Part 2 out of 4
vallying, let him. I'm for peace and quietness, I am."
"Yes, that's what every yapping cur is, when you hold a stick up at
him," said the farrier. "But I'm afraid o' neither man nor ghost,
and I'm ready to lay a fair bet. _I_ aren't a turn-tail cur."
"Aye, but there's this in it, Dowlas," said the landlord, speaking
in a tone of much candour and tolerance. "There's folks, i' my
opinion, they can't see ghos'es, not if they stood as plain as a
pike-staff before 'em. And there's reason i' that. For there's my
wife, now, can't smell, not if she'd the strongest o' cheese under
her nose. I never see'd a ghost myself; but then I says to myself,
"Very like I haven't got the smell for 'em." I mean, putting a
ghost for a smell, or else contrairiways. And so, I'm for holding
with both sides; for, as I say, the truth lies between 'em. And if
Dowlas was to go and stand, and say he'd never seen a wink o'
Cliff's Holiday all the night through, I'd back him; and if anybody
said as Cliff's Holiday was certain sure, for all that, I'd back
_him_ too. For the smell's what I go by."
The landlord's analogical argument was not well received by the
farrier--a man intensely opposed to compromise.
"Tut, tut," he said, setting down his glass with refreshed
irritation; "what's the smell got to do with it? Did ever a ghost
give a man a black eye? That's what I should like to know. If
ghos'es want me to believe in 'em, let 'em leave off skulking i' the
dark and i' lone places--let 'em come where there's company and
"As if ghos'es 'ud want to be believed in by anybody so ignirant!"
said Mr. Macey, in deep disgust at the farrier's crass incompetence
to apprehend the conditions of ghostly phenomena.
Yet the next moment there seemed to be some evidence that ghosts had
a more condescending disposition than Mr. Macey attributed to them;
for the pale thin figure of Silas Marner was suddenly seen standing
in the warm light, uttering no word, but looking round at the
company with his strange unearthly eyes. The long pipes gave a
simultaneous movement, like the antennae of startled insects, and
every man present, not excepting even the sceptical farrier, had an
impression that he saw, not Silas Marner in the flesh, but an
apparition; for the door by which Silas had entered was hidden by
the high-screened seats, and no one had noticed his approach.
Mr. Macey, sitting a long way off the ghost, might be supposed to
have felt an argumentative triumph, which would tend to neutralize
his share of the general alarm. Had he not always said that when
Silas Marner was in that strange trance of his, his soul went loose
from his body? Here was the demonstration: nevertheless, on the
whole, he would have been as well contented without it. For a few
moments there was a dead silence, Marner's want of breath and
agitation not allowing him to speak. The landlord, under the
habitual sense that he was bound to keep his house open to all
company, and confident in the protection of his unbroken neutrality,
at last took on himself the task of adjuring the ghost.
"Master Marner," he said, in a conciliatory tone, "what's lacking
to you? What's your business here?"
"Robbed!" said Silas, gaspingly. "I've been robbed! I want the
constable--and the Justice--and Squire Cass--and
"Lay hold on him, Jem Rodney," said the landlord, the idea of a
ghost subsiding; "he's off his head, I doubt. He's wet through."
Jem Rodney was the outermost man, and sat conveniently near Marner's
standing-place; but he declined to give his services.
"Come and lay hold on him yourself, Mr. Snell, if you've a mind,"
said Jem, rather sullenly. "He's been robbed, and murdered too,
for what I know," he added, in a muttering tone.
"Jem Rodney!" said Silas, turning and fixing his strange eyes on
the suspected man.
"Aye, Master Marner, what do you want wi' me?" said Jem,
trembling a little, and seizing his drinking-can as a defensive
"If it was you stole my money," said Silas, clasping his hands
entreatingly, and raising his voice to a cry, "give it me back--
and I won't meddle with you. I won't set the constable on you.
Give it me back, and I'll let you--I'll let you have a guinea."
"Me stole your money!" said Jem, angrily. "I'll pitch this can
at your eye if you talk o' _my_ stealing your money."
"Come, come, Master Marner," said the landlord, now rising
resolutely, and seizing Marner by the shoulder, "if you've got any
information to lay, speak it out sensible, and show as you're in
your right mind, if you expect anybody to listen to you. You're as
wet as a drownded rat. Sit down and dry yourself, and speak
"Ah, to be sure, man," said the farrier, who began to feel that he
had not been quite on a par with himself and the occasion. "Let's
have no more staring and screaming, else we'll have you strapped for
a madman. That was why I didn't speak at the first--thinks I, the
man's run mad."
"Aye, aye, make him sit down," said several voices at once, well
pleased that the reality of ghosts remained still an open question.
The landlord forced Marner to take off his coat, and then to sit
down on a chair aloof from every one else, in the centre of the
circle and in the direct rays of the fire. The weaver, too feeble
to have any distinct purpose beyond that of getting help to recover
his money, submitted unresistingly. The transient fears of the
company were now forgotten in their strong curiosity, and all faces
were turned towards Silas, when the landlord, having seated himself
"Now then, Master Marner, what's this you've got to say--as
you've been robbed? Speak out."
"He'd better not say again as it was me robbed him," cried Jem
Rodney, hastily. "What could I ha' done with his money? I could
as easy steal the parson's surplice, and wear it."
"Hold your tongue, Jem, and let's hear what he's got to say," said
the landlord. "Now then, Master Marner."
Silas now told his story, under frequent questioning as the
mysterious character of the robbery became evident.
This strangely novel situation of opening his trouble to his Raveloe
neighbours, of sitting in the warmth of a hearth not his own, and
feeling the presence of faces and voices which were his nearest
promise of help, had doubtless its influence on Marner, in spite of
his passionate preoccupation with his loss. Our consciousness
rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than
without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we
detect the smallest sign of the bud.
The slight suspicion with which his hearers at first listened to
him, gradually melted away before the convincing simplicity of his
distress: it was impossible for the neighbours to doubt that Marner
was telling the truth, not because they were capable of arguing at
once from the nature of his statements to the absence of any motive
for making them falsely, but because, as Mr. Macey observed, "Folks
as had the devil to back 'em were not likely to be so mushed" as
poor Silas was. Rather, from the strange fact that the robber had
left no traces, and had happened to know the nick of time, utterly
incalculable by mortal agents, when Silas would go away from home
without locking his door, the more probable conclusion seemed to be,
that his disreputable intimacy in that quarter, if it ever existed,
had been broken up, and that, in consequence, this ill turn had been
done to Marner by somebody it was quite in vain to set the constable
after. Why this preternatural felon should be obliged to wait till
the door was left unlocked, was a question which did not present
"It isn't Jem Rodney as has done this work, Master Marner," said
the landlord. "You mustn't be a-casting your eye at poor Jem.
There may be a bit of a reckoning against Jem for the matter of a
hare or so, if anybody was bound to keep their eyes staring open,
and niver to wink; but Jem's been a-sitting here drinking his can,
like the decentest man i' the parish, since before you left your
house, Master Marner, by your own account."
"Aye, aye," said Mr. Macey; "let's have no accusing o' the
innicent. That isn't the law. There must be folks to swear again'
a man before he can be ta'en up. Let's have no accusing o' the
innicent, Master Marner."
Memory was not so utterly torpid in Silas that it could not be
awakened by these words. With a movement of compunction as new and
strange to him as everything else within the last hour, he started
from his chair and went close up to Jem, looking at him as if he
wanted to assure himself of the expression in his face.
"I was wrong," he said--"yes, yes--I ought to have thought.
There's nothing to witness against you, Jem. Only you'd been into
my house oftener than anybody else, and so you came into my head.
I don't accuse you--I won't accuse anybody--only," he added,
lifting up his hands to his head, and turning away with bewildered
misery, "I try--I try to think where my guineas can be."
"Aye, aye, they're gone where it's hot enough to melt 'em, I
doubt," said Mr. Macey.
"Tchuh!" said the farrier. And then he asked, with a
cross-examining air, "How much money might there be in the bags,
"Two hundred and seventy-two pounds, twelve and sixpence, last
night when I counted it," said Silas, seating himself again, with a
"Pooh! why, they'd be none so heavy to carry. Some tramp's been
in, that's all; and as for the no footmarks, and the bricks and the
sand being all right--why, your eyes are pretty much like a
insect's, Master Marner; they're obliged to look so close, you can't
see much at a time. It's my opinion as, if I'd been you, or you'd
been me--for it comes to the same thing--you wouldn't have
thought you'd found everything as you left it. But what I vote is,
as two of the sensiblest o' the company should go with you to Master
Kench, the constable's--he's ill i' bed, I know that much--and
get him to appoint one of us his deppity; for that's the law, and I
don't think anybody 'ull take upon him to contradick me there. It
isn't much of a walk to Kench's; and then, if it's me as is deppity,
I'll go back with you, Master Marner, and examine your premises; and
if anybody's got any fault to find with that, I'll thank him to
stand up and say it out like a man."
By this pregnant speech the farrier had re-established his
self-complacency, and waited with confidence to hear himself named
as one of the superlatively sensible men.
"Let us see how the night is, though," said the landlord, who also
considered himself personally concerned in this proposition. "Why,
it rains heavy still," he said, returning from the door.
"Well, I'm not the man to be afraid o' the rain," said the
farrier. "For it'll look bad when Justice Malam hears as
respectable men like us had a information laid before 'em and took
The landlord agreed with this view, and after taking the sense of
the company, and duly rehearsing a small ceremony known in high
ecclesiastical life as the _nolo episcopari_, he consented to take
on himself the chill dignity of going to Kench's. But to the
farrier's strong disgust, Mr. Macey now started an objection to his
proposing himself as a deputy-constable; for that oracular old
gentleman, claiming to know the law, stated, as a fact delivered to
him by his father, that no doctor could be a constable.
"And you're a doctor, I reckon, though you're only a cow-doctor--
for a fly's a fly, though it may be a hoss-fly," concluded
Mr. Macey, wondering a little at his own "'cuteness".
There was a hot debate upon this, the farrier being of course
indisposed to renounce the quality of doctor, but contending that a
doctor could be a constable if he liked--the law meant, he needn't
be one if he didn't like. Mr. Macey thought this was nonsense,
since the law was not likely to be fonder of doctors than of other
folks. Moreover, if it was in the nature of doctors more than of
other men not to like being constables, how came Mr. Dowlas to be so
eager to act in that capacity?
"_I_ don't want to act the constable," said the farrier, driven
into a corner by this merciless reasoning; "and there's no man can
say it of me, if he'd tell the truth. But if there's to be any
jealousy and en_vy_ing about going to Kench's in the rain, let them
go as like it--you won't get me to go, I can tell you."
By the landlord's intervention, however, the dispute was
accommodated. Mr. Dowlas consented to go as a second person
disinclined to act officially; and so poor Silas, furnished with
some old coverings, turned out with his two companions into the rain
again, thinking of the long night-hours before him, not as those do
who long to rest, but as those who expect to "watch for the
When Godfrey Cass returned from Mrs. Osgood's party at midnight, he
was not much surprised to learn that Dunsey had not come home.
Perhaps he had not sold Wildfire, and was waiting for another chance--
perhaps, on that foggy afternoon, he had preferred housing
himself at the Red Lion at Batherley for the night, if the run had
kept him in that neighbourhood; for he was not likely to feel much
concern about leaving his brother in suspense. Godfrey's mind was
too full of Nancy Lammeter's looks and behaviour, too full of the
exasperation against himself and his lot, which the sight of her
always produced in him, for him to give much thought to Wildfire, or
to the probabilities of Dunstan's conduct.
The next morning the whole village was excited by the story of the
robbery, and Godfrey, like every one else, was occupied in gathering
and discussing news about it, and in visiting the Stone-pits. The
rain had washed away all possibility of distinguishing foot-marks,
but a close investigation of the spot had disclosed, in the
direction opposite to the village, a tinder-box, with a flint and
steel, half sunk in the mud. It was not Silas's tinder-box, for the
only one he had ever had was still standing on his shelf; and the
inference generally accepted was, that the tinder-box in the ditch
was somehow connected with the robbery. A small minority shook
their heads, and intimated their opinion that it was not a robbery
to have much light thrown on it by tinder-boxes, that Master
Marner's tale had a queer look with it, and that such things had
been known as a man's doing himself a mischief, and then setting the
justice to look for the doer. But when questioned closely as to
their grounds for this opinion, and what Master Marner had to gain
by such false pretences, they only shook their heads as before, and
observed that there was no knowing what some folks counted gain;
moreover, that everybody had a right to their own opinions, grounds
or no grounds, and that the weaver, as everybody knew, was partly
crazy. Mr. Macey, though he joined in the defence of Marner against
all suspicions of deceit, also pooh-poohed the tinder-box; indeed,
repudiated it as a rather impious suggestion, tending to imply that
everything must be done by human hands, and that there was no power
which could make away with the guineas without moving the bricks.
Nevertheless, he turned round rather sharply on Mr. Tookey, when the
zealous deputy, feeling that this was a view of the case peculiarly
suited to a parish-clerk, carried it still farther, and doubted
whether it was right to inquire into a robbery at all when the
circumstances were so mysterious.
"As if," concluded Mr. Tookey--"as if there was nothing but
what could be made out by justices and constables."
"Now, don't you be for overshooting the mark, Tookey," said
Mr. Macey, nodding his head aside admonishingly. "That's what
you're allays at; if I throw a stone and hit, you think there's
summat better than hitting, and you try to throw a stone beyond.
What I said was against the tinder-box: I said nothing against
justices and constables, for they're o' King George's making, and it
'ud be ill-becoming a man in a parish office to fly out again' King
While these discussions were going on amongst the group outside the
Rainbow, a higher consultation was being carried on within, under
the presidency of Mr. Crackenthorp, the rector, assisted by Squire
Cass and other substantial parishioners. It had just occurred to
Mr. Snell, the landlord--he being, as he observed, a man
accustomed to put two and two together--to connect with the
tinder-box, which, as deputy-constable, he himself had had the
honourable distinction of finding, certain recollections of a pedlar
who had called to drink at the house about a month before, and had
actually stated that he carried a tinder-box about with him to light
his pipe. Here, surely, was a clue to be followed out. And as
memory, when duly impregnated with ascertained facts, is sometimes
surprisingly fertile, Mr. Snell gradually recovered a vivid
impression of the effect produced on him by the pedlar's countenance
and conversation. He had a "look with his eye" which fell
unpleasantly on Mr. Snell's sensitive organism. To be sure, he
didn't say anything particular--no, except that about the
tinder-box--but it isn't what a man says, it's the way he says it.
Moreover, he had a swarthy foreignness of complexion which boded
"Did he wear ear-rings?" Mr. Crackenthorp wished to know, having
some acquaintance with foreign customs.
"Well--stay--let me see," said Mr. Snell, like a docile
clairvoyante, who would really not make a mistake if she could help
it. After stretching the corners of his mouth and contracting his
eyes, as if he were trying to see the ear-rings, he appeared to give
up the effort, and said, "Well, he'd got ear-rings in his box to
sell, so it's nat'ral to suppose he might wear 'em. But he called
at every house, a'most, in the village; there's somebody else,
mayhap, saw 'em in his ears, though I can't take upon me rightly to
Mr. Snell was correct in his surmise, that somebody else would
remember the pedlar's ear-rings. For on the spread of inquiry among
the villagers it was stated with gathering emphasis, that the parson
had wanted to know whether the pedlar wore ear-rings in his ears,
and an impression was created that a great deal depended on the
eliciting of this fact. Of course, every one who heard the
question, not having any distinct image of the pedlar as _without_
ear-rings, immediately had an image of him _with_ ear-rings, larger
or smaller, as the case might be; and the image was presently taken
for a vivid recollection, so that the glazier's wife, a
well-intentioned woman, not given to lying, and whose house was
among the cleanest in the village, was ready to declare, as sure as
ever she meant to take the sacrament the very next Christmas that
was ever coming, that she had seen big ear-rings, in the shape of
the young moon, in the pedlar's two ears; while Jinny Oates, the
cobbler's daughter, being a more imaginative person, stated not only
that she had seen them too, but that they had made her blood creep,
as it did at that very moment while there she stood.
Also, by way of throwing further light on this clue of the
tinder-box, a collection was made of all the articles purchased from
the pedlar at various houses, and carried to the Rainbow to be
exhibited there. In fact, there was a general feeling in the
village, that for the clearing-up of this robbery there must be a
great deal done at the Rainbow, and that no man need offer his wife
an excuse for going there while it was the scene of severe public
Some disappointment was felt, and perhaps a little indignation also,
when it became known that Silas Marner, on being questioned by the
Squire and the parson, had retained no other recollection of the
pedlar than that he had called at his door, but had not entered his
house, having turned away at once when Silas, holding the door ajar,
had said that he wanted nothing. This had been Silas's testimony,
though he clutched strongly at the idea of the pedlar's being the
culprit, if only because it gave him a definite image of a
whereabout for his gold after it had been taken away from its
hiding-place: he could see it now in the pedlar's box. But it was
observed with some irritation in the village, that anybody but a
"blind creatur" like Marner would have seen the man prowling
about, for how came he to leave his tinder-box in the ditch close
by, if he hadn't been lingering there? Doubtless, he had made his
observations when he saw Marner at the door. Anybody might know--
and only look at him--that the weaver was a half-crazy miser. It
was a wonder the pedlar hadn't murdered him; men of that sort, with
rings in their ears, had been known for murderers often and often;
there had been one tried at the 'sizes, not so long ago but what
there were people living who remembered it.
Godfrey Cass, indeed, entering the Rainbow during one of Mr. Snell's
frequently repeated recitals of his testimony, had treated it
lightly, stating that he himself had bought a pen-knife of the
pedlar, and thought him a merry grinning fellow enough; it was all
nonsense, he said, about the man's evil looks. But this was spoken
of in the village as the random talk of youth, "as if it was only
Mr. Snell who had seen something odd about the pedlar!" On the
contrary, there were at least half-a-dozen who were ready to go
before Justice Malam, and give in much more striking testimony than
any the landlord could furnish. It was to be hoped Mr. Godfrey
would not go to Tarley and throw cold water on what Mr. Snell said
there, and so prevent the justice from drawing up a warrant. He was
suspected of intending this, when, after mid-day, he was seen
setting off on horseback in the direction of Tarley.
But by this time Godfrey's interest in the robbery had faded before
his growing anxiety about Dunstan and Wildfire, and he was going,
not to Tarley, but to Batherley, unable to rest in uncertainty about
them any longer. The possibility that Dunstan had played him the
ugly trick of riding away with Wildfire, to return at the end of a
month, when he had gambled away or otherwise squandered the price of
the horse, was a fear that urged itself upon him more, even, than
the thought of an accidental injury; and now that the dance at
Mrs. Osgood's was past, he was irritated with himself that he had
trusted his horse to Dunstan. Instead of trying to still his fears,
he encouraged them, with that superstitious impression which clings
to us all, that if we expect evil very strongly it is the less
likely to come; and when he heard a horse approaching at a trot, and
saw a hat rising above a hedge beyond an angle of the lane, he felt
as if his conjuration had succeeded. But no sooner did the horse
come within sight, than his heart sank again. It was not Wildfire;
and in a few moments more he discerned that the rider was not
Dunstan, but Bryce, who pulled up to speak, with a face that implied
"Well, Mr. Godfrey, that's a lucky brother of yours, that Master
Dunsey, isn't he?"
"What do you mean?" said Godfrey, hastily.
"Why, hasn't he been home yet?" said Bryce.
"Home? no. What has happened? Be quick. What has he done with
"Ah, I thought it was yours, though he pretended you had parted
with it to him."
"Has he thrown him down and broken his knees?" said Godfrey,
flushed with exasperation.
"Worse than that," said Bryce. "You see, I'd made a bargain with
him to buy the horse for a hundred and twenty--a swinging price,
but I always liked the horse. And what does he do but go and stake
him--fly at a hedge with stakes in it, atop of a bank with a ditch
before it. The horse had been dead a pretty good while when he was
found. So he hasn't been home since, has he?"
"Home? no," said Godfrey, "and he'd better keep away. Confound
me for a fool! I might have known this would be the end of it."
"Well, to tell you the truth," said Bryce, "after I'd bargained
for the horse, it did come into my head that he might be riding and
selling the horse without your knowledge, for I didn't believe it
was his own. I knew Master Dunsey was up to his tricks sometimes.
But where can he be gone? He's never been seen at Batherley. He
couldn't have been hurt, for he must have walked off."
"Hurt?" said Godfrey, bitterly. "He'll never be hurt--he's
made to hurt other people."
"And so you _did_ give him leave to sell the horse, eh?" said
"Yes; I wanted to part with the horse--he was always a little too
hard in the mouth for me," said Godfrey; his pride making him wince
under the idea that Bryce guessed the sale to be a matter of
necessity. "I was going to see after him--I thought some
mischief had happened. I'll go back now," he added, turning the
horse's head, and wishing he could get rid of Bryce; for he felt
that the long-dreaded crisis in his life was close upon him.
"You're coming on to Raveloe, aren't you?"
"Well, no, not now," said Bryce. "I _was_ coming round there,
for I had to go to Flitton, and I thought I might as well take you
in my way, and just let you know all I knew myself about the horse.
I suppose Master Dunsey didn't like to show himself till the ill
news had blown over a bit. He's perhaps gone to pay a visit at the
Three Crowns, by Whitbridge--I know he's fond of the house."
"Perhaps he is," said Godfrey, rather absently. Then rousing
himself, he said, with an effort at carelessness, "We shall hear of
him soon enough, I'll be bound."
"Well, here's my turning," said Bryce, not surprised to perceive
that Godfrey was rather "down"; "so I'll bid you good-day, and
wish I may bring you better news another time."
Godfrey rode along slowly, representing to himself the scene of
confession to his father from which he felt that there was now no
longer any escape. The revelation about the money must be made the
very next morning; and if he withheld the rest, Dunstan would be
sure to come back shortly, and, finding that he must bear the brunt
of his father's anger, would tell the whole story out of spite, even
though he had nothing to gain by it. There was one step, perhaps,
by which he might still win Dunstan's silence and put off the evil
day: he might tell his father that he had himself spent the money
paid to him by Fowler; and as he had never been guilty of such an
offence before, the affair would blow over after a little storming.
But Godfrey could not bend himself to this. He felt that in letting
Dunstan have the money, he had already been guilty of a breach of
trust hardly less culpable than that of spending the money directly
for his own behoof; and yet there was a distinction between the two
acts which made him feel that the one was so much more blackening
than the other as to be intolerable to him.
"I don't pretend to be a good fellow," he said to himself; "but
I'm not a scoundrel--at least, I'll stop short somewhere. I'll
bear the consequences of what I _have_ done sooner than make believe
I've done what I never would have done. I'd never have spent the
money for my own pleasure--I was tortured into it."
Through the remainder of this day Godfrey, with only occasional
fluctuations, kept his will bent in the direction of a complete
avowal to his father, and he withheld the story of Wildfire's loss
till the next morning, that it might serve him as an introduction to
heavier matter. The old Squire was accustomed to his son's frequent
absence from home, and thought neither Dunstan's nor Wildfire's
non-appearance a matter calling for remark. Godfrey said to himself
again and again, that if he let slip this one opportunity of
confession, he might never have another; the revelation might be
made even in a more odious way than by Dunstan's malignity: _she_
might come as she had threatened to do. And then he tried to make
the scene easier to himself by rehearsal: he made up his mind how he
would pass from the admission of his weakness in letting Dunstan
have the money to the fact that Dunstan had a hold on him which he
had been unable to shake off, and how he would work up his father to
expect something very bad before he told him the fact. The old
Squire was an implacable man: he made resolutions in violent anger,
and he was not to be moved from them after his anger had subsided--
as fiery volcanic matters cool and harden into rock. Like many
violent and implacable men, he allowed evils to grow under favour of
his own heedlessness, till they pressed upon him with exasperating
force, and then he turned round with fierce severity and became
unrelentingly hard. This was his system with his tenants: he
allowed them to get into arrears, neglect their fences, reduce their
stock, sell their straw, and otherwise go the wrong way,--and
then, when he became short of money in consequence of this
indulgence, he took the hardest measures and would listen to no
appeal. Godfrey knew all this, and felt it with the greater force
because he had constantly suffered annoyance from witnessing his
father's sudden fits of unrelentingness, for which his own habitual
irresolution deprived him of all sympathy. (He was not critical on
the faulty indulgence which preceded these fits; _that_ seemed to
him natural enough.) Still there was just the chance, Godfrey
thought, that his father's pride might see this marriage in a light
that would induce him to hush it up, rather than turn his son out
and make the family the talk of the country for ten miles round.
This was the view of the case that Godfrey managed to keep before
him pretty closely till midnight, and he went to sleep thinking that
he had done with inward debating. But when he awoke in the still
morning darkness he found it impossible to reawaken his evening
thoughts; it was as if they had been tired out and were not to be
roused to further work. Instead of arguments for confession, he
could now feel the presence of nothing but its evil consequences:
the old dread of disgrace came back--the old shrinking from the
thought of raising a hopeless barrier between himself and Nancy--
the old disposition to rely on chances which might be favourable to
him, and save him from betrayal. Why, after all, should he cut off
the hope of them by his own act? He had seen the matter in a wrong
light yesterday. He had been in a rage with Dunstan, and had
thought of nothing but a thorough break-up of their mutual
understanding; but what it would be really wisest for him to do, was
to try and soften his father's anger against Dunsey, and keep things
as nearly as possible in their old condition. If Dunsey did not
come back for a few days (and Godfrey did not know but that the
rascal had enough money in his pocket to enable him to keep away
still longer), everything might blow over.
Godfrey rose and took his own breakfast earlier than usual, but
lingered in the wainscoted parlour till his younger brothers had
finished their meal and gone out; awaiting his father, who always
took a walk with his managing-man before breakfast. Every one
breakfasted at a different hour in the Red House, and the Squire was
always the latest, giving a long chance to a rather feeble morning
appetite before he tried it. The table had been spread with
substantial eatables nearly two hours before he presented himself--
a tall, stout man of sixty, with a face in which the knit brow and
rather hard glance seemed contradicted by the slack and feeble
mouth. His person showed marks of habitual neglect, his dress was
slovenly; and yet there was something in the presence of the old
Squire distinguishable from that of the ordinary farmers in the
parish, who were perhaps every whit as refined as he, but, having
slouched their way through life with a consciousness of being in the
vicinity of their "betters", wanted that self-possession and
authoritativeness of voice and carriage which belonged to a man who
thought of superiors as remote existences with whom he had
personally little more to do than with America or the stars. The
Squire had been used to parish homage all his life, used to the
presupposition that his family, his tankards, and everything that
was his, were the oldest and best; and as he never associated with
any gentry higher than himself, his opinion was not disturbed by
He glanced at his son as he entered the room, and said, "What, sir!
haven't _you_ had your breakfast yet?" but there was no pleasant
morning greeting between them; not because of any unfriendliness,
but because the sweet flower of courtesy is not a growth of such
homes as the Red House.
"Yes, sir," said Godfrey, "I've had my breakfast, but I was
waiting to speak to you."
"Ah! well," said the Squire, throwing himself indifferently into
his chair, and speaking in a ponderous coughing fashion, which was
felt in Raveloe to be a sort of privilege of his rank, while he cut
a piece of beef, and held it up before the deer-hound that had come
in with him. "Ring the bell for my ale, will you? You youngsters'
business is your own pleasure, mostly. There's no hurry about it
for anybody but yourselves."
The Squire's life was quite as idle as his sons', but it was a
fiction kept up by himself and his contemporaries in Raveloe that
youth was exclusively the period of folly, and that their aged
wisdom was constantly in a state of endurance mitigated by sarcasm.
Godfrey waited, before he spoke again, until the ale had been
brought and the door closed--an interval during which Fleet, the
deer-hound, had consumed enough bits of beef to make a poor man's
"There's been a cursed piece of ill-luck with Wildfire," he began;
"happened the day before yesterday."
"What! broke his knees?" said the Squire, after taking a draught
of ale. "I thought you knew how to ride better than that, sir.
I never threw a horse down in my life. If I had, I might ha'
whistled for another, for _my_ father wasn't quite so ready to
unstring as some other fathers I know of. But they must turn over a
new leaf--_they_ must. What with mortgages and arrears, I'm as
short o' cash as a roadside pauper. And that fool Kimble says the
newspaper's talking about peace. Why, the country wouldn't have a
leg to stand on. Prices 'ud run down like a jack, and I should
never get my arrears, not if I sold all the fellows up. And there's
that damned Fowler, I won't put up with him any longer; I've told
Winthrop to go to Cox this very day. The lying scoundrel told me
he'd be sure to pay me a hundred last month. He takes advantage
because he's on that outlying farm, and thinks I shall forget him."
The Squire had delivered this speech in a coughing and interrupted
manner, but with no pause long enough for Godfrey to make it a
pretext for taking up the word again. He felt that his father meant
to ward off any request for money on the ground of the misfortune
with Wildfire, and that the emphasis he had thus been led to lay on
his shortness of cash and his arrears was likely to produce an
attitude of mind the utmost unfavourable for his own disclosure.
But he must go on, now he had begun.
"It's worse than breaking the horse's knees--he's been staked and
killed," he said, as soon as his father was silent, and had begun
to cut his meat. "But I wasn't thinking of asking you to buy me
another horse; I was only thinking I'd lost the means of paying you
with the price of Wildfire, as I'd meant to do. Dunsey took him to
the hunt to sell him for me the other day, and after he'd made a
bargain for a hundred and twenty with Bryce, he went after the
hounds, and took some fool's leap or other that did for the horse at
once. If it hadn't been for that, I should have paid you a hundred
pounds this morning."
The Squire had laid down his knife and fork, and was staring at his
son in amazement, not being sufficiently quick of brain to form a
probable guess as to what could have caused so strange an inversion
of the paternal and filial relations as this proposition of his son
to pay him a hundred pounds.
"The truth is, sir--I'm very sorry--I was quite to blame,"
said Godfrey. "Fowler did pay that hundred pounds. He paid it to
me, when I was over there one day last month. And Dunsey bothered
me for the money, and I let him have it, because I hoped I should be
able to pay it you before this."
The Squire was purple with anger before his son had done speaking,
and found utterance difficult. "You let Dunsey have it, sir? And
how long have you been so thick with Dunsey that you must _collogue_
with him to embezzle my money? Are you turning out a scamp? I tell
you I won't have it. I'll turn the whole pack of you out of the
house together, and marry again. I'd have you to remember, sir, my
property's got no entail on it;--since my grandfather's time the
Casses can do as they like with their land. Remember that, sir.
Let Dunsey have the money! Why should you let Dunsey have the
money? There's some lie at the bottom of it."
"There's no lie, sir," said Godfrey. "I wouldn't have spent the
money myself, but Dunsey bothered me, and I was a fool, and let him
have it. But I meant to pay it, whether he did or not. That's the
whole story. I never meant to embezzle money, and I'm not the man
to do it. You never knew me do a dishonest trick, sir."
"Where's Dunsey, then? What do you stand talking there for? Go
and fetch Dunsey, as I tell you, and let him give account of what he
wanted the money for, and what he's done with it. He shall repent
it. I'll turn him out. I said I would, and I'll do it. He shan't
brave me. Go and fetch him."
"Dunsey isn't come back, sir."
"What! did he break his own neck, then?" said the Squire, with
some disgust at the idea that, in that case, he could not fulfil his
"No, he wasn't hurt, I believe, for the horse was found dead, and
Dunsey must have walked off. I daresay we shall see him again
by-and-by. I don't know where he is."
"And what must you be letting him have my money for? Answer me
that," said the Squire, attacking Godfrey again, since Dunsey was
not within reach.
"Well, sir, I don't know," said Godfrey, hesitatingly. That was a
feeble evasion, but Godfrey was not fond of lying, and, not being
sufficiently aware that no sort of duplicity can long flourish
without the help of vocal falsehoods, he was quite unprepared with
"You don't know? I tell you what it is, sir. You've been up to
some trick, and you've been bribing him not to tell," said the
Squire, with a sudden acuteness which startled Godfrey, who felt his
heart beat violently at the nearness of his father's guess. The
sudden alarm pushed him on to take the next step--a very slight
impulse suffices for that on a downward road.
"Why, sir," he said, trying to speak with careless ease, "it was
a little affair between me and Dunsey; it's no matter to anybody
else. It's hardly worth while to pry into young men's fooleries: it
wouldn't have made any difference to you, sir, if I'd not had the
bad luck to lose Wildfire. I should have paid you the money."
"Fooleries! Pshaw! it's time you'd done with fooleries. And I'd
have you know, sir, you _must_ ha' done with 'em," said the Squire,
frowning and casting an angry glance at his son. "Your goings-on
are not what I shall find money for any longer. There's my
grandfather had his stables full o' horses, and kept a good house,
too, and in worse times, by what I can make out; and so might I, if
I hadn't four good-for-nothing fellows to hang on me like
horse-leeches. I've been too good a father to you all--that's
what it is. But I shall pull up, sir."
Godfrey was silent. He was not likely to be very penetrating in his
judgments, but he had always had a sense that his father's
indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for
some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and
helped his better will. The Squire ate his bread and meat hastily,
took a deep draught of ale, then turned his chair from the table,
and began to speak again.
"It'll be all the worse for you, you know--you'd need try and
help me keep things together."
"Well, sir, I've often offered to take the management of things,
but you know you've taken it ill always, and seemed to think I
wanted to push you out of your place."
"I know nothing o' your offering or o' my taking it ill," said the
Squire, whose memory consisted in certain strong impressions
unmodified by detail; "but I know, one while you seemed to be
thinking o' marrying, and I didn't offer to put any obstacles in
your way, as some fathers would. I'd as lieve you married
Lammeter's daughter as anybody. I suppose, if I'd said you nay,
you'd ha' kept on with it; but, for want o' contradiction, you've
changed your mind. You're a shilly-shally fellow: you take after
your poor mother. She never had a will of her own; a woman has no
call for one, if she's got a proper man for her husband. But _your_
wife had need have one, for you hardly know your own mind enough to
make both your legs walk one way. The lass hasn't said downright
she won't have you, has she?"
"No," said Godfrey, feeling very hot and uncomfortable; "but I
don't think she will."
"Think! why haven't you the courage to ask her? Do you stick to
it, you want to have _her_--that's the thing?"
"There's no other woman I want to marry," said Godfrey, evasively.
"Well, then, let me make the offer for you, that's all, if you
haven't the pluck to do it yourself. Lammeter isn't likely to be
loath for his daughter to marry into _my_ family, I should think.
And as for the pretty lass, she wouldn't have her cousin--and
there's nobody else, as I see, could ha' stood in your way."
"I'd rather let it be, please sir, at present," said Godfrey, in
alarm. "I think she's a little offended with me just now, and I
should like to speak for myself. A man must manage these things for
"Well, speak, then, and manage it, and see if you can't turn over a
new leaf. That's what a man must do when he thinks o' marrying."
"I don't see how I can think of it at present, sir. You wouldn't
like to settle me on one of the farms, I suppose, and I don't think
she'd come to live in this house with all my brothers. It's a
different sort of life to what she's been used to."
"Not come to live in this house? Don't tell me. You ask her,
that's all," said the Squire, with a short, scornful laugh.
"I'd rather let the thing be, at present, sir," said Godfrey. "I
hope you won't try to hurry it on by saying anything."
"I shall do what I choose," said the Squire, "and I shall let you
know I'm master; else you may turn out and find an estate to drop
into somewhere else. Go out and tell Winthrop not to go to Cox's,
but wait for me. And tell 'em to get my horse saddled. And stop:
look out and get that hack o' Dunsey's sold, and hand me the money,
will you? He'll keep no more hacks at my expense. And if you know
where he's sneaking--I daresay you do--you may tell him to spare
himself the journey o' coming back home. Let him turn ostler, and
keep himself. He shan't hang on me any more."
"I don't know where he is, sir; and if I did, it isn't my place to
tell him to keep away," said Godfrey, moving towards the door.
"Confound it, sir, don't stay arguing, but go and order my horse,"
said the Squire, taking up a pipe.
Godfrey left the room, hardly knowing whether he were more relieved
by the sense that the interview was ended without having made any
change in his position, or more uneasy that he had entangled himself
still further in prevarication and deceit. What had passed about
his proposing to Nancy had raised a new alarm, lest by some
after-dinner words of his father's to Mr. Lammeter he should be
thrown into the embarrassment of being obliged absolutely to decline
her when she seemed to be within his reach. He fled to his usual
refuge, that of hoping for some unforeseen turn of fortune, some
favourable chance which would save him from unpleasant consequences--
perhaps even justify his insincerity by manifesting its prudence.
And in this point of trusting to some throw of fortune's dice,
Godfrey can hardly be called specially old-fashioned. Favourable
Chance, I fancy, is the god of all men who follow their own devices
instead of obeying a law they believe in. Let even a polished man
of these days get into a position he is ashamed to avow, and his
mind will be bent on all the possible issues that may deliver him
from the calculable results of that position. Let him live outside
his income, or shirk the resolute honest work that brings wages, and
he will presently find himself dreaming of a possible benefactor, a
possible simpleton who may be cajoled into using his interest, a
possible state of mind in some possible person not yet forthcoming.
Let him neglect the responsibilities of his office, and he will
inevitably anchor himself on the chance that the thing left undone
may turn out not to be of the supposed importance. Let him betray
his friend's confidence, and he will adore that same cunning
complexity called Chance, which gives him the hope that his friend
will never know. Let him forsake a decent craft that he may pursue
the gentilities of a profession to which nature never called him,
and his religion will infallibly be the worship of blessed Chance,
which he will believe in as the mighty creator of success. The evil
principle deprecated in that religion is the orderly sequence by
which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind.
Justice Malam was naturally regarded in Tarley and Raveloe as a man
of capacious mind, seeing that he could draw much wider conclusions
without evidence than could be expected of his neighbours who were
not on the Commission of the Peace. Such a man was not likely to
neglect the clue of the tinder-box, and an inquiry was set on foot
concerning a pedlar, name unknown, with curly black hair and a
foreign complexion, carrying a box of cutlery and jewellery, and
wearing large rings in his ears. But either because inquiry was too
slow-footed to overtake him, or because the description applied to
so many pedlars that inquiry did not know how to choose among them,
weeks passed away, and there was no other result concerning the
robbery than a gradual cessation of the excitement it had caused in
Raveloe. Dunstan Cass's absence was hardly a subject of remark: he
had once before had a quarrel with his father, and had gone off,
nobody knew whither, to return at the end of six weeks, take up his
old quarters unforbidden, and swagger as usual. His own family, who
equally expected this issue, with the sole difference that the
Squire was determined this time to forbid him the old quarters,
never mentioned his absence; and when his uncle Kimble or Mr. Osgood
noticed it, the story of his having killed Wildfire, and committed
some offence against his father, was enough to prevent surprise. To
connect the fact of Dunsey's disappearance with that of the robbery
occurring on the same day, lay quite away from the track of every
one's thought--even Godfrey's, who had better reason than any one
else to know what his brother was capable of. He remembered no
mention of the weaver between them since the time, twelve years ago,
when it was their boyish sport to deride him; and, besides, his
imagination constantly created an _alibi_ for Dunstan: he saw him
continually in some congenial haunt, to which he had walked off on
leaving Wildfire--saw him sponging on chance acquaintances, and
meditating a return home to the old amusement of tormenting his
elder brother. Even if any brain in Raveloe had put the said two
facts together, I doubt whether a combination so injurious to the
prescriptive respectability of a family with a mural monument and
venerable tankards, would not have been suppressed as of unsound
tendency. But Christmas puddings, brawn, and abundance of
spirituous liquors, throwing the mental originality into the channel
of nightmare, are great preservatives against a dangerous
spontaneity of waking thought.
When the robbery was talked of at the Rainbow and elsewhere, in good
company, the balance continued to waver between the rational
explanation founded on the tinder-box, and the theory of an
impenetrable mystery that mocked investigation. The advocates of
the tinder-box-and-pedlar view considered the other side a
muddle-headed and credulous set, who, because they themselves were
wall-eyed, supposed everybody else to have the same blank outlook;
and the adherents of the inexplicable more than hinted that their
antagonists were animals inclined to crow before they had found any
corn--mere skimming-dishes in point of depth--whose
clear-sightedness consisted in supposing there was nothing behind a
barn-door because they couldn't see through it; so that, though
their controversy did not serve to elicit the fact concerning the
robbery, it elicited some true opinions of collateral importance.
But while poor Silas's loss served thus to brush the slow current of
Raveloe conversation, Silas himself was feeling the withering
desolation of that bereavement about which his neighbours were
arguing at their ease. To any one who had observed him before he
lost his gold, it might have seemed that so withered and shrunken a
life as his could hardly be susceptible of a bruise, could hardly
endure any subtraction but such as would put an end to it
altogether. But in reality it had been an eager life, filled with
immediate purpose which fenced him in from the wide, cheerless
unknown. It had been a clinging life; and though the object round
which its fibres had clung was a dead disrupted thing, it satisfied
the need for clinging. But now the fence was broken down--the
support was snatched away. Marner's thoughts could no longer move
in their old round, and were baffled by a blank like that which
meets a plodding ant when the earth has broken away on its homeward
path. The loom was there, and the weaving, and the growing pattern
in the cloth; but the bright treasure in the hole under his feet was
gone; the prospect of handling and counting it was gone: the evening
had no phantasm of delight to still the poor soul's craving. The
thought of the money he would get by his actual work could bring no
joy, for its meagre image was only a fresh reminder of his loss; and
hope was too heavily crushed by the sudden blow for his imagination
to dwell on the growth of a new hoard from that small beginning.
He filled up the blank with grief. As he sat weaving, he every now
and then moaned low, like one in pain: it was the sign that his
thoughts had come round again to the sudden chasm--to the empty
evening-time. And all the evening, as he sat in his loneliness by
his dull fire, he leaned his elbows on his knees, and clasped his
head with his hands, and moaned very low--not as one who seeks to
And yet he was not utterly forsaken in his trouble. The repulsion
Marner had always created in his neighbours was partly dissipated by
the new light in which this misfortune had shown him. Instead of a
man who had more cunning than honest folks could come by, and, what
was worse, had not the inclination to use that cunning in a
neighbourly way, it was now apparent that Silas had not cunning
enough to keep his own. He was generally spoken of as a "poor
mushed creatur"; and that avoidance of his neighbours, which had
before been referred to his ill-will and to a probable addiction to
worse company, was now considered mere craziness.
This change to a kindlier feeling was shown in various ways. The
odour of Christmas cooking being on the wind, it was the season when
superfluous pork and black puddings are suggestive of charity in
well-to-do families; and Silas's misfortune had brought him
uppermost in the memory of housekeepers like Mrs. Osgood.
Mr. Crackenthorp, too, while he admonished Silas that his money had
probably been taken from him because he thought too much of it and
never came to church, enforced the doctrine by a present of pigs'
pettitoes, well calculated to dissipate unfounded prejudices against
the clerical character. Neighbours who had nothing but verbal
consolation to give showed a disposition not only to greet Silas and
discuss his misfortune at some length when they encountered him in
the village, but also to take the trouble of calling at his cottage
and getting him to repeat all the details on the very spot; and then
they would try to cheer him by saying, "Well, Master Marner, you're
no worse off nor other poor folks, after all; and if you was to be
crippled, the parish 'ud give you a 'lowance."
I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our
neighbours with our words is that our goodwill gets adulterated, in
spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips. We can send black
puddings and pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own
egoism; but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a
mingled soil. There was a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe;
but it was often of a beery and bungling sort, and took the shape
least allied to the complimentary and hypocritical.
Mr. Macey, for example, coming one evening expressly to let Silas
know that recent events had given him the advantage of standing more
favourably in the opinion of a man whose judgment was not formed
lightly, opened the conversation by saying, as soon as he had seated
himself and adjusted his thumbs--
"Come, Master Marner, why, you've no call to sit a-moaning. You're
a deal better off to ha' lost your money, nor to ha' kep it by foul
means. I used to think, when you first come into these parts, as
you were no better nor you should be; you were younger a deal than
what you are now; but you were allays a staring, white-faced
creatur, partly like a bald-faced calf, as I may say. But there's
no knowing: it isn't every queer-looksed thing as Old Harry's had
the making of--I mean, speaking o' toads and such; for they're
often harmless, like, and useful against varmin. And it's pretty
much the same wi' you, as fur as I can see. Though as to the yarbs
and stuff to cure the breathing, if you brought that sort o'
knowledge from distant parts, you might ha' been a bit freer of it.
And if the knowledge wasn't well come by, why, you might ha' made up
for it by coming to church reg'lar; for, as for the children as the
Wise Woman charmed, I've been at the christening of 'em again and
again, and they took the water just as well. And that's reasonable;
for if Old Harry's a mind to do a bit o' kindness for a holiday,
like, who's got anything against it? That's my thinking; and I've
been clerk o' this parish forty year, and I know, when the parson
and me does the cussing of a Ash Wednesday, there's no cussing o'
folks as have a mind to be cured without a doctor, let Kimble say
what he will. And so, Master Marner, as I was saying--for there's
windings i' things as they may carry you to the fur end o' the
prayer-book afore you get back to 'em--my advice is, as you keep
up your sperrits; for as for thinking you're a deep un, and ha' got
more inside you nor 'ull bear daylight, I'm not o' that opinion at
all, and so I tell the neighbours. For, says I, you talk o' Master
Marner making out a tale--why, it's nonsense, that is: it 'ud take
a 'cute man to make a tale like that; and, says I, he looked as
scared as a rabbit."
During this discursive address Silas had continued motionless in his
previous attitude, leaning his elbows on his knees, and pressing his
hands against his head. Mr. Macey, not doubting that he had been
listened to, paused, in the expectation of some appreciatory reply,
but Marner remained silent. He had a sense that the old man meant
to be good-natured and neighbourly; but the kindness fell on him as
sunshine falls on the wretched--he had no heart to taste it, and
felt that it was very far off him.
"Come, Master Marner, have you got nothing to say to that?" said
Mr. Macey at last, with a slight accent of impatience.
"Oh," said Marner, slowly, shaking his head between his hands, "I
thank you--thank you--kindly."
"Aye, aye, to be sure: I thought you would," said Mr. Macey; "and
my advice is--have you got a Sunday suit?"
"No," said Marner.
"I doubted it was so," said Mr. Macey. "Now, let me advise you
to get a Sunday suit: there's Tookey, he's a poor creatur, but he's
got my tailoring business, and some o' my money in it, and he shall
make a suit at a low price, and give you trust, and then you can
come to church, and be a bit neighbourly. Why, you've never heared
me say "Amen" since you come into these parts, and I recommend you
to lose no time, for it'll be poor work when Tookey has it all to
himself, for I mayn't be equil to stand i' the desk at all, come
another winter." Here Mr. Macey paused, perhaps expecting some
sign of emotion in his hearer; but not observing any, he went on.
"And as for the money for the suit o' clothes, why, you get a
matter of a pound a-week at your weaving, Master Marner, and you're
a young man, eh, for all you look so mushed. Why, you couldn't ha'
been five-and-twenty when you come into these parts, eh?"
Silas started a little at the change to a questioning tone, and
answered mildly, "I don't know; I can't rightly say--it's a long
After receiving such an answer as this, it is not surprising that
Mr. Macey observed, later on in the evening at the Rainbow, that
Marner's head was "all of a muddle", and that it was to be doubted
if he ever knew when Sunday came round, which showed him a worse
heathen than many a dog.
Another of Silas's comforters, besides Mr. Macey, came to him with a
mind highly charged on the same topic. This was Mrs. Winthrop, the
wheelwright's wife. The inhabitants of Raveloe were not severely
regular in their church-going, and perhaps there was hardly a person
in the parish who would not have held that to go to church every
Sunday in the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand
well with Heaven, and get an undue advantage over their neighbours--
a wish to be better than the "common run", that would have
implied a reflection on those who had had godfathers and godmothers
as well as themselves, and had an equal right to the
burying-service. At the same time, it was understood to be
requisite for all who were not household servants, or young men, to
take the sacrament at one of the great festivals: Squire Cass
himself took it on Christmas-day; while those who were held to be
"good livers" went to church with greater, though still with
Mrs. Winthrop was one of these: she was in all respects a woman of
scrupulous conscience, so eager for duties that life seemed to offer
them too scantily unless she rose at half-past four, though this
threw a scarcity of work over the more advanced hours of the
morning, which it was a constant problem with her to remove. Yet
she had not the vixenish temper which is sometimes supposed to be a
necessary condition of such habits: she was a very mild, patient
woman, whose nature it was to seek out all the sadder and more
serious elements of life, and pasture her mind upon them. She was
the person always first thought of in Raveloe when there was illness
or death in a family, when leeches were to be applied, or there was
a sudden disappointment in a monthly nurse. She was a "comfortable
woman"--good-looking, fresh-complexioned, having her lips always
slightly screwed, as if she felt herself in a sick-room with the
doctor or the clergyman present. But she was never whimpering; no
one had seen her shed tears; she was simply grave and inclined to
shake her head and sigh, almost imperceptibly, like a funereal
mourner who is not a relation. It seemed surprising that Ben
Winthrop, who loved his quart-pot and his joke, got along so well
with Dolly; but she took her husband's jokes and joviality as
patiently as everything else, considering that "men _would_ be
so", and viewing the stronger sex in the light of animals whom it
had pleased Heaven to make naturally troublesome, like bulls and
This good wholesome woman could hardly fail to have her mind drawn
strongly towards Silas Marner, now that he appeared in the light of
a sufferer; and one Sunday afternoon she took her little boy Aaron
with her, and went to call on Silas, carrying in her hand some small
lard-cakes, flat paste-like articles much esteemed in Raveloe.
Aaron, an apple-cheeked youngster of seven, with a clean starched
frill which looked like a plate for the apples, needed all his
adventurous curiosity to embolden him against the possibility that
the big-eyed weaver might do him some bodily injury; and his dubiety
was much increased when, on arriving at the Stone-pits, they heard
the mysterious sound of the loom.
"Ah, it is as I thought," said Mrs. Winthrop, sadly.
They had to knock loudly before Silas heard them; but when he did
come to the door he showed no impatience, as he would once have
done, at a visit that had been unasked for and unexpected.
Formerly, his heart had been as a locked casket with its treasure
inside; but now the casket was empty, and the lock was broken. Left
groping in darkness, with his prop utterly gone, Silas had
inevitably a sense, though a dull and half-despairing one, that if
any help came to him it must come from without; and there was a
slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-men, a
faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill. He opened the
door wide to admit Dolly, but without otherwise returning her
greeting than by moving the armchair a few inches as a sign that she
was to sit down in it. Dolly, as soon as she was seated, removed
the white cloth that covered her lard-cakes, and said in her gravest
"I'd a baking yisterday, Master Marner, and the lard-cakes turned
out better nor common, and I'd ha' asked you to accept some, if
you'd thought well. I don't eat such things myself, for a bit o'
bread's what I like from one year's end to the other; but men's
stomichs are made so comical, they want a change--they do, I know,
God help 'em."
Dolly sighed gently as she held out the cakes to Silas, who thanked
her kindly and looked very close at them, absently, being accustomed
to look so at everything he took into his hand--eyed all the while
by the wondering bright orbs of the small Aaron, who had made an
outwork of his mother's chair, and was peeping round from behind it.
"There's letters pricked on 'em," said Dolly. "I can't read 'em
myself, and there's nobody, not Mr. Macey himself, rightly knows
what they mean; but they've a good meaning, for they're the same as
is on the pulpit-cloth at church. What are they, Aaron, my dear?"
Aaron retreated completely behind his outwork.
"Oh, go, that's naughty," said his mother, mildly. "Well,
whativer the letters are, they've a good meaning; and it's a stamp
as has been in our house, Ben says, ever since he was a little un,
and his mother used to put it on the cakes, and I've allays put it
on too; for if there's any good, we've need of it i' this world."
"It's I. H. S.," said Silas, at which proof of learning Aaron
peeped round the chair again.
"Well, to be sure, you can read 'em off," said Dolly. "Ben's
read 'em to me many and many a time, but they slip out o' my mind
again; the more's the pity, for they're good letters, else they
wouldn't be in the church; and so I prick 'em on all the loaves and
all the cakes, though sometimes they won't hold, because o' the
rising--for, as I said, if there's any good to be got we've need
of it i' this world--that we have; and I hope they'll bring good
to you, Master Marner, for it's wi' that will I brought you the
cakes; and you see the letters have held better nor common."
Silas was as unable to interpret the letters as Dolly, but there was
no possibility of misunderstanding the desire to give comfort that
made itself heard in her quiet tones. He said, with more feeling
than before--"Thank you--thank you kindly." But he laid down
the cakes and seated himself absently--drearily unconscious of any
distinct benefit towards which the cakes and the letters, or even
Dolly's kindness, could tend for him.
"Ah, if there's good anywhere, we've need of it," repeated Dolly,
who did not lightly forsake a serviceable phrase. She looked at
Silas pityingly as she went on. "But you didn't hear the
church-bells this morning, Master Marner? I doubt you didn't know
it was Sunday. Living so lone here, you lose your count, I daresay;
and then, when your loom makes a noise, you can't hear the bells,
more partic'lar now the frost kills the sound."
"Yes, I did; I heard 'em," said Silas, to whom Sunday bells were a
mere accident of the day, and not part of its sacredness. There had
been no bells in Lantern Yard.
"Dear heart!" said Dolly, pausing before she spoke again. "But
what a pity it is you should work of a Sunday, and not clean
yourself--if you _didn't_ go to church; for if you'd a roasting
bit, it might be as you couldn't leave it, being a lone man. But
there's the bakehus, if you could make up your mind to spend a
twopence on the oven now and then,--not every week, in course--I
shouldn't like to do that myself,--you might carry your bit o'
dinner there, for it's nothing but right to have a bit o' summat hot
of a Sunday, and not to make it as you can't know your dinner from
Saturday. But now, upo' Christmas-day, this blessed Christmas as is
ever coming, if you was to take your dinner to the bakehus, and go
to church, and see the holly and the yew, and hear the anthim, and
then take the sacramen', you'd be a deal the better, and you'd know
which end you stood on, and you could put your trust i' Them as
knows better nor we do, seein' you'd ha' done what it lies on us all
Dolly's exhortation, which was an unusually long effort of speech
for her, was uttered in the soothing persuasive tone with which she
would have tried to prevail on a sick man to take his medicine, or a
basin of gruel for which he had no appetite. Silas had never before
been closely urged on the point of his absence from church, which
had only been thought of as a part of his general queerness; and he
was too direct and simple to evade Dolly's appeal.
"Nay, nay," he said, "I know nothing o' church. I've never been
"No!" said Dolly, in a low tone of wonderment. Then bethinking
herself of Silas's advent from an unknown country, she said, "Could
it ha' been as they'd no church where you was born?"
"Oh, yes," said Silas, meditatively, sitting in his usual posture
of leaning on his knees, and supporting his head. "There was
churches--a many--it was a big town. But I knew nothing of 'em--
I went to chapel."
Dolly was much puzzled at this new word, but she was rather afraid
of inquiring further, lest "chapel" might mean some haunt of
wickedness. After a little thought, she said--
"Well, Master Marner, it's niver too late to turn over a new leaf,
and if you've niver had no church, there's no telling the good it'll
do you. For I feel so set up and comfortable as niver was, when
I've been and heard the prayers, and the singing to the praise and
glory o' God, as Mr. Macey gives out--and Mr. Crackenthorp saying
good words, and more partic'lar on Sacramen' Day; and if a bit o'
trouble comes, I feel as I can put up wi' it, for I've looked for
help i' the right quarter, and gev myself up to Them as we must all
give ourselves up to at the last; and if we'n done our part, it
isn't to be believed as Them as are above us 'ull be worse nor we
are, and come short o' Their'n."
Poor Dolly's exposition of her simple Raveloe theology fell rather
unmeaningly on Silas's ears, for there was no word in it that could
rouse a memory of what he had known as religion, and his
comprehension was quite baffled by the plural pronoun, which was no
heresy of Dolly's, but only her way of avoiding a presumptuous
familiarity. He remained silent, not feeling inclined to assent to
the part of Dolly's speech which he fully understood--her
recommendation that he should go to church. Indeed, Silas was so
unaccustomed to talk beyond the brief questions and answers
necessary for the transaction of his simple business, that words did
not easily come to him without the urgency of a distinct purpose.
But now, little Aaron, having become used to the weaver's awful
presence, had advanced to his mother's side, and Silas, seeming to
notice him for the first time, tried to return Dolly's signs of
good-will by offering the lad a bit of lard-cake. Aaron shrank back
a little, and rubbed his head against his mother's shoulder, but
still thought the piece of cake worth the risk of putting his hand
out for it.
"Oh, for shame, Aaron," said his mother, taking him on her lap,
however; "why, you don't want cake again yet awhile. He's
wonderful hearty," she went on, with a little sigh--"that he is,
God knows. He's my youngest, and we spoil him sadly, for either me
or the father must allays hev him in our sight--that we must."
She stroked Aaron's brown head, and thought it must do Master Marner
good to see such a "pictur of a child". But Marner, on the other
side of the hearth, saw the neat-featured rosy face as a mere dim
round, with two dark spots in it.
"And he's got a voice like a bird--you wouldn't think," Dolly
went on; "he can sing a Christmas carril as his father's taught
him; and I take it for a token as he'll come to good, as he can
learn the good tunes so quick. Come, Aaron, stan' up and sing the
carril to Master Marner, come."
Aaron replied by rubbing his forehead against his mother's shoulder.
"Oh, that's naughty," said Dolly, gently. "Stan' up, when mother
tells you, and let me hold the cake till you've done."
Aaron was not indisposed to display his talents, even to an ogre,
under protecting circumstances; and after a few more signs of
coyness, consisting chiefly in rubbing the backs of his hands over
his eyes, and then peeping between them at Master Marner, to see if
he looked anxious for the "carril", he at length allowed his head
to be duly adjusted, and standing behind the table, which let him
appear above it only as far as his broad frill, so that he looked
like a cherubic head untroubled with a body, he began with a clear
chirp, and in a melody that had the rhythm of an industrious hammer
"God rest you, merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas-day."
Dolly listened with a devout look, glancing at Marner in some
confidence that this strain would help to allure him to church.
"That's Christmas music," she said, when Aaron had ended, and had
secured his piece of cake again. "There's no other music equil to
the Christmas music--"Hark the erol angils sing." And you may
judge what it is at church, Master Marner, with the bassoon and the
voices, as you can't help thinking you've got to a better place
a'ready--for I wouldn't speak ill o' this world, seeing as Them
put us in it as knows best--but what wi' the drink, and the
quarrelling, and the bad illnesses, and the hard dying, as I've seen
times and times, one's thankful to hear of a better. The boy sings
pretty, don't he, Master Marner?"
"Yes," said Silas, absently, "very pretty."
The Christmas carol, with its hammer-like rhythm, had fallen on his
ears as strange music, quite unlike a hymn, and could have none of
the effect Dolly contemplated. But he wanted to show her that he
was grateful, and the only mode that occurred to him was to offer
Aaron a bit more cake.
"Oh, no, thank you, Master Marner," said Dolly, holding down
Aaron's willing hands. "We must be going home now. And so I wish
you good-bye, Master Marner; and if you ever feel anyways bad in
your inside, as you can't fend for yourself, I'll come and clean up
for you, and get you a bit o' victual, and willing. But I beg and
pray of you to leave off weaving of a Sunday, for it's bad for soul
and body--and the money as comes i' that way 'ull be a bad bed to
lie down on at the last, if it doesn't fly away, nobody knows where,
like the white frost. And you'll excuse me being that free with
you, Master Marner, for I wish you well--I do. Make your bow,
Silas said "Good-bye, and thank you kindly," as he opened the door
for Dolly, but he couldn't help feeling relieved when she was gone--
relieved that he might weave again and moan at his ease. Her
simple view of life and its comforts, by which she had tried to
cheer him, was only like a report of unknown objects, which his
imagination could not fashion. The fountains of human love and of
faith in a divine love had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was
still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its
little groove of sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly
against dark obstruction.
And so, notwithstanding the honest persuasions of Mr. Macey and
Dolly Winthrop, Silas spent his Christmas-day in loneliness, eating
his meat in sadness of heart, though the meat had come to him as a
neighbourly present. In the morning he looked out on the black
frost that seemed to press cruelly on every blade of grass, while
the half-icy red pool shivered under the bitter wind; but towards
evening the snow began to fall, and curtained from him even that
dreary outlook, shutting him close up with his narrow grief. And he
sat in his robbed home through the livelong evening, not caring to
close his shutters or lock his door, pressing his head between his
hands and moaning, till the cold grasped him and told him that his
fire was grey.
Nobody in this world but himself knew that he was the same Silas
Marner who had once loved his fellow with tender love, and trusted
in an unseen goodness. Even to himself that past experience had
But in Raveloe village the bells rang merrily, and the church was
fuller than all through the rest of the year, with red faces among
the abundant dark-green boughs--faces prepared for a longer
service than usual by an odorous breakfast of toast and ale. Those
green boughs, the hymn and anthem never heard but at Christmas--
even the Athanasian Creed, which was discriminated from the others
only as being longer and of exceptional virtue, since it was only
read on rare occasions--brought a vague exulting sense, for which
the grown men could as little have found words as the children, that
something great and mysterious had been done for them in heaven
above and in earth below, which they were appropriating by their
presence. And then the red faces made their way through the black
biting frost to their own homes, feeling themselves free for the
rest of the day to eat, drink, and be merry, and using that
Christian freedom without diffidence.
At Squire Cass's family party that day nobody mentioned Dunstan--
nobody was sorry for his absence, or feared it would be too long.
The doctor and his wife, uncle and aunt Kimble, were there, and the
annual Christmas talk was carried through without any omissions,
rising to the climax of Mr. Kimble's experience when he walked the
London hospitals thirty years back, together with striking
professional anecdotes then gathered. Whereupon cards followed,
with aunt Kimble's annual failure to follow suit, and uncle Kimble's
irascibility concerning the odd trick which was rarely explicable to
him, when it was not on his side, without a general visitation of
tricks to see that they were formed on sound principles: the whole
being accompanied by a strong steaming odour of spirits-and-water.
But the party on Christmas-day, being a strictly family party, was
not the pre-eminently brilliant celebration of the season at the Red
House. It was the great dance on New Year's Eve that made the glory
of Squire Cass's hospitality, as of his forefathers', time out of
mind. This was the occasion when all the society of Raveloe and
Tarley, whether old acquaintances separated by long rutty distances,
or cooled acquaintances separated by misunderstandings concerning
runaway calves, or acquaintances founded on intermittent
condescension, counted on meeting and on comporting themselves with
mutual appropriateness. This was the occasion on which fair dames
who came on pillions sent their bandboxes before them, supplied with
more than their evening costume; for the feast was not to end with a
single evening, like a paltry town entertainment, where the whole
supply of eatables is put on the table at once, and bedding is
scanty. The Red House was provisioned as if for a siege; and as for
the spare feather-beds ready to be laid on floors, they were as
plentiful as might naturally be expected in a family that had killed
its own geese for many generations.
Godfrey Cass was looking forward to this New Year's Eve with a
foolish reckless longing, that made him half deaf to his importunate
"Dunsey will be coming home soon: there will be a great blow-up,
and how will you bribe his spite to silence?" said Anxiety.
"Oh, he won't come home before New Year's Eve, perhaps," said
Godfrey; "and I shall sit by Nancy then, and dance with her, and
get a kind look from her in spite of herself."
"But money is wanted in another quarter," said Anxiety, in a
louder voice, "and how will you get it without selling your
mother's diamond pin? And if you don't get it...?"
"Well, but something may happen to make things easier. At any
rate, there's one pleasure for me close at hand: Nancy is coming."
"Yes, and suppose your father should bring matters to a pass that
will oblige you to decline marrying her--and to give your
"Hold your tongue, and don't worry me. I can see Nancy's eyes,
just as they will look at me, and feel her hand in mine already."
But Anxiety went on, though in noisy Christmas company; refusing to
be utterly quieted even by much drinking.
Some women, I grant, would not appear to advantage seated on a
pillion, and attired in a drab joseph and a drab beaver-bonnet, with
a crown resembling a small stew-pan; for a garment suggesting a
coachman's greatcoat, cut out under an exiguity of cloth that would
only allow of miniature capes, is not well adapted to conceal
deficiencies of contour, nor is drab a colour that will throw sallow
cheeks into lively contrast. It was all the greater triumph to Miss
Nancy Lammeter's beauty that she looked thoroughly bewitching in
that costume, as, seated on the pillion behind her tall, erect
father, she held one arm round him, and looked down, with open-eyed
anxiety, at the treacherous snow-covered pools and puddles, which
sent up formidable splashings of mud under the stamp of Dobbin's
foot. A painter would, perhaps, have preferred her in those moments
when she was free from self-consciousness; but certainly the bloom
on her cheeks was at its highest point of contrast with the
surrounding drab when she arrived at the door of the Red House, and
saw Mr. Godfrey Cass ready to lift her from the pillion. She wished
her sister Priscilla had come up at the same time behind the
servant, for then she would have contrived that Mr. Godfrey should
have lifted off Priscilla first, and, in the meantime, she would
have persuaded her father to go round to the horse-block instead of
alighting at the door-steps. It was very painful, when you had made
it quite clear to a young man that you were determined not to marry
him, however much he might wish it, that he would still continue to
pay you marked attentions; besides, why didn't he always show the
same attentions, if he meant them sincerely, instead of being so
strange as Mr. Godfrey Cass was, sometimes behaving as if he didn't
want to speak to her, and taking no notice of her for weeks and
weeks, and then, all on a sudden, almost making love again?
Moreover, it was quite plain he had no real love for her, else he
would not let people have _that_ to say of him which they did say.
Did he suppose that Miss Nancy Lammeter was to be won by any man,
squire or no squire, who led a bad life? That was not what she had
been used to see in her own father, who was the soberest and best
man in that country-side, only a little hot and hasty now and then,
if things were not done to the minute.
All these thoughts rushed through Miss Nancy's mind, in their
habitual succession, in the moments between her first sight of
Mr. Godfrey Cass standing at the door and her own arrival there.
Happily, the Squire came out too and gave a loud greeting to her
father, so that, somehow, under cover of this noise she seemed to
find concealment for her confusion and neglect of any suitably
formal behaviour, while she was being lifted from the pillion by
strong arms which seemed to find her ridiculously small and light.
And there was the best reason for hastening into the house at once,
since the snow was beginning to fall again, threatening an
unpleasant journey for such guests as were still on the road. These
were a small minority; for already the afternoon was beginning to
decline, and there would not be too much time for the ladies who
came from a distance to attire themselves in readiness for the early
tea which was to inspirit them for the dance.
There was a buzz of voices through the house, as Miss Nancy entered,
mingled with the scrape of a fiddle preluding in the kitchen; but
the Lammeters were guests whose arrival had evidently been thought
of so much that it had been watched for from the windows, for
Mrs. Kimble, who did the honours at the Red House on these great
occasions, came forward to meet Miss Nancy in the hall, and conduct
her up-stairs. Mrs. Kimble was the Squire's sister, as well as the
doctor's wife--a double dignity, with which her diameter was in
direct proportion; so that, a journey up-stairs being rather
fatiguing to her, she did not oppose Miss Nancy's request to be
allowed to find her way alone to the Blue Room, where the Miss
Lammeters' bandboxes had been deposited on their arrival in the
There was hardly a bedroom in the house where feminine compliments
were not passing and feminine toilettes going forward, in various
stages, in space made scanty by extra beds spread upon the floor;
and Miss Nancy, as she entered the Blue Room, had to make her little
formal curtsy to a group of six. On the one hand, there were ladies
no less important than the two Miss Gunns, the wine merchant's
daughters from Lytherly, dressed in the height of fashion, with the
tightest skirts and the shortest waists, and gazed at by Miss
Ladbrook (of the Old Pastures) with a shyness not unsustained by
inward criticism. Partly, Miss Ladbrook felt that her own skirt
must be regarded as unduly lax by the Miss Gunns, and partly, that
it was a pity the Miss Gunns did not show that judgment which she
herself would show if she were in their place, by stopping a little
on this side of the fashion. On the other hand, Mrs. Ladbrook was
standing in skull-cap and front, with her turban in her hand,
curtsying and smiling blandly and saying, "After you, ma'am," to
another lady in similar circumstances, who had politely offered the
precedence at the looking-glass.
But Miss Nancy had no sooner made her curtsy than an elderly lady
came forward, whose full white muslin kerchief, and mob-cap round
her curls of smooth grey hair, were in daring contrast with the
puffed yellow satins and top-knotted caps of her neighbours. She
approached Miss Nancy with much primness, and said, with a slow,
"Niece, I hope I see you well in health." Miss Nancy kissed her
aunt's cheek dutifully, and answered, with the same sort of amiable
primness, "Quite well, I thank you, aunt; and I hope I see you the
"Thank you, niece; I keep my health for the present. And how is my
These dutiful questions and answers were continued until it was
ascertained in detail that the Lammeters were all as well as usual,
and the Osgoods likewise, also that niece Priscilla must certainly
arrive shortly, and that travelling on pillions in snowy weather was
unpleasant, though a joseph was a great protection. Then Nancy was
formally introduced to her aunt's visitors, the Miss Gunns, as being
the daughters of a mother known to _their_ mother, though now for
the first time induced to make a journey into these parts; and these
ladies were so taken by surprise at finding such a lovely face and
figure in an out-of-the-way country place, that they began to feel
some curiosity about the dress she would put on when she took off
her joseph. Miss Nancy, whose thoughts were always conducted with
the propriety and moderation conspicuous in her manners, remarked to
herself that the Miss Gunns were rather hard-featured than
otherwise, and that such very low dresses as they wore might have
been attributed to vanity if their shoulders had been pretty, but
that, being as they were, it was not reasonable to suppose that they
showed their necks from a love of display, but rather from some
obligation not inconsistent with sense and modesty. She felt
convinced, as she opened her box, that this must be her aunt
Osgood's opinion, for Miss Nancy's mind resembled her aunt's to a
degree that everybody said was surprising, considering the kinship
was on Mr. Osgood's side; and though you might not have supposed it
from the formality of their greeting, there was a devoted attachment
and mutual admiration between aunt and niece. Even Miss Nancy's
refusal of her cousin Gilbert Osgood (on the ground solely that he
was her cousin), though it had grieved her aunt greatly, had not in
the least cooled the preference which had determined her to leave
Nancy several of her hereditary ornaments, let Gilbert's future wife
be whom she might.
Three of the ladies quickly retired, but the Miss Gunns were quite
content that Mrs. Osgood's inclination to remain with her niece gave
them also a reason for staying to see the rustic beauty's toilette.
And it was really a pleasure--from the first opening of the
bandbox, where everything smelt of lavender and rose-leaves, to the
clasping of the small coral necklace that fitted closely round her
little white neck. Everything belonging to Miss Nancy was of
delicate purity and nattiness: not a crease was where it had no
business to be, not a bit of her linen professed whiteness without
fulfilling its profession; the very pins on her pincushion were
stuck in after a pattern from which she was careful to allow no
aberration; and as for her own person, it gave the same idea of
perfect unvarying neatness as the body of a little bird. It is true
that her light-brown hair was cropped behind like a boy's, and was
dressed in front in a number of flat rings, that lay quite away from
her face; but there was no sort of coiffure that could make Miss
Nancy's cheek and neck look otherwise than pretty; and when at last
she stood complete in her silvery twilled silk, her lace tucker, her
coral necklace, and coral ear-drops, the Miss Gunns could see
nothing to criticise except her hands, which bore the traces of
butter-making, cheese-crushing, and even still coarser work. But
Miss Nancy was not ashamed of that, for even while she was dressing
she narrated to her aunt how she and Priscilla had packed their
boxes yesterday, because this morning was baking morning, and since
they were leaving home, it was desirable to make a good supply of
meat-pies for the kitchen; and as she concluded this judicious
remark, she turned to the Miss Gunns that she might not commit the
rudeness of not including them in the conversation. The Miss Gunns
smiled stiffly, and thought what a pity it was that these rich
country people, who could afford to buy such good clothes (really
Miss Nancy's lace and silk were very costly), should be brought up
in utter ignorance and vulgarity. She actually said "mate" for
"meat", "'appen" for "perhaps", and "oss" for "horse",
which, to young ladies living in good Lytherly society, who
habitually said 'orse, even in domestic privacy, and only said
'appen on the right occasions, was necessarily shocking. Miss
Nancy, indeed, had never been to any school higher than Dame
Tedman's: her acquaintance with profane literature hardly went
beyond the rhymes she had worked in her large sampler under the lamb
and the shepherdess; and in order to balance an account, she was
obliged to effect her subtraction by removing visible metallic
shillings and sixpences from a visible metallic total. There is
hardly a servant-maid in these days who is not better informed than
Miss Nancy; yet she had the essential attributes of a lady--high
veracity, delicate honour in her dealings, deference to others, and
refined personal habits,--and lest these should not suffice to
convince grammatical fair ones that her feelings can at all resemble
theirs, I will add that she was slightly proud and exacting, and as
constant in her affection towards a baseless opinion as towards an
The anxiety about sister Priscilla, which had grown rather active by
the time the coral necklace was clasped, was happily ended by the
entrance of that cheerful-looking lady herself, with a face made
blowsy by cold and damp. After the first questions and greetings,
she turned to Nancy, and surveyed her from head to foot--then
wheeled her round, to ascertain that the back view was equally
"What do you think o' _these_ gowns, aunt Osgood?" said
Priscilla, while Nancy helped her to unrobe.
"Very handsome indeed, niece," said Mrs. Osgood, with a slight
increase of formality. She always thought niece Priscilla too
"I'm obliged to have the same as Nancy, you know, for all I'm five
years older, and it makes me look yallow; for she never _will_ have
anything without I have mine just like it, because she wants us to
look like sisters. And I tell her, folks 'ull think it's my
weakness makes me fancy as I shall look pretty in what she looks
pretty in. For I _am_ ugly--there's no denying that: I feature my
father's family. But, law! I don't mind, do you?" Priscilla here
turned to the Miss Gunns, rattling on in too much preoccupation with
the delight of talking, to notice that her candour was not
appreciated. "The pretty uns do for fly-catchers--they keep the
men off us. I've no opinion o' the men, Miss Gunn--I don't know
what _you_ have. And as for fretting and stewing about what
_they_'ll think of you from morning till night, and making your life
uneasy about what they're doing when they're out o' your sight--as
I tell Nancy, it's a folly no woman need be guilty of, if she's got
a good father and a good home: let her leave it to them as have got
no fortin, and can't help themselves. As I say,
Mr. Have-your-own-way is the best husband, and the only one I'd ever
promise to obey. I know it isn't pleasant, when you've been used to
living in a big way, and managing hogsheads and all that, to go and
put your nose in by somebody else's fireside, or to sit down by
yourself to a scrag or a knuckle; but, thank God! my father's a
sober man and likely to live; and if you've got a man by the
chimney-corner, it doesn't matter if he's childish--the business
needn't be broke up."
The delicate process of getting her narrow gown over her head
without injury to her smooth curls, obliged Miss Priscilla to pause
in this rapid survey of life, and Mrs. Osgood seized the opportunity
of rising and saying--
"Well, niece, you'll follow us. The Miss Gunns will like to go
"Sister," said Nancy, when they were alone, "you've offended the
Miss Gunns, I'm sure."
"What have I done, child?" said Priscilla, in some alarm.
"Why, you asked them if they minded about being ugly--you're so
"Law, did I? Well, it popped out: it's a mercy I said no more, for
I'm a bad un to live with folks when they don't like the truth. But
as for being ugly, look at me, child, in this silver-coloured silk--
I told you how it 'ud be--I look as yallow as a daffadil.
Anybody 'ud say you wanted to make a mawkin of me."
"No, Priscy, don't say so. I begged and prayed of you not to let
us have this silk if you'd like another better. I was willing to
have _your_ choice, you know I was," said Nancy, in anxious
"Nonsense, child! you know you'd set your heart on this; and
reason good, for you're the colour o' cream. It 'ud be fine doings
for you to dress yourself to suit _my_ skin. What I find fault
with, is that notion o' yours as I must dress myself just like you.
But you do as you like with me--you always did, from when first
you begun to walk. If you wanted to go the field's length, the
field's length you'd go; and there was no whipping you, for you
looked as prim and innicent as a daisy all the while."
"Priscy," said Nancy, gently, as she fastened a coral necklace,
exactly like her own, round Priscilla's neck, which was very far
from being like her own, "I'm sure I'm willing to give way as far
as is right, but who shouldn't dress alike if it isn't sisters?
Would you have us go about looking as if we were no kin to one
another--us that have got no mother and not another sister in the
world? I'd do what was right, if I dressed in a gown dyed with
cheese-colouring; and I'd rather you'd choose, and let me wear what
"There you go again! You'd come round to the same thing if one
talked to you from Saturday night till Saturday morning. It'll be
fine fun to see how you'll master your husband and never raise your
voice above the singing o' the kettle all the while. I like to see
the men mastered!"
"Don't talk _so_, Priscy," said Nancy, blushing. "You know I
don't mean ever to be married."
"Oh, you never mean a fiddlestick's end!" said Priscilla, as she
arranged her discarded dress, and closed her bandbox. "Who shall
_I_ have to work for when father's gone, if you are to go and take
notions in your head and be an old maid, because some folks are no
better than they should be? I haven't a bit o' patience with you--
sitting on an addled egg for ever, as if there was never a fresh un
in the world. One old maid's enough out o' two sisters; and I shall
do credit to a single life, for God A'mighty meant me for it. Come,
we can go down now. I'm as ready as a mawkin _can_ be--there's
nothing awanting to frighten the crows, now I've got my ear-droppers
As the two Miss Lammeters walked into the large parlour together,
any one who did not know the character of both might certainly have
supposed that the reason why the square-shouldered, clumsy,
high-featured Priscilla wore a dress the facsimile of her pretty
sister's, was either the mistaken vanity of the one, or the
malicious contrivance of the other in order to set off her own rare
beauty. But the good-natured self-forgetful cheeriness and
common-sense of Priscilla would soon have dissipated the one
suspicion; and the modest calm of Nancy's speech and manners told
clearly of a mind free from all disavowed devices.
Places of honour had been kept for the Miss Lammeters near the head
of the principal tea-table in the wainscoted parlour, now looking
fresh and pleasant with handsome branches of holly, yew, and laurel,
from the abundant growths of the old garden; and Nancy felt an
inward flutter, that no firmness of purpose could prevent, when she
saw Mr. Godfrey Cass advancing to lead her to a seat between himself
and Mr. Crackenthorp, while Priscilla was called to the opposite
side between her father and the Squire. It certainly did make some
difference to Nancy that the lover she had given up was the young
man of quite the highest consequence in the parish--at home in a
venerable and unique parlour, which was the extremity of grandeur in
her experience, a parlour where _she_ might one day have been
mistress, with the consciousness that she was spoken of as "Madam
Cass", the Squire's wife. These circumstances exalted her inward
drama in her own eyes, and deepened the emphasis with which she
declared to herself that not the most dazzling rank should induce
her to marry a man whose conduct showed him careless of his
character, but that, "love once, love always", was the motto of a
true and pure woman, and no man should ever have any right over her
which would be a call on her to destroy the dried flowers that she
treasured, and always would treasure, for Godfrey Cass's sake. And
Nancy was capable of keeping her word to herself under very trying
conditions. Nothing but a becoming blush betrayed the moving
thoughts that urged themselves upon her as she accepted the seat
next to Mr. Crackenthorp; for she was so instinctively neat and
adroit in all her actions, and her pretty lips met each other with
such quiet firmness, that it would have been difficult for her to
It was not the rector's practice to let a charming blush pass
without an appropriate compliment. He was not in the least lofty or
aristocratic, but simply a merry-eyed, small-featured, grey-haired
man, with his chin propped by an ample, many-creased white neckcloth
which seemed to predominate over every other point in his person,
and somehow to impress its peculiar character on his remarks; so
that to have considered his amenities apart from his cravat would
have been a severe, and perhaps a dangerous, effort of abstraction.
"Ha, Miss Nancy," he said, turning his head within his cravat and
smiling down pleasantly upon her, "when anybody pretends this has
been a severe winter, I shall tell them I saw the roses blooming on
New Year's Eve--eh, Godfrey, what do _you_ say?"
Godfrey made no reply, and avoided looking at Nancy very markedly;
for though these complimentary personalities were held to be in
excellent taste in old-fashioned Raveloe society, reverent love has
a politeness of its own which it teaches to men otherwise of small
schooling. But the Squire was rather impatient at Godfrey's showing
himself a dull spark in this way. By this advanced hour of the day,
the Squire was always in higher spirits than we have seen him in at
the breakfast-table, and felt it quite pleasant to fulfil the
hereditary duty of being noisily jovial and patronizing: the large
silver snuff-box was in active service and was offered without fail
to all neighbours from time to time, however often they might have
declined the favour. At present, the Squire had only given an
express welcome to the heads of families as they appeared; but
always as the evening deepened, his hospitality rayed out more
widely, till he had tapped the youngest guests on the back and shown
a peculiar fondness for their presence, in the full belief that they
must feel their lives made happy by their belonging to a parish
where there was such a hearty man as Squire Cass to invite them and
wish them well. Even in this early stage of the jovial mood, it was
natural that he should wish to supply his son's deficiencies by
looking and speaking for him.
"Aye, aye," he began, offering his snuff-box to Mr. Lammeter, who
for the second time bowed his head and waved his hand in stiff
rejection of the offer, "us old fellows may wish ourselves young
to-night, when we see the mistletoe-bough in the White Parlour.
It's true, most things are gone back'ard in these last thirty years--
the country's going down since the old king fell ill. But when I
look at Miss Nancy here, I begin to think the lasses keep up their
quality;--ding me if I remember a sample to match her, not when I
was a fine young fellow, and thought a deal about my pigtail. No
offence to you, madam," he added, bending to Mrs. Crackenthorp, who
sat by him, "I didn't know _you_ when you were as young as Miss
Mrs. Crackenthorp--a small blinking woman, who fidgeted
incessantly with her lace, ribbons, and gold chain, turning her head
about and making subdued noises, very much like a guinea-pig that
twitches its nose and soliloquizes in all company indiscriminately--
now blinked and fidgeted towards the Squire, and said, "Oh, no--no offence."
This emphatic compliment of the Squire's to Nancy was felt by others
besides Godfrey to have a diplomatic significance; and her father
gave a slight additional erectness to his back, as he looked across
the table at her with complacent gravity. That grave and orderly
senior was not going to bate a jot of his dignity by seeming elated
at the notion of a match between his family and the Squire's: he was
gratified by any honour paid to his daughter; but he must see an
alteration in several ways before his consent would be vouchsafed.
His spare but healthy person, and high-featured firm face, that
looked as if it had never been flushed by excess, was in strong
contrast, not only with the Squire's, but with the appearance of the
Raveloe farmers generally--in accordance with a favourite saying
of his own, that "breed was stronger than pasture".
"Miss Nancy's wonderful like what her mother was, though; isn't
she, Kimble?" said the stout lady of that name, looking round for
But Doctor Kimble (country apothecaries in old days enjoyed that
title without authority of diploma), being a thin and agile man, was
flitting about the room with his hands in his pockets, making
himself agreeable to his feminine patients, with medical
impartiality, and being welcomed everywhere as a doctor by
hereditary right--not one of those miserable apothecaries who
canvass for practice in strange neighbourhoods, and spend all their
income in starving their one horse, but a man of substance, able to
keep an extravagant table like the best of his patients. Time out
of mind the Raveloe doctor had been a Kimble; Kimble was inherently
a doctor's name; and it was difficult to contemplate firmly the
melancholy fact that the actual Kimble had no son, so that his
practice might one day be handed over to a successor with the
incongruous name of Taylor or Johnson. But in that case the wiser
people in Raveloe would employ Dr. Blick of Flitton--as less
"Did you speak to me, my dear?" said the authentic doctor, coming
quickly to his wife's side; but, as if foreseeing that she would be
too much out of breath to repeat her remark, he went on immediately--
"Ha, Miss Priscilla, the sight of you revives the taste of that
super-excellent pork-pie. I hope the batch isn't near an end."
"Yes, indeed, it is, doctor," said Priscilla; "but I'll answer
for it the next shall be as good. My pork-pies don't turn out well
"Not as your doctoring does, eh, Kimble?--because folks forget
to take your physic, eh?" said the Squire, who regarded physic and
doctors as many loyal churchmen regard the church and the clergy--
tasting a joke against them when he was in health, but impatiently
eager for their aid when anything was the matter with him. He
tapped his box, and looked round with a triumphant laugh.
"Ah, she has a quick wit, my friend Priscilla has," said the
doctor, choosing to attribute the epigram to a lady rather than
allow a brother-in-law that advantage over him. "She saves a
little pepper to sprinkle over her talk--that's the reason why she
never puts too much into her pies. There's my wife now, she never
has an answer at her tongue's end; but if I offend her, she's sure
to scarify my throat with black pepper the next day, or else give me
the colic with watery greens. That's an awful tit-for-tat." Here
the vivacious doctor made a pathetic grimace.
"Did you ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Kimble, laughing above
her double chin with much good-humour, aside to Mrs. Crackenthorp,
who blinked and nodded, and seemed to intend a smile, which, by the
correlation of forces, went off in small twitchings and noises.
"I suppose that's the sort of tit-for-tat adopted in your
profession, Kimble, if you've a grudge against a patient," said the
"Never do have a grudge against our patients," said Mr. Kimble,
"except when they leave us: and then, you see, we haven't the
chance of prescribing for 'em. Ha, Miss Nancy," he continued,
suddenly skipping to Nancy's side, "you won't forget your promise?
You're to save a dance for me, you know."
"Come, come, Kimble, don't you be too for'ard," said the Squire.
"Give the young uns fair-play. There's my son Godfrey'll be
wanting to have a round with you if you run off with Miss Nancy.
He's bespoke her for the first dance, I'll be bound. Eh, sir! what
do you say?" he continued, throwing himself backward, and looking
at Godfrey. "Haven't you asked Miss Nancy to open the dance with
Godfrey, sorely uncomfortable under this significant insistence
about Nancy, and afraid to think where it would end by the time his
father had set his usual hospitable example of drinking before and
after supper, saw no course open but to turn to Nancy and say, with
as little awkwardness as possible--
"No; I've not asked her yet, but I hope she'll consent--if
somebody else hasn't been before me."
"No, I've not engaged myself," said Nancy, quietly, though
blushingly. (If Mr. Godfrey founded any hopes on her consenting to
dance with him, he would soon be undeceived; but there was no need
for her to be uncivil.)
"Then I hope you've no objections to dancing with me," said
Godfrey, beginning to lose the sense that there was anything
uncomfortable in this arrangement.
"No, no objections," said Nancy, in a cold tone.
"Ah, well, you're a lucky fellow, Godfrey," said uncle Kimble;
"but you're my godson, so I won't stand in your way. Else I'm not
so very old, eh, my dear?" he went on, skipping to his wife's side
again. "You wouldn't mind my having a second after you were gone--
not if I cried a good deal first?"
"Come, come, take a cup o' tea and stop your tongue, do," said
good-humoured Mrs. Kimble, feeling some pride in a husband who must
be regarded as so clever and amusing by the company generally. If
he had only not been irritable at cards!
While safe, well-tested personalities were enlivening the tea in
this way, the sound of the fiddle approaching within a distance at
which it could be heard distinctly, made the young people look at
each other with sympathetic impatience for the end of the meal.
"Why, there's Solomon in the hall," said the Squire, "and playing
my fav'rite tune, _I_ believe--"The flaxen-headed ploughboy"--
he's for giving us a hint as we aren't enough in a hurry to hear him
play. Bob," he called out to his third long-legged son, who was at
the other end of the room, "open the door, and tell Solomon to come
in. He shall give us a tune here."
Bob obeyed, and Solomon walked in, fiddling as he walked, for he
would on no account break off in the middle of a tune.
"Here, Solomon," said the Squire, with loud patronage. "Round
here, my man. Ah, I knew it was "The flaxen-headed ploughboy":
there's no finer tune."
Solomon Macey, a small hale old man with an abundant crop of long
white hair reaching nearly to his shoulders, advanced to the
indicated spot, bowing reverently while he fiddled, as much as to
say that he respected the company, though he respected the key-note
more. As soon as he had repeated the tune and lowered his fiddle,
he bowed again to the Squire and the rector, and said, "I hope I
see your honour and your reverence well, and wishing you health and
long life and a happy New Year. And wishing the same to you,
Mr. Lammeter, sir; and to the other gentlemen, and the madams, and
the young lasses."
As Solomon uttered the last words, he bowed in all directions
solicitously, lest he should be wanting in due respect. But
thereupon he immediately began to prelude, and fell into the tune
which he knew would be taken as a special compliment by
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