"Silas Marner was
both sane and honest, and as with many
honest and fervent men,
culture had not defined any
channels for his sense of mystery,
and so it spread itself over the
proper pathway of inquiry and knowledge.
inherited from his mother some
acquaintance with medicinal herbs and their preparation, a little store of
wisdom which she had imparted to him as a solemn bequest but of late years he
had had doubts about the lawfulness of applying this knowledge, believing that
herbs could have no efficacy without prayer, and that prayer might suffice
without herbs; so that the inherited
delight he had in wandering
in the fields in search of foxglove and dandelion and coltsfoot, became to
character of temptation.
Among the members
of his church there was one young man, a little older than himself, with
whom he had long lived in
such close friendship that it was the tradition of Lantern Yard brethren to
call them David and Jonathan.
The real name of the friend was William
Dane, and he, too, was regarded as a shining instance of
youthful piety, though somewhat
given to over severity towards weaker brethren, and
to be so dazzled by his own light as
to hold himself wiser than his teachers.
Whatever blemishes others
might discern in William, to his friend he was faultless; Silas Marner an
impressible self doubting
nature which, at an inexperienced age, admire imperativeness and
expression of trusting simplicity in
Silas Marner's face, heightened by that absence of
observation, that defenseless, deer like gaze which belongs to large
prominent eyes, was strongly contrasted by
the self complacent suppression of inward triumph that lurked in the narrow
slanting eyes and compressed lips of William Dane.
One of the most
frequent topics of conversation between the two friends was
assurance of salvation:
Silas Marner confessed that he could never arrive at anything higher than
hope mingled with
listened with longing wonder when
William declared that he had possessed
unshaken assurance ever since, in the period of his conversion, he had
dreamed that he saw the
words 'calling and election sure' standing by themselves on a white page in the
Such colloquies have entranced
many pale faced weavers, whose
unnurtured souls have been like
young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight.
It had seemed to the unsuspecting Silas Marner that
the friendship had suffered no
chill even from his formation of another attachment of a closer category.
For some months he had been engaged to
a young servant woman,
waiting only for a little increase to their mutual savings in order to marry;
and it was a great delight to him that Sarah did not object to William's
occasional presence in their Sunday interviews.
It was at this point in
their history that Silas Marner's cataleptic fit occurred during the prayer
meeting; and amidst the various queries and expressions of interest addressed
to him by his fellow members, William's suggestion alone jarred with
the general sympathy towards a
brother thus singled out for special dealings.
observed that, to him, this trance looked more like
a visitation of Satan than
a proof of divine
favor, and exhorted his friend
to see that he hid no accursed thing within his soul.
feeling bound to accept rebuke and admonition as a brotherly office, felt no
resentment, but only pain, at
his friend's doubts concerning him; and to this was soon added some
anxiety at the perception
that Sarah's manner towards him began to exhibit a strange fluctuation between
an effort at an increased manifestation of regard and involuntary signs of
He asked her if she wished to
break off their engagement; but she denied this: their engagement was known to
the church, and had been recognized in the prayer meetings; it could not be
broken off without strict investigation, and Sarah could render no reason that
would be sanctioned by the
feeling of the community.
At this time the senior deacon was taken
dangerously ill, and, being a childless widower, he was tended night and day by
some of the younger brethren or sisters.
frequently took his turn
in the night - watching with William, the one relieving the other at two in the
The old man,
expectation, seemed to be on the way to recovery, when one night Silas
Marner, sitting up by his bedside, observed that his usually audible breathing
The candle was burning low, and he had to lift it to see
the patient's face distinctly.
Examination convinced him that the
deacon was dead - had been dead some time, for the limbs were rigid.
Silas Marner asked himself if he had been asleep, and looked at the
clock: it was already four in the morning.
How was it that William had
In much anxiety he went to seek
help, and soon there were several friends assembled in the house, the minister
among them, while Silas Marner went away to his work, wishing he could have met
William to know the reason of his non-appearance.
At six o'clock, as he
was thinking of going to seek his friend, William came, and with him the
They came to summon him to Lantern Yard, to meet the church
members there; and to his inquiry concerning the cause of the summons the only
reply was, 'You will hear.'
No thing further was said until Silas
Marner was seated in the vestry, in front of the minister, with the eyes of
those who to him represented God's people fixed solemnly upon him.
The minister, taking out a pocket-knife, showed it to Silas Marner,
and asked him if he knew where he had left that knife?
said, he did not know that he had left it anywhere out of his own pocket - but
he was trembling at this strange interrogation.
He was then exhorted
not to hide his sin, but to confess and repent.
The knife had been
found in the bureau by the departed deacon's bedside - found in the place where
the little bag of church money had lain, which the minister himself had seen
the day before.
Some hand had removed that bag; and whose hand could it
be, if not that of the man to whom the knife belonged?
For some time
Silas Marner was mute with astonishment:
then he said, God will clear
me: I know nothing about the knife being there, or the money being gone. Search
me and my dwelling: you will find nothing but three pound five of my own
savings, which William Dane knows I have had these six months.'
William groaned, but the minister said, 'The proof is heavy against you,
brother Silas Marner. The money was taken in the night last past, and no man
was with our departed brother but you, for William Dane declares to us that he
was hindered by sudden sickness
from going to take his place as usual, and you yourself said that he had not
come; and, moreover, you neglected the dead body.'
'I must have slept,'
said Silas Marner. Then, after a pause, he added, 'Or I must have had another
visitation like that which you have all seen me under, so that the thief must
have come and gone while I was not in the body, but out of the body. But, I say
again, search me and my dwelling, for I have been nowhere else'.
search was made, and it ended - in William Dane's finding the well known bag,
empty, tucked behind the chest of drawers in Silas Marner's chamber!
this William exhorted his
friend to confess, and not to hide his sin any longer. Silas Marner turned
a look of keen reproach on him, and said, 'William, for nine years that we have
known each other, have you ever known me tell a lie?
But God will clear me.'
said William, 'how do I know what you may have done in
the secret chambers of your
heart, to give Satan an advantage over you?'
Silas Marner was still
looking at his friend. Suddenly a deep flush came over his face, and he was
about to speak impetuously, when he seemed checked again by some inward shock,
that sent the flush back and made him tremble.
But at last he spoke
feebly, looking at William. 'I remember now - the
knife wasn't in my pocket.'
William said, 'I know nothing of what you
The others present, however, began to inquire where Silas Marner
meant to say that the knife was, but he would give no further explanation: he
only said, 'I am sore stricken; I can say nothing.
God will clear me.'
On their return to the vestry there was
further deliberation. Any resort to legal measures for ascertaining the culprit
was contrary to the principles of the Church: prosecution was held by them to
be forbidden to Christians, even if it had been a case in which there was no
scandal to the community.
But they were bound to take other measures
for finding out the truth, and they resolved on praying and drawing lots.
This resolution can be a
surprise to those who are unacquainted with that obscure relgious life which
has gone on in the alleys of our towns.
Silas Marner knelt with his
brethren, relying on his own innocence being certified by immediate divine
intervention, feeling sorrow, for
his trust in man had been cruelly bruised.
The lots declared that Silas
Marner was quilty.
He was solemnly suspended from church membership,
and called upon to render up the stolen money: only on confession, as the sign
of repentance, could he be received once more within the fold of the church.
Silas Marner listened
At last, when every one rose to depart, he went towards
William Dane and said, in a voice
shaken by agitation - 'The last time I remember using my knife, was when I
took it out to cut a strap for you. I don't remember putting it in my pocket
again. You stole the money, and you have woven a plot to lay the sin at my door.
If you prosper
there is no just God that governs the earth
righteously, but a God of lies, that
bears witness against the innocent.'
There was a general shudder at
William said meekly, 'I leave our brethren to judge
whether this is the voice of Satan or not.
I can do nothing but pray
for you, Silas Marner.'
Poor Silas Marner went out with that despair
in his soul - that shaken trust in God and
man, which is little short of madness to a loving nature.
bitterness of his wounded spirit, he said to himself, 'She will cast me off
And he reflected that, if she did not believe the testimony
against him, her whole faith must be upset, as his was.
accustomed to reason about the forms in which their relgious feeling has
incorporated itself, it
is difficult to enter into that simple, untaught state of mind in which the
form and the feeling have never been severed by
an act of reflection.
We are apt to think it inevitable that a man in Silas Marner's position
should have begun to question the validity of an appeal to the divine judgement
by drawing lots; but to him this would have been
an effort of independent thought
such as he had never known; and he must have made the effort at a moment
when all his energies were turned into the anguish of disappointed
An angel who records the sorrows of men as well as their sins
knows many and deep are
sorrows that spring from false ideas for which no man is culpable.
Silas Marner went home, and for
a whole day sat alone, stunned by
despair, without any impulse to go to Sarah and
attempt to win her belief in his innocence.
The second day he took refuge from benumbing unbelief, by getting into
his loom and working away as usual; and before many hours were past, the
minister and one of the deacons came to him with the message from Sarah, that
she held her engagement to him at an end.
Silas Marner received the message mutely, and then
turned away from the messengers to work at his loom again.
little more than a month from that time, Sarah was married to William Dane; and
not long afterwards it was known to the brethren in Lantern Yard that Silas
Marner had departed from the village.
"Year after year, Silas
Marner had lived in solitude,
his guineas rising in the iron pot, his life narrowing and hardening itself
more and more into a mere pulsation of desire and satisfaction that had no
relation to any other being.
His life had reduced
itself to the mere functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation
of an end towards which the functions tended.
The same sort of
process has perhaps been under gone by wiser men, when they have been
cut off from faith and love
only, instead of a loom and a heap
of guineas, they have had some erudite research,
some ingenious project, or
'Where is the money?' now took
such entire possession of Dunstan as to make him quite forget that the weaver's
death was not a certainty.
A dull mind, once arriving at
an inference that flatters
an unnatural desire, is rarely able to
retain the impression that the notion from which
the inference started was problematic.
And Dunstan's mind was
as dull as the mind of a
psychopath usually is.
There were only three hiding places where he
had ever heard of cottagers' hoards being found: the thatch, the bed, and a
hole in the floor.
cottage had no thatch; and Dunstan's first act,
after a train of thought made rapid by the stimulus of cupidity, was to go up
to the bed; but while he did so, his eyes traveled eagerly over the floor,
where the bricks, distinct in the
fire light, were discernible
under the sprinkling of sand.
But not everywhere; for there was one
spot, and one only, which was quite covered with sand, and sand showing the
marks of fingers which had apparently been careful to spread it over a given
It was near the treddles of the loom.
In an instant
Dunstan darted to that spot, swept away the sand with his whip, and, inserting
the thin end of the hook between the bricks, found that they were loose.
In haste he lifted up two bricks, and saw what he had
no doubt was the object of his
search; for what could there be but money in those two leathern
And, from their weight, they must be filled with
Dunstan felt round the hole, to be certain that it held no
more; then hastily replaced the bricks, and spread the sand over
"There was pauper's burial that
week and it was known that the dark haired
woman with the fair child, who had lately come to lodge there, was gone away
That was all the 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
Silas Marner's determination to keep the 'tramp's child' was matter
of hardly less surprising and iterated talk in the village than the robbery of
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 among the women.
Notwithstanding the difficulty of carrying
her and his yarn or linen at the time, Silas Marner took Eppie with him on most
of his journeys to the farm houses, 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 out lying
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.
Now Silas Marner met with open
smiling faces and cheerful
questioning, as a individual whose satisfactions and difficulties could be
Even here he must sit a little and talk about the child, and
words of interest were always ready for him: 'Ah, Master Silas 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 outdoor work -
you're partly as handy as a
woman, for weaving comes next to spinning.' "
Elderly masters and
mistresses, seated observantly in large kitchen armchairs, 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 Marner 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 motion and steady gaze, like little dogs
face to face with one of their own category, till
attraction had reached the
point at which the soft lips were put out for a kiss.
No child was afraid of approaching Silas Marner 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 Earth.
There was intense love
between him and the child that blent them into one, and there was love between
the child and the Earth - from men and women with parental looks and tones, to
the red lady-birds and the round pebbles.
Silas Marner began now to
think of life entirely in relation to Eppie: she must have every thing that was
good; and he listened docilely, that he might come to understand better what
life was, from which, for fifteen years, he had stood aloof as from a strange
thing, with which he could not commune.
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 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 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
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
And now something had come to replace his hoard which gave a
growing purpose to the earnings, drawing his
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
see no white winged angels now.
Yet men are led away from
threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth
gently towards a calm and bright earth, so that they look no more backward; and
the hand may be a little child's.
It is impossible to
mistake Silas Marner.
large brown eyes appear to have gathered a longer vision, as is the
way with eyes that have been short-sighted in
early life as they have a
less vague more
answering look; 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 has vainly tried to chastise her
curly 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.
"Since the time the child was sent to me and I have come to love
her as myself, I have had light enough to trust in God; and, now she says
she'll never leave me, I think I shall
trust in God until I die," said Silas Marner.
- From "Silas Marner"
- George Eliot or Mary Ann Evans
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