Part 3 out of 4
"Thank ye, Solomon, thank ye," said Mr. Lammeter when the fiddle
paused again. "That's "Over the hills and far away", that is. My
father used to say to me, whenever we heard that tune, "Ah, lad, _I_
come from over the hills and far away." There's a many tunes I
don't make head or tail of; but that speaks to me like the
blackbird's whistle. I suppose it's the name: there's a deal in the
name of a tune."
But Solomon was already impatient to prelude again, and presently
broke with much spirit into "Sir Roger de Coverley", at which
there was a sound of chairs pushed back, and laughing voices.
"Aye, aye, Solomon, we know what that means," said the Squire,
rising. "It's time to begin the dance, eh? Lead the way, then,
and we'll all follow you."
So Solomon, holding his white head on one side, and playing
vigorously, marched forward at the head of the gay procession into
the White Parlour, where the mistletoe-bough was hung, and
multitudinous tallow candles made rather a brilliant effect,
gleaming from among the berried holly-boughs, and reflected in the
old-fashioned oval mirrors fastened in the panels of the white
wainscot. A quaint procession! Old Solomon, in his seedy clothes
and long white locks, seemed to be luring that decent company by the
magic scream of his fiddle--luring discreet matrons in
turban-shaped caps, nay, Mrs. Crackenthorp herself, the summit of
whose perpendicular feather was on a level with the Squire's
shoulder--luring fair lasses complacently conscious of very short
waists and skirts blameless of front-folds--luring burly fathers
in large variegated waistcoats, and ruddy sons, for the most part
shy and sheepish, in short nether garments and very long coat-tails.
Already Mr. Macey and a few other privileged villagers, who were
allowed to be spectators on these great occasions, were seated on
benches placed for them near the door; and great was the admiration
and satisfaction in that quarter when the couples had formed
themselves for the dance, and the Squire led off with
Mrs. Crackenthorp, joining hands with the rector and Mrs. Osgood.
That was as it should be--that was what everybody had been used to--
and the charter of Raveloe seemed to be renewed by the ceremony.
It was not thought of as an unbecoming levity for the old and
middle-aged people to dance a little before sitting down to cards,
but rather as part of their social duties. For what were these if
not to be merry at appropriate times, interchanging visits and
poultry with due frequency, paying each other old-established
compliments in sound traditional phrases, passing well-tried
personal jokes, urging your guests to eat and drink too much out of
hospitality, and eating and drinking too much in your neighbour's
house to show that you liked your cheer? And the parson naturally
set an example in these social duties. For it would not have been
possible for the Raveloe mind, without a peculiar revelation, to
know that a clergyman should be a pale-faced memento of solemnities,
instead of a reasonably faulty man whose exclusive authority to read
prayers and preach, to christen, marry, and bury you, necessarily
coexisted with the right to sell you the ground to be buried in and
to take tithe in kind; on which last point, of course, there was a
little grumbling, but not to the extent of irreligion--not of
deeper significance than the grumbling at the rain, which was by no
means accompanied with a spirit of impious defiance, but with a
desire that the prayer for fine weather might be read forthwith.
There was no reason, then, why the rector's dancing should not be
received as part of the fitness of things quite as much as the
Squire's, or why, on the other hand, Mr. Macey's official respect
should restrain him from subjecting the parson's performance to that
criticism with which minds of extraordinary acuteness must
necessarily contemplate the doings of their fallible fellow-men.
"The Squire's pretty springe, considering his weight," said
Mr. Macey, "and he stamps uncommon well. But Mr. Lammeter beats
'em all for shapes: you see he holds his head like a sodger, and he
isn't so cushiony as most o' the oldish gentlefolks--they run fat
in general; and he's got a fine leg. The parson's nimble enough,
but he hasn't got much of a leg: it's a bit too thick down'ard, and
his knees might be a bit nearer wi'out damage; but he might do
worse, he might do worse. Though he hasn't that grand way o' waving
his hand as the Squire has."
"Talk o' nimbleness, look at Mrs. Osgood," said Ben Winthrop, who
was holding his son Aaron between his knees. "She trips along with
her little steps, so as nobody can see how she goes--it's like as
if she had little wheels to her feet. She doesn't look a day older
nor last year: she's the finest-made woman as is, let the next be
where she will."
"I don't heed how the women are made," said Mr. Macey, with some
contempt. "They wear nayther coat nor breeches: you can't make
much out o' their shapes."
"Fayder," said Aaron, whose feet were busy beating out the tune,
"how does that big cock's-feather stick in Mrs. Crackenthorp's
yead? Is there a little hole for it, like in my shuttle-cock?"
"Hush, lad, hush; that's the way the ladies dress theirselves, that
is," said the father, adding, however, in an undertone to
Mr. Macey, "It does make her look funny, though--partly like a
short-necked bottle wi' a long quill in it. Hey, by jingo, there's
the young Squire leading off now, wi' Miss Nancy for partners!
There's a lass for you!--like a pink-and-white posy--there's
nobody 'ud think as anybody could be so pritty. I shouldn't wonder
if she's Madam Cass some day, arter all--and nobody more
rightfuller, for they'd make a fine match. You can find nothing
against Master Godfrey's shapes, Macey, _I_'ll bet a penny."
Mr. Macey screwed up his mouth, leaned his head further on one side,
and twirled his thumbs with a presto movement as his eyes followed
Godfrey up the dance. At last he summed up his opinion.
"Pretty well down'ard, but a bit too round i' the shoulder-blades.
And as for them coats as he gets from the Flitton tailor, they're a
poor cut to pay double money for."
"Ah, Mr. Macey, you and me are two folks," said Ben, slightly
indignant at this carping. "When I've got a pot o' good ale, I
like to swaller it, and do my inside good, i'stead o' smelling and
staring at it to see if I can't find faut wi' the brewing. I should
like you to pick me out a finer-limbed young fellow nor Master
Godfrey--one as 'ud knock you down easier, or 's more
pleasanter-looksed when he's piert and merry."
"Tchuh!" said Mr. Macey, provoked to increased severity, "he
isn't come to his right colour yet: he's partly like a slack-baked
pie. And I doubt he's got a soft place in his head, else why should
he be turned round the finger by that offal Dunsey as nobody's seen
o' late, and let him kill that fine hunting hoss as was the talk o'
the country? And one while he was allays after Miss Nancy, and then
it all went off again, like a smell o' hot porridge, as I may say.
That wasn't my way when _I_ went a-coorting."
"Ah, but mayhap Miss Nancy hung off, like, and your lass didn't,"
"I should say she didn't," said Mr. Macey, significantly.
"Before I said "sniff", I took care to know as she'd say "snaff",
and pretty quick too. I wasn't a-going to open _my_ mouth, like a
dog at a fly, and snap it to again, wi' nothing to swaller."
"Well, I think Miss Nancy's a-coming round again," said Ben, "for
Master Godfrey doesn't look so down-hearted to-night. And I see
he's for taking her away to sit down, now they're at the end o' the
dance: that looks like sweethearting, that does."
The reason why Godfrey and Nancy had left the dance was not so
tender as Ben imagined. In the close press of couples a slight
accident had happened to Nancy's dress, which, while it was short
enough to show her neat ankle in front, was long enough behind to be
caught under the stately stamp of the Squire's foot, so as to rend
certain stitches at the waist, and cause much sisterly agitation in
Priscilla's mind, as well as serious concern in Nancy's. One's
thoughts may be much occupied with love-struggles, but hardly so as
to be insensible to a disorder in the general framework of things.
Nancy had no sooner completed her duty in the figure they were
dancing than she said to Godfrey, with a deep blush, that she must
go and sit down till Priscilla could come to her; for the sisters
had already exchanged a short whisper and an open-eyed glance full
of meaning. No reason less urgent than this could have prevailed on
Nancy to give Godfrey this opportunity of sitting apart with her.
As for Godfrey, he was feeling so happy and oblivious under the long
charm of the country-dance with Nancy, that he got rather bold on
the strength of her confusion, and was capable of leading her
straight away, without leave asked, into the adjoining small
parlour, where the card-tables were set.
"Oh no, thank you," said Nancy, coldly, as soon as she perceived
where he was going, "not in there. I'll wait here till Priscilla's
ready to come to me. I'm sorry to bring you out of the dance and
make myself troublesome."
"Why, you'll be more comfortable here by yourself," said the
artful Godfrey: "I'll leave you here till your sister can come."
He spoke in an indifferent tone.
That was an agreeable proposition, and just what Nancy desired; why,
then, was she a little hurt that Mr. Godfrey should make it? They
entered, and she seated herself on a chair against one of the
card-tables, as the stiffest and most unapproachable position she
"Thank you, sir," she said immediately. "I needn't give you any
more trouble. I'm sorry you've had such an unlucky partner."
"That's very ill-natured of you," said Godfrey, standing by her
without any sign of intended departure, "to be sorry you've danced
"Oh, no, sir, I don't mean to say what's ill-natured at all," said
Nancy, looking distractingly prim and pretty. "When gentlemen have
so many pleasures, one dance can matter but very little."
"You know that isn't true. You know one dance with you matters
more to me than all the other pleasures in the world."
It was a long, long while since Godfrey had said anything so direct
as that, and Nancy was startled. But her instinctive dignity and
repugnance to any show of emotion made her sit perfectly still, and
only throw a little more decision into her voice, as she said--
"No, indeed, Mr. Godfrey, that's not known to me, and I have very
good reasons for thinking different. But if it's true, I don't wish
to hear it."
"Would you never forgive me, then, Nancy--never think well of me,
let what would happen--would you never think the present made
amends for the past? Not if I turned a good fellow, and gave up
everything you didn't like?"
Godfrey was half conscious that this sudden opportunity of speaking
to Nancy alone had driven him beside himself; but blind feeling had
got the mastery of his tongue. Nancy really felt much agitated by
the possibility Godfrey's words suggested, but this very pressure of
emotion that she was in danger of finding too strong for her roused
all her power of self-command.
"I should be glad to see a good change in anybody, Mr. Godfrey,"
she answered, with the slightest discernible difference of tone,
"but it 'ud be better if no change was wanted."
"You're very hard-hearted, Nancy," said Godfrey, pettishly. "You
might encourage me to be a better fellow. I'm very miserable--but
you've no feeling."
"I think those have the least feeling that act wrong to begin
with," said Nancy, sending out a flash in spite of herself.
Godfrey was delighted with that little flash, and would have liked
to go on and make her quarrel with him; Nancy was so exasperatingly
quiet and firm. But she was not indifferent to him _yet_, though--
The entrance of Priscilla, bustling forward and saying, "Dear heart
alive, child, let us look at this gown," cut off Godfrey's hopes of
"I suppose I must go now," he said to Priscilla.
"It's no matter to me whether you go or stay," said that frank
lady, searching for something in her pocket, with a preoccupied
"Do _you_ want me to go?" said Godfrey, looking at Nancy, who was
now standing up by Priscilla's order.
"As you like," said Nancy, trying to recover all her former
coldness, and looking down carefully at the hem of her gown.
"Then I like to stay," said Godfrey, with a reckless determination
to get as much of this joy as he could to-night, and think nothing
of the morrow.
While Godfrey Cass was taking draughts of forgetfulness from the
sweet presence of Nancy, willingly losing all sense of that hidden
bond which at other moments galled and fretted him so as to mingle
irritation with the very sunshine, Godfrey's wife was walking with
slow uncertain steps through the snow-covered Raveloe lanes,
carrying her child in her arms.
This journey on New Year's Eve was a premeditated act of vengeance
which she had kept in her heart ever since Godfrey, in a fit of
passion, had told her he would sooner die than acknowledge her as
his wife. There would be a great party at the Red House on New
Year's Eve, she knew: her husband would be smiling and smiled upon,
hiding _her_ existence in the darkest corner of his heart. But she
would mar his pleasure: she would go in her dingy rags, with her
faded face, once as handsome as the best, with her little child that
had its father's hair and eyes, and disclose herself to the Squire
as his eldest son's wife. It is seldom that the miserable can help
regarding their misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are less
miserable. Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her
husband's neglect, but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved,
body and soul, except in the lingering mother's tenderness that
refused to give him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yet,
in the moments of wretched unbenumbed consciousness, the sense of
her want and degradation transformed itself continually into
bitterness towards Godfrey. _He_ was well off; and if she had her
rights she would be well off too. The belief that he repented his
marriage, and suffered from it, only aggravated her vindictiveness.
Just and self-reproving thoughts do not come to us too thickly, even
in the purest air, and with the best lessons of heaven and earth;
how should those white-winged delicate messengers make their way to
Molly's poisoned chamber, inhabited by no higher memories than those
of a barmaid's paradise of pink ribbons and gentlemen's jokes?
She had set out at an early hour, but had lingered on the road,
inclined by her indolence to believe that if she waited under a warm
shed the snow would cease to fall. She had waited longer than she
knew, and now that she found herself belated in the snow-hidden
ruggedness of the long lanes, even the animation of a vindictive
purpose could not keep her spirit from failing. It was seven
o'clock, and by this time she was not very far from Raveloe, but she
was not familiar enough with those monotonous lanes to know how near
she was to her journey's end. She needed comfort, and she knew but
one comforter--the familiar demon in her bosom; but she hesitated
a moment, after drawing out the black remnant, before she raised it
to her lips. In that moment the mother's love pleaded for painful
consciousness rather than oblivion--pleaded to be left in aching
weariness, rather than to have the encircling arms benumbed so that
they could not feel the dear burden. In another moment Molly had
flung something away, but it was not the black remnant--it was an
empty phial. And she walked on again under the breaking cloud, from
which there came now and then the light of a quickly veiled star,
for a freezing wind had sprung up since the snowing had ceased. But
she walked always more and more drowsily, and clutched more and more
automatically the sleeping child at her bosom.
Slowly the demon was working his will, and cold and weariness were
his helpers. Soon she felt nothing but a supreme immediate longing
that curtained off all futurity--the longing to lie down and
sleep. She had arrived at a spot where her footsteps were no longer
checked by a hedgerow, and she had wandered vaguely, unable to
distinguish any objects, notwithstanding the wide whiteness around
her, and the growing starlight. She sank down against a straggling
furze bush, an easy pillow enough; and the bed of snow, too, was
soft. She did not feel that the bed was cold, and did not heed
whether the child would wake and cry for her. But her arms had not
yet relaxed their instinctive clutch; and the little one slumbered
on as gently as if it had been rocked in a lace-trimmed cradle.
But the complete torpor came at last: the fingers lost their
tension, the arms unbent; then the little head fell away from the
bosom, and the blue eyes opened wide on the cold starlight. At
first there was a little peevish cry of "mammy", and an effort to
regain the pillowing arm and bosom; but mammy's ear was deaf, and
the pillow seemed to be slipping away backward. Suddenly, as the
child rolled downward on its mother's knees, all wet with snow, its
eyes were caught by a bright glancing light on the white ground,
and, with the ready transition of infancy, it was immediately
absorbed in watching the bright living thing running towards it, yet
never arriving. That bright living thing must be caught; and in an
instant the child had slipped on all-fours, and held out one little
hand to catch the gleam. But the gleam would not be caught in that
way, and now the head was held up to see where the cunning gleam
came from. It came from a very bright place; and the little one,
rising on its legs, toddled through the snow, the old grimy shawl in
which it was wrapped trailing behind it, and the queer little bonnet
dangling at its back--toddled on to the open door of Silas
Marner's cottage, and right up to the warm hearth, where there was a
bright fire of logs and sticks, which had thoroughly warmed the old
sack (Silas's greatcoat) spread out on the bricks to dry. The
little one, accustomed to be left to itself for long hours without
notice from its mother, squatted down on the sack, and spread its
tiny hands towards the blaze, in perfect contentment, gurgling and
making many inarticulate communications to the cheerful fire, like a
new-hatched gosling beginning to find itself comfortable. But
presently the warmth had a lulling effect, and the little golden
head sank down on the old sack, and the blue eyes were veiled by
their delicate half-transparent lids.
But where was Silas Marner while this strange visitor had come to
his hearth? He was in the cottage, but he did not see the child.
During the last few weeks, since he had lost his money, he had
contracted the habit of opening his door and looking out from time
to time, as if he thought that his money might be somehow coming
back to him, or that some trace, some news of it, might be
mysteriously on the road, and be caught by the listening ear or the
straining eye. It was chiefly at night, when he was not occupied in
his loom, that he fell into this repetition of an act for which he
could have assigned no definite purpose, and which can hardly be
understood except by those who have undergone a bewildering
separation from a supremely loved object. In the evening twilight,
and later whenever the night was not dark, Silas looked out on that
narrow prospect round the Stone-pits, listening and gazing, not with
hope, but with mere yearning and unrest.
This morning he had been told by some of his neighbours that it was
New Year's Eve, and that he must sit up and hear the old year rung
out and the new rung in, because that was good luck, and might bring
his money back again. This was only a friendly Raveloe-way of
jesting with the half-crazy oddities of a miser, but it had perhaps
helped to throw Silas into a more than usually excited state. Since
the on-coming of twilight he had opened his door again and again,
though only to shut it immediately at seeing all distance veiled by
the falling snow. But the last time he opened it the snow had
ceased, and the clouds were parting here and there. He stood and
listened, and gazed for a long while--there was really something
on the road coming towards him then, but he caught no sign of it;
and the stillness and the wide trackless snow seemed to narrow his
solitude, and touched his yearning with the chill of despair. He
went in again, and put his right hand on the latch of the door to
close it--but he did not close it: he was arrested, as he had been
already since his loss, by the invisible wand of catalepsy, and
stood like a graven image, with wide but sightless eyes, holding
open his door, powerless to resist either the good or the evil that
might enter there.
When Marner's sensibility returned, he continued the action which
had been arrested, and closed his door, unaware of the chasm in his
consciousness, unaware of any intermediate change, except that the
light had grown dim, and that he was chilled and faint. He thought
he had been too long standing at the door and looking out. Turning
towards the hearth, where the two logs had fallen apart, and sent
forth only a red uncertain glimmer, he seated himself on his
fireside chair, and was stooping to push his logs together, when, to
his blurred vision, it seemed as if there were gold on the floor in
front of the hearth. Gold!--his own gold--brought back to him
as mysteriously as it had been taken away! He felt his heart begin
to beat violently, and for a few moments he was unable to stretch
out his hand and grasp the restored treasure. The heap of gold
seemed to glow and get larger beneath his agitated gaze. He leaned
forward at last, and stretched forth his hand; but instead of the
hard coin with the familiar resisting outline, his fingers
encountered soft warm curls. In utter amazement, Silas fell on his
knees and bent his head low to examine the marvel: it was a sleeping
child--a round, fair thing, with soft yellow rings all over its
head. Could this be his little sister come back to him in a dream--
his little sister whom he had carried about in his arms for a
year before she died, when he was a small boy without shoes or
stockings? That was the first thought that darted across Silas's
blank wonderment. _Was_ it a dream? He rose to his feet again,
pushed his logs together, and, throwing on some dried leaves and
sticks, raised a flame; but the flame did not disperse the vision--
it only lit up more distinctly the little round form of the child,
and its shabby clothing. It was very much like his little sister.
Silas sank into his chair powerless, under the double presence of an
inexplicable surprise and a hurrying influx of memories. How and
when had the child come in without his knowledge? He had never been
beyond the door. But along with that question, and almost thrusting
it away, there was a vision of the old home and the old streets
leading to Lantern Yard--and within that vision another, of the
thoughts which had been present with him in those far-off scenes.
The thoughts were strange to him now, like old friendships
impossible to revive; and yet he had a dreamy feeling that this
child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life: it
stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe--old
quiverings of tenderness--old impressions of awe at the
presentiment of some Power presiding over his life; for his
imagination had not yet extricated itself from the sense of mystery
in the child's sudden presence, and had formed no conjectures of
ordinary natural means by which the event could have been brought
But there was a cry on the hearth: the child had awaked, and Marner
stooped to lift it on his knee. It clung round his neck, and burst
louder and louder into that mingling of inarticulate cries with
"mammy" by which little children express the bewilderment of
waking. Silas pressed it to him, and almost unconsciously uttered
sounds of hushing tenderness, while he bethought himself that some
of his porridge, which had got cool by the dying fire, would do to
feed the child with if it were only warmed up a little.
He had plenty to do through the next hour. The porridge, sweetened
with some dry brown sugar from an old store which he had refrained
from using for himself, stopped the cries of the little one, and
made her lift her blue eyes with a wide quiet gaze at Silas, as he
put the spoon into her mouth. Presently she slipped from his knee
and began to toddle about, but with a pretty stagger that made Silas
jump up and follow her lest she should fall against anything that
would hurt her. But she only fell in a sitting posture on the
ground, and began to pull at her boots, looking up at him with a
crying face as if the boots hurt her. He took her on his knee
again, but it was some time before it occurred to Silas's dull
bachelor mind that the wet boots were the grievance, pressing on her
warm ankles. He got them off with difficulty, and baby was at once
happily occupied with the primary mystery of her own toes, inviting
Silas, with much chuckling, to consider the mystery too. But the
wet boots had at last suggested to Silas that the child had been
walking on the snow, and this roused him from his entire oblivion of
any ordinary means by which it could have entered or been brought
into his house. Under the prompting of this new idea, and without
waiting to form conjectures, he raised the child in his arms, and
went to the door. As soon as he had opened it, there was the cry of
"mammy" again, which Silas had not heard since the child's first
hungry waking. Bending forward, he could just discern the marks
made by the little feet on the virgin snow, and he followed their
track to the furze bushes. "Mammy!" the little one cried again
and again, stretching itself forward so as almost to escape from
Silas's arms, before he himself was aware that there was something
more than the bush before him--that there was a human body, with
the head sunk low in the furze, and half-covered with the shaken
It was after the early supper-time at the Red House, and the
entertainment was in that stage when bashfulness itself had passed
into easy jollity, when gentlemen, conscious of unusual
accomplishments, could at length be prevailed on to dance a
hornpipe, and when the Squire preferred talking loudly, scattering
snuff, and patting his visitors' backs, to sitting longer at the
whist-table--a choice exasperating to uncle Kimble, who, being
always volatile in sober business hours, became intense and bitter
over cards and brandy, shuffled before his adversary's deal with a
glare of suspicion, and turned up a mean trump-card with an air of
inexpressible disgust, as if in a world where such things could
happen one might as well enter on a course of reckless profligacy.
When the evening had advanced to this pitch of freedom and
enjoyment, it was usual for the servants, the heavy duties of supper
being well over, to get their share of amusement by coming to look
on at the dancing; so that the back regions of the house were left
There were two doors by which the White Parlour was entered from the
hall, and they were both standing open for the sake of air; but the
lower one was crowded with the servants and villagers, and only the
upper doorway was left free. Bob Cass was figuring in a hornpipe,
and his father, very proud of this lithe son, whom he repeatedly
declared to be just like himself in his young days in a tone that
implied this to be the very highest stamp of juvenile merit, was the
centre of a group who had placed themselves opposite the performer,
not far from the upper door. Godfrey was standing a little way off,
not to admire his brother's dancing, but to keep sight of Nancy, who
was seated in the group, near her father. He stood aloof, because
he wished to avoid suggesting himself as a subject for the Squire's
fatherly jokes in connection with matrimony and Miss Nancy
Lammeter's beauty, which were likely to become more and more
explicit. But he had the prospect of dancing with her again when
the hornpipe was concluded, and in the meanwhile it was very
pleasant to get long glances at her quite unobserved.
But when Godfrey was lifting his eyes from one of those long
glances, they encountered an object as startling to him at that
moment as if it had been an apparition from the dead. It _was_ an
apparition from that hidden life which lies, like a dark by-street,
behind the goodly ornamented facade that meets the sunlight and the
gaze of respectable admirers. It was his own child, carried in
Silas Marner's arms. That was his instantaneous impression,
unaccompanied by doubt, though he had not seen the child for months
past; and when the hope was rising that he might possibly be
mistaken, Mr. Crackenthorp and Mr. Lammeter had already advanced to
Silas, in astonishment at this strange advent. Godfrey joined them
immediately, unable to rest without hearing every word--trying to
control himself, but conscious that if any one noticed him, they
must see that he was white-lipped and trembling.
But now all eyes at that end of the room were bent on Silas Marner;
the Squire himself had risen, and asked angrily, "How's this?--
what's this?--what do you do coming in here in this way?"
"I'm come for the doctor--I want the doctor," Silas had said, in
the first moment, to Mr. Crackenthorp.
"Why, what's the matter, Marner?" said the rector. "The
doctor's here; but say quietly what you want him for."
"It's a woman," said Silas, speaking low, and half-breathlessly,
just as Godfrey came up. "She's dead, I think--dead in the snow
at the Stone-pits--not far from my door."
Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that
moment: it was, that the woman might _not_ be dead. That was an
evil terror--an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in
Godfrey's kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from
evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.
"Hush, hush!" said Mr. Crackenthorp. "Go out into the hall
there. I'll fetch the doctor to you. Found a woman in the snow--
and thinks she's dead," he added, speaking low to the Squire.
"Better say as little about it as possible: it will shock the
ladies. Just tell them a poor woman is ill from cold and hunger.
I'll go and fetch Kimble."
By this time, however, the ladies had pressed forward, curious to
know what could have brought the solitary linen-weaver there under
such strange circumstances, and interested in the pretty child, who,
half alarmed and half attracted by the brightness and the numerous
company, now frowned and hid her face, now lifted up her head again
and looked round placably, until a touch or a coaxing word brought
back the frown, and made her bury her face with new determination.
"What child is it?" said several ladies at once, and, among the
rest, Nancy Lammeter, addressing Godfrey.
"I don't know--some poor woman's who has been found in the snow,
I believe," was the answer Godfrey wrung from himself with a
terrible effort. ("After all, _am_ I certain?" he hastened to
add, silently, in anticipation of his own conscience.)
"Why, you'd better leave the child here, then, Master Marner,"
said good-natured Mrs. Kimble, hesitating, however, to take those
dingy clothes into contact with her own ornamented satin bodice.
"I'll tell one o' the girls to fetch it."
"No--no--I can't part with it, I can't let it go," said Silas,
abruptly. "It's come to me--I've a right to keep it."
The proposition to take the child from him had come to Silas quite
unexpectedly, and his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse,
was almost like a revelation to himself: a minute before, he had no
distinct intention about the child.
"Did you ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Kimble, in mild surprise,
to her neighbour.
"Now, ladies, I must trouble you to stand aside," said Mr. Kimble,
coming from the card-room, in some bitterness at the interruption,
but drilled by the long habit of his profession into obedience to
unpleasant calls, even when he was hardly sober.
"It's a nasty business turning out now, eh, Kimble?" said the
Squire. "He might ha' gone for your young fellow--the 'prentice,
there--what's his name?"
"Might? aye--what's the use of talking about might?" growled
uncle Kimble, hastening out with Marner, and followed by
Mr. Crackenthorp and Godfrey. "Get me a pair of thick boots,
Godfrey, will you? And stay, let somebody run to Winthrop's and
fetch Dolly--she's the best woman to get. Ben was here himself
before supper; is he gone?"
"Yes, sir, I met him," said Marner; "but I couldn't stop to tell
him anything, only I said I was going for the doctor, and he said
the doctor was at the Squire's. And I made haste and ran, and there
was nobody to be seen at the back o' the house, and so I went in to
where the company was."
The child, no longer distracted by the bright light and the smiling
women's faces, began to cry and call for "mammy", though always
clinging to Marner, who had apparently won her thorough confidence.
Godfrey had come back with the boots, and felt the cry as if some
fibre were drawn tight within him.
"I'll go," he said, hastily, eager for some movement; "I'll go
and fetch the woman--Mrs. Winthrop."
"Oh, pooh--send somebody else," said uncle Kimble, hurrying away
"You'll let me know if I can be of any use, Kimble," said
Mr. Crackenthorp. But the doctor was out of hearing.
Godfrey, too, had disappeared: he was gone to snatch his hat and
coat, having just reflection enough to remember that he must not
look like a madman; but he rushed out of the house into the snow
without heeding his thin shoes.
In a few minutes he was on his rapid way to the Stone-pits by the
side of Dolly, who, though feeling that she was entirely in her
place in encountering cold and snow on an errand of mercy, was much
concerned at a young gentleman's getting his feet wet under a like
"You'd a deal better go back, sir," said Dolly, with respectful
compassion. "You've no call to catch cold; and I'd ask you if
you'd be so good as tell my husband to come, on your way back--
he's at the Rainbow, I doubt--if you found him anyway sober enough
to be o' use. Or else, there's Mrs. Snell 'ud happen send the boy
up to fetch and carry, for there may be things wanted from the
"No, I'll stay, now I'm once out--I'll stay outside here," said
Godfrey, when they came opposite Marner's cottage. "You can come
and tell me if I can do anything."
"Well, sir, you're very good: you've a tender heart," said Dolly,
going to the door.
Godfrey was too painfully preoccupied to feel a twinge of
self-reproach at this undeserved praise. He walked up and down,
unconscious that he was plunging ankle-deep in snow, unconscious of
everything but trembling suspense about what was going on in the
cottage, and the effect of each alternative on his future lot. No,
not quite unconscious of everything else. Deeper down, and
half-smothered by passionate desire and dread, there was the sense
that he ought not to be waiting on these alternatives; that he ought
to accept the consequences of his deeds, own the miserable wife, and
fulfil the claims of the helpless child. But he had not moral
courage enough to contemplate that active renunciation of Nancy as
possible for him: he had only conscience and heart enough to make
him for ever uneasy under the weakness that forbade the
renunciation. And at this moment his mind leaped away from all
restraint toward the sudden prospect of deliverance from his long
"Is she dead?" said the voice that predominated over every other
within him. "If she is, I may marry Nancy; and then I shall be a
good fellow in future, and have no secrets, and the child--shall
be taken care of somehow." But across that vision came the other
possibility--"She may live, and then it's all up with me."
Godfrey never knew how long it was before the door of the cottage
opened and Mr. Kimble came out. He went forward to meet his uncle,
prepared to suppress the agitation he must feel, whatever news he
was to hear.
"I waited for you, as I'd come so far," he said, speaking first.
"Pooh, it was nonsense for you to come out: why didn't you send one
of the men? There's nothing to be done. She's dead--has been
dead for hours, I should say."
"What sort of woman is she?" said Godfrey, feeling the blood rush
to his face.
"A young woman, but emaciated, with long black hair. Some vagrant--
quite in rags. She's got a wedding-ring on, however. They must
fetch her away to the workhouse to-morrow. Come, come along."
"I want to look at her," said Godfrey. "I think I saw such a
woman yesterday. I'll overtake you in a minute or two."
Mr. Kimble went on, and Godfrey turned back to the cottage. He cast
only one glance at the dead face on the pillow, which Dolly had
smoothed with decent care; but he remembered that last look at his
unhappy hated wife so well, that at the end of sixteen years every
line in the worn face was present to him when he told the full story
of this night.
He turned immediately towards the hearth, where Silas Marner sat
lulling the child. She was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep--
only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm
which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a
certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel
before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky--before a
steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending
trees over a silent pathway. The wide-open blue eyes looked up at
Godfrey's without any uneasiness or sign of recognition: the child
could make no visible audible claim on its father; and the father
felt a strange mixture of feelings, a conflict of regret and joy,
that the pulse of that little heart had no response for the
half-jealous yearning in his own, when the blue eyes turned away
from him slowly, and fixed themselves on the weaver's queer face,
which was bent low down to look at them, while the small hand began
to pull Marner's withered cheek with loving disfiguration.
"You'll take the child to the parish to-morrow?" asked Godfrey,
speaking as indifferently as he could.
"Who says so?" said Marner, sharply. "Will they make me take
"Why, you wouldn't like to keep her, should you--an old bachelor
"Till anybody shows they've a right to take her away from me,"
said Marner. "The mother's dead, and I reckon it's got no father:
it's a lone thing--and I'm a lone thing. My money's gone, I don't
know where--and this is come from I don't know where. I know
nothing--I'm partly mazed."
"Poor little thing!" said Godfrey. "Let me give something
towards finding it clothes."
He had put his hand in his pocket and found half-a-guinea, and,
thrusting it into Silas's hand, he hurried out of the cottage to
overtake Mr. Kimble.
"Ah, I see it's not the same woman I saw," he said, as he came up.
"It's a pretty little child: the old fellow seems to want to keep
it; that's strange for a miser like him. But I gave him a trifle to
help him out: the parish isn't likely to quarrel with him for the
right to keep the child."
"No; but I've seen the time when I might have quarrelled with him
for it myself. It's too late now, though. If the child ran into
the fire, your aunt's too fat to overtake it: she could only sit and
grunt like an alarmed sow. But what a fool you are, Godfrey, to
come out in your dancing shoes and stockings in this way--and you
one of the beaux of the evening, and at your own house! What do you
mean by such freaks, young fellow? Has Miss Nancy been cruel, and
do you want to spite her by spoiling your pumps?"
"Oh, everything has been disagreeable to-night. I was tired to
death of jigging and gallanting, and that bother about the
hornpipes. And I'd got to dance with the other Miss Gunn," said
Godfrey, glad of the subterfuge his uncle had suggested to him.
The prevarication and white lies which a mind that keeps itself
ambitiously pure is as uneasy under as a great artist under the
false touches that no eye detects but his own, are worn as lightly
as mere trimmings when once the actions have become a lie.
Godfrey reappeared in the White Parlour with dry feet, and, since
the truth must be told, with a sense of relief and gladness that was
too strong for painful thoughts to struggle with. For could he not
venture now, whenever opportunity offered, to say the tenderest
things to Nancy Lammeter--to promise her and himself that he would
always be just what she would desire to see him? There was no
danger that his dead wife would be recognized: those were not days
of active inquiry and wide report; and as for the registry of their
marriage, that was a long way off, buried in unturned pages, away
from every one's interest but his own. Dunsey might betray him if
he came back; but Dunsey might be won to silence.
And when events turn out so much better for a man than he has had
reason to dread, is it not a proof that his conduct has been less
foolish and blameworthy than it might otherwise have appeared? When
we are treated well, we naturally begin to think that we are not
altogether unmeritorious, and that it is only just we should treat
ourselves well, and not mar our own good fortune. Where, after all,
would be the use of his confessing the past to Nancy Lammeter, and
throwing away his happiness?--nay, hers? for he felt some
confidence that she loved him. As for the child, he would see that
it was cared for: he would never forsake it; he would do everything
but own it. Perhaps it would be just as happy in life without being
owned by its father, seeing that nobody could tell how things would
turn out, and that--is there any other reason wanted?--well,
then, that the father would be much happier without owning the
There was a pauper's burial that week in Raveloe, and up Kench Yard
at Batherley it was known that the dark-haired woman with the fair
child, who had lately come to lodge there, was gone away again.
That was all the express note taken that Molly had disappeared from
the eyes of men. But the unwept death which, to the general lot,
seemed as trivial as the summer-shed leaf, was charged with the
force of destiny to certain human lives that we know of, shaping
their joys and sorrows even to the end.
Silas Marner's determination to keep the "tramp's child" was
matter of hardly less surprise and iterated talk in the village than
the robbery of his money. That softening of feeling towards him
which dated from his misfortune, that merging of suspicion and
dislike in a rather contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazy, was
now accompanied with a more active sympathy, especially amongst the
women. Notable mothers, who knew what it was to keep children
"whole and sweet"; lazy mothers, who knew what it was to be
interrupted in folding their arms and scratching their elbows by the
mischievous propensities of children just firm on their legs, were
equally interested in conjecturing how a lone man would manage with
a two-year-old child on his hands, and were equally ready with their
suggestions: the notable chiefly telling him what he had better do,
and the lazy ones being emphatic in telling him what he would never
be able to do.
Among the notable mothers, Dolly Winthrop was the one whose
neighbourly offices were the most acceptable to Marner, for they
were rendered without any show of bustling instruction. Silas had
shown her the half-guinea given to him by Godfrey, and had asked her
what he should do about getting some clothes for the child.
"Eh, Master Marner," said Dolly, "there's no call to buy, no more
nor a pair o' shoes; for I've got the little petticoats as Aaron
wore five years ago, and it's ill spending the money on them
baby-clothes, for the child 'ull grow like grass i' May, bless it--
that it will."
And the same day Dolly brought her bundle, and displayed to Marner,
one by one, the tiny garments in their due order of succession, most
of them patched and darned, but clean and neat as fresh-sprung
herbs. This was the introduction to a great ceremony with soap and
water, from which Baby came out in new beauty, and sat on Dolly's
knee, handling her toes and chuckling and patting her palms together
with an air of having made several discoveries about herself, which
she communicated by alternate sounds of "gug-gug-gug", and
"mammy". The "mammy" was not a cry of need or uneasiness: Baby
had been used to utter it without expecting either tender sound or
touch to follow.
"Anybody 'ud think the angils in heaven couldn't be prettier,"
said Dolly, rubbing the golden curls and kissing them. "And to
think of its being covered wi' them dirty rags--and the poor
mother--froze to death; but there's Them as took care of it, and
brought it to your door, Master Marner. The door was open, and it
walked in over the snow, like as if it had been a little starved
robin. Didn't you say the door was open?"
"Yes," said Silas, meditatively. "Yes--the door was open. The
money's gone I don't know where, and this is come from I don't know
He had not mentioned to any one his unconsciousness of the child's
entrance, shrinking from questions which might lead to the fact he
himself suspected--namely, that he had been in one of his trances.
"Ah," said Dolly, with soothing gravity, "it's like the night and
the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the
harvest--one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor
where. We may strive and scrat and fend, but it's little we can do
arter all--the big things come and go wi' no striving o' our'n--
they do, that they do; and I think you're in the right on it to keep
the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it's been sent to you,
though there's folks as thinks different. You'll happen be a bit
moithered with it while it's so little; but I'll come, and welcome,
and see to it for you: I've a bit o' time to spare most days, for
when one gets up betimes i' the morning, the clock seems to stan'
still tow'rt ten, afore it's time to go about the victual. So, as I
say, I'll come and see to the child for you, and welcome."
"Thank you... kindly," said Silas, hesitating a little. "I'll be
glad if you'll tell me things. But," he added, uneasily, leaning
forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her
head backward against Dolly's arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a
distance--"But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get
fond o' somebody else, and not fond o' me. I've been used to
fending for myself in the house--I can learn, I can learn."
"Eh, to be sure," said Dolly, gently. "I've seen men as are
wonderful handy wi' children. The men are awk'ard and contrairy
mostly, God help 'em--but when the drink's out of 'em, they aren't
unsensible, though they're bad for leeching and bandaging--so
fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,"
proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.
"Yes," said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that
they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his
head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face
with purring noises.
"See there," said Dolly, with a woman's tender tact, "she's
fondest o' you. She wants to go o' your lap, I'll be bound. Go,
then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then
you can say as you've done for her from the first of her coming to
Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to
himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and
feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give
them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come
instead of the gold--that the gold had turned into the child. He
took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching;
interrupted, of course, by Baby's gymnastics.
"There, then! why, you take to it quite easy, Master Marner,"
said Dolly; "but what shall you do when you're forced to sit in
your loom? For she'll get busier and mischievouser every day--she
will, bless her. It's lucky as you've got that high hearth i'stead
of a grate, for that keeps the fire more out of her reach: but if
you've got anything as can be spilt or broke, or as is fit to cut
her fingers off, she'll be at it--and it is but right you should
Silas meditated a little while in some perplexity. "I'll tie her
to the leg o' the loom," he said at last--"tie her with a good
long strip o' something."
"Well, mayhap that'll do, as it's a little gell, for they're easier
persuaded to sit i' one place nor the lads. I know what the lads
are; for I've had four--four I've had, God knows--and if you was
to take and tie 'em up, they'd make a fighting and a crying as if
you was ringing the pigs. But I'll bring you my little chair, and
some bits o' red rag and things for her to play wi'; an' she'll sit
and chatter to 'em as if they was alive. Eh, if it wasn't a sin to
the lads to wish 'em made different, bless 'em, I should ha' been
glad for one of 'em to be a little gell; and to think as I could ha'
taught her to scour, and mend, and the knitting, and everything.
But I can teach 'em this little un, Master Marner, when she gets old
"But she'll be _my_ little un," said Marner, rather hastily.
"She'll be nobody else's."
"No, to be sure; you'll have a right to her, if you're a father to
her, and bring her up according. But," added Dolly, coming to a
point which she had determined beforehand to touch upon, "you must
bring her up like christened folks's children, and take her to
church, and let her learn her catechise, as my little Aaron can say
off--the "I believe", and everything, and "hurt nobody by word or
deed",--as well as if he was the clerk. That's what you must do,
Master Marner, if you'd do the right thing by the orphin child."
Marner's pale face flushed suddenly under a new anxiety. His mind
was too busy trying to give some definite bearing to Dolly's words
for him to think of answering her.
"And it's my belief," she went on, "as the poor little creatur
has never been christened, and it's nothing but right as the parson
should be spoke to; and if you was noways unwilling, I'd talk to
Mr. Macey about it this very day. For if the child ever went
anyways wrong, and you hadn't done your part by it, Master Marner--
'noculation, and everything to save it from harm--it 'ud be a
thorn i' your bed for ever o' this side the grave; and I can't think
as it 'ud be easy lying down for anybody when they'd got to another
world, if they hadn't done their part by the helpless children as
come wi'out their own asking."
Dolly herself was disposed to be silent for some time now, for she
had spoken from the depths of her own simple belief, and was much
concerned to know whether her words would produce the desired effect
on Silas. He was puzzled and anxious, for Dolly's word
"christened" conveyed no distinct meaning to him. He had only
heard of baptism, and had only seen the baptism of grown-up men and
"What is it as you mean by "christened"?" he said at last,
timidly. "Won't folks be good to her without it?"
"Dear, dear! Master Marner," said Dolly, with gentle distress and
compassion. "Had you never no father nor mother as taught you to
say your prayers, and as there's good words and good things to keep
us from harm?"
"Yes," said Silas, in a low voice; "I know a deal about that--
used to, used to. But your ways are different: my country was a
good way off." He paused a few moments, and then added, more
decidedly, "But I want to do everything as can be done for the
child. And whatever's right for it i' this country, and you think
'ull do it good, I'll act according, if you'll tell me."
"Well, then, Master Marner," said Dolly, inwardly rejoiced, "I'll
ask Mr. Macey to speak to the parson about it; and you must fix on a
name for it, because it must have a name giv' it when it's
"My mother's name was Hephzibah," said Silas, "and my little
sister was named after her."
"Eh, that's a hard name," said Dolly. "I partly think it isn't a
"It's a Bible name," said Silas, old ideas recurring.
"Then I've no call to speak again' it," said Dolly, rather
startled by Silas's knowledge on this head; "but you see I'm no
scholard, and I'm slow at catching the words. My husband says I'm
allays like as if I was putting the haft for the handle--that's
what he says--for he's very sharp, God help him. But it was
awk'ard calling your little sister by such a hard name, when you'd
got nothing big to say, like--wasn't it, Master Marner?"
"We called her Eppie," said Silas.
"Well, if it was noways wrong to shorten the name, it 'ud be a deal
handier. And so I'll go now, Master Marner, and I'll speak about
the christening afore dark; and I wish you the best o' luck, and
it's my belief as it'll come to you, if you do what's right by the
orphin child;--and there's the 'noculation to be seen to; and as
to washing its bits o' things, you need look to nobody but me, for I
can do 'em wi' one hand when I've got my suds about. Eh, the
blessed angil! You'll let me bring my Aaron one o' these days, and
he'll show her his little cart as his father's made for him, and the
black-and-white pup as he's got a-rearing."
Baby _was_ christened, the rector deciding that a double baptism was
the lesser risk to incur; and on this occasion Silas, making himself
as clean and tidy as he could, appeared for the first time within
the church, and shared in the observances held sacred by his
neighbours. He was quite unable, by means of anything he heard or
saw, to identify the Raveloe religion with his old faith; if he
could at any time in his previous life have done so, it must have
been by the aid of a strong feeling ready to vibrate with sympathy,
rather than by a comparison of phrases and ideas: and now for long
years that feeling had been dormant. He had no distinct idea about
the baptism and the church-going, except that Dolly had said it was
for the good of the child; and in this way, as the weeks grew to
months, the child created fresh and fresh links between his life and
the lives from which he had hitherto shrunk continually into
narrower isolation. Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must
be worshipped in close-locked solitude--which was hidden away from
the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human
tones--Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing
desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living
movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and
stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her. The
gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to
nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes
and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away
from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit--carried
them away to the new things that would come with the coming years,
when Eppie would have learned to understand how her father Silas
cared for her; and made him look for images of that time in the ties
and charities that bound together the families of his neighbours.
The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer,
deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony
of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away
from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday,
reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old
winter-flies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine,
and warming him into joy because _she_ had joy.
And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the
buttercups were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the
sunny midday, or in the late afternoon when the shadows were
lengthening under the hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head
to carry Eppie beyond the Stone-pits to where the flowers grew, till
they reached some favourite bank where he could sit down, while
Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged
things that murmured happily above the bright petals, calling
"Dad-dad's" attention continually by bringing him the flowers.
Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note, and Silas
learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness, that they
might listen for the note to come again: so that when it came, she
set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph. Sitting on
the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once familiar
herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline and
markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding
remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in
Eppie's little world, that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.
As the child's mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing
into memory: as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a
cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into
It was an influence which must gather force with every new year: the
tones that stirred Silas's heart grew articulate, and called for
more distinct answers; shapes and sounds grew clearer for Eppie's
eyes and ears, and there was more that "Dad-dad" was imperatively
required to notice and account for. Also, by the time Eppie was
three years old, she developed a fine capacity for mischief, and for
devising ingenious ways of being troublesome, which found much
exercise, not only for Silas's patience, but for his watchfulness
and penetration. Sorely was poor Silas puzzled on such occasions by
the incompatible demands of love. Dolly Winthrop told him that
punishment was good for Eppie, and that, as for rearing a child
without making it tingle a little in soft and safe places now and
then, it was not to be done.
"To be sure, there's another thing you might do, Master Marner,"
added Dolly, meditatively: "you might shut her up once i' the
coal-hole. That was what I did wi' Aaron; for I was that silly wi'
the youngest lad, as I could never bear to smack him. Not as I
could find i' my heart to let him stay i' the coal-hole more nor a
minute, but it was enough to colly him all over, so as he must be
new washed and dressed, and it was as good as a rod to him--that
was. But I put it upo' your conscience, Master Marner, as there's
one of 'em you must choose--ayther smacking or the coal-hole--
else she'll get so masterful, there'll be no holding her."
Silas was impressed with the melancholy truth of this last remark;
but his force of mind failed before the only two penal methods open
to him, not only because it was painful to him to hurt Eppie, but
because he trembled at a moment's contention with her, lest she
should love him the less for it. Let even an affectionate Goliath
get himself tied to a small tender thing, dreading to hurt it by
pulling, and dreading still more to snap the cord, and which of the
two, pray, will be master? It was clear that Eppie, with her short
toddling steps, must lead father Silas a pretty dance on any fine
morning when circumstances favoured mischief.
For example. He had wisely chosen a broad strip of linen as a means
of fastening her to his loom when he was busy: it made a broad belt
round her waist, and was long enough to allow of her reaching the
truckle-bed and sitting down on it, but not long enough for her to
attempt any dangerous climbing. One bright summer's morning Silas
had been more engrossed than usual in "setting up" a new piece of
work, an occasion on which his scissors were in requisition. These
scissors, owing to an especial warning of Dolly's, had been kept
carefully out of Eppie's reach; but the click of them had had a
peculiar attraction for her ear, and watching the results of that
click, she had derived the philosophic lesson that the same cause
would produce the same effect. Silas had seated himself in his
loom, and the noise of weaving had begun; but he had left his
scissors on a ledge which Eppie's arm was long enough to reach; and
now, like a small mouse, watching her opportunity, she stole quietly
from her corner, secured the scissors, and toddled to the bed again,
setting up her back as a mode of concealing the fact. She had a
distinct intention as to the use of the scissors; and having cut the
linen strip in a jagged but effectual manner, in two moments she had
run out at the open door where the sunshine was inviting her, while
poor Silas believed her to be a better child than usual. It was not
until he happened to need his scissors that the terrible fact burst
upon him: Eppie had run out by herself--had perhaps fallen into
the Stone-pit. Silas, shaken by the worst fear that could have
befallen him, rushed out, calling "Eppie!" and ran eagerly about
the unenclosed space, exploring the dry cavities into which she
might have fallen, and then gazing with questioning dread at the
smooth red surface of the water. The cold drops stood on his brow.
How long had she been out? There was one hope--that she had crept
through the stile and got into the fields, where he habitually took
her to stroll. But the grass was high in the meadow, and there was
no descrying her, if she were there, except by a close search that
would be a trespass on Mr. Osgood's crop. Still, that misdemeanour
must be committed; and poor Silas, after peering all round the
hedgerows, traversed the grass, beginning with perturbed vision to
see Eppie behind every group of red sorrel, and to see her moving
always farther off as he approached. The meadow was searched in
vain; and he got over the stile into the next field, looking with
dying hope towards a small pond which was now reduced to its summer
shallowness, so as to leave a wide margin of good adhesive mud.
Here, however, sat Eppie, discoursing cheerfully to her own small
boot, which she was using as a bucket to convey the water into a
deep hoof-mark, while her little naked foot was planted comfortably
on a cushion of olive-green mud. A red-headed calf was observing
her with alarmed doubt through the opposite hedge.
Here was clearly a case of aberration in a christened child which
demanded severe treatment; but Silas, overcome with convulsive joy
at finding his treasure again, could do nothing but snatch her up,
and cover her with half-sobbing kisses. It was not until he had
carried her home, and had begun to think of the necessary washing,
that he recollected the need that he should punish Eppie, and "make
her remember". The idea that she might run away again and come to
harm, gave him unusual resolution, and for the first time he
determined to try the coal-hole--a small closet near the hearth.
"Naughty, naughty Eppie," he suddenly began, holding her on his
knee, and pointing to her muddy feet and clothes--"naughty to cut
with the scissors and run away. Eppie must go into the coal-hole
for being naughty. Daddy must put her in the coal-hole."
He half-expected that this would be shock enough, and that Eppie
would begin to cry. But instead of that, she began to shake herself
on his knee, as if the proposition opened a pleasing novelty.
Seeing that he must proceed to extremities, he put her into the
coal-hole, and held the door closed, with a trembling sense that he
was using a strong measure. For a moment there was silence, but
then came a little cry, "Opy, opy!" and Silas let her out again,
saying, "Now Eppie 'ull never be naughty again, else she must go in
the coal-hole--a black naughty place."
The weaving must stand still a long while this morning, for now
Eppie must be washed, and have clean clothes on; but it was to be
hoped that this punishment would have a lasting effect, and save
time in future--though, perhaps, it would have been better if
Eppie had cried more.
In half an hour she was clean again, and Silas having turned his
back to see what he could do with the linen band, threw it down
again, with the reflection that Eppie would be good without
fastening for the rest of the morning. He turned round again, and
was going to place her in her little chair near the loom, when she
peeped out at him with black face and hands again, and said, "Eppie
in de toal-hole!"
This total failure of the coal-hole discipline shook Silas's belief
in the efficacy of punishment. "She'd take it all for fun," he
observed to Dolly, "if I didn't hurt her, and that I can't do,
Mrs. Winthrop. If she makes me a bit o' trouble, I can bear it.
And she's got no tricks but what she'll grow out of."
"Well, that's partly true, Master Marner," said Dolly,
sympathetically; "and if you can't bring your mind to frighten her
off touching things, you must do what you can to keep 'em out of her
way. That's what I do wi' the pups as the lads are allays
a-rearing. They _will_ worry and gnaw--worry and gnaw they will,
if it was one's Sunday cap as hung anywhere so as they could drag
it. They know no difference, God help 'em: it's the pushing o' the
teeth as sets 'em on, that's what it is."
So Eppie was reared without punishment, the burden of her misdeeds
being borne vicariously by father Silas. The stone hut was made a
soft nest for her, lined with downy patience: and also in the world
that lay beyond the stone hut she knew nothing of frowns and
Notwithstanding the difficulty of carrying her and his yarn or linen
at the same time, Silas took her with him in most of his journeys to
the farmhouses, unwilling to leave her behind at Dolly Winthrop's,
who was always ready to take care of her; and little curly-headed
Eppie, the weaver's child, became an object of interest at several
outlying homesteads, as well as in the village. Hitherto he had
been treated very much as if he had been a useful gnome or brownie--
a queer and unaccountable creature, who must necessarily be
looked at with wondering curiosity and repulsion, and with whom one
would be glad to make all greetings and bargains as brief as
possible, but who must be dealt with in a propitiatory way, and
occasionally have a present of pork or garden stuff to carry home
with him, seeing that without him there was no getting the yarn
woven. But now Silas met with open smiling faces and cheerful
questioning, as a person whose satisfactions and difficulties could
be understood. Everywhere he must sit a little and talk about the
child, and words of interest were always ready for him: "Ah, Master
Marner, you'll be lucky if she takes the measles soon and easy!"--
or, "Why, there isn't many lone men 'ud ha' been wishing to take
up with a little un like that: but I reckon the weaving makes you
handier than men as do out-door work--you're partly as handy as a
woman, for weaving comes next to spinning." Elderly masters and
mistresses, seated observantly in large kitchen arm-chairs, shook
their heads over the difficulties attendant on rearing children,
felt Eppie's round arms and legs, and pronounced them remarkably
firm, and told Silas that, if she turned out well (which, however,
there was no telling), it would be a fine thing for him to have a
steady lass to do for him when he got helpless. Servant maidens
were fond of carrying her out to look at the hens and chickens, or
to see if any cherries could be shaken down in the orchard; and the
small boys and girls approached her slowly, with cautious movement
and steady gaze, like little dogs face to face with one of their own
kind, till attraction had reached the point at which the soft lips
were put out for a kiss. No child was afraid of approaching Silas
when Eppie was near him: there was no repulsion around him now,
either for young or old; for the little child had come to link him
once more with the whole world. There was love between him and the
child that blent them into one, and there was love between the child
and the world--from men and women with parental looks and tones,
to the red lady-birds and the round pebbles.
Silas began now to think of Raveloe life entirely in relation to
Eppie: she must have everything that was a good in Raveloe; and he
listened docilely, that he might come to understand better what this
life was, from which, for fifteen years, he had stood aloof as from
a strange thing, with which he could have no communion: as some man
who has a precious plant to which he would give a nurturing home in
a new soil, thinks of the rain, and the sunshine, and all
influences, in relation to his nursling, and asks industriously for
all knowledge that will help him to satisfy the wants of the
searching roots, or to guard leaf and bud from invading harm. The
disposition to hoard had been utterly crushed at the very first by
the loss of his long-stored gold: the coins he earned afterwards
seemed as irrelevant as stones brought to complete a house suddenly
buried by an earthquake; the sense of bereavement was too heavy upon
him for the old thrill of satisfaction to arise again at the touch
of the newly-earned coin. And now something had come to replace his
hoard which gave a growing purpose to the earnings, drawing his hope
and joy continually onward beyond the money.
In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and
led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged
angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction:
a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a
calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the
hand may be a little child's.
There was one person, as you will believe, who watched with keener
though more hidden interest than any other, the prosperous growth of
Eppie under the weaver's care. He dared not do anything that would
imply a stronger interest in a poor man's adopted child than could
be expected from the kindliness of the young Squire, when a chance
meeting suggested a little present to a simple old fellow whom
others noticed with goodwill; but he told himself that the time
would come when he might do something towards furthering the welfare
of his daughter without incurring suspicion. Was he very uneasy in
the meantime at his inability to give his daughter her birthright?
I cannot say that he was. The child was being taken care of, and
would very likely be happy, as people in humble stations often were--
happier, perhaps, than those brought up in luxury.
That famous ring that pricked its owner when he forgot duty and
followed desire--I wonder if it pricked very hard when he set out
on the chase, or whether it pricked but lightly then, and only
pierced to the quick when the chase had long been ended, and hope,
folding her wings, looked backward and became regret?
Godfrey Cass's cheek and eye were brighter than ever now. He was so
undivided in his aims, that he seemed like a man of firmness. No
Dunsey had come back: people had made up their minds that he was
gone for a soldier, or gone "out of the country", and no one cared
to be specific in their inquiries on a subject delicate to a
respectable family. Godfrey had ceased to see the shadow of Dunsey
across his path; and the path now lay straight forward to the
accomplishment of his best, longest-cherished wishes. Everybody
said Mr. Godfrey had taken the right turn; and it was pretty clear
what would be the end of things, for there were not many days in the
week that he was not seen riding to the Warrens. Godfrey himself,
when he was asked jocosely if the day had been fixed, smiled with
the pleasant consciousness of a lover who could say "yes", if he
liked. He felt a reformed man, delivered from temptation; and the
vision of his future life seemed to him as a promised land for which
he had no cause to fight. He saw himself with all his happiness
centred on his own hearth, while Nancy would smile on him as he
played with the children.
And that other child--not on the hearth--he would not forget it;
he would see that it was well provided for. That was a father's
It was a bright autumn Sunday, sixteen years after Silas Marner had
found his new treasure on the hearth. The bells of the old Raveloe
church were ringing the cheerful peal which told that the morning
service was ended; and out of the arched doorway in the tower came
slowly, retarded by friendly greetings and questions, the richer
parishioners who had chosen this bright Sunday morning as eligible
for church-going. It was the rural fashion of that time for the
more important members of the congregation to depart first, while
their humbler neighbours waited and looked on, stroking their bent
heads or dropping their curtsies to any large ratepayer who turned
to notice them.
Foremost among these advancing groups of well-clad people, there are
some whom we shall recognize, in spite of Time, who has laid his
hand on them all. The tall blond man of forty is not much changed
in feature from the Godfrey Cass of six-and-twenty: he is only
fuller in flesh, and has only lost the indefinable look of youth--
a loss which is marked even when the eye is undulled and the
wrinkles are not yet come. Perhaps the pretty woman, not much
younger than he, who is leaning on his arm, is more changed than her
husband: the lovely bloom that used to be always on her cheek now
comes but fitfully, with the fresh morning air or with some strong
surprise; yet to all who love human faces best for what they tell of
human experience, Nancy's beauty has a heightened interest. Often
the soul is ripened into fuller goodness while age has spread an
ugly film, so that mere glances can never divine the preciousness of
the fruit. But the years have not been so cruel to Nancy. The firm
yet placid mouth, the clear veracious glance of the brown eyes,
speak now of a nature that has been tested and has kept its highest
qualities; and even the costume, with its dainty neatness and
purity, has more significance now the coquetries of youth can have
nothing to do with it.
Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Cass (any higher title has died away from
Raveloe lips since the old Squire was gathered to his fathers and
his inheritance was divided) have turned round to look for the tall
aged man and the plainly dressed woman who are a little behind--
Nancy having observed that they must wait for "father and
Priscilla"--and now they all turn into a narrower path leading
across the churchyard to a small gate opposite the Red House. We
will not follow them now; for may there not be some others in this
departing congregation whom we should like to see again--some of
those who are not likely to be handsomely clad, and whom we may not
recognize so easily as the master and mistress of the Red House?
But it is impossible to mistake Silas Marner. His large brown eyes
seem to have gathered a longer vision, as is the way with eyes that
have been short-sighted in early life, and they have a less vague, a
more answering gaze; but in everything else one sees signs of a
frame much enfeebled by the lapse of the sixteen years. The
weaver's bent shoulders and white hair give him almost the look of
advanced age, though he is not more than five-and-fifty; but there
is the freshest blossom of youth close by his side--a blonde
dimpled girl of eighteen, who has vainly tried to chastise her curly
auburn hair into smoothness under her brown bonnet: the hair ripples
as obstinately as a brooklet under the March breeze, and the little
ringlets burst away from the restraining comb behind and show
themselves below the bonnet-crown. Eppie cannot help being rather
vexed about her hair, for there is no other girl in Raveloe who has
hair at all like it, and she thinks hair ought to be smooth. She
does not like to be blameworthy even in small things: you see how
neatly her prayer-book is folded in her spotted handkerchief.
That good-looking young fellow, in a new fustian suit, who walks
behind her, is not quite sure upon the question of hair in the
abstract, when Eppie puts it to him, and thinks that perhaps
straight hair is the best in general, but he doesn't want Eppie's
hair to be different. She surely divines that there is some one
behind her who is thinking about her very particularly, and
mustering courage to come to her side as soon as they are out in the
lane, else why should she look rather shy, and take care not to turn
away her head from her father Silas, to whom she keeps murmuring
little sentences as to who was at church and who was not at church,
and how pretty the red mountain-ash is over the Rectory wall?
"I wish _we_ had a little garden, father, with double daisies in,
like Mrs. Winthrop's," said Eppie, when they were out in the lane;
"only they say it 'ud take a deal of digging and bringing fresh
soil--and you couldn't do that, could you, father? Anyhow, I
shouldn't like you to do it, for it 'ud be too hard work for you."
"Yes, I could do it, child, if you want a bit o' garden: these long
evenings, I could work at taking in a little bit o' the waste, just
enough for a root or two o' flowers for you; and again, i' the
morning, I could have a turn wi' the spade before I sat down to the
loom. Why didn't you tell me before as you wanted a bit o'
"_I_ can dig it for you, Master Marner," said the young man in
fustian, who was now by Eppie's side, entering into the conversation
without the trouble of formalities. "It'll be play to me after
I've done my day's work, or any odd bits o' time when the work's
slack. And I'll bring you some soil from Mr. Cass's garden--he'll
let me, and willing."
"Eh, Aaron, my lad, are you there?" said Silas; "I wasn't aware
of you; for when Eppie's talking o' things, I see nothing but what
she's a-saying. Well, if you could help me with the digging, we
might get her a bit o' garden all the sooner."
"Then, if you think well and good," said Aaron, "I'll come to the
Stone-pits this afternoon, and we'll settle what land's to be taken
in, and I'll get up an hour earlier i' the morning, and begin on
"But not if you don't promise me not to work at the hard digging,
father," said Eppie. "For I shouldn't ha' said anything about
it," she added, half-bashfully, half-roguishly, "only
Mrs. Winthrop said as Aaron 'ud be so good, and --"
"And you might ha' known it without mother telling you," said
Aaron. "And Master Marner knows too, I hope, as I'm able and
willing to do a turn o' work for him, and he won't do me the
unkindness to anyways take it out o' my hands."
"There, now, father, you won't work in it till it's all easy,"
said Eppie, "and you and me can mark out the beds, and make holes
and plant the roots. It'll be a deal livelier at the Stone-pits
when we've got some flowers, for I always think the flowers can see
us and know what we're talking about. And I'll have a bit o'
rosemary, and bergamot, and thyme, because they're so
sweet-smelling; but there's no lavender only in the gentlefolks'
gardens, I think."
"That's no reason why you shouldn't have some," said Aaron, "for
I can bring you slips of anything; I'm forced to cut no end of 'em
when I'm gardening, and throw 'em away mostly. There's a big bed o'
lavender at the Red House: the missis is very fond of it."
"Well," said Silas, gravely, "so as you don't make free for us,
or ask for anything as is worth much at the Red House: for
Mr. Cass's been so good to us, and built us up the new end o' the
cottage, and given us beds and things, as I couldn't abide to be
imposin' for garden-stuff or anything else."
"No, no, there's no imposin'," said Aaron; "there's never a
garden in all the parish but what there's endless waste in it for
want o' somebody as could use everything up. It's what I think to
myself sometimes, as there need nobody run short o' victuals if the
land was made the most on, and there was never a morsel but what
could find its way to a mouth. It sets one thinking o' that--
gardening does. But I must go back now, else mother 'ull be in
trouble as I aren't there."
"Bring her with you this afternoon, Aaron," said Eppie; "I
shouldn't like to fix about the garden, and her not know everything
from the first--should _you_, father?"
"Aye, bring her if you can, Aaron," said Silas; "she's sure to
have a word to say as'll help us to set things on their right end."
Aaron turned back up the village, while Silas and Eppie went on up
the lonely sheltered lane.
"O daddy!" she began, when they were in privacy, clasping and
squeezing Silas's arm, and skipping round to give him an energetic
kiss. "My little old daddy! I'm so glad. I don't think I shall
want anything else when we've got a little garden; and I knew Aaron
would dig it for us," she went on with roguish triumph--"I knew
that very well."
"You're a deep little puss, you are," said Silas, with the mild
passive happiness of love-crowned age in his face; "but you'll make
yourself fine and beholden to Aaron."
"Oh, no, I shan't," said Eppie, laughing and frisking; "he likes
"Come, come, let me carry your prayer-book, else you'll be dropping
it, jumping i' that way."
Eppie was now aware that her behaviour was under observation, but it
was only the observation of a friendly donkey, browsing with a log
fastened to his foot--a meek donkey, not scornfully critical of
human trivialities, but thankful to share in them, if possible, by
getting his nose scratched; and Eppie did not fail to gratify him
with her usual notice, though it was attended with the inconvenience
of his following them, painfully, up to the very door of their home.
But the sound of a sharp bark inside, as Eppie put the key in the
door, modified the donkey's views, and he limped away again without
bidding. The sharp bark was the sign of an excited welcome that was
awaiting them from a knowing brown terrier, who, after dancing at
their legs in a hysterical manner, rushed with a worrying noise at a
tortoise-shell kitten under the loom, and then rushed back with a
sharp bark again, as much as to say, "I have done my duty by this
feeble creature, you perceive"; while the lady-mother of the kitten
sat sunning her white bosom in the window, and looked round with a
sleepy air of expecting caresses, though she was not going to take
any trouble for them.
The presence of this happy animal life was not the only change which
had come over the interior of the stone cottage. There was no bed
now in the living-room, and the small space was well filled with
decent furniture, all bright and clean enough to satisfy Dolly
Winthrop's eye. The oaken table and three-cornered oaken chair were
hardly what was likely to be seen in so poor a cottage: they had
come, with the beds and other things, from the Red House; for
Mr. Godfrey Cass, as every one said in the village, did very kindly
by the weaver; and it was nothing but right a man should be looked
on and helped by those who could afford it, when he had brought up
an orphan child, and been father and mother to her--and had lost
his money too, so as he had nothing but what he worked for week by
week, and when the weaving was going down too--for there was less
and less flax spun--and Master Marner was none so young. Nobody
was jealous of the weaver, for he was regarded as an exceptional
person, whose claims on neighbourly help were not to be matched in
Raveloe. Any superstition that remained concerning him had taken an
entirely new colour; and Mr. Macey, now a very feeble old man of
fourscore and six, never seen except in his chimney-corner or
sitting in the sunshine at his door-sill, was of opinion that when a
man had done what Silas had done by an orphan child, it was a sign
that his money would come to light again, or leastwise that the
robber would be made to answer for it--for, as Mr. Macey observed
of himself, his faculties were as strong as ever.
Silas sat down now and watched Eppie with a satisfied gaze as she
spread the clean cloth, and set on it the potato-pie, warmed up
slowly in a safe Sunday fashion, by being put into a dry pot over a
slowly-dying fire, as the best substitute for an oven. For Silas
would not consent to have a grate and oven added to his
conveniences: he loved the old brick hearth as he had loved his
brown pot--and was it not there when he had found Eppie? The gods
of the hearth exist for us still; and let all new faith be tolerant
of that fetishism, lest it bruise its own roots.
Silas ate his dinner more silently than usual, soon laying down his
knife and fork, and watching half-abstractedly Eppie's play with
Snap and the cat, by which her own dining was made rather a lengthy
business. Yet it was a sight that might well arrest wandering
thoughts: Eppie, with the rippling radiance of her hair and the
whiteness of her rounded chin and throat set off by the dark-blue
cotton gown, laughing merrily as the kitten held on with her four
claws to one shoulder, like a design for a jug-handle, while Snap on
the right hand and Puss on the other put up their paws towards a
morsel which she held out of the reach of both--Snap occasionally
desisting in order to remonstrate with the cat by a cogent worrying
growl on the greediness and futility of her conduct; till Eppie
relented, caressed them both, and divided the morsel between them.
But at last Eppie, glancing at the clock, checked the play, and
said, "O daddy, you're wanting to go into the sunshine to smoke
your pipe. But I must clear away first, so as the house may be tidy
when godmother comes. I'll make haste--I won't be long."
Silas had taken to smoking a pipe daily during the last two years,
having been strongly urged to it by the sages of Raveloe, as a
practice "good for the fits"; and this advice was sanctioned by
Dr. Kimble, on the ground that it was as well to try what could do
no harm--a principle which was made to answer for a great deal of
work in that gentleman's medical practice. Silas did not highly
enjoy smoking, and often wondered how his neighbours could be so
fond of it; but a humble sort of acquiescence in what was held to be
good, had become a strong habit of that new self which had been
developed in him since he had found Eppie on his hearth: it had been
the only clew his bewildered mind could hold by in cherishing this
young life that had been sent to him out of the darkness into which
his gold had departed. By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by
sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself
come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the
mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities,
memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of
his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he
recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present.
The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust which come with
all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression that there
had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that dark shadow
over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and more easy
to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually communicated
to her all he could describe of his early life. The communication
was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas's meagre
power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of
interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no
key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder
that arrested them at every step of the narrative. It was only by
fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what
she had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas
at last arrived at the climax of the sad story--the drawing of
lots, and its false testimony concerning him; and this had to be
repeated in several interviews, under new questions on her part as
to the nature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the
"And yourn's the same Bible, you're sure o' that, Master Marner--
the Bible as you brought wi' you from that country--it's the same
as what they've got at church, and what Eppie's a-learning to read
"Yes," said Silas, "every bit the same; and there's drawing o'
lots in the Bible, mind you," he added in a lower tone.
"Oh, dear, dear," said Dolly in a grieved voice, as if she were
hearing an unfavourable report of a sick man's case. She was silent
for some minutes; at last she said--
"There's wise folks, happen, as know how it all is; the parson
knows, I'll be bound; but it takes big words to tell them things,
and such as poor folks can't make much out on. I can never rightly
know the meaning o' what I hear at church, only a bit here and
there, but I know it's good words--I do. But what lies upo' your
mind--it's this, Master Marner: as, if Them above had done the
right thing by you, They'd never ha' let you be turned out for a
wicked thief when you was innicent."
"Ah!" said Silas, who had now come to understand Dolly's
phraseology, "that was what fell on me like as if it had been
red-hot iron; because, you see, there was nobody as cared for me or
clave to me above nor below. And him as I'd gone out and in wi' for
ten year and more, since when we was lads and went halves--mine
own familiar friend in whom I trusted, had lifted up his heel again'
me, and worked to ruin me."
"Eh, but he was a bad un--I can't think as there's another
such," said Dolly. "But I'm o'ercome, Master Marner; I'm like as
if I'd waked and didn't know whether it was night or morning.
I feel somehow as sure as I do when I've laid something up though I
can't justly put my hand on it, as there was a rights in what
happened to you, if one could but make it out; and you'd no call to
lose heart as you did. But we'll talk on it again; for sometimes
things come into my head when I'm leeching or poulticing, or such,
as I could never think on when I was sitting still."
Dolly was too useful a woman not to have many opportunities of
illumination of the kind she alluded to, and she was not long before
she recurred to the subject.
"Master Marner," she said, one day that she came to bring home
Eppie's washing, "I've been sore puzzled for a good bit wi' that
trouble o' yourn and the drawing o' lots; and it got twisted
back'ards and for'ards, as I didn't know which end to lay hold on.
But it come to me all clear like, that night when I was sitting up
wi' poor Bessy Fawkes, as is dead and left her children behind, God
help 'em--it come to me as clear as daylight; but whether I've got
hold on it now, or can anyways bring it to my tongue's end, that I
don't know. For I've often a deal inside me as'll never come out;
and for what you talk o' your folks in your old country niver saying
prayers by heart nor saying 'em out of a book, they must be
wonderful cliver; for if I didn't know "Our Father", and little bits
o' good words as I can carry out o' church wi' me, I might down o'
my knees every night, but nothing could I say."
"But you can mostly say something as I can make sense on,
Mrs. Winthrop," said Silas.
"Well, then, Master Marner, it come to me summat like this: I can
make nothing o' the drawing o' lots and the answer coming wrong; it
'ud mayhap take the parson to tell that, and he could only tell us
i' big words. But what come to me as clear as the daylight, it was
when I was troubling over poor Bessy Fawkes, and it allays comes
into my head when I'm sorry for folks, and feel as I can't do a
power to help 'em, not if I was to get up i' the middle o' the night--
it comes into my head as Them above has got a deal tenderer heart
nor what I've got--for I can't be anyways better nor Them as made
me; and if anything looks hard to me, it's because there's things I
don't know on; and for the matter o' that, there may be plenty o'
things I don't know on, for it's little as I know--that it is.
And so, while I was thinking o' that, you come into my mind, Master
Marner, and it all come pouring in:--if _I_ felt i' my inside what
was the right and just thing by you, and them as prayed and drawed
the lots, all but that wicked un, if _they_'d ha' done the right
thing by you if they could, isn't there Them as was at the making on
us, and knows better and has a better will? And that's all as ever
I can be sure on, and everything else is a big puzzle to me when I
think on it. For there was the fever come and took off them as were
full-growed, and left the helpless children; and there's the
breaking o' limbs; and them as 'ud do right and be sober have to
suffer by them as are contrairy--eh, there's trouble i' this
world, and there's things as we can niver make out the rights on.
And all as we've got to do is to trusten, Master Marner--to do the
right thing as fur as we know, and to trusten. For if us as knows
so little can see a bit o' good and rights, we may be sure as
there's a good and a rights bigger nor what we can know--I feel it
i' my own inside as it must be so. And if you could but ha' gone on
trustening, Master Marner, you wouldn't ha' run away from your
fellow-creaturs and been so lone."
"Ah, but that 'ud ha' been hard," said Silas, in an under-tone;
"it 'ud ha' been hard to trusten then."
"And so it would," said Dolly, almost with compunction; "them
things are easier said nor done; and I'm partly ashamed o'
"Nay, nay," said Silas, "you're i' the right, Mrs. Winthrop--
you're i' the right. There's good i' this world--I've a feeling
o' that now; and it makes a man feel as there's a good more nor he
can see, i' spite o' the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing
o' the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there's dealings
with us--there's dealings."
This dialogue took place in Eppie's earlier years, when Silas had to
part with her for two hours every day, that she might learn to read
at the dame school, after he had vainly tried himself to guide her
in that first step to learning. Now that she was grown up, Silas
had often been led, in those moments of quiet outpouring which come
to people who live together in perfect love, to talk with _her_ too
of the past, and how and why he had lived a lonely man until she had
been sent to him. For it would have been impossible for him to hide
from Eppie that she was not his own child: even if the most delicate
reticence on the point could have been expected from Raveloe gossips
in her presence, her own questions about her mother could not have
been parried, as she grew up, without that complete shrouding of the
past which would have made a painful barrier between their minds.
So Eppie had long known how her mother had died on the snowy ground,
and how she herself had been found on the hearth by father Silas,
who had taken her golden curls for his lost guineas brought back to
him. The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her
in almost inseparable companionship with himself, aided by the
seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her from the lowering
influences of the village talk and habits, and had kept her mind in
that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be an
invariable attribute of rusticity. Perfect love has a breath of
poetry which can exalt the relations of the least-instructed human
beings; and this breath of poetry had surrounded Eppie from the time
when she had followed the bright gleam that beckoned her to Silas's
hearth; so that it is not surprising if, in other things besides her
delicate prettiness, she was not quite a common village maiden, but
had a touch of refinement and fervour which came from no other
teaching than that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling. She was
too childish and simple for her imagination to rove into questions
about her unknown father; for a long while it did not even occur to
her that she must have had a father; and the first time that the
idea of her mother having had a husband presented itself to her, was
when Silas showed her the wedding-ring which had been taken from the
wasted finger, and had been carefully preserved by him in a little
lackered box shaped like a shoe. He delivered this box into Eppie's
charge when she had grown up, and she often opened it to look at the
ring: but still she thought hardly at all about the father of whom
it was the symbol. Had she not a father very close to her, who
loved her better than any real fathers in the village seemed to love
their daughters? On the contrary, who her mother was, and how she
came to die in that forlornness, were questions that often pressed
on Eppie's mind. Her knowledge of Mrs. Winthrop, who was her
nearest friend next to Silas, made her feel that a mother must be
very precious; and she had again and again asked Silas to tell her
how her mother looked, whom she was like, and how he had found her
against the furze bush, led towards it by the little footsteps and
the outstretched arms. The furze bush was there still; and this
afternoon, when Eppie came out with Silas into the sunshine, it was
the first object that arrested her eyes and thoughts.
"Father," she said, in a tone of gentle gravity, which sometimes
came like a sadder, slower cadence across her playfulness, "we
shall take the furze bush into the garden; it'll come into the
corner, and just against it I'll put snowdrops and crocuses, 'cause
Aaron says they won't die out, but'll always get more and more."
"Ah, child," said Silas, always ready to talk when he had his pipe
in his hand, apparently enjoying the pauses more than the puffs,
"it wouldn't do to leave out the furze bush; and there's nothing
prettier, to my thinking, when it's yallow with flowers. But it's
just come into my head what we're to do for a fence--mayhap Aaron
can help us to a thought; but a fence we must have, else the donkeys
and things 'ull come and trample everything down. And fencing's
hard to be got at, by what I can make out."
"Oh, I'll tell you, daddy," said Eppie, clasping her hands
suddenly, after a minute's thought. "There's lots o' loose stones
about, some of 'em not big, and we might lay 'em atop of one
another, and make a wall. You and me could carry the smallest, and
Aaron 'ud carry the rest--I know he would."
"Eh, my precious un," said Silas, "there isn't enough stones to
go all round; and as for you carrying, why, wi' your little arms you
couldn't carry a stone no bigger than a turnip. You're dillicate
made, my dear," he added, with a tender intonation--"that's what
Mrs. Winthrop says."
"Oh, I'm stronger than you think, daddy," said Eppie; "and if
there wasn't stones enough to go all round, why they'll go part o'
the way, and then it'll be easier to get sticks and things for the
rest. See here, round the big pit, what a many stones!"
She skipped forward to the pit, meaning to lift one of the stones
and exhibit her strength, but she started back in surprise.
"Oh, father, just come and look here," she exclaimed--"come and
see how the water's gone down since yesterday. Why, yesterday the
pit was ever so full!"
"Well, to be sure," said Silas, coming to her side. "Why, that's
the draining they've begun on, since harvest, i' Mr. Osgood's
fields, I reckon. The foreman said to me the other day, when I
passed by 'em, "Master Marner," he said, "I shouldn't wonder if we
lay your bit o' waste as dry as a bone." It was Mr. Godfrey Cass,
he said, had gone into the draining: he'd been taking these fields
o' Mr. Osgood."
"How odd it'll seem to have the old pit dried up!" said Eppie,
turning away, and stooping to lift rather a large stone. "See,
daddy, I can carry this quite well," she said, going along with
much energy for a few steps, but presently letting it fall.
"Ah, you're fine and strong, aren't you?" said Silas, while Eppie
shook her aching arms and laughed. "Come, come, let us go and sit
down on the bank against the stile there, and have no more lifting.
You might hurt yourself, child. You'd need have somebody to work
for you--and my arm isn't over strong."
Silas uttered the last sentence slowly, as if it implied more than
met the ear; and Eppie, when they sat down on the bank, nestled
close to his side, and, taking hold caressingly of the arm that was
not over strong, held it on her lap, while Silas puffed again
dutifully at the pipe, which occupied his other arm. An ash in the
hedgerow behind made a fretted screen from the sun, and threw happy
playful shadows all about them.
"Father," said Eppie, very gently, after they had been sitting in
silence a little while, "if I was to be married, ought I to be
married with my mother's ring?"
Silas gave an almost imperceptible start, though the question fell
in with the under-current of thought in his own mind, and then said,
in a subdued tone, "Why, Eppie, have you been a-thinking on it?"
"Only this last week, father," said Eppie, ingenuously, "since
Aaron talked to me about it."
"And what did he say?" said Silas, still in the same subdued way,
as if he were anxious lest he should fall into the slightest tone
that was not for Eppie's good.
"He said he should like to be married, because he was a-going in
four-and-twenty, and had got a deal of gardening work, now
Mr. Mott's given up; and he goes twice a-week regular to Mr. Cass's,
and once to Mr. Osgood's, and they're going to take him on at the
"And who is it as he's wanting to marry?" said Silas, with rather
a sad smile.
"Why, me, to be sure, daddy," said Eppie, with dimpling laughter,
kissing her father's cheek; "as if he'd want to marry anybody
"And you mean to have him, do you?" said Silas.
"Yes, some time," said Eppie, "I don't know when. Everybody's
married some time, Aaron says. But I told him that wasn't true:
for, I said, look at father--he's never been married."
"No, child," said Silas, "your father was a lone man till you was
sent to him."
"But you'll never be lone again, father," said Eppie, tenderly.
"That was what Aaron said--"I could never think o' taking you
away from Master Marner, Eppie." And I said, "It 'ud be no use if
you did, Aaron." And he wants us all to live together, so as you
needn't work a bit, father, only what's for your own pleasure; and
he'd be as good as a son to you--that was what he said."
"And should you like that, Eppie?" said Silas, looking at her.
"I shouldn't mind it, father," said Eppie, quite simply. "And I
should like things to be so as you needn't work much. But if it
wasn't for that, I'd sooner things didn't change. I'm very happy: I
like Aaron to be fond of me, and come and see us often, and behave
pretty to you--he always _does_ behave pretty to you, doesn't he,
"Yes, child, nobody could behave better," said Silas,
emphatically. "He's his mother's lad."
"But I don't want any change," said Eppie. "I should like to go
on a long, long while, just as we are. Only Aaron does want a
change; and he made me cry a bit--only a bit--because he said I
didn't care for him, for if I cared for him I should want us to be
married, as he did."
"Eh, my blessed child," said Silas, laying down his pipe as if it
were useless to pretend to smoke any longer, "you're o'er young to
be married. We'll ask Mrs. Winthrop--we'll ask Aaron's mother
what _she_ thinks: if there's a right thing to do, she'll come at
it. But there's this to be thought on, Eppie: things _will_ change,
whether we like it or no; things won't go on for a long while just
as they are and no difference. I shall get older and helplesser,
and be a burden on you, belike, if I don't go away from you
altogether. Not as I mean you'd think me a burden--I know you
wouldn't--but it 'ud be hard upon you; and when I look for'ard to
that, I like to think as you'd have somebody else besides me--
somebody young and strong, as'll outlast your own life, and take
care on you to the end." Silas paused, and, resting his wrists on
his knees, lifted his hands up and down meditatively as he looked on
"Then, would you like me to be married, father?" said Eppie, with
a little trembling in her voice.
"I'll not be the man to say no, Eppie," said Silas, emphatically;
"but we'll ask your godmother. She'll wish the right thing by you
and her son too."
"There they come, then," said Eppie. "Let us go and meet 'em.
Oh, the pipe! won't you have it lit again, father?" said Eppie,
lifting that medicinal appliance from the ground.
"Nay, child," said Silas, "I've done enough for to-day. I think,
mayhap, a little of it does me more good than so much at once."
While Silas and Eppie were seated on the bank discoursing in the
fleckered shade of the ash tree, Miss Priscilla Lammeter was
resisting her sister's arguments, that it would be better to take
tea at the Red House, and let her father have a long nap, than drive
home to the Warrens so soon after dinner. The family party (of four
only) were seated round the table in the dark wainscoted parlour,
with the Sunday dessert before them, of fresh filberts, apples, and
pears, duly ornamented with leaves by Nancy's own hand before the
bells had rung for church.
A great change has come over the dark wainscoted parlour since we
saw it in Godfrey's bachelor days, and under the wifeless reign of
the old Squire. Now all is polish, on which no yesterday's dust is
ever allowed to rest, from the yard's width of oaken boards round
the carpet, to the old Squire's gun and whips and walking-sticks,
ranged on the stag's antlers above the mantelpiece. All other signs
of sporting and outdoor occupation Nancy has removed to another
room; but she has brought into the Red House the habit of filial
reverence, and preserves sacredly in a place of honour these relics
of her husband's departed father. The tankards are on the
side-table still, but the bossed silver is undimmed by handling, and
there are no dregs to send forth unpleasant suggestions: the only
prevailing scent is of the lavender and rose-leaves that fill the
vases of Derbyshire spar. All is purity and order in this once
dreary room, for, fifteen years ago, it was entered by a new
"Now, father," said Nancy, "_is_ there any call for you to go
home to tea? Mayn't you just as well stay with us?--such a
beautiful evening as it's likely to be."
The old gentleman had been talking with Godfrey about the increasing
poor-rate and the ruinous times, and had not heard the dialogue
between his daughters.
"My dear, you must ask Priscilla," he said, in the once firm
voice, now become rather broken. "She manages me and the farm
"And reason good as I should manage you, father," said Priscilla,
"else you'd be giving yourself your death with rheumatism. And as
for the farm, if anything turns out wrong, as it can't but do in
these times, there's nothing kills a man so soon as having nobody to
find fault with but himself. It's a deal the best way o' being
master, to let somebody else do the ordering, and keep the blaming
in your own hands. It 'ud save many a man a stroke, _I_ believe."
"Well, well, my dear," said her father, with a quiet laugh, "I
didn't say you don't manage for everybody's good."
"Then manage so as you may stay tea, Priscilla," said Nancy,
putting her hand on her sister's arm affectionately. "Come now;
and we'll go round the garden while father has his nap."
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