out from timeto timeas if he thought that his money might be somehow comingback tohimor that some tracesome news of itmight bemysteriouslyon the roadand be caught by the listening ear or thestrainingeye. It was chiefly at nightwhen he was not occupied inhis loomthat he fell into this repetition of an act for which hecould haveassigned no definite purposeand which can hardly beunderstoodexcept by those who have undergone a bewilderingseparationfrom a supremely loved object. In the evening twilightand laterwhenever the night was not darkSilas looked out on thatnarrowprospect round the Stone-pitslistening and gazingnot withhopebutwith mere yearning and unrest.
Thismorning he had been told by some of his neighbours that it wasNew Year'sEveand that he must sit up and hear the old year rungout andthe new rung inbecause that was good luckand might bringhis moneyback again. This was only a friendly Raveloe-way ofjestingwith the half-crazy oddities of a miserbut it had perhapshelped tothrow Silas into a more than usually excited state. Sincetheon-coming of twilight he had opened his door again and againthoughonly to shut it immediately at seeing all distance veiled bythefalling snow. But the last time he opened it the snow hadceasedand the clouds were parting here and there. He stood andlistenedand gazed for a long whilethere was really somethingon theroad coming towards him thenbut he caught no sign of it;and thestillness and the wide trackless snow seemed to narrow hissolitudeand touched his yearning with the chill of despair. Hewent inagainand put his right hand on the latch of the door tocloseitbut he did not close it: he was arrestedas he had beenalreadysince his lossby the invisible wand of catalepsyandstood likea graven imagewith wide but sightless eyesholdingopen hisdoorpowerless to resist either the good or the evil thatmightenter there.
WhenMarner's sensibility returnedhe continued the action whichhad beenarrestedand closed his doorunaware of the chasm in hisconsciousnessunaware of any intermediate changeexcept that thelight hadgrown dimand that he was chilled and faint. He thoughthe hadbeen too long standing at the door and looking out. Turningtowardsthe hearthwhere the two logs had fallen apartand sentforth onlya red uncertain glimmerhe seated himself on hisfiresidechairand was stooping to push his logs togetherwhentohisblurred visionit seemed as if there were gold on the floor infront ofthe hearth. Gold!his own goldbrought back to himasmysteriously as it had been taken away! He felt his heart beginto beatviolentlyand for a few moments he was unable to stretchout hishand and grasp the restored treasure. The heap of goldseemed toglow and get larger beneath his agitated gaze. He leanedforward atlastand stretched forth his hand; but instead of thehard coinwith the familiar resisting outlinehis fingersencounteredsoft warm curls. In utter amazementSilas fell on hisknees andbent his head low to examine the marvel: it was a sleepingchildaroundfair thingwith soft yellow rings all over itshead. Could this be his little sister come back to him in a dreamhis littlesister whom he had carried about in his arms for ayearbefore she diedwhen he was a small boy without shoes orstockings? That was the first thought that darted across Silas'sblankwonderment. _Was_ it a dream? He rose to his feet againpushed hislogs togetherandthrowing on some dried leaves andsticksraised a flame; but the flame did not disperse the visionit onlylit up more distinctly the little round form of the childand itsshabby clothing. It was very much like his little sister.Silas sankinto his chair powerlessunder the double presence of aninexplicablesurprise and a hurrying influx of memories. How andwhen hadthe child come in without his knowledge? He had never beenbeyond thedoor. But along with that questionand almost thrustingit awaythere was a vision of the old home and the old streetsleading toLantern Yardand within that vision anotherof thethoughtswhich had been present with him in those far-off scenes.Thethoughts were strange to him nowlike old friendshipsimpossibleto revive; and yet he had a dreamy feeling that thischild wassomehow a message come to him from that far-off life: itstirredfibres that had never been moved in Raveloeoldquiveringsof tendernessold impressions of awe at thepresentimentof some Power presiding over his life; for hisimaginationhad not yet extricated itself from the sense of mysteryin thechild's sudden presenceand had formed no conjectures ofordinarynatural means by which the event could have been broughtabout.
But therewas a cry on the hearth: the child had awakedand Marnerstooped tolift it on his knee. It clung round his neckand burstlouder andlouder into that mingling of inarticulate cries with"mammy"by which little children express the bewilderment ofwaking. Silas pressed it to himand almost unconsciously utteredsounds ofhushing tendernesswhile he bethought himself that someof hisporridgewhich had got cool by the dying firewould do tofeed thechild with if it were only warmed up a little.
He hadplenty to do through the next hour. The porridgesweetenedwith somedry brown sugar from an old store which he had refrainedfrom usingfor himselfstopped the cries of the little oneandmade herlift her blue eyes with a wide quiet gaze at Silasas heput thespoon into her mouth. Presently she slipped from his kneeand beganto toddle aboutbut with a pretty stagger that made Silasjump upand follow her lest she should fall against anything thatwould hurther. But she only fell in a sitting posture on thegroundand began to pull at her bootslooking up at him with acryingface as if the boots hurt her. He took her on his kneeagainbutit was some time before it occurred to Silas's dullbachelormind that the wet boots were the grievancepressing on herwarmankles. He got them off with difficultyand baby was at oncehappilyoccupied with the primary mystery of her own toesinvitingSilaswith much chucklingto consider the mystery too. But thewet bootshad at last suggested to Silas that the child had beenwalking onthe snowand this roused him from his entire oblivion ofanyordinary means by which it could have entered or been broughtinto hishouse. Under the prompting of this new ideaand withoutwaiting toform conjectureshe raised the child in his armsandwent tothe door. As soon as he had opened itthere was the cry of"mammy"againwhich Silas had not heard since the child's firsthungrywaking. Bending forwardhe could just discern the marksmade bythe little feet on the virgin snowand he followed theirtrack tothe furze bushes. "Mammy!" the little one criedagainand againstretching itself forward so as almost to escape fromSilas'sarmsbefore he himself was aware that there was somethingmore thanthe bush before himthat there was a human bodywiththe headsunk low in the furzeand half-covered with the shakensnow.
It wasafter the early supper-time at the Red Houseand theentertainmentwas in that stage when bashfulness itself had passedinto easyjollitywhen gentlemenconscious of unusualaccomplishmentscould at length be prevailed on to dance ahornpipeand when the Squire preferred talking loudlyscatteringsnuffandpatting his visitors' backsto sitting longer at thewhist-tableachoice exasperating to uncle Kimblewhobeingalwaysvolatile in sober business hoursbecame intense and bitterover cardsand brandyshuffled before his adversary's deal with aglare ofsuspicionand turned up a mean trump-card with an air ofinexpressibledisgustas if in a world where such things couldhappen onemight as well enter on a course of reckless profligacy.When theevening had advanced to this pitch of freedom andenjoymentit was usual for the servantsthe heavy duties of supperbeing welloverto get their share of amusement by coming to lookon at thedancing; so that the back regions of the house were leftinsolitude.
There weretwo doors by which the White Parlour was entered from thehallandthey were both standing open for the sake of air; but thelower onewas crowded with the servants and villagersand only theupperdoorway was left free. Bob Cass was figuring in a hornpipeand hisfathervery proud of this lithe sonwhom he repeatedlydeclaredto be just like himself in his young days in a tone thatimpliedthis to be the very highest stamp of juvenile meritwas thecentre ofa group who had placed themselves opposite the performernot farfrom the upper door. Godfrey was standing a little way offnot toadmire his brother's dancingbut to keep sight of Nancywhowas seatedin the groupnear her father. He stood aloofbecausehe wishedto avoid suggesting himself as a subject for the Squire'sfatherlyjokes in connection with matrimony and Miss NancyLammeter'sbeautywhich were likely to become more and moreexplicit. But he had the prospect of dancing with her again whenthehornpipe was concludedand in the meanwhile it was verypleasantto get long glances at her quite unobserved.
But whenGodfrey was lifting his eyes from one of those longglancesthey encountered an object as startling to him at thatmoment asif it had been an apparition from the dead. It _was_ anapparitionfrom that hidden life which lieslike a dark by-streetbehind thegoodly ornamented facade that meets the sunlight and thegaze ofrespectable admirers. It was his own childcarried inSilasMarner's arms. That was his instantaneous impressionunaccompaniedby doubtthough he had not seen the child for monthspast; andwhen the hope was rising that he might possibly bemistakenMr. Crackenthorp and Mr. Lammeter had already advanced toSilasinastonishment at this strange advent. Godfrey joined themimmediatelyunable to rest without hearing every wordtrying tocontrolhimselfbut conscious that if any one noticed himtheymust seethat he was white-lipped and trembling.
But nowall eyes at that end of the room were bent on Silas Marner;the Squirehimself had risenand asked angrily"How's this?what'sthis?what do you do coming in here in this way?"
"I'mcome for the doctorI want the doctor" Silas had saidinthe firstmomentto Mr. Crackenthorp.
"Whywhat's the matterMarner?" said the rector. "Thedoctor'shere; but say quietly what you want him for."
"It'sa woman" said Silasspeaking lowand half-breathlesslyjust asGodfrey came up. "She's deadI thinkdead in the snowat theStone-pitsnot far from my door."
Godfreyfelt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at thatmoment: itwasthat the woman might _not_ be dead. That was anevilterroran ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place inGodfrey'skindly disposition; but no disposition is a security fromevilwishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.
"Hushhush!" said Mr. Crackenthorp. "Go out into thehallthere. I'll fetch the doctor to you. Found a woman in the snowand thinksshe's dead" he addedspeaking low to the Squire."Bettersay as little about it as possible: it will shock theladies. Just tell them a poor woman is ill from cold and hunger.I'll goand fetch Kimble."
By thistimehoweverthe ladies had pressed forwardcurious toknow whatcould have brought the solitary linen-weaver there undersuchstrange circumstancesand interested in the pretty childwhohalfalarmed and half attracted by the brightness and the numerouscompanynow frowned and hid her facenow lifted up her head againand lookedround placablyuntil a touch or a coaxing word broughtback thefrownand made her bury her face with new determination.
"Whatchild is it?" said several ladies at onceandamong therestNancy Lammeteraddressing Godfrey.
"Idon't knowsome poor woman's who has been found in the snowIbelieve" was the answer Godfrey wrung from himself with aterribleeffort. ("After all_am_ I certain?" hehastened toaddsilentlyin anticipation of his own conscience.)
"Whyyou'd better leave the child herethenMaster Marner"saidgood-natured Mrs. Kimblehesitatinghoweverto take thosedingyclothes into contact with her own ornamented satin bodice."I'lltell one o' the girls to fetch it."
"NonoIcan't part with itI can't let it go" said Silasabruptly. "It's come to meI've a right to keep it."
Theproposition to take the child from him had come to Silas quiteunexpectedlyand his speechuttered under a strong sudden impulsewas almostlike a revelation to himself: a minute beforehe had nodistinctintention about the child.
"Didyou ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Kimblein mildsurpriseto herneighbour.
"NowladiesI must trouble you to stand aside" said Mr. Kimblecomingfrom the card-roomin some bitterness at the interruptionbutdrilled by the long habit of his profession into obedience tounpleasantcallseven when he was hardly sober.
"It'sa nasty business turning out nowehKimble?" said theSquire. "He might ha' gone for your young fellowthe 'prenticetherewhat'shis name?"
"Might? ayewhat's the use of talking about might?" growleduncleKimblehastening out with Marnerand followed byMr.Crackenthorp and Godfrey. "Get me a pair of thick bootsGodfreywill you? And staylet somebody run to Winthrop's andfetchDollyshe's the best woman to get. Ben was here himselfbeforesupper; is he gone?"
"YessirI met him" said Marner; "but I couldn't stop to tellhimanythingonly I said I was going for the doctorand he saidthe doctorwas at the Squire's. And I made haste and ranand therewas nobodyto be seen at the back o' the houseand so I went in towhere thecompany was."
The childno longer distracted by the bright light and the smilingwomen'sfacesbegan to cry and call for "mammy"though alwaysclingingto Marnerwho had apparently won her thorough confidence.Godfreyhad come back with the bootsand felt the cry as if somefibre weredrawn tight within him.
"I'llgo" he saidhastilyeager for some movement; "I'll goand fetchthe womanMrs. Winthrop."
"Ohpoohsend somebody else" said uncle Kimblehurrying awaywithMarner.
"You'lllet me know if I can be of any useKimble" saidMr.Crackenthorp. But the doctor was out of hearing.
Godfreytoohad disappeared: he was gone to snatch his hat andcoathaving just reflection enough to remember that he must notlook likea madman; but he rushed out of the house into the snowwithoutheeding his thin shoes.
In a fewminutes he was on his rapid way to the Stone-pits by theside ofDollywhothough feeling that she was entirely in herplace inencountering cold and snow on an errand of mercywas muchconcernedat a young gentleman's getting his feet wet under a likeimpulse.
"You'da deal better go backsir" said Dollywith respectfulcompassion. "You've no call to catch cold; and I'd ask you ifyou'd beso good as tell my husband to comeon your way backhe's atthe RainbowI doubtif you found him anyway sober enoughto be o'use. Or elsethere's Mrs. Snell 'ud happen send the boyup tofetch and carryfor there may be things wanted from thedoctor's."
"NoI'll staynow I'm once outI'll stay outside here" saidGodfreywhen they came opposite Marner's cottage. "You can comeand tellme if I can do anything."
"Wellsiryou're very good: you've a tender heart" said Dollygoing tothe door.
Godfreywas too painfully preoccupied to feel a twinge ofself-reproachat this undeserved praise. He walked up and downunconsciousthat he was plunging ankle-deep in snowunconscious ofeverythingbut trembling suspense about what was going on in thecottageand the effect of each alternative on his future lot. Nonot quiteunconscious of everything else. Deeper downandhalf-smotheredby passionate desire and dreadthere was the sensethat heought not to be waiting on these alternatives; that he oughtto acceptthe consequences of his deedsown the miserable wifeandfulfil theclaims of the helpless child. But he had not moralcourageenough to contemplate that active renunciation of Nancy aspossiblefor him: he had only conscience and heart enough to makehim forever uneasy under the weakness that forbade therenunciation. And at this moment his mind leaped away from allrestrainttoward the sudden prospect of deliverance from his longbondage.
"Isshe dead?" said the voice that predominated over everyotherwithinhim. "If she isI may marry Nancy; and then I shall be agoodfellow in futureand have no secretsand the childshallbe takencare of somehow." But across that vision came the otherpossibility"Shemay liveand then it's all up with me."
Godfreynever knew how long it was before the door of the cottageopened andMr. Kimble came out. He went forward to meet his unclepreparedto suppress the agitation he must feelwhatever news hewas tohear.
"Iwaited for youas I'd come so far" he saidspeaking first.
"Poohit was nonsense for you to come out: why didn't you send oneof themen? There's nothing to be done. She's deadhas beendead forhoursI should say."
"Whatsort of woman is she?" said Godfreyfeeling the bloodrushto hisface.
"Ayoung womanbut emaciatedwith long black hair. Some vagrantquite inrags. She's got a wedding-ring onhowever. They mustfetch heraway to the workhouse to-morrow. Comecome along."
"Iwant to look at her" said Godfrey. "I think I sawsuch awomanyesterday. I'll overtake you in a minute or two."
Mr. Kimblewent onand Godfrey turned back to the cottage. He castonly oneglance at the dead face on the pillowwhich Dolly hadsmoothedwith decent care; but he remembered that last look at hisunhappyhated wife so wellthat at the end of sixteen years everyline inthe worn face was present to him when he told the full storyof thisnight.
He turnedimmediately towards the hearthwhere Silas Marner satlullingthe child. She was perfectly quiet nowbut not asleeponlysoothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calmwhichmakes us older human beingswith our inward turmoilfeel acertainawe in the presence of a little childsuch as we feelbeforesome quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or skybefore asteadyglowing planetor a full-flowered eglantineor the bendingtrees overa silent pathway. The wide-open blue eyes looked up atGodfrey'swithout any uneasiness or sign of recognition: the childcould makeno visible audible claim on its father; and the fatherfelt astrange mixture of feelingsa conflict of regret and joythat thepulse of that little heart had no response for thehalf-jealousyearning in his ownwhen the blue eyes turned awayfrom himslowlyand fixed themselves on the weaver's queer facewhich wasbent low down to look at themwhile the small hand beganto pullMarner's withered cheek with loving disfiguration.
"You'lltake the child to the parish to-morrow?" asked Godfreyspeakingas indifferently as he could.
"Whosays so?" said Marnersharply. "Will they makeme takeher?"
"Whyyou wouldn't like to keep hershould youan old bachelorlike you?"
"Tillanybody shows they've a right to take her away from me"saidMarner. "The mother's deadand I reckon it's got nofather:it's alone thingand I'm a lone thing. My money's goneI don'tknowwhereand this is come from I don't know where. I knownothingI'mpartly mazed."
"Poorlittle thing!" said Godfrey. "Let me givesomethingtowardsfinding it clothes."
He had puthis hand in his pocket and found half-a-guineaandthrustingit into Silas's handhe hurried out of the cottage toovertakeMr. Kimble.
"AhI see it's not the same woman I saw" he saidas he came up."It'sa pretty little child: the old fellow seems to want to keepit; that'sstrange for a miser like him. But I gave him a trifle tohelp himout: the parish isn't likely to quarrel with him for theright tokeep the child."
"No;but I've seen the time when I might have quarrelled with himfor itmyself. It's too late nowthough. If the child ran intothe fireyour aunt's too fat to overtake it: she could only sit andgrunt likean alarmed sow. But what a fool you areGodfreytocome outin your dancing shoes and stockings in this wayand youone of thebeaux of the eveningand at your own house! What do youmean bysuch freaksyoung fellow? Has Miss Nancy been cruelanddo youwant to spite her by spoiling your pumps?"
"Oheverything has been disagreeable to-night. I was tired todeath ofjigging and gallantingand that bother about thehornpipes. And I'd got to dance with the other Miss Gunn" saidGodfreyglad of the subterfuge his uncle had suggested to him.
Theprevarication and white lies which a mind that keeps itselfambitiouslypure is as uneasy under as a great artist under thefalsetouches that no eye detects but his ownare worn as lightlyas meretrimmings when once the actions have become a lie.
Godfreyreappeared in the White Parlour with dry feetandsincethe truthmust be toldwith a sense of relief and gladness that wastoo strongfor painful thoughts to struggle with. For could he notventurenowwhenever opportunity offeredto say the tenderestthings toNancy Lammeterto promise her and himself that he wouldalways bejust what she would desire to see him? There was nodangerthat his dead wife would be recognized: those were not daysof activeinquiry and wide report; and as for the registry of theirmarriagethat was a long way offburied in unturned pagesawayfrom everyone's interest but his own. Dunsey might betray him ifhe cameback; but Dunsey might be won to silence.
And whenevents turn out so much better for a man than he has hadreason todreadis it not a proof that his conduct has been lessfoolishand blameworthy than it might otherwise have appeared? Whenwe aretreated wellwe naturally begin to think that we are notaltogetherunmeritoriousand that it is only just we should treatourselveswelland not mar our own good fortune. Whereafter allwould bethe use of his confessing the past to Nancy Lammeterandthrowingaway his happiness?nayhers? for he felt someconfidencethat she loved him. As for the childhe would see thatit wascared for: he would never forsake it; he would do everythingbut ownit. Perhaps it would be just as happy in life without beingowned byits fatherseeing that nobody could tell how things wouldturn outand thatis there any other reason wanted?wellthenthatthe father would be much happier without owning thechild.
There wasa pauper's burial that week in Raveloeand up Kench YardatBatherley it was known that the dark-haired woman with the fairchildwhohad lately come to lodge therewas gone away again.That wasall the express note taken that Molly had disappeared fromthe eyesof men. But the unwept death whichto the general lotseemed astrivial as the summer-shed leafwas charged with theforce ofdestiny to certain human lives that we know ofshapingtheir joysand sorrows even to the end.
SilasMarner's determination to keep the "tramp's child" wasmatter ofhardly less surprise and iterated talk in the village thantherobbery of his money. That softening of feeling towards himwhichdated from his misfortunethat merging of suspicion anddislike ina rather contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazywasnowaccompanied with a more active sympathyespecially amongst thewomen. Notable motherswho knew what it was to keep children"wholeand sweet"; lazy motherswho knew what it was to beinterruptedin folding their arms and scratching their elbows by themischievouspropensities of children just firm on their legswereequallyinterested in conjecturing how a lone man would manage withatwo-year-old child on his handsand were equally ready with theirsuggestions:the notable chiefly telling him what he had better doand thelazy ones being emphatic in telling him what he would neverbe able todo.
Among thenotable mothersDolly Winthrop was the one whoseneighbourlyoffices were the most acceptable to Marnerfor theywererendered without any show of bustling instruction. Silas hadshown herthe half-guinea given to him by Godfreyand had asked herwhat heshould do about getting some clothes for the child.
"EhMaster Marner" said Dolly"there's no call to buynomorenor a pairo' shoes; for I've got the little petticoats as Aaronwore fiveyears agoand it's ill spending the money on thembaby-clothesfor the child 'ull grow like grass i' Maybless itthat itwill."
And thesame day Dolly brought her bundleand displayed to Marnerone byonethe tiny garments in their due order of successionmostof thempatched and darnedbut clean and neat as fresh-sprungherbs. This was the introduction to a great ceremony with soap andwaterfrom which Baby came out in new beautyand sat on Dolly'skneehandling her toes and chuckling and patting her palms togetherwith anair of having made several discoveries about herselfwhichshecommunicated by alternate sounds of "gug-gug-gug"and"mammy". The "mammy" was not a cry of need or uneasiness: Babyhad beenused to utter it without expecting either tender sound ortouch tofollow.
"Anybody'ud think the angils in heaven couldn't be prettier"saidDollyrubbing the golden curls and kissing them. "And tothink ofits being covered wi' them dirty ragsand the poormotherfrozeto death; but there's Them as took care of itandbrought itto your doorMaster Marner. The door was openand itwalked inover the snowlike as if it had been a little starvedrobin. Didn't you say the door was open?"
"Yes"said Silasmeditatively. "Yesthe door was open. Themoney'sgone I don't know whereand this is come from I don't knowwhere."
He had notmentioned to any one his unconsciousness of the child'sentranceshrinking from questions which might lead to the fact hehimselfsuspectednamelythat he had been in one of his trances.
"Ah"said Dollywith soothing gravity"it's like the night andthemorningand the sleeping and the wakingand the rain and theharvestonegoes and the other comesand we know nothing how norwhere. We may strive and scrat and fendbut it's little we can doarterallthe big things come and go wi' no striving o' our'nthey dothat they do; and I think you're in the right on it to keepthe littleunMaster Marnerseeing as it's been sent to youthoughthere's folks as thinks different. You'll happen be a bitmoitheredwith it while it's so little; but I'll comeand welcomeand see toit for you: I've a bit o' time to spare most daysforwhen onegets up betimes i' the morningthe clock seems to stan'stilltow'rt tenafore it's time to go about the victual. Soas IsayI'llcome and see to the child for youand welcome."
"Thankyou... kindly" said Silashesitating a little. "I'llbeglad ifyou'll tell me things. But" he addeduneasilyleaningforward tolook at Baby with some jealousyas she was resting herheadbackward against Dolly's armand eyeing him contentedly from adistance"ButI want to do things for it myselfelse it may getfond o'somebody elseand not fond o' me. I've been used tofendingfor myself in the houseI can learnI can learn."
"Ehto be sure" said Dollygently. "I've seen men asarewonderfulhandy wi' children. The men are awk'ard and contrairymostlyGod help 'embut when the drink's out of 'emthey aren'tunsensiblethough they're bad for leeching and bandagingsofiery andunpatient. You see this goes firstnext the skin"proceededDollytaking up the little shirtand putting it on.
"Yes"said Marnerdocilelybringing his eyes very closethatthey mightbe initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized hishead withboth her small armsand put her lips against his facewithpurring noises.
"Seethere" said Dollywith a woman's tender tact"she'sfondest o'you. She wants to go o' your lapI'll be bound. Gothen: takeherMaster Marner; you can put the things onand thenyou cansay as you've done for her from the first of her coming toyou."
Marnertook her on his laptrembling with an emotion mysterious tohimselfat something unknown dawning on his life. Thought andfeelingwere so confused within himthat if he had tried to givethemutterancehe could only have said that the child was comeinstead ofthe goldthat the gold had turned into the child. Hetook thegarments from Dollyand put them on under her teaching;interruptedof courseby Baby's gymnastics.
"Therethen! whyyou take to it quite easyMaster Marner"saidDolly; "but what shall you do when you're forced to sit inyourloom? For she'll get busier and mischievouser every dayshewillbless her. It's lucky as you've got that high hearth i'steadof agratefor that keeps the fire more out of her reach: but ifyou've gotanything as can be spilt or brokeor as is fit to cutherfingers offshe'll be at itand it is but right you shouldknow."
Silasmeditated a little while in some perplexity. "I'll tie herto the lego' the loom" he said at last"tie her with a goodlong stripo' something."
"Wellmayhap that'll doas it's a little gellfor they're easierpersuadedto sit i' one place nor the lads. I know what the ladsare; forI've had fourfour I've hadGod knowsand if you wasto takeand tie 'em upthey'd make a fighting and a crying as ifyou wasringing the pigs. But I'll bring you my little chairandsome bitso' red rag and things for her to play wi'; an' she'll sitandchatter to 'em as if they was alive. Ehif it wasn't a sin tothe ladsto wish 'em made differentbless 'emI should ha' beenglad forone of 'em to be a little gell; and to think as I could ha'taught herto scourand mendand the knittingand everything.But I canteach 'em this little unMaster Marnerwhen she gets oldenough."
"Butshe'll be _my_ little un" said Marnerrather hastily."She'llbe nobody else's."
"Noto be sure; you'll have a right to herif you're a father toherandbring her up according. But" added Dollycoming to apointwhich she had determined beforehand to touch upon"you mustbring herup like christened folks's childrenand take her tochurchand let her learn her catechiseas my little Aaron can sayoffthe "Ibelieve"and everythingand "hurt nobody by word ordeed"aswell as if he was the clerk. That's what you must doMasterMarnerif you'd do the right thing by the orphin child."
Marner'spale face flushed suddenly under a new anxiety. His mindwas toobusy trying to give some definite bearing to Dolly's wordsfor him tothink of answering her.
"Andit's my belief" she went on"as the poor little creaturhas neverbeen christenedand it's nothing but right as the parsonshould bespoke to; and if you was noways unwillingI'd talk toMr. Maceyabout it this very day. For if the child ever wentanywayswrongand you hadn't done your part by itMaster Marner'noculationand everything to save it from harmit 'ud be athorn i'your bed for ever o' this side the grave; and I can't thinkas it 'udbe easy lying down for anybody when they'd got to anotherworldifthey hadn't done their part by the helpless children ascomewi'out their own asking."
Dollyherself was disposed to be silent for some time nowfor shehad spokenfrom the depths of her own simple beliefand was muchconcernedto know whether her words would produce the desired effecton Silas. He was puzzled and anxiousfor Dolly's word"christened"conveyed no distinct meaning to him. He had onlyheard ofbaptismand had only seen the baptism of grown-up men andwomen.
"Whatis it as you mean by "christened"?" he said atlasttimidly. "Won't folks be good to her without it?"
"Deardear! Master Marner" said Dollywith gentle distress andcompassion. "Had you never no father nor mother as taught you tosay yourprayersand as there's good words and good things to keepus fromharm?"
"Yes"said Silasin a low voice; "I know a deal about thatused toused to. But your ways are different: my country was agood wayoff." He paused a few momentsand then addedmoredecidedly"But I want to do everything as can be done for thechild. And whatever's right for it i' this countryand you think'ull do itgoodI'll act accordingif you'll tell me."
"WellthenMaster Marner" said Dollyinwardly rejoiced"I'llask Mr.Macey to speak to the parson about it; and you must fix on aname foritbecause it must have a name giv' it when it'schristened."
"Mymother's name was Hephzibah" said Silas"and my littlesister wasnamed after her."
"Ehthat's a hard name" said Dolly. "I partly think itisn't achristenedname."
"It'sa Bible name" said Silasold ideas recurring.
"ThenI've no call to speak again' it" said Dollyratherstartledby Silas's knowledge on this head; "but you see I'm noscholardand I'm slow at catching the words. My husband says I'mallayslike as if I was putting the haft for the handlethat'swhat hesaysfor he's very sharpGod help him. But it wasawk'ardcalling your little sister by such a hard namewhen you'dgotnothing big to saylikewasn't itMaster Marner?"
"Wecalled her Eppie" said Silas.
"Wellif it was noways wrong to shorten the nameit 'ud be a dealhandier. And so I'll go nowMaster Marnerand I'll speak aboutthechristening afore dark; and I wish you the best o' luckandit's mybelief as it'll come to youif you do what's right by theorphinchild;and there's the 'noculation to be seen to; and asto washingits bits o' thingsyou need look to nobody but mefor Ican do 'emwi' one hand when I've got my suds about. Ehtheblessedangil! You'll let me bring my Aaron one o' these daysandhe'll showher his little cart as his father's made for himand theblack-and-whitepup as he's got a-rearing."
Baby _was_christenedthe rector deciding that a double baptism wasthe lesserrisk to incur; and on this occasion Silasmaking himselfas cleanand tidy as he couldappeared for the first time withinthechurchand shared in the observances held sacred by hisneighbours. He was quite unableby means of anything he heard orsawtoidentify the Raveloe religion with his old faith; if hecould atany time in his previous life have done soit must havebeen bythe aid of a strong feeling ready to vibrate with sympathyratherthan by a comparison of phrases and ideas: and now for longyears thatfeeling had been dormant. He had no distinct idea aboutthebaptism and the church-goingexcept that Dolly had said it wasfor thegood of the child; and in this wayas the weeks grew tomonthsthe child created fresh and fresh links between his life andthe livesfrom which he had hitherto shrunk continually intonarrowerisolation. Unlike the gold which needed nothingand mustbeworshipped in close-locked solitudewhich was hidden away fromthedaylightwas deaf to the song of birdsand started to no humantonesEppiewas a creature of endless claims and ever-growingdesiresseeking and loving sunshineand living soundsand livingmovements;making trial of everythingwith trust in new joyandstirringthe human kindness in all eyes that looked on her. Thegold hadkept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circleleading tonothingbeyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changesand hopesthat forced his thoughts onwardand carried them far awayfrom theirold eager pacing towards the same blank limitcarriedthem awayto the new things that would come with the coming yearswhen Eppiewould have learned to understand how her father Silascared forher; and made him look for images of that time in the tiesandcharities that bound together the families of his neighbours.The goldhad asked that he should sit weaving longer and longerdeafenedand blinded more and more to all things except the monotonyof hisloom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him awayfrom hisweavingand made him think all its pauses a holidayreawakeninghis senses with her fresh lifeeven to the oldwinter-fliesthat came crawling forth in the early spring sunshineandwarming him into joy because _she_ had joy.
And whenthe sunshine grew strong and lastingso that thebuttercupswere thick in the meadowsSilas might be seen in thesunnymiddayor in the late afternoon when the shadows werelengtheningunder the hedgerowsstrolling out with uncovered headto carryEppie beyond the Stone-pits to where the flowers grewtilltheyreached some favourite bank where he could sit downwhileEppietoddled to pluck the flowersand make remarks to the wingedthingsthat murmured happily above the bright petalscalling"Dad-dad's"attention continually by bringing him the flowers.Then shewould turn her ear to some sudden bird-noteand Silaslearned toplease her by making signs of hushed stillnessthat theymightlisten for the note to come again: so that when it camesheset up hersmall back and laughed with gurgling triumph. Sitting onthe banksin this waySilas began to look for the once familiarherbsagain; and as the leaveswith their unchanged outline andmarkingslay on his palmthere was a sense of crowdingremembrancesfrom which he turned away timidlytaking refuge inEppie'slittle worldthat lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.
As thechild's mind was growing into knowledgehis mind was growingintomemory: as her life unfoldedhis soullong stupefied in acoldnarrow prisonwas unfolding tooand trembling gradually intofullconsciousness.
It was aninfluence which must gather force with every new year: thetones thatstirred Silas's heart grew articulateand called formoredistinct answers; shapes and sounds grew clearer for Eppie'seyes andearsand there was more that "Dad-dad" was imperativelyrequiredto notice and account for. Alsoby the time Eppie wasthreeyears oldshe developed a fine capacity for mischiefand fordevisingingenious ways of being troublesomewhich found muchexercisenot only for Silas's patiencebut for his watchfulnessandpenetration. Sorely was poor Silas puzzled on such occasions bytheincompatible demands of love. Dolly Winthrop told him thatpunishmentwas good for Eppieand thatas for rearing a childwithoutmaking it tingle a little in soft and safe places now andthenitwas not to be done.
"Tobe surethere's another thing you might doMaster Marner"addedDollymeditatively: "you might shut her up once i' thecoal-hole. That was what I did wi' Aaron; for I was that silly wi'theyoungest ladas I could never bear to smack him. Not as Icould findi' my heart to let him stay i' the coal-hole more nor aminutebut it was enough to colly him all overso as he must benew washedand dressedand it was as good as a rod to himthatwas. But I put it upo' your conscienceMaster Marneras there'sone of 'emyou must chooseayther smacking or the coal-holeelseshe'll get so masterfulthere'll be no holding her."
Silas wasimpressed with the melancholy truth of this last remark;but hisforce of mind failed before the only two penal methods opento himnot only because it was painful to him to hurt Eppiebutbecause hetrembled at a moment's contention with herlest sheshouldlove him the less for it. Let even an affectionate Goliathgethimself tied to a small tender thingdreading to hurt it bypullingand dreading still more to snap the cordand which of thetwopraywill be master? It was clear that Eppiewith her shorttoddlingstepsmust lead father Silas a pretty dance on any finemorningwhen circumstances favoured mischief.
Forexample. He had wisely chosen a broad strip of linen as a meansoffastening her to his loom when he was busy: it made a broad beltround herwaistand was long enough to allow of her reaching thetruckle-bedand sitting down on itbut not long enough for her toattemptany dangerous climbing. One bright summer's morning Silashad beenmore engrossed than usual in "setting up" a new piece ofworkanoccasion on which his scissors were in requisition. Thesescissorsowing to an especial warning of Dolly'shad been keptcarefullyout of Eppie's reach; but the click of them had had apeculiarattraction for her earand watching the results of thatclickshehad derived the philosophic lesson that the same causewouldproduce the same effect. Silas had seated himself in hisloomandthe noise of weaving had begun; but he had left hisscissorson a ledge which Eppie's arm was long enough to reach; andnowlikea small mousewatching her opportunityshe stole quietlyfrom hercornersecured the scissorsand toddled to the bed againsetting upher back as a mode of concealing the fact. She had adistinctintention as to the use of the scissors; and having cut thelinenstrip in a jagged but effectual mannerin two moments she hadrun out atthe open door where the sunshine was inviting herwhilepoor Silasbelieved her to be a better child than usual. It was notuntil hehappened to need his scissors that the terrible fact burstupon him:Eppie had run out by herselfhad perhaps fallen intotheStone-pit. Silasshaken by the worst fear that could havebefallenhimrushed outcalling "Eppie!" and ran eagerlyabouttheunenclosed spaceexploring the dry cavities into which shemight havefallenand then gazing with questioning dread at thesmooth redsurface of the water. The cold drops stood on his brow.How longhad she been out? There was one hopethat she had creptthroughthe stile and got into the fieldswhere he habitually tookher tostroll. But the grass was high in the meadowand there wasnodescrying herif she were thereexcept by a close search thatwould be atrespass on Mr. Osgood's crop. Stillthat misdemeanourmust becommitted; and poor Silasafter peering all round thehedgerowstraversed the grassbeginning with perturbed vision tosee Eppiebehind every group of red sorreland to see her movingalwaysfarther off as he approached. The meadow was searched invain; andhe got over the stile into the next fieldlooking withdying hopetowards a small pond which was now reduced to its summershallownessso as to leave a wide margin of good adhesive mud.Herehoweversat Eppiediscoursing cheerfully to her own smallbootwhich she was using as a bucket to convey the water into adeephoof-markwhile her little naked foot was planted comfortablyon acushion of olive-green mud. A red-headed calf was observingher withalarmed doubt through the opposite hedge.
Here wasclearly a case of aberration in a christened child whichdemandedsevere treatment; but Silasovercome with convulsive joyat findinghis treasure againcould do nothing but snatch her upand coverher with half-sobbing kisses. It was not until he hadcarriedher homeand had begun to think of the necessary washingthat herecollected the need that he should punish Eppieand "makeherremember". The idea that she might run away again and cometoharmgavehim unusual resolutionand for the first time hedeterminedto try the coal-holea small closet near the hearth.
"Naughtynaughty Eppie" he suddenly beganholding her on hiskneeandpointing to her muddy feet and clothes"naughty to cutwith thescissors and run away. Eppie must go into the coal-holefor beingnaughty. Daddy must put her in the coal-hole."
Hehalf-expected that this would be shock enoughand that Eppiewouldbegin to cry. But instead of thatshe began to shake herselfon hiskneeas if the proposition opened a pleasing novelty.Seeingthat he must proceed to extremitieshe put her into thecoal-holeand held the door closedwith a trembling sense that hewas usinga strong measure. For a moment there was silencebutthen camea little cry"Opyopy!" and Silas let her outagainsaying"Now Eppie 'ull never be naughty againelse she must go inthecoal-holea black naughty place."
Theweaving must stand still a long while this morningfor nowEppie mustbe washedand have clean clothes on; but it was to behoped thatthis punishment would have a lasting effectand savetime infuturethoughperhapsit would have been better ifEppie hadcried more.
In half anhour she was clean againand Silas having turned hisback tosee what he could do with the linen bandthrew it downagainwith the reflection that Eppie would be good withoutfasteningfor the rest of the morning. He turned round againandwas goingto place her in her little chair near the loomwhen shepeeped outat him with black face and hands againand said"Eppiein detoal-hole!"
This totalfailure of the coal-hole discipline shook Silas's beliefin theefficacy of punishment. "She'd take it all for fun"heobservedto Dolly"if I didn't hurt herand that I can't doMrs.Winthrop. If she makes me a bit o' troubleI can bear it.And she'sgot no tricks but what she'll grow out of."
"Wellthat's partly trueMaster Marner" said Dollysympathetically;"and if you can't bring your mind to frighten herofftouching thingsyou must do what you can to keep 'em out of herway. That's what I do wi' the pups as the lads are allaysa-rearing. They _will_ worry and gnawworry and gnaw they willif it wasone's Sunday cap as hung anywhere so as they could dragit. They know no differenceGod help 'em: it's the pushing o' theteeth assets 'em onthat's what it is."
So Eppiewas reared without punishmentthe burden of her misdeedsbeingborne vicariously by father Silas. The stone hut was made asoft nestfor herlined with downy patience: and also in the worldthat laybeyond the stone hut she knew nothing of frowns anddenials.
Notwithstandingthe difficulty of carrying her and his yarn or linenat thesame timeSilas took her with him in most of his journeys tothefarmhousesunwilling to leave her behind at Dolly Winthrop'swho wasalways ready to take care of her; and little curly-headedEppietheweaver's childbecame an object of interest at severaloutlyinghomesteadsas well as in the village. Hitherto he hadbeentreated very much as if he had been a useful gnome or browniea queerand unaccountable creaturewho must necessarily belooked atwith wondering curiosity and repulsionand with whom onewould beglad to make all greetings and bargains as brief aspossiblebut who must be dealt with in a propitiatory wayandoccasionallyhave a present of pork or garden stuff to carry homewith himseeing that without him there was no getting the yarnwoven. But now Silas met with open smiling faces and cheerfulquestioningas a person whose satisfactions and difficulties couldbeunderstood. Everywhere he must sit a little and talk about thechildandwords of interest were always ready for him: "AhMasterMarneryou'll be lucky if she takes the measles soon and easy!"or"Whythere isn't many lone men 'ud ha' been wishing to takeup with alittle un like that: but I reckon the weaving makes youhandierthan men as do out-door workyou're partly as handy as awomanforweaving comes next to spinning." Elderly masters andmistressesseated observantly in large kitchen arm-chairsshooktheirheads over the difficulties attendant on rearing childrenfeltEppie's round arms and legsand pronounced them remarkablyfirmandtold Silas thatif she turned out well (whichhoweverthere wasno telling)it would be a fine thing for him to have asteadylass to do for him when he got helpless. Servant maidenswere fondof carrying her out to look at the hens and chickensorto see ifany cherries could be shaken down in the orchard; and thesmall boysand girls approached her slowlywith cautious movementand steadygazelike little dogs face to face with one of their ownkindtillattraction had reached the point at which the soft lipswere putout for a kiss. No child was afraid of approaching Silaswhen Eppiewas near him: there was no repulsion around him noweither foryoung or old; for the little child had come to link himonce morewith the whole world. There was love between him and thechild thatblent them into oneand there was love between the childand theworldfrom men and women with parental looks and tonesto the redlady-birds and the round pebbles.
Silasbegan now to think of Raveloe life entirely in relation toEppie: shemust have everything that was a good in Raveloe; and helisteneddocilelythat he might come to understand better what thislife wasfrom whichfor fifteen yearshe had stood aloof as froma strangethingwith which he could have no communion: as some manwho has aprecious plant to which he would give a nurturing home ina newsoilthinks of the rainand the sunshineand allinfluencesin relation to his nurslingand asks industriously forallknowledge that will help him to satisfy the wants of thesearchingrootsor to guard leaf and bud from invading harm. Thedispositionto hoard had been utterly crushed at the very first bythe lossof his long-stored gold: the coins he earned afterwardsseemed asirrelevant as stones brought to complete a house suddenlyburied byan earthquake; the sense of bereavement was too heavy uponhim forthe old thrill of satisfaction to arise again at the touchof thenewly-earned coin. And now something had come to replace hishoardwhich gave a growing purpose to the earningsdrawing his hopeand joycontinually onward beyond the money.
In olddays there were angels who came and took men by the hand andled themaway from the city of destruction. We see no white-wingedangelsnow. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction:a hand isput into theirswhich leads them forth gently towards acalm andbright landso that they look no more backward; and thehand maybe a little child's.
There wasone personas you will believewho watched with keenerthoughmore hidden interest than any otherthe prosperous growth ofEppieunder the weaver's care. He dared not do anything that wouldimply astronger interest in a poor man's adopted child than couldbeexpected from the kindliness of the young Squirewhen a chancemeetingsuggested a little present to a simple old fellow whomothersnoticed with goodwill; but he told himself that the timewould comewhen he might do something towards furthering the welfareof hisdaughter without incurring suspicion. Was he very uneasy inthemeantime at his inability to give his daughter her birthright?I cannotsay that he was. The child was being taken care ofandwould verylikely be happyas people in humble stations often werehappierperhapsthan those brought up in luxury.
Thatfamous ring that pricked its owner when he forgot duty andfolloweddesireI wonder if it pricked very hard when he set outon thechaseor whether it pricked but lightly thenand onlypierced tothe quick when the chase had long been endedand hopefoldingher wingslooked backward and became regret?
GodfreyCass's cheek and eye were brighter than ever now. He was soundividedin his aimsthat he seemed like a man of firmness. NoDunsey hadcome back: people had made up their minds that he wasgone for asoldieror gone "out of the country"and no one caredto bespecific in their inquiries on a subject delicate to arespectablefamily. Godfrey had ceased to see the shadow of Dunseyacross hispath; and the path now lay straight forward to theaccomplishmentof his bestlongest-cherished wishes. Everybodysaid Mr.Godfrey had taken the right turn; and it was pretty clearwhat wouldbe the end of thingsfor there were not many days in theweek thathe was not seen riding to the Warrens. Godfrey himselfwhen hewas asked jocosely if the day had been fixedsmiled withthepleasant consciousness of a lover who could say "yes"ifheliked. Hefelt a reformed mandelivered from temptation; and thevision ofhis future life seemed to him as a promised land for whichhe had nocause to fight. He saw himself with all his happinesscentred onhis own hearthwhile Nancy would smile on him as heplayedwith the children.
And thatother childnot on the hearthhe would not forget it;he wouldsee that it was well provided for. That was a father'sduty.
It was abright autumn Sundaysixteen years after Silas Marner hadfound hisnew treasure on the hearth. The bells of the old Raveloechurchwere ringing the cheerful peal which told that the morningservicewas ended; and out of the arched doorway in the tower cameslowlyretarded by friendly greetings and questionsthe richerparishionerswho had chosen this bright Sunday morning as eligibleforchurch-going. It was the rural fashion of that time for themoreimportant members of the congregation to depart firstwhiletheirhumbler neighbours waited and looked onstroking their bentheads ordropping their curtsies to any large ratepayer who turnedto noticethem.
Foremostamong these advancing groups of well-clad peoplethere aresome whomwe shall recognizein spite of Timewho has laid hishand onthem all. The tall blond man of forty is not much changedin featurefrom the Godfrey Cass of six-and-twenty: he is onlyfuller infleshand has only lost the indefinable look of youtha losswhich is marked even when the eye is undulled and thewrinklesare not yet come. Perhaps the pretty womannot muchyoungerthan hewho is leaning on his armis more changed than herhusband:the lovely bloom that used to be always on her cheek nowcomes butfitfullywith the fresh morning air or with some strongsurprise;yet to all who love human faces best for what they tell ofhumanexperienceNancy's beauty has a heightened interest. Oftenthe soulis ripened into fuller goodness while age has spread anugly filmso that mere glances can never divine the preciousness ofthefruit. But the years have not been so cruel to Nancy. Thefirmyet placidmouththe clear veracious glance of the brown eyesspeak nowof a nature that has been tested and has kept its highestqualities;and even the costumewith its dainty neatness andpurityhas more significance now the coquetries of youth can havenothing todo with it.
Mr. andMrs. Godfrey Cass (any higher title has died away fromRaveloelips since the old Squire was gathered to his fathers andhisinheritance was divided) have turned round to look for the tallaged manand the plainly dressed woman who are a little behindNancyhaving observed that they must wait for "father andPriscilla"andnow they all turn into a narrower path leadingacross thechurchyard to a small gate opposite the Red House. Wewill notfollow them now; for may there not be some others in thisdepartingcongregation whom we should like to see againsome ofthose whoare not likely to be handsomely cladand whom we may notrecognizeso easily as the master and mistress of the Red House?
But it isimpossible to mistake Silas Marner. His large brown eyesseem tohave gathered a longer visionas is the way with eyes thathave beenshort-sighted in early lifeand they have a less vagueamoreanswering gaze; but in everything else one sees signs of aframe muchenfeebled by the lapse of the sixteen years. Theweaver'sbent shoulders and white hair give him almost the look ofadvancedagethough he is not more than five-and-fifty; but thereis thefreshest blossom of youth close by his sidea blondedimpledgirl of eighteenwho has vainly tried to chastise her curlyauburnhair into smoothness under her brown bonnet: the hair ripplesasobstinately as a brooklet under the March breezeand the littleringletsburst away from the restraining comb behind and showthemselvesbelow the bonnet-crown. Eppie cannot help being rathervexedabout her hairfor there is no other girl in Raveloe who hashair atall like itand she thinks hair ought to be smooth. Shedoes notlike to be blameworthy even in small things: you see howneatly herprayer-book is folded in her spotted handkerchief.
Thatgood-looking young fellowin a new fustian suitwho walksbehindheris not quite sure upon the question of hair in theabstractwhen Eppie puts it to himand thinks that perhapsstraighthair is the best in generalbut he doesn't want Eppie'shair to bedifferent. She surely divines that there is some onebehind herwho is thinking about her very particularlyandmusteringcourage to come to her side as soon as they are out in thelaneelsewhy should she look rather shyand take care not to turnaway herhead from her father Silasto whom she keeps murmuringlittlesentences as to who was at church and who was not at churchand howpretty the red mountain-ash is over the Rectory wall?
"Iwish _we_ had a little gardenfatherwith double daisies inlike Mrs.Winthrop's" said Eppiewhen they were out in the lane;"onlythey say it 'ud take a deal of digging and bringing freshsoilandyou couldn't do thatcould youfather? AnyhowIshouldn'tlike you to do itfor it 'ud be too hard work for you."
"YesI could do itchildif you want a bit o' garden: these longeveningsI could work at taking in a little bit o' the wastejustenough fora root or two o' flowers for you; and againi' themorningIcould have a turn wi' the spade before I sat down to theloom. Why didn't you tell me before as you wanted a bit o'garden?"
"_I_can dig it for youMaster Marner" said the young man infustianwho was now by Eppie's sideentering into the conversationwithoutthe trouble of formalities. "It'll be play to me afterI've donemy day's workor any odd bits o' time when the work'sslack. And I'll bring you some soil from Mr. Cass's gardenhe'lllet meand willing."
"EhAaronmy ladare you there?" said Silas; "I wasn'tawareof you;for when Eppie's talking o' thingsI see nothing but whatshe'sa-saying. Wellif you could help me with the diggingwemight gether a bit o' garden all the sooner."
"Thenif you think well and good" said Aaron"I'll come to theStone-pitsthis afternoonand we'll settle what land's to be takeninandI'll get up an hour earlier i' the morningand begin onit."
"Butnot if you don't promise me not to work at the hard diggingfather"said Eppie. "For I shouldn't ha' said anything aboutit"she addedhalf-bashfullyhalf-roguishly"onlyMrs.Winthrop said as Aaron 'ud be so goodand "
"Andyou might ha' known it without mother telling you" saidAaron. "And Master Marner knows tooI hopeas I'm able andwilling todo a turn o' work for himand he won't do me theunkindnessto anyways take it out o' my hands."
"Therenowfatheryou won't work in it till it's all easy"saidEppie"and you and me can mark out the bedsand make holesand plantthe roots. It'll be a deal livelier at the Stone-pitswhen we'vegot some flowersfor I always think the flowers can seeus andknow what we're talking about. And I'll have a bit o'rosemaryand bergamotand thymebecause they're sosweet-smelling;but there's no lavender only in the gentlefolks'gardensIthink."
"That'sno reason why you shouldn't have some" said Aaron"forI canbring you slips of anything; I'm forced to cut no end of 'emwhen I'mgardeningand throw 'em away mostly. There's a big bed o'lavenderat the Red House: the missis is very fond of it."
"Well"said Silasgravely"so as you don't make free for usor ask foranything as is worth much at the Red House: forMr. Cass'sbeen so good to usand built us up the new end o' thecottageand given us beds and thingsas I couldn't abide to beimposin'for garden-stuff or anything else."
"Nonothere's no imposin'" said Aaron; "there's never agarden inall the parish but what there's endless waste in it forwant o'somebody as could use everything up. It's what I think tomyselfsometimesas there need nobody run short o' victuals if theland wasmade the most onand there was never a morsel but whatcould findits way to a mouth. It sets one thinking o' thatgardeningdoes. But I must go back nowelse mother 'ull be introuble asI aren't there."
"Bringher with you this afternoonAaron" said Eppie; "Ishouldn'tlike to fix about the gardenand her not know everythingfrom thefirstshould _you_father?"
"Ayebring her if you canAaron" said Silas; "she's sure tohave aword to say as'll help us to set things on their right end."
Aaronturned back up the villagewhile Silas and Eppie went on upthe lonelysheltered lane.
"Odaddy!" she beganwhen they were in privacyclasping andsqueezingSilas's armand skipping round to give him an energetickiss. "My little old daddy! I'm so glad. I don't think Ishallwantanything else when we've got a little garden; and I knew Aaronwould digit for us" she went on with roguish triumph"I knewthat verywell."
"You'rea deep little pussyou are" said Silaswith the mildpassivehappiness of love-crowned age in his face; "but you'll makeyourselffine and beholden to Aaron."
"OhnoI shan't" said Eppielaughing and frisking; "he likesit."
"Comecomelet me carry your prayer-bookelse you'll be droppingitjumping i' that way."
Eppie wasnow aware that her behaviour was under observationbut itwas onlythe observation of a friendly donkeybrowsing with a logfastenedto his foota meek donkeynot scornfully critical ofhumantrivialitiesbut thankful to share in themif possiblebygettinghis nose scratched; and Eppie did not fail to gratify himwith herusual noticethough it was attended with the inconvenienceof hisfollowing thempainfullyup to the very door of their home.
But thesound of a sharp bark insideas Eppie put the key in thedoormodified the donkey's viewsand he limped away again withoutbidding. The sharp bark was the sign of an excited welcome that wasawaitingthem from a knowing brown terrierwhoafter dancing attheir legsin a hysterical mannerrushed with a worrying noise at atortoise-shellkitten under the loomand then rushed back with asharp barkagainas much as to say"I have done my duty by thisfeeblecreatureyou perceive"; while the lady-mother of the kittensatsunning her white bosom in the windowand looked round with asleepy airof expecting caressesthough she was not going to takeanytrouble for them.
Thepresence of this happy animal life was not the only change whichhad comeover the interior of the stone cottage. There was no bednow in theliving-roomand the small space was well filled withdecentfurnitureall bright and clean enough to satisfy DollyWinthrop'seye. The oaken table and three-cornered oaken chair werehardlywhat was likely to be seen in so poor a cottage: they hadcomewiththe beds and other thingsfrom the Red House; forMr.Godfrey Cassas every one said in the villagedid very kindlyby theweaver; and it was nothing but right a man should be lookedon andhelped by those who could afford itwhen he had brought upan orphanchildand been father and mother to herand had losthis moneytooso as he had nothing but what he worked for week byweekandwhen the weaving was going down toofor there was lessand lessflax spunand Master Marner was none so young. Nobodywasjealous of the weaverfor he was regarded as an exceptionalpersonwhose claims on neighbourly help were not to be matched inRaveloe. Any superstition that remained concerning him had taken anentirelynew colour; and Mr. Maceynow a very feeble old man offourscoreand sixnever seen except in his chimney-corner orsitting inthe sunshine at his door-sillwas of opinion that when aman haddone what Silas had done by an orphan childit was a signthat hismoney would come to light againor leastwise that therobberwould be made to answer for itforas Mr. Macey observedofhimselfhis faculties were as strong as ever.
Silas satdown now and watched Eppie with a satisfied gaze as shespread theclean clothand set on it the potato-piewarmed upslowly ina safe Sunday fashionby being put into a dry pot over aslowly-dyingfireas the best substitute for an oven. For Silaswould notconsent to have a grate and oven added to hisconveniences:he loved the old brick hearth as he had loved hisbrownpotand was it not there when he had found Eppie? The godsof thehearth exist for us still; and let all new faith be tolerantof thatfetishismlest it bruise its own roots.
Silas atehis dinner more silently than usualsoon laying down hisknife andforkand watching half-abstractedly Eppie's play withSnap andthe catby which her own dining was made rather a lengthybusiness. Yet it was a sight that might well arrest wanderingthoughts:Eppiewith the rippling radiance of her hair and thewhitenessof her rounded chin and throat set off by the dark-bluecottongownlaughing merrily as the kitten held on with her fourclaws toone shoulderlike a design for a jug-handlewhile Snap onthe righthand and Puss on the other put up their paws towards amorselwhich she held out of the reach of bothSnap occasionallydesistingin order to remonstrate with the cat by a cogent worryinggrowl onthe greediness and futility of her conduct; till Eppierelentedcaressed them bothand divided the morsel between them.
But atlast Eppieglancing at the clockchecked the playandsaid"Odaddyyou're wanting to go into the sunshine to smokeyourpipe. But I must clear away firstso as the house may be tidywhengodmother comes. I'll make hasteI won't be long."
Silas hadtaken to smoking a pipe daily during the last two yearshavingbeen strongly urged to it by the sages of Raveloeas apractice"good for the fits"; and this advice was sanctioned byDr.Kimbleon the ground that it was as well to try what could dono harmaprinciple which was made to answer for a great deal ofwork inthat gentleman's medical practice. Silas did not highlyenjoysmokingand often wondered how his neighbours could be sofond ofit; but a humble sort of acquiescence in what was held to begoodhadbecome a strong habit of that new self which had beendevelopedin him since he had found Eppie on his hearth: it had beenthe onlyclew his bewildered mind could hold by in cherishing thisyoung lifethat had been sent to him out of the darkness into whichhis goldhad departed. By seeking what was needful for Eppiebysharingthe effect that everything produced on herhe had himselfcome toappropriate the forms of custom and belief which were themould ofRaveloe life; and aswith reawakening sensibilitiesmemoryalso reawakenedhe had begun to ponder over the elements ofhis oldfaithand blend them with his new impressionstill herecovereda consciousness of unity between his past and present.The senseof presiding goodness and the human trust which come withall purepeace and joyhad given him a dim impression that therehad beensome errorsome mistakewhich had thrown that dark shadowover thedays of his best years; and as it grew more and more easyto him toopen his mind to Dolly Winthrophe gradually communicatedto her allhe could describe of his early life. The communicationwasnecessarily a slow and difficult processfor Silas's meagrepower ofexplanation was not aided by any readiness ofinterpretationin Dollywhose narrow outward experience gave her nokey tostrange customsand made every novelty a source of wonderthatarrested them at every step of the narrative. It was only byfragmentsand at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve whatshe hadheard till it acquired some familiarity for herthat Silasat lastarrived at the climax of the sad storythe drawing oflotsandits false testimony concerning him; and this had to berepeatedin several interviewsunder new questions on her part asto thenature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing theinnocent.
"Andyourn's the same Bibleyou're sure o' thatMaster Marnerthe Bibleas you brought wi' you from that countryit's the sameas whatthey've got at churchand what Eppie's a-learning to readin?"
"Yes"said Silas"every bit the same; and there's drawing o'lots inthe Biblemind you" he added in a lower tone.
"Ohdeardear" said Dolly in a grieved voiceas if she werehearing anunfavourable report of a sick man's case. She was silentfor someminutes; at last she said
"There'swise folkshappenas know how it all is; the parsonknowsI'll be bound; but it takes big words to tell them thingsand suchas poor folks can't make much out on. I can never rightlyknow themeaning o' what I hear at churchonly a bit here andtherebutI know it's good wordsI do. But what lies upo' yourmindit'sthisMaster Marner: asif Them above had done therightthing by youThey'd never ha' let you be turned out for awickedthief when you was innicent."
"Ah!" said Silaswho had now come to understand Dolly'sphraseology"that was what fell on me like as if it had beenred-hotiron; becauseyou seethere was nobody as cared for me orclave tome above nor below. And him as I'd gone out and in wi' forten yearand moresince when we was lads and went halvesmineownfamiliar friend in whom I trustedhad lifted up his heel again'meandworked to ruin me."
"Ehbut he was a bad unI can't think as there's anothersuch"said Dolly. "But I'm o'ercomeMaster Marner; I'm like asif I'dwaked and didn't know whether it was night or morning.I feelsomehow as sure as I do when I've laid something up though Ican'tjustly put my hand on itas there was a rights in whathappenedto youif one could but make it out; and you'd no call tolose heartas you did. But we'll talk on it again; for sometimesthingscome into my head when I'm leeching or poulticingor suchas I couldnever think on when I was sitting still."
Dolly wastoo useful a woman not to have many opportunities ofilluminationof the kind she alluded toand she was not long beforesherecurred to the subject.
"MasterMarner" she saidone day that she came to bring homeEppie'swashing"I've been sore puzzled for a good bit wi' thattrouble o'yourn and the drawing o' lots; and it got twistedback'ardsand for'ardsas I didn't know which end to lay hold on.But itcome to me all clear likethat night when I was sitting upwi' poorBessy Fawkesas is dead and left her children behindGodhelp 'emitcome to me as clear as daylight; but whether I've gothold on itnowor can anyways bring it to my tongue's endthat Idon'tknow. For I've often a deal inside me as'll never come out;and forwhat you talk o' your folks in your old country niver sayingprayers byheart nor saying 'em out of a bookthey must bewonderfulcliver; for if I didn't know "Our Father"and little bitso' goodwords as I can carry out o' church wi' meI might down o'my kneesevery nightbut nothing could I say."
"Butyou can mostly say something as I can make sense onMrs.Winthrop" said Silas.
"WellthenMaster Marnerit come to me summat like this: I canmakenothing o' the drawing o' lots and the answer coming wrong; it'ud mayhaptake the parson to tell thatand he could only tell usi' bigwords. But what come to me as clear as the daylightit waswhen I wastroubling over poor Bessy Fawkesand it allays comesinto myhead when I'm sorry for folksand feel as I can't do apower tohelp 'emnot if I was to get up i' the middle o' the nightit comesinto my head as Them above has got a deal tenderer heartnor whatI've gotfor I can't be anyways better nor Them as mademe; and ifanything looks hard to meit's because there's things Idon't knowon; and for the matter o' thatthere may be plenty o'things Idon't know onfor it's little as I knowthat it is.And sowhile I was thinking o' thatyou come into my mindMasterMarnerand it all come pouring in:if _I_ felt i' my inside whatwas theright and just thing by youand them as prayed and drawedthe lotsall but that wicked unif _they_'d ha' done the rightthing byyou if they couldisn't there Them as was at the making onusandknows better and has a better will? And that's all as everI can besure onand everything else is a big puzzle to me when Ithink onit. For there was the fever come and took off them as werefull-growedand left the helpless children; and there's thebreakingo' limbs; and them as 'ud do right and be sober have tosuffer bythem as are contrairyehthere's trouble i' thisworldandthere's things as we can niver make out the rights on.And all aswe've got to do is to trustenMaster Marnerto do therightthing as fur as we knowand to trusten. For if us as knowsso littlecan see a bit o' good and rightswe may be sure asthere's agood and a rights bigger nor what we can knowI feel iti' my owninside as it must be so. And if you could but ha' gone ontrusteningMaster Marneryou wouldn't ha' run away from yourfellow-creatursand been so lone."
"Ahbut that 'ud ha' been hard" said Silasin an under-tone;"it'ud ha' been hard to trusten then."
"Andso it would" said Dollyalmost with compunction; "themthings areeasier said nor done; and I'm partly ashamed o'talking."
"Naynay" said Silas"you're i' the rightMrs. Winthropyou're i'the right. There's good i' this worldI've a feelingo' thatnow; and it makes a man feel as there's a good more nor hecan seei' spite o' the trouble and the wickedness. That drawingo' thelots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there's dealingswithusthere's dealings."
Thisdialogue took place in Eppie's earlier yearswhen Silas had topart withher for two hours every daythat she might learn to readat thedame schoolafter he had vainly tried himself to guide herin thatfirst step to learning. Now that she was grown upSilashad oftenbeen ledin those moments of quiet outpouring which cometo peoplewho live together in perfect loveto talk with _her_ tooof thepastand how and why he had lived a lonely man until she hadbeen sentto him. For it would have been impossible for him to hidefrom Eppiethat she was not his own child: even if the most delicatereticenceon the point could have been expected from Raveloe gossipsin herpresenceher own questions about her mother could not havebeenparriedas she grew upwithout that complete shrouding of thepast whichwould have made a painful barrier between their minds.So Eppiehad long known how her mother had died on the snowy groundand howshe herself had been found on the hearth by father Silaswho hadtaken her golden curls for his lost guineas brought back tohim. The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared herin almostinseparable companionship with himselfaided by theseclusionof their dwellinghad preserved her from the loweringinfluencesof the village talk and habitsand had kept her mind inthatfreshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be aninvariableattribute of rusticity. Perfect love has a breath ofpoetrywhich can exalt the relations of the least-instructed humanbeings;and this breath of poetry had surrounded Eppie from the timewhen shehad followed the bright gleam that beckoned her to Silas'shearth; sothat it is not surprising ifin other things besides herdelicateprettinessshe was not quite a common village maidenbuthad atouch of refinement and fervour which came from no otherteachingthan that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling. She wastoochildish and simple for her imagination to rove into questionsabout herunknown father; for a long while it did not even occur toher thatshe must have had a father; and the first time that theidea ofher mother having had a husband presented itself to herwaswhen Silasshowed her the wedding-ring which had been taken from thewastedfingerand had been carefully preserved by him in a littlelackeredbox shaped like a shoe. He delivered this box into Eppie'schargewhen she had grown upand she often opened it to look at thering: butstill she thought hardly at all about the father of whomit was thesymbol. Had she not a father very close to herwholoved herbetter than any real fathers in the village seemed to lovetheirdaughters? On the contrarywho her mother wasand how shecame todie in that forlornnesswere questions that often pressedon Eppie'smind. Her knowledge of Mrs. Winthropwho was hernearestfriend next to Silasmade her feel that a mother must beveryprecious; and she had again and again asked Silas to tell herhow hermother lookedwhom she was likeand how he had found heragainstthe furze bushled towards it by the little footsteps andtheoutstretched arms. The furze bush was there still; and thisafternoonwhen Eppie came out with Silas into the sunshineit wasthe firstobject that arrested her eyes and thoughts.
"Father"she saidin a tone of gentle gravitywhich sometimescame likea sadderslower cadence across her playfulness"weshall takethe furze bush into the garden; it'll come into thecornerand just against it I'll put snowdrops and crocuses'causeAaron saysthey won't die outbut'll always get more and more."
"Ahchild" said Silasalways ready to talk when he had his pipein hishandapparently enjoying the pauses more than the puffs"itwouldn't do to leave out the furze bush; and there's nothingprettierto my thinkingwhen it's yallow with flowers. But it'sjust comeinto my head what we're to do for a fencemayhap Aaroncan helpus to a thought; but a fence we must haveelse the donkeysand things'ull come and trample everything down. And fencing'shard to begot atby what I can make out."
"OhI'll tell youdaddy" said Eppieclasping her handssuddenlyafter a minute's thought. "There's lots o' loose stonesaboutsome of 'em not bigand we might lay 'em atop of oneanotherand make a wall. You and me could carry the smallestandAaron 'udcarry the restI know he would."
"Ehmy precious un" said Silas"there isn't enough stones togo allround; and as for you carryingwhywi' your little arms youcouldn'tcarry a stone no bigger than a turnip. You're dillicatemademydear" he addedwith a tender intonation"that's whatMrs.Winthrop says."
"OhI'm stronger than you thinkdaddy" said Eppie; "and iftherewasn't stones enough to go all roundwhy they'll go part o'the wayand then it'll be easier to get sticks and things for therest. See hereround the big pitwhat a many stones!"
Sheskipped forward to the pitmeaning to lift one of the stonesandexhibit her strengthbut she started back in surprise.
"Ohfatherjust come and look here" she exclaimed"come andsee howthe water's gone down since yesterday. Whyyesterday thepit wasever so full!"
"Wellto be sure" said Silascoming to her side. "Whythat'sthedraining they've begun onsince harvesti' Mr. Osgood'sfieldsIreckon. The foreman said to me the other daywhen Ipassed by'em"Master Marner" he said"I shouldn't wonder ifwelay yourbit o' waste as dry as a bone." It was Mr. Godfrey Casshe saidhad gone into the draining: he'd been taking these fieldso' Mr.Osgood."
"Howodd it'll seem to have the old pit dried up!" said Eppieturningawayand stooping to lift rather a large stone. "SeedaddyIcan carry this quite well" she saidgoing along withmuchenergy for a few stepsbut presently letting it fall.
"Ahyou're fine and strongaren't you?" said SilaswhileEppieshook heraching arms and laughed. "Comecomelet us go and sitdown onthe bank against the stile thereand have no more lifting.You mighthurt yourselfchild. You'd need have somebody to workfor youandmy arm isn't over strong."
Silasuttered the last sentence slowlyas if it implied more thanmet theear; and Eppiewhen they sat down on the banknestledclose tohis sideandtaking hold caressingly of the arm that wasnot overstrongheld it on her lapwhile Silas puffed againdutifullyat the pipewhich occupied his other arm. An ash in thehedgerowbehind made a fretted screen from the sunand threw happyplayfulshadows all about them.
"Father"said Eppievery gentlyafter they had been sitting insilence alittle while"if I was to be marriedought I to bemarriedwith my mother's ring?"
Silas gavean almost imperceptible startthough the question fellin withthe under-current of thought in his own mindand then saidin asubdued tone"WhyEppiehave you been a-thinking on it?"
"Onlythis last weekfather" said Eppieingenuously"sinceAarontalked to me about it."
"Andwhat did he say?" said Silasstill in the same subduedwayas if hewere anxious lest he should fall into the slightest tonethat wasnot for Eppie's good.
"Hesaid he should like to be marriedbecause he was a-going infour-and-twentyand had got a deal of gardening worknowMr. Mott'sgiven up; and he goes twice a-week regular to Mr. Cass'sand onceto Mr. Osgood'sand they're going to take him on at theRectory."
"Andwho is it as he's wanting to marry?" said Silaswithrathera sadsmile.
"Whymeto be suredaddy" said Eppiewith dimpling laughterkissingher father's cheek; "as if he'd want to marry anybodyelse!"
"Andyou mean to have himdo you?" said Silas.
"Yessome time" said Eppie"I don't know when. Everybody'smarriedsome timeAaron says. But I told him that wasn't true:forIsaidlook at fatherhe's never been married."
"Nochild" said Silas"your father was a lone man till youwassent tohim."
"Butyou'll never be lone againfather" said Eppietenderly."Thatwas what Aaron said"I could never think o' taking youaway fromMaster MarnerEppie." And I said"It 'ud be no useifyou didAaron." And he wants us all to live togetherso as youneedn'twork a bitfatheronly what's for your own pleasure; andhe'd be asgood as a son to youthat was what he said."
"Andshould you like thatEppie?" said Silaslooking at her.
"Ishouldn't mind itfather" said Eppiequite simply. "AndIshouldlike things to be so as you needn't work much. But if itwasn't forthatI'd sooner things didn't change. I'm very happy: Ilike Aaronto be fond of meand come and see us oftenand behavepretty toyouhe always _does_ behave pretty to youdoesn't hefather?"
"Yeschildnobody could behave better" said Silasemphatically. "He's his mother's lad."
"ButI don't want any change" said Eppie. "I should liketo goon a longlong whilejust as we are. Only Aaron does want achange;and he made me cry a bitonly a bitbecause he said Ididn'tcare for himfor if I cared for him I should want us to bemarriedas he did."
"Ehmy blessed child" said Silaslaying down his pipe as if itwereuseless to pretend to smoke any longer"you're o'er young tobemarried. We'll ask Mrs. Winthropwe'll ask Aaron's motherwhat _she_thinks: if there's a right thing to doshe'll come atit. But there's this to be thought onEppie: things _will_ changewhether welike it or no; things won't go on for a long while justas theyare and no difference. I shall get older and helplesserand be aburden on youbelikeif I don't go away from youaltogether. Not as I mean you'd think me a burdenI know youwouldn'tbutit 'ud be hard upon you; and when I look for'ard tothatIlike to think as you'd have somebody else besides mesomebodyyoung and strongas'll outlast your own lifeand takecare onyou to the end." Silas pausedandresting his wrists onhis kneeslifted his hands up and down meditatively as he looked ontheground.
"Thenwould you like me to be marriedfather?" said Eppiewitha littletrembling in her voice.
"I'llnot be the man to say noEppie" said Silasemphatically;"butwe'll ask your godmother. She'll wish the right thing by youand herson too."
"Therethey comethen" said Eppie. "Let us go and meet'em.Ohthepipe! won't you have it lit againfather?" saidEppieliftingthat medicinal appliance from the ground.
"Naychild" said Silas"I've done enough for to-day. Ithinkmayhapalittle of it does me more good than so much at once."
WhileSilas and Eppie were seated on the bank discoursing in thefleckeredshade of the ash treeMiss Priscilla Lammeter wasresistingher sister's argumentsthat it would be better to taketea at theRed Houseand let her father have a long napthan drivehome tothe Warrens so soon after dinner. The family party (of fouronly) wereseated round the table in the dark wainscoted parlourwith theSunday dessert before themof fresh filbertsapplesandpearsduly ornamented with leaves by Nancy's own hand before thebells hadrung for church.
A greatchange has come over the dark wainscoted parlour since wesaw it inGodfrey's bachelor daysand under the wifeless reign ofthe oldSquire. Now all is polishon which no yesterday's dust iseverallowed to restfrom the yard's width of oaken boards roundthecarpetto the old Squire's gun and whips and walking-sticksranged onthe stag's antlers above the mantelpiece. All other signsofsporting and outdoor occupation Nancy has removed to anotherroom; butshe has brought into the Red House the habit of filialreverenceand preserves sacredly in a place of honour these relicsof herhusband's departed father. The tankards are on theside-tablestillbut the bossed silver is undimmed by handlingandthere areno dregs to send forth unpleasant suggestions: the onlyprevailingscent is of the lavender and rose-leaves that fill thevases ofDerbyshire spar. All is purity and order in this oncedrearyroomforfifteen years agoit was entered by a newpresidingspirit.
"Nowfather" said Nancy"_is_ there any call for you to gohome totea? Mayn't you just as well stay with us?such abeautifulevening as it's likely to be."
The oldgentleman had been talking with Godfrey about the increasingpoor-rateand the ruinous timesand had not heard the dialoguebetweenhis daughters.
"Mydearyou must ask Priscilla" he saidin the once firmvoicenowbecome rather broken. "She manages me and the farmtoo."
"Andreason good as I should manage youfather" said Priscilla"elseyou'd be giving yourself your death with rheumatism. And asfor thefarmif anything turns out wrongas it can't but do inthesetimesthere's nothing kills a man so soon as having nobody tofind faultwith but himself. It's a deal the best way o' beingmastertolet somebody else do the orderingand keep the blamingin yourown hands. It 'ud save many a man a stroke_I_ believe."
"Wellwellmy dear" said her fatherwith a quiet laugh"Ididn't sayyou don't manage for everybody's good."
"Thenmanage so as you may stay teaPriscilla" said Nancyputtingher hand on her sister's arm affectionately. "Come now;and we'llgo round the garden while father has his nap."
"Mydear childhe'll have a beautiful nap in the gigfor I shalldrive. And as for staying teaI can't hear of it; for there's thisdairymaidnow she knows she's to be marriedturned Michaelmasshe'd aslief pour the new milk into the pig-trough as into thepans. That's the way with 'em all: it's as if they thought theworld 'udbe new-made because they're to be married. So come andlet me putmy bonnet onand there'll be time for us to walk roundthe gardenwhile the horse is being put in."
When thesisters were treading the neatly-swept garden-walksbetweenthe bright turf that contrasted pleasantly with the darkcones andarches and wall-like hedges of yewPriscilla said
"I'mas glad as anything at your husband's making that exchange o'land withcousin Osgoodand beginning the dairying. It's athousandpities you didn't do it before; for it'll give yousomethingto fill your mind. There's nothing like a dairy if folkswant a bito' worrit to make the days pass. For as for rubbingfurniturewhen you can once see your face in a table there'snothingelse to look for; but there's always something fresh withthe dairy;for even in the depths o' winter there's some pleasure inconqueringthe butterand making it come whether or no. My dear"addedPriscillapressing her sister's hand affectionately as theywalkedside by side"you'll never be low when you've got adairy."
"AhPriscilla" said Nancyreturning the pressure with agratefulglance of her clear eyes"but it won't make up toGodfrey: adairy's not so much to a man. And it's only what hecares forthat ever makes me low. I'm contented with the blessingswe haveif he could be contented."
"Itdrives me past patience" said Priscillaimpetuously"thatway o' themenalways wanting and wantingand never easy withwhatthey've got: they can't sit comfortable in their chairs whenthey'veneither ache nor painbut either they must stick a pipe intheirmouthsto make 'em better than wellor else they must beswallowingsomething strongthough they're forced to make hastebefore thenext meal comes in. But joyful be it spokenour fatherwas neverthat sort o' man. And if it had pleased God to make youuglylikemeso as the men wouldn't ha' run after youwe mighthave keptto our own familyand had nothing to do with folks ashave gotuneasy blood in their veins."
"Ohdon't say soPriscilla" said Nancyrepenting that she hadcalledforth this outburst; "nobody has any occasion to find faultwithGodfrey. It's natural he should be disappointed at not havinganychildren: every man likes to have somebody to work for and layby forand he always counted so on making a fuss with 'em when theywerelittle. There's many another man 'ud hanker more than he does.He's thebest of husbands."
"OhI know" said Priscillasmiling sarcastically"I know theway o'wives; they set one on to abuse their husbandsand then theyturn roundon one and praise 'em as if they wanted to sell 'em. Butfather'llbe waiting for me; we must turn now."
The largegig with the steady old grey was at the front doorandMr.Lammeter was already on the stone stepspassing the time inrecallingto Godfrey what very fine points Speckle had when hismasterused to ride him.
"Ialways _would_ have a good horseyou know" said the oldgentlemannot liking that spirited time to be quite effaced fromthe memoryof his juniors.
"Mindyou bring Nancy to the Warrens before the week's outMr. Cass"was Priscilla's parting injunctionas she took thereinsandshook them gentlyby way of friendly incitement toSpeckle.
"Ishall just take a turn to the fields against the Stone-pitsNancyandlook at the draining" said Godfrey.
"You'llbe in again by tea-timedear?"
"OhyesI shall be back in an hour."
It wasGodfrey's custom on a Sunday afternoon to do a littlecontemplativefarming in a leisurely walk. Nancy seldom accompaniedhim; forthe women of her generationunlesslike Priscillatheytook tooutdoor managementwere not given to much walking beyondtheir ownhouse and gardenfinding sufficient exercise in domesticduties. Sowhen Priscilla was not with hershe usually sat withMant'sBible before herand after following the text with her eyesfor alittle whileshe would gradually permit them to wander as herthoughtshad already insisted on wandering.
ButNancy's Sunday thoughts were rarely quite out of keeping withthe devoutand reverential intention implied by the book spread openbeforeher. She was not theologically instructed enough to discernveryclearly the relation between the sacred documents of the pastwhich sheopened without methodand her own obscuresimple life;but thespirit of rectitudeand the sense of responsibility for theeffect ofher conduct on otherswhich were strong elements inNancy'scharacterhad made it a habit with her to scrutinize herpastfeelings and actions with self-questioning solicitude. Hermind notbeing courted by a great variety of subjectsshe filledthe vacantmoments by living inwardlyagain and againthrough allherremembered experienceespecially through the fifteen years ofhermarried timein which her life and its significance had beendoubled. She recalled the small detailsthe wordstonesandlooksinthe critical scenes which had opened a new epoch for herby givingher a deeper insight into the relations and trials oflifeorwhich had called on her for some little effort offorbearanceor of painful adherence to an imagined or real dutyaskingherself continually whether she had been in any respectblamable. This excessive rumination and self-questioning is perhapsa morbidhabit inevitable to a mind of much moral sensibility whenshut outfrom its due share of outward activity and of practicalclaims onits affectionsinevitable to a noble-heartedchildlesswomanwhen her lot is narrow. "I can do so littlehave I doneit allwell?" is the perpetually recurring thought; and there areno voicescalling her away from that soliloquyno peremptorydemands todivert energy from vain regret or superfluous scruple.
There wasone main thread of painful experience in Nancy's marriedlifeandon it hung certain deeply-felt sceneswhich were theoftenestrevived in retrospect. The short dialogue with Priscillain thegarden had determined the current of retrospect in thatfrequentdirection this particular Sunday afternoon. The firstwanderingof her thought from the textwhich she still attempteddutifullyto follow with her eyes and silent lipswas into animaginaryenlargement of the defence she had set up for her husbandagainstPriscilla's implied blame. The vindication of the lovedobject isthe best balm affection can find for its wounds:"Aman musthave so much on his mind" is the belief by which a wifeoftensupports a cheerful face under rough answers and unfeelingwords. And Nancy's deepest wounds had all come from the perceptionthat theabsence of children from their hearth was dwelt on in herhusband'smind as a privation to which he could not reconcilehimself.
Yet sweetNancy might have been expected to feel still more keenlythe denialof a blessing to which she had looked forward with allthe variedexpectations and preparationssolemn and prettilytrivialwhich fill the mind of a loving woman when she expects tobecome amother. Was there not a drawer filled with the neat workof herhandsall unworn and untouchedjust as she had arranged ittherefourteen years agojustbut for one little dresswhichhad beenmade the burial-dress? But under this immediate personaltrialNancy was so firmly unmurmuringthat years ago she hadsuddenlyrenounced the habit of visiting this drawerlest sheshould inthis way be cherishing a longing for what was not given.
Perhaps itwas this very severity towards any indulgence of what sheheld to besinful regret in herselfthat made her shrink fromapplyingher own standard to her husband. "It is very differentit is muchworse for a man to be disappointed in that way: a womancan alwaysbe satisfied with devoting herself to her husbandbut aman wantssomething that will make him look forward moreandsitting bythe fire is so much duller to him than to a woman." Andalwayswhen Nancy reached this point in her meditationstryingwithpredetermined sympathyto see everything as Godfrey saw itthere camea renewal of self-questioning. _Had_ she done everythingin herpower to lighten Godfrey's privation? Had she really beenright inthe resistance which had cost her so much pain six yearsagoandagain four years agothe resistance to her husband'swish thatthey should adopt a child? Adoption was more remote fromthe ideasand habits of that time than of our own; still Nancy hadheropinion on it. It was as necessary to her mind to have anopinion onall topicsnot exclusively masculinethat had comeunder hernoticeas for her to have a precisely marked place foreveryarticle of her personal property: and her opinions were alwaysprinciplesto be unwaveringly acted on. They were firmnot becauseof theirbasisbut because she held them with a tenacityinseparablefrom her mental action. On all the duties andproprietiesof lifefrom filial behaviour to the arrangements oftheevening toilettepretty Nancy Lammeterby the time she wasthree-and-twentyhad her unalterable little codeand had formedevery oneof her habits in strict accordance with that code. Shecarriedthese decided judgments within her in the most unobtrusiveway: theyrooted themselves in her mindand grew there as quietlyas grass. Years agowe knowshe insisted on dressing likePriscillabecause "it was right for sisters to dress alike"andbecause"she would do what was right if she wore a gown dyed withcheese-colouring". That was a trivial but typical instance of themode inwhich Nancy's life was regulated.
It was oneof those rigid principlesand no petty egoistic feelingwhich hadbeen the ground of Nancy's difficult resistance to herhusband'swish. To adopt a childbecause children of your own hadbeendenied youwas to try and choose your lot in spite ofProvidence:the adopted childshe was convincedwould never turnout welland would be a curse to those who had wilfully andrebelliouslysought what it was clear thatfor some high reasonthey werebetter without. When you saw a thing was not meant to besaidNancyit was a bounden duty to leave off so much as wishingfor it. And so farperhapsthe wisest of men could scarcely makemore thana verbal improvement in her principle. But the conditionsunderwhich she held it apparent that a thing was not meant to bedependedon a more peculiar mode of thinking. She would have givenup makinga purchase at a particular place ifon three successivetimesrainor some other cause of Heaven's sendinghad formed anobstacle;and she would have anticipated a broken limb or otherheavymisfortune to any one who persisted in spite of suchindications.
"Butwhy should you think the child would turn out ill?" saidGodfreyin his remonstrances. "She has thriven as well as childcan dowith the weaver; and _he_ adopted her. There isn't such aprettylittle girl anywhere else in the parishor one fitter forthestation we could give her. Where can be the likelihood of herbeing acurse to anybody?"
"Yesmy dear Godfrey" said Nancywho was sitting with her handstightlyclasped togetherand with yearningregretful affection inher eyes. "The child may not turn out ill with the weaver. Butthenhedidn't go to seek heras we should be doing. It will bewrong: Ifeel sure it will. Don't you remember what that lady wemet at theRoyston Baths told us about the child her sister adopted?That wasthe only adopting I ever heard of: and the child wastransportedwhen it was twenty-three. Dear Godfreydon't ask me todo what Iknow is wrong: I should never be happy again. I know it'svery hardfor _you_it's easier for mebut it's the will ofProvidence."
It mightseem singular that Nancywith her religious theorypiecedtogether out of narrow social traditionsfragments of churchdoctrineimperfectly understoodand girlish reasonings on her smallexperienceshouldhave arrived by herself at a way of thinking sonearlyakin to that of many devout peoplewhose beliefs are held inthe shapeof a system quite remote from her knowledgesingularif we didnot know that human beliefslike all other naturalgrowthselude the barriers of system.
Godfreyhad from the first specified Eppiethen about twelve yearsoldas achild suitable for them to adopt. It had never occurredto himthat Silas would rather part with his life than with Eppie.Surely theweaver would wish the best to the child he had taken somuchtrouble withand would be glad that such good fortune shouldhappen toher: she would always be very grateful to himand hewould bewell provided for to the end of his lifeprovided for astheexcellent part he had done by the child deserved. Was it not anappropriatething for people in a higher station to take a chargeoff thehands of a man in a lower? It seemed an eminentlyappropriatething to Godfreyfor reasons that were known only tohimself;and by a common fallacyhe imagined the measure would beeasybecause he had private motives for desiring it. This wasrather acoarse mode of estimating Silas's relation to Eppie; but wemustremember that many of the impressions which Godfrey was likelyto gatherconcerning the labouring people around him would favourthe ideathat deep affections can hardly go along with callous palmsand scantmeans; and he had not had the opportunityeven if he hadhad thepowerof entering intimately into all that was exceptionalin theweaver's experience. It was only the want of adequateknowledgethat could have made it possible for Godfrey deliberatelytoentertain an unfeeling project: his natural kindness had outlivedthatblighting time of cruel wishesand Nancy's praise of him as ahusbandwas not founded entirely on a wilful illusion.
"Iwas right" she said to herselfwhen she had recalled alltheirscenes of discussion"I feel I was right to say him naythough ithurt me more than anything; but how good Godfrey has beenabout it! Many men would have been very angry with me for standingoutagainst their wishes; and they might have thrown out that they'dhadill-luck in marrying me; but Godfrey has never been the man tosay me anunkind word. It's only what he can't hide: everythingseems soblank to himI know; and the landwhat a difference it'ud maketo himwhen he goes to see after thingsif he'd childrengrowing upthat he was doing it all for! But I won't murmur; andperhaps ifhe'd married a woman who'd have had childrenshe'd havevexed himin other ways."
Thispossibility was Nancy's chief comfort; and to give it greaterstrengthshe laboured to make it impossible that any other wifeshouldhave had more perfect tenderness. She had been _forced_ tovex him bythat one denial. Godfrey was not insensible to herlovingeffortand did Nancy no injustice as to the motives of herobstinacy. It was impossible to have lived with her fifteen yearsand not beaware that an unselfish clinging to the rightand asincerityclear as the flower-born dewwere her maincharacteristics;indeedGodfrey felt this so stronglythat his ownmorewavering naturetoo averse to facing difficulty to beunvaryinglysimple and truthfulwas kept in a certain awe of thisgentlewife who watched his looks with a yearning to obey them. Itseemed tohim impossible that he should ever confess to her thetruthabout Eppie: she would never recover from the repulsion thestory ofhis earlier marriage would createtold to her nowafterthat longconcealment. And the childtoohe thoughtmust becomean objectof repulsion: the very sight of her would be painful. Theshock toNancy's mingled pride and ignorance of the world's evilmight evenbe too much for her delicate frame. Since he had marriedher withthat secret on his hearthe must keep it there to thelast. Whatever else he didhe could not make an irreparable breachbetweenhimself and this long-loved wife.
Meanwhilewhy could he not make up his mind to the absence ofchildrenfrom a hearth brightened by such a wife? Why did his mindflyuneasily to that voidas if it were the sole reason why lifewas notthoroughly joyous to him? I suppose it is the way with allmen andwomen who reach middle age without the clear perception thatlife never_can_ be thoroughly joyous: under the vague dullness ofthe greyhoursdissatisfaction seeks a definite objectand findsit in theprivation of an untried good. Dissatisfaction seatedmusinglyon a childless hearththinks with envy of the father whosereturn isgreeted by young voicesseated at the meal where thelittleheads rise one above another like nursery plantsit sees ablack carehovering behind every one of themand thinks theimpulsesby which men abandon freedomand seek for tiesare surelynothingbut a brief madness. In Godfrey's case there were furtherreasonswhy his thoughts should be continually solicited by this onepoint inhis lot: his consciencenever thoroughly easy about Eppienow gavehis childless home the aspect of a retribution; and as thetimepassed onunder Nancy's refusal to adopt herany retrieval ofhis errorbecame more and more difficult.
On thisSunday afternoon it was already four years since there hadbeen anyallusion to the subject between themand Nancy supposedthat itwas for ever buried.
"Iwonder if he'll mind it less or more as he gets older" shethought;"I'm afraid more. Aged people feel the miss of children:what wouldfather do without Priscilla? And if I dieGodfrey willbe verylonelynot holding together with his brothers much. ButI won't beover-anxiousand trying to make things out beforehand: Imust do mybest for the present."
With thatlast thought Nancy roused herself from her reverieandturned hereyes again towards the forsaken page. It had beenforsakenlonger than she imaginedfor she was presently surprisedby theappearance of the servant with the tea-things. It wasinfactalittle before the usual time for tea; but Jane had herreasons.
"Isyour master come into the yardJane?"
"No'mhe isn't" said Janewith a slight emphasisof whichhoweverher mistress took no notice.
"Idon't know whether you've seen 'em'm" continued Janeaftera pause"but there's folks making haste all one wayafore thefrontwindow. I doubt something's happened. There's niver a mantobe seen i'the yardelse I'd send and see. I've been up into thetop atticbut there's no seeing anything for trees. I hopenobody'shurtthat's all."
"OhnoI daresay there's nothing much the matter" said Nancy."It'sperhaps Mr. Snell's bull got out againas he did before."
"Iwish he mayn't gore anybody thenthat's all" said Janenotaltogetherdespising a hypothesis which covered a few imaginarycalamities.
"Thatgirl is always terrifying me" thought Nancy; "I wishGodfreywould come in."
She wentto the front window and looked as far as she could seealong theroadwith an uneasiness which she felt to be childishfor therewere now no such signs of excitement as Jane had spokenofandGodfrey would not be likely to return by the village roadbut by thefields. She continued to standhoweverlooking at theplacidchurchyard with the long shadows of the gravestones acrossthe brightgreen hillocksand at the glowing autumn colours of theRectorytrees beyond. Before such calm external beauty the presenceof a vaguefear is more distinctly feltlike a raven flapping itsslow wingacross the sunny air. Nancy wished more and more thatGodfreywould come in.
Some oneopened the door at the other end of the roomand Nancyfelt thatit was her husband. She turned from the window withgladnessin her eyesfor the wife's chief dread was stilled.
"DearI'm so thankful you're come" she saidgoing towards him."Ibegan to get "
She pausedabruptlyfor Godfrey was laying down his hat withtremblinghandsand turned towards her with a pale face and astrangeunanswering glanceas if he saw her indeedbut saw her aspart of ascene invisible to herself. She laid her hand on his armnot daringto speak again; but he left the touch unnoticedandthrewhimself into his chair.
Jane wasalready at the door with the hissing urn. "Tell her tokeep awaywill you?" said Godfrey; and when the door was closedagain heexerted himself to speak more distinctly.
"SitdownNancythere" he saidpointing to a chair oppositehim. "I came back as soon as I couldto hinder anybody's tellingyou butme. I've had a great shockbut I care most about theshockit'll be to you."
"Itisn't father and Priscilla?" said Nancywith quiveringlipsclaspingher hands together tightly on her lap.
"Noit's nobody living" said Godfreyunequal to the considerateskill withwhich he would have wished to make his revelation."It'sDunstanmy brother Dunstanthat we lost sight of sixteenyearsago. We've found himfound his bodyhis skeleton."
The deepdread Godfrey's look had created in Nancy made her feelthesewords a relief. She sat in comparative calmness to hear whatelse hehad to tell. He went on:
"TheStone-pit has gone dry suddenlyfrom the drainingIsuppose;and there he lieshas lain for sixteen yearswedgedbetweentwo great stones. There's his watch and sealsand there'smygold-handled hunting-whipwith my name on: he took it awaywithout myknowingthe day he went hunting on Wildfirethe lasttime hewas seen."
Godfreypaused: it was not so easy to say what came next. "Do youthink hedrowned himself?" said Nancyalmost wondering that herhusbandshould be so deeply shaken by what had happened all thoseyears agoto an unloved brotherof whom worse things had beenaugured.
"Nohe fell in" said Godfreyin a low but distinct voiceas ifhe feltsome deep meaning in the fact. Presently he added:"Dunstanwas the man that robbed Silas Marner."
The bloodrushed to Nancy's face and neck at this surprise andshameforshe had been bred up to regard even a distant kinshipwith crimeas a dishonour.
"OGodfrey!" she saidwith compassion in her tonefor shehadimmediatelyreflected that the dishonour must be felt still morekeenly byher husband.
"Therewas the money in the pit" he continued"all theweaver'smoney. Everything's been gathered upand they're takingtheskeleton to the Rainbow. But I came back to tell you: there wasnohindering it; you must know."
He wassilentlooking on the ground for two long minutes. Nancywould havesaid some words of comfort under this disgracebut sherefrainedfrom an instinctive sense that there was something behindthatGodfrey had something else to tell her. Presently he liftedhis eyesto her faceand kept them fixed on heras he said
"Everythingcomes to lightNancysooner or later. When GodAlmightywills itour secrets are found out. I've lived with asecret onmy mindbut I'll keep it from you no longer. I wouldn'thave youknow it by somebody elseand not by meI wouldn't haveyou findit out after I'm dead. I'll tell you now. It's been "Iwill"and "I won't" with me all my lifeI'll make sure of myselfnow."
Nancy'sutmost dread had returned. The eyes of the husband and wifemet withawe in themas at a crisis which suspended affection.
"Nancy"said Godfreyslowly"when I married youI hidsomethingfrom yousomething I ought to have told you. ThatwomanMarner found dead in the snowEppie's motherthatwretchedwomanwas my wife: Eppie is my child."
He pauseddreading the effect of his confession. But Nancy satquitestillonly that her eyes dropped and ceased to meet his. Shewas paleand quiet as a meditative statueclasping her hands on herlap.
"You'llnever think the same of me again" said Godfreyafter alittlewhilewith some tremor in his voice.
"Ioughtn't to have left the child unowned: I oughtn't to have keptit fromyou. But I couldn't bear to give you upNancy. I was ledaway intomarrying herI suffered for it."
StillNancy was silentlooking down; and he almost expected thatshe wouldpresently get up and say she would go to her father's.How couldshe have any mercy for faults that must seem so black toherwithher simplesevere notions?
But atlast she lifted up her eyes to his again and spoke. Therewas noindignation in her voiceonly deep regret.
"Godfreyif you had but told me this six years agowe could havedone someof our duty by the child. Do you think I'd have refusedto takeher inif I'd known she was yours?"
At thatmoment Godfrey felt all the bitterness of an error that wasnot simplyfutilebut had defeated its own end. He had notmeasuredthis wife with whom he had lived so long. But she spokeagainwith more agitation.
"AndOhGodfreyif we'd had her from the firstif you'dtaken toher as you oughtshe'd have loved me for her motherandyou'd havebeen happier with me: I could better have bore my littlebabydyingand our life might have been more like what we used tothink it'ud be."
The tearsfelland Nancy ceased to speak.
"Butyou wouldn't have married me thenNancyif I'd told you"saidGodfreyurgedin the bitterness of his self-reproachtoprove tohimself that his conduct had not been utter folly. "Youmay thinkyou would nowbut you wouldn't then. With your pride andyourfather'syou'd have hated having anything to do with me afterthe talkthere'd have been."
"Ican't say what I should have done about thatGodfrey. I shouldnever havemarried anybody else. But I wasn't worth doing wrong fornothing isin this world. Nothing is so good as it seemsbeforehandnoteven our marrying wasn'tyou see." There was afaint sadsmile on Nancy's face as she said the last words.
"I'ma worse man than you thought I wasNancy" said Godfreyrathertremulously. "Can you forgive me ever?"
"Thewrong to me is but littleGodfrey: you've made it up to meyou'vebeen good to me for fifteen years. It's another you did thewrong to;and I doubt it can never be all made up for."
"Butwe can take Eppie now" said Godfrey. "I won't mindtheworldknowing at last. I'll be plain and open for the rest o' mylife."
"It'llbe different coming to usnow she's grown up" said Nancyshakingher head sadly. "But it's your duty to acknowledge her andprovidefor her; and I'll do my part by herand pray to GodAlmightyto make her love me."
"Thenwe'll go together to Silas Marner's this very nightas soonaseverything's quiet at the Stone-pits."
Betweeneight and nine o'clock that eveningEppie and Silas wereseatedalone in the cottage. After the great excitement the weaverhadundergone from the events of the afternoonhe had felt alongingfor this quietudeand had even begged Mrs. Winthrop andAaronwhohad naturally lingered behind every one elseto leavehim alonewith his child. The excitement had not passed away: ithad onlyreached that stage when the keenness of the susceptibilitymakesexternal stimulus intolerablewhen there is no sense ofwearinessbut rather an intensity of inward lifeunder which sleepis animpossibility. Any one who has watched such moments in othermenremembers the brightness of the eyes and the strangedefinitenessthat comes over coarse features from that transientinfluence. It is as if a new fineness of ear for all spiritualvoices hadsent wonder-working vibrations through the heavy mortalframeas if"beauty born of murmuring sound" had passed intothe faceof the listener.
Silas'sface showed that sort of transfigurationas he sat in hisarm-chairand looked at Eppie. She had drawn her own chair towardshis kneesand leaned forwardholding both his handswhile shelooked upat him. On the table near themlit by a candlelay therecoveredgoldthe old long-loved goldranged in orderly heapsas Silasused to range it in the days when it was his only joy. Hehad beentelling her how he used to count it every nightand howhis soulwas utterly desolate till she was sent to him.
"AtfirstI'd a sort o' feeling come across me now and then" hewas sayingin a subdued tone"as if you might be changed into thegoldagain; for sometimesturn my head which way I wouldI seemedto see thegold; and I thought I should be glad if I could feel itand findit was come back. But that didn't last long. After a bitI shouldhave thought it was a curse come againif it had drove youfrom mefor I'd got to feel the need o' your looks and your voiceand thetouch o' your little fingers. You didn't know thenEppiewhen youwere such a little unyou didn't know what your oldfatherSilas felt for you."
"ButI know nowfather" said Eppie. "If it hadn't beenforyouthey'd have taken me to the workhouseand there'd have beennobody tolove me."
"Ehmy precious childthe blessing was mine. If you hadn't beensent tosave meI should ha' gone to the grave in my misery. Themoney wastaken away from me in time; and you see it's been keptkept tillit was wanted for you. It's wonderfulour life iswonderful."
Silas satin silence a few minuteslooking at the money. "Ittakes nohold of me now" he saidponderingly"the moneydoesn't. I wonder if it ever could againI doubt it mightif Ilost youEppie. I might come to think I was forsaken againandlose thefeeling that God was good to me."
At thatmoment there was a knocking at the door; and Eppie wasobliged torise without answering Silas. Beautiful she lookedwiththetenderness of gathering tears in her eyes and a slight flush onhercheeksas she stepped to open the door. The flush deepenedwhen shesaw Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Cass. She made her little rusticcurtsyand held the door wide for them to enter.
"We'redisturbing you very latemy dear" said Mrs. CasstakingEppie'shandand looking in her face with an expression of anxiousinterestand admiration. Nancy herself was pale and tremulous.
Eppieafter placing chairs for Mr. and Mrs. Casswent to standagainstSilasopposite to them.
"WellMarner" said Godfreytrying to speak with perfectfirmness"it's a great comfort to me to see you with your moneyagainthat you've been deprived of so many years. It was one of myfamily didyou the wrongthe more grief to meand I feel boundto make upto you for it in every way. Whatever I can do for youwill benothing but paying a debteven if I looked no further thantherobbery. But there are other things I'm beholdenshall bebeholdento you forMarner."
Godfreychecked himself. It had been agreed between him and hiswife thatthe subject of his fatherhood should be approached verycarefullyand thatif possiblethe disclosure should be reservedfor thefutureso that it might be made to Eppie gradually. Nancyhad urgedthisbecause she felt strongly the painful light in whichEppie mustinevitably see the relation between her father andmother.
Silasalways ill at ease when he was being spoken to by"betters"such as Mr. Casstallpowerfulflorid menseenchiefly onhorsebackanswered with some constraint
"SirI've a deal to thank you for a'ready. As for the robberyIcount itno loss to me. And if I didyou couldn't help it: youaren'tanswerable for it."
"Youmay look at it in that wayMarnerbut I never can; and Ihopeyou'll let me act according to my own feeling of what's just.I knowyou're easily contented: you've been a hard-working man allyourlife."
"Yessiryes" said Marnermeditatively. "I should ha'beenbad offwithout my work: it was what I held by when everything elsewas gonefrom me."
"Ah"said Godfreyapplying Marner's words simply to his bodilywants"itwas a good trade for you in this countrybecausethere'sbeen a great deal of linen-weaving to be done. But you'regettingrather past such close workMarner: it's time you laid byand hadsome rest. You look a good deal pulled downthough you'renot an oldman_are_ you?"
"Fifty-fiveas near as I can saysir" said Silas.
"Ohwhyyou may live thirty years longerlook at old Macey!And thatmoney on the tableafter allis but little. It won't gofar eitherwaywhether it's put out to interestor you were tolive on itas long as it would last: it wouldn't go far if you'dnobody tokeep but yourselfand you've had two to keep for a goodmany yearsnow."
"Ehsir" said Silasunaffected by anything Godfrey was saying"I'min no fear o' want. We shall do very wellEppie and me'ull dowell enough. There's few working-folks have got so muchlaid by asthat. I don't know what it is to gentlefolksbut I lookupon it asa dealalmost too much. And as for usit's little wewant."
"Onlythe gardenfather" said Eppieblushing up to the ears themomentafter.
"Youlove a gardendo youmy dear?" said Nancythinking thatthis turnin the point of view might help her husband. "We shouldagree inthat: I give a deal of time to the garden."
"Ahthere's plenty of gardening at the Red House" said Godfreysurprisedat the difficulty he found in approaching a propositionwhich hadseemed so easy to him in the distance. "You've done agood partby EppieMarnerfor sixteen years. It 'ud be a greatcomfort toyou to see her well provided forwouldn't it? She looksbloomingand healthybut not fit for any hardships: she doesn'tlook likea strapping girl come of working parents. You'd like tosee hertaken care of by those who can leave her well offand makea lady ofher; she's more fit for it than for a rough lifesuch asshe mightcome to have in a few years' time."
A slightflush came over Marner's faceand disappearedlike apassinggleam. Eppie was simply wondering Mr. Cass should talk soaboutthings that seemed to have nothing to do with reality; butSilas washurt and uneasy.
"Idon't take your meaningsir" he answerednot having words atcommand toexpress the mingled feelings with which he had heardMr. Cass'swords.
"Wellmy meaning is thisMarner" said Godfreydetermined tocome tothe point. "Mrs. Cass and Iyou knowhave no childrennobody tobenefit by our good home and everything else we havemore thanenough for ourselves. And we should like to have somebodyin theplace of a daughter to uswe should like to have Eppieand treather in every way as our own child. It 'ud be a greatcomfort toyou in your old ageI hopeto see her fortune made inthat wayafter you've been at the trouble of bringing her up sowell. And it's right you should have every reward for that. AndEppieI'msurewill always love you and be grateful to you: she'dcome andsee you very oftenand we should all be on the look-out todoeverything we could towards making you comfortable."
A plainman like Godfrey Cassspeaking under some embarrassmentnecessarilyblunders on words that are coarser than his intentionsand thatare likely to fall gratingly on susceptible feelings.While hehad been speakingEppie had quietly passed her arm behindSilas'sheadand let her hand rest against it caressingly: she felthimtrembling violently. He was silent for some moments whenMr. Casshad endedpowerless under the conflict of emotionsallalikepainful. Eppie's heart was swelling at the sense that herfather wasin distress; and she was just going to lean down andspeak tohimwhen one struggling dread at last gained the masteryover everyother in Silasand he saidfaintly
"Eppiemy childspeak. I won't stand in your way. Thank Mr. andMrs.Cass."
Eppie tookher hand from her father's headand came forward a step.Her cheekswere flushedbut not with shyness this time: the sensethat herfather was in doubt and suffering banished that sort ofself-consciousness. She dropped a low curtsyfirst to Mrs. Cassand thento Mr. Cassand said
"Thankyouma'amthank yousir. But I can't leave my fathernor ownanybody nearer than him. And I don't want to be a ladythank youall the same" (here Eppie dropped another curtsy). "Icouldn'tgive up the folks I've been used to."
Eppie'slips began to tremble a little at the last words. Sheretreatedto her father's chair againand held him round the neck:whileSilaswith a subdued sobput up his hand to grasp hers.
The tearswere in Nancy's eyesbut her sympathy with Eppie wasnaturallydivided with distress on her husband's account. Shedared notspeakwondering what was going on in her husband's mind.
Godfreyfelt an irritation inevitable to almost all of us when weencounteran unexpected obstacle. He had been full of his ownpenitenceand resolution to retrieve his error as far as the timewas leftto him; he was possessed with all-important feelingsthatwere tolead to a predetermined course of action which he had fixedon as therightand he was not prepared to enter with livelyappreciationinto other people's feelings counteracting his virtuousresolves. The agitation with which he spoke again was not quiteunmixedwith anger.
"ButI've a claim on youEppiethe strongest of all claims.It's mydutyMarnerto own Eppie as my childand provide for her.She is myown childher mother was my wife. I've a natural claimon herthat must stand before every other."
Eppie hadgiven a violent startand turned quite pale. Silasonthecontrarywho had been relievedby Eppie's answerfrom thedread lesthis mind should be in opposition to hersfelt the spiritofresistance in him set freenot without a touch of parentalfierceness. "Thensir" he answeredwith an accent ofbitternessthat had been silent in him since the memorable day whenhisyouthful hope had perished"thensirwhy didn't you say sosixteenyear agoand claim her before I'd come to love heri'steado' comingto take her from me nowwhen you might as well take theheart outo' my body? God gave her to me because you turned yourback uponherand He looks upon her as mine: you've no right toher! When a man turns a blessing from his doorit falls to them astake itin."
"Iknow thatMarner. I was wrong. I've repented of myconduct inthatmatter" said Godfreywho could not help feeling the edge ofSilas'swords.
"I'mglad to hear itsir" said Marnerwith gatheringexcitement;"but repentance doesn't alter what's been going on forsixteenyear. Your coming now and saying "I'm her father"doesn'talter thefeelings inside us. It's me she's been calling her fatherever sinceshe could say the word."
"ButI think you might look at the thing more reasonablyMarner"saidGodfreyunexpectedly awed by the weaver's directtruth-speaking. "It isn't as if she was to be taken quite awayfrom youso that you'd never see her again. She'll be very nearyouandcome to see you very often. She'll feel just the sametowardsyou."
"Justthe same?" said Marnermore bitterly than ever. "How'llshe feeljust the same for me as she does nowwhen we eat o' thesame bitand drink o' the same cupand think o' the same thingsfrom oneday's end to another? Just the same? that's idle talk.You'd cutus i' two."
Godfreyunqualified by experience to discern the pregnancy ofMarner'ssimple wordsfelt rather angry again. It seemed to himthat theweaver was very selfish (a judgment readily passed by thosewho havenever tested their own power of sacrifice) to oppose whatwasundoubtedly for Eppie's welfare; and he felt himself calleduponforher saketo assert his authority.
"Ishould have thoughtMarner" he saidseverely"I shouldhavethought your affection for Eppie would make you rejoice in whatwas forher goodeven if it did call upon you to give up something.You oughtto remember your own life's uncertainand she's at an agenow whenher lot may soon be fixed in a way very different from whatit wouldbe in her father's home: she may marry some lowworking-manand thenwhatever I might do for herI couldn't makeherwell-off. You're putting yourself in the way of her welfare;and thoughI'm sorry to hurt you after what you've doneand whatI've leftundoneI feel now it's my duty to insist on taking careof my owndaughter. I want to do my duty."
It wouldbe difficult to say whether it were Silas or Eppie that wasmoredeeply stirred by this last speech of Godfrey's. Thought hadbeen verybusy in Eppie as she listened to the contest between heroldlong-loved father and this new unfamiliar father who hadsuddenlycome to fill the place of that black featureless shadowwhich hadheld the ring and placed it on her mother's finger. Herimaginationhad darted backward in conjecturesand forward inprevisionsof what this revealed fatherhood implied; and there werewords inGodfrey's last speech which helped to make the previsionsespeciallydefinite. Not that these thoughtseither of past orfuturedetermined her resolution_that_ was determined by thefeelingswhich vibrated to every word Silas had uttered; but theyraisedeven apart from these feelingsa repulsion towards theofferedlot and the newly-revealed father.
Silasonthe other handwas again stricken in conscienceandalarmedlest Godfrey's accusation should be truelest he shouldbe raisinghis own will as an obstacle to Eppie's good. For manymoments hewas mutestruggling for the self-conquest necessary totheuttering of the difficult words. They came out tremulously.
"I'llsay no more. Let it be as you will. Speak to the child.I'llhinder nothing."
EvenNancywith all the acute sensibility of her own affectionsshared herhusband's viewthat Marner was not justifiable in hiswish toretain Eppieafter her real father had avowed himself. Shefelt thatit was a very hard trial for the poor weaverbut her codeallowed noquestion that a father by blood must have a claim abovethat ofany foster-father. BesidesNancyused all her life toplenteouscircumstances and the privileges of "respectability"could notenter into the pleasures which early nurture and habitconnectwith all the little aims and efforts of the poor who areborn poor:to her mindEppiein being restored to her birthrightwasentering on a too long withheld but unquestionable good. Henceshe heardSilas's last words with reliefand thoughtas Godfreydidthattheir wish was achieved.
"Eppiemy dear" said Godfreylooking at his daughternotwithoutsome embarrassmentunder the sense that she was old enoughto judgehim"it'll always be our wish that you should show yourlove andgratitude to one who's been a father to you so many yearsand weshall want to help you to make him comfortable in every way.But wehope you'll come to love us as well; and though I haven'tbeen whata father should ha' been to you all these yearsI wish todo theutmost in my power for you for the rest of my lifeandprovidefor you as my only child. And you'll have the best ofmothers inmy wifethat'll be a blessing you haven't known sinceyou wereold enough to know it."
"Mydearyou'll be a treasure to me" said Nancyin her gentlevoice. "We shall want for nothing when we have our daughter."
Eppie didnot come forward and curtsyas she had done before. SheheldSilas's hand in hersand grasped it firmlyit was aweaver'shandwith a palm and finger-tips that were sensitive tosuchpressurewhile she spoke with colder decision than before.
"Thankyouma'amthank yousirfor your offersthey'reverygreatand far above my wish. For I should have no delight i'life anymore if I was forced to go away from my fatherand knew hewassitting at homea-thinking of me and feeling lone. We've beenused to behappy together every dayand I can't think o' nohappinesswithout him. And he says he'd nobody i' the world till Iwas sentto himand he'd have nothing when I was gone. And he'stook careof me and loved me from the firstand I'll cleave to himas long ashe livesand nobody shall ever come between him andme."
"Butyou must make sureEppie" said Silasin a low voice"youmust make sure as you won't ever be sorrybecause you've madeyourchoice to stay among poor folksand with poor clothes andthingswhen you might ha' had everything o' the best."
Hissensitiveness on this point had increased as he listened toEppie'swords of faithful affection.
"Ican never be sorryfather" said Eppie. "I shouldn'tknowwhat tothink on or to wish for with fine things about meas Ihaven'tbeen used to. And it 'ud be poor work for me to put onthingsand ride in a gigand sit in a place at churchas 'ud makethem asI'm fond of think me unfitting company for 'em. What could_I_ carefor then?"
Nancylooked at Godfrey with a pained questioning glance. But hiseyes werefixed on the floorwhere he was moving the end of hisstickasif he were pondering on something absently. She thoughtthere wasa word which might perhaps come better from her lips thanfrom his.
"Whatyou say is naturalmy dear childit's natural you shouldcling tothose who've brought you up" she saidmildly; "butthere's aduty you owe to your lawful father. There's perhapssomethingto be given up on more sides than one. When your fatheropens hishome to youI think it's right you shouldn't turn yourback onit."
"Ican't feel as I've got any father but one" said Eppieimpetuouslywhile the tears gathered. "I've always thought of alittlehome where he'd sit i' the cornerand I should fend and doeverythingfor him: I can't think o' no other home. I wasn'tbrought upto be a ladyand I can't turn my mind to it. I like theworking-folksand their victualsand their ways. And" she endedpassionatelywhile the tears fell"I'm promised to marry aworking-manas'll live with fatherand help me to take care ofhim."
Godfreylooked up at Nancy with a flushed face and smarting dilatedeyes. This frustration of a purpose towards which he had set outunder theexalted consciousness that he was about to compensate insomedegree for the greatest demerit of his lifemade him feel theair of theroom stifling.
"Letus go" he saidin an under-tone.
"Wewon't talk of this any longer now" said Nancyrising."We'reyour well-wishersmy dearand yours tooMarner. Weshall comeand see you again. It's getting late now."
In thisway she covered her husband's abrupt departurefor Godfreyhad gonestraight to the doorunable to say more.
Nancy andGodfrey walked home under the starlight in silence. Whentheyentered the oaken parlourGodfrey threw himself into hischairwhile Nancy laid down her bonnet and shawland stood on thehearthnear her husbandunwilling to leave him even for a fewminutesand yet fearing to utter any word lest it might jar on hisfeeling. At last Godfrey turned his head towards herand theireyes metdwelling in that meeting without any movement on eitherside. That quiet mutual gaze of a trusting husband and wife is likethe firstmoment of rest or refuge from a great weariness or a greatdangernotto be interfered with by speech or action which woulddistractthe sensations from the fresh enjoyment of repose.
Butpresently he put out his handand as Nancy placed hers withinithedrew her towards himand said
She bentto kiss himand then saidas she stood by his side"YesI'm afraid we must give up the hope of having her for adaughter. It wouldn't be right to want to force her to come to usagainsther will. We can't alter her bringing up and what's come ofit."
"No"said Godfreywith a keen decisiveness of tonein contrastwith hisusually careless and unemphatic speech"there's debtswe can'tpay like money debtsby paying extra for the years thathaveslipped by. While I've been putting off and putting offthetrees havebeen growingit's too late now. Marner was in theright inwhat he said about a man's turning away a blessing from hisdoor: itfalls to somebody else. I wanted to pass for childlessonceNancyI shall pass for childless now against my wish."
Nancy didnot speak immediatelybut after a little while she asked"Youwon't make it knownthenabout Eppie's being your daughter?"
"No:where would be the good to anybody?only harm. I must dowhat I canfor her in the state of life she chooses. I must see whoit isshe's thinking of marrying."
"Ifit won't do any good to make the thing known" said Nancywhothoughtshe might now allow herself the relief of entertaining afeelingwhich she had tried to silence before"I should be verythankfulfor father and Priscilla never to be troubled with knowingwhat wasdone in the pastmore than about Dunsey: it can't behelpedtheir knowing that."
"Ishall put it in my willI think I shall put it in my will.Ishouldn't like to leave anything to be found outlike this ofDunsey"said Godfreymeditatively. "But I can't see anythingbutdifficulties that 'ud come from telling it now. I must do whatI can tomake her happy in her own way. I've a notion" he addedafter amoment's pause"it's Aaron Winthrop she meant she wasengagedto. I remember seeing him with her and Marner going awayfromchurch."
"Wellhe's very sober and industrious" said Nancytrying toview thematter as cheerfully as possible.
Godfreyfell into thoughtfulness again. Presently he looked up atNancysorrowfullyand said
"She'sa very prettynice girlisn't sheNancy?"
"Yesdear; and with just your hair and eyes: I wondered it hadneverstruck me before."
"Ithink she took a dislike to me at the thought of my being herfather: Icould see a change in her manner after that."
"Shecouldn't bear to think of not looking on Marner as herfather"said Nancynot wishing to confirm her husband's painfulimpression.
"Shethinks I did wrong by her mother as well as by her. Shethinks meworse than I am. But she _must_ think it: she can neverknow all. It's part of my punishmentNancyfor my daughter todislikeme. I should never have got into that trouble if I'd beentrue toyouif I hadn't been a fool. I'd no right to expectanythingbut evil could come of that marriageand when I shirkeddoing afather's part too."
Nancy wassilent: her spirit of rectitude would not let her try tosoften theedge of what she felt to be a just compunction. He spokeagainafter a little whilebut the tone was rather changed: therewastenderness mingled with the previous self-reproach.
"AndI got _you_Nancyin spite of all; and yet I've beengrumblingand uneasy because I hadn't something elseas if Ideservedit."
"You'venever been wanting to meGodfrey" said Nancywith quietsincerity. "My only trouble would be gone if you resigned yourselfto the lotthat's been given us."
"Wellperhaps it isn't too late to mend a bit there. Though it_is_ toolate to mend some thingssay what they will."
The nextmorningwhen Silas and Eppie were seated at theirbreakfasthe said to her
"Eppiethere's a thing I've had on my mind to do this two yearand nowthe money's been brought back to uswe can do it. I'vebeenturning it over and over in the nightand I think we'll setoutto-morrowwhile the fine days last. We'll leave the house andeverythingfor your godmother to take care onand we'll make alittlebundle o' things and set out."
"Whereto godaddy?" said Eppiein much surprise.
"Tomy old countryto the town where I was bornup LanternYard. I want to see Mr. Pastonthe minister: something may ha'come outto make 'em know I was innicent o' the robbery. AndMr. Pastonwas a man with a deal o' lightI want to speak to himabout thedrawing o' the lots. And I should like to talk to himabout thereligion o' this country-sidefor I partly think hedoesn'tknow on it."
Eppie wasvery joyfulfor there was the prospect not only of wonderanddelight at seeing a strange countrybut also of coming back totell Aaronall about it. Aaron was so much wiser than she was aboutmostthingsit would be rather pleasant to have this littleadvantageover him. Mrs. Winthropthough possessed with a dim fearof dangersattendant on so long a journeyand requiring manyassurancesthat it would not take them out of the region ofcarriers'carts and slow waggonswas nevertheless well pleased thatSilasshould revisit his own countryand find out if he had beenclearedfrom that false accusation.
"You'dbe easier in your mind for the rest o' your lifeMasterMarner"said Dolly"that you would. And if there's any lightto be gotup the yard as you talk onwe've need of it i' thisworldandI'd be glad on it myselfif you could bring it back."
So on thefourth day from that timeSilas and Eppiein theirSundayclotheswith a small bundle tied in a blue linenhandkerchiefwere making their way through the streets of a greatmanufacturingtown. Silasbewildered by the changes thirty yearshadbrought over his native placehad stopped several persons insuccessionto ask them the name of this townthat he might be surehe was notunder a mistake about it.
"Askfor Lantern Yardfatherask this gentleman with thetassels onhis shoulders a-standing at the shop door; he isn't in ahurry likethe rest" said Eppiein some distress at her father'sbewildermentand ill at easebesidesamidst the noisethemovementand the multitude of strange indifferent faces.
"Ehmy childhe won't know anything about it" said Silas;"gentlefolksdidn't ever go up the Yard. But happen somebody cantell mewhich is the way to Prison Streetwhere the jail is.I know theway out o' that as if I'd seen it yesterday."
With somedifficultyafter many turnings and new inquiriestheyreachedPrison Street; and the grim walls of the jailthe firstobjectthat answered to any image in Silas's memorycheered himwith thecertitudewhich no assurance of the town's name hadhithertogiven himthat he was in his native place.
"Ah"he saiddrawing a long breath"there's the jailEppie;that'sjust the same: I aren't afraid now. It's the third turningon theleft hand from the jail doorsthat's the way we must go."
"Ohwhat a dark ugly place!" said Eppie. "How ithides thesky! It's worse than the Workhouse. I'm glad you don't live inthis townnowfather. Is Lantern Yard like this street?"
"Myprecious child" said Silassmiling"it isn't a bigstreetlikethis. I never was easy i' this street myselfbut I was fondo' LanternYard. The shops here are all alteredI thinkI can'tmake 'emout; but I shall know the turningbecause it's thethird."
"Hereit is" he saidin a tone of satisfactionas they came toa narrowalley. "And then we must go to the left againand thenstraightfor'ard for a bitup Shoe Lane: and then we shall be atthe entrynext to the o'erhanging windowwhere there's the nick inthe roadfor the water to run. EhI can see it all."
"OfatherI'm like as if I was stifled" said Eppie. "Icouldn'tha' thought as any folks lived i' this wayso closetogether. How pretty the Stone-pits 'ull look when we get back!"
"Itlooks comical to _me_childnowand smells bad. I can'tthink asit usened to smell so."
Here andthere a sallowbegrimed face looked out from a gloomydoorway atthe strangersand increased Eppie's uneasinessso thatit was alonged-for relief when they issued from the alleys intoShoe Lanewhere there was a broader strip of sky.
"Dearheart!" said Silas"whythere's people coming outo' theYard as ifthey'd been to chapel at this time o' daya weekdaynoon!"
Suddenlyhe started and stood still with a look of distressedamazementthat alarmed Eppie. They were before an opening in frontof a largefactoryfrom which men and women were streaming fortheirmidday meal.
"Father"said Eppieclasping his arm"what's the matter?"
But shehad to speak again and again before Silas could answer her.
"It'sgonechild" he saidat lastin strong agitation"LanternYard's gone. It must ha' been herebecause here's thehouse withthe o'erhanging windowI know thatit's just thesame; butthey've made this new opening; and see that big factory!It's allgonechapel and all."
"Comeinto that little brush-shop and sit downfatherthey'lllet yousit down" said Eppiealways on the watch lest one of herfather'sstrange attacks should come on. "Perhaps the people cantell youall about it."
Butneither from the brush-makerwho had come to Shoe Lane only tenyears agowhen the factory was already builtnor from any othersourcewithin his reachcould Silas learn anything of the oldLanternYard friendsor of Mr. Paston the minister.
"Theold place is all swep' away" Silas said to Dolly Winthrop onthe nightof his return"the little graveyard and everything.The oldhome's gone; I've no home but this now. I shall never knowwhetherthey got at the truth o' the robberynor whether Mr. Pastoncould ha'given me any light about the drawing o' the lots. It'sdark tomeMrs. Winthropthat is; I doubt it'll be dark to thelast."
"WellyesMaster Marner" said Dollywho sat with a placidlisteningfacenow bordered by grey hairs; "I doubt it may. It'sthe willo' Them above as a many things should be dark to us; butthere'ssome things as I've never felt i' the dark aboutandthey'remostly what comes i' the day's work. You were hard done bythat onceMaster Marnerand it seems as you'll never know therights ofit; but that doesn't hinder there _being_ a rightsMasterMarnerfor all it's dark to you and me."
"No"said Silas"no; that doesn't hinder. Since the time thechild wassent to me and I've come to love her as myselfI've hadlightenough to trusten by; and now she says she'll never leave meI think Ishall trusten till I die."
There wasone time of the year which was held in Raveloe to beespeciallysuitable for a wedding. It was when the great lilacs andlaburnumsin the old-fashioned gardens showed their golden andpurplewealth above the lichen-tinted wallsand when there werecalvesstill young enough to want bucketfuls of fragrant milk.Peoplewere not so busy then as they must become when the fullcheese-makingand the mowing had set in; and besidesit was a timewhen alight bridal dress could be worn with comfort and seen toadvantage.
Happilythe sunshine fell more warmly than usual on the lilac tuftsthemorning that Eppie was marriedfor her dress was a very lightone. She had often thoughtthough with a feeling of renunciationthat theperfection of a wedding-dress would be a white cottonwiththetiniest pink sprig at wide intervals; so that when Mrs. GodfreyCassbegged to provide oneand asked Eppie to choose what it shouldbeprevious meditation had enabled her to give a decided answer atonce.
Seen at alittle distance as she walked across the churchyard anddown thevillageshe seemed to be attired in pure whiteand herhairlooked like the dash of gold on a lily. One hand was on herhusband'sarmand with the other she clasped the hand of her fatherSilas.
"Youwon't be giving me awayfather" she had said before theywent tochurch; "you'll only be taking Aaron to be a son to you."
DollyWinthrop walked behind with her husband; and there ended thelittlebridal procession.
There weremany eyes to look at itand Miss Priscilla Lammeter wasglad thatshe and her father had happened to drive up to the door ofthe RedHouse just in time to see this pretty sight. They had cometo keepNancy company to-daybecause Mr. Cass had had to go away toLytherleyfor special reasons. That seemed to be a pityforotherwisehe might have goneas Mr. Crackenthorp and Mr. Osgoodcertainlywouldto look on at the wedding-feast which he hadordered atthe Rainbownaturally feeling a great interest in theweaver whohad been wronged by one of his own family.
"Icould ha' wished Nancy had had the luck to find a child likethat andbring her up" said Priscilla to her fatheras they satin thegig; "I should ha' had something young to think of thenbesidesthe lambs and the calves."
"Yesmy dearyes" said Mr. Lammeter; "one feels that as onegetsolder. Things look dim to old folks: they'd need have someyoung eyesabout 'emto let 'em know the world's the same as itused tobe."
Nancy cameout now to welcome her father and sister; and the weddinggroup hadpassed on beyond the Red House to the humbler part of thevillage.
DollyWinthrop was the first to divine that old Mr. Maceywho hadbeen setin his arm-chair outside his own doorwould expect somespecialnotice as they passedsince he was too old to be at thewedding-feast.
"Mr.Macey's looking for a word from us" said Dolly; "he'll behurt if wepass him and say nothingand him so racked withrheumatiz."
So theyturned aside to shake hands with the old man. He had lookedforward tothe occasionand had his premeditated speech.
"WellMaster Marner" he saidin a voice that quavered a gooddeal"I've lived to see my words come true. I was the first tosay therewas no harm in youthough your looks might be again' you;and I wasthe first to say you'd get your money back. And it'snothingbut rightful as you should. And I'd ha' said the "Amens"andwillingat the holy matrimony; but Tookey's done it a goodwhile nowand I hope you'll have none the worse luck."
In theopen yard before the Rainbow the party of guests were alreadyassembledthough it was still nearly an hour before the appointedfeasttime. But by this means they could not only enjoy the slowadvent oftheir pleasure; they had also ample leisure to talk ofSilasMarner's strange historyand arrive by due degrees at theconclusionthat he had brought a blessing on himself by acting likea fatherto a lone motherless child. Even the farrier did notnegativethis sentiment: on the contraryhe took it up aspeculiarlyhis ownand invited any hardy person present tocontradicthim. But he met with no contradiction; and alldifferencesamong the company were merged in a general agreementwith Mr.Snell's sentimentthat when a man had deserved his goodluckitwas the part of his neighbours to wish him joy.
As thebridal group approacheda hearty cheer was raised in theRainbowyard; and Ben Winthropwhose jokes had retained theiracceptableflavourfound it agreeable to turn in there and receivecongratulations;not requiring the proposed interval of quiet at theStone-pitsbefore joining the company.
Eppie hada larger garden than she had ever expected there now; andin otherways there had been alterations at the expense of Mr. Cassthelandlordto suit Silas's larger family. For he and Eppie haddeclaredthat they would rather stay at the Stone-pits than go toany newhome. The garden was fenced with stones on two sidesbutin frontthere was an open fencethrough which the flowers shonewithanswering gladnessas the four united people came within sightof them.
"Ofather" said Eppie"what a pretty home ours is! Ithinknobodycould be happier than we are."