"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.
He had inherited from his mother
some acquaintance with medicinal
herbs and their preparation, a little store of wisdom which she had
imparted to him as a solemn bequest but of late years he had had
doubts about the
lawfulness of applying this knowledge, believing that herbs could have no
efficacy without prayer, and that prayer might suffice without herbs; so that
the inherited delight he had
in wandering in the fields in search of foxglove and dandelion and
coltsfoot, became to him
the character of
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
of trusting simplicity in Silas Marner's face, heightened by that absence
of special 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 open
Such colloquies have
pale faced weavers, whose
unnurtured souls have been like
young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the
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
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.
Marner, 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
At this time the senior deacon was taken dangerously ill,
and, being a childless widower, he was tended
night and day by some of the younger
brethren or sisters.
Silas Marner frequently took his turn in the night
- watching with William, the one relieving the other at two in the morning.
The old man, contrary to expectation,
seemed to be on the way to recovery, when one night Silas Marner, sitting up by
his bedside, observed that his usually audible breathing had ceased.
The candle was burning low, and he had to lift it to see the patient's
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
How was it that William had not come?
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 minister.
They came to summon him to Lantern
Yard, to meet the church members there; and to his inquiry concerning the cause
of the summons the only reply was, 'You will hear.'
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
The minister, taking out a pocket-knife, showed it to Silas
Marner, and asked him if he knew where he had left that knife?
Marner 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?
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.'
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'.
The search was made, and it ended - in
William Dane's finding the well known bag, empty, tucked behind the chest of
drawers in Silas Marner's chamber!
On 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
'Brother,' said William, 'how do
I know what you may have done in
the secret chambers of
your heart, to give Satan an advantage over you?'
Silas 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
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.
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.
declared that Silas Marner was guilty.
He was solemnly suspended from
church membership, and called upon to render up the stolen money: only on
confession, as the sign of repentance, could he be received once more within
the fold of the church.
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.
In the bitterness of his wounded spirit, he said to himself, 'She will
cast me off too.'
And he reflected that, if she did not believe the
testimony against him, her whole faith must be upset, as his was.
humans 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; 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 on 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.
In little more than a month from that time, Sarah was married to
William Dane; and not long afterwards it was known to the brethren in Lantern
Yard that Silas Marner had departed from the 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.
had reduced itself to the mere functions of weaving and hoarding, without any
contemplation of an end towards which the functions tended.
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 some
'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.
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
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 space.
was near the treddles of the loom.
In an instant Dunstan darted to that
spot, swept away the sand with his whip, and, inserting the thin end of the
hook between the bricks, found that they were loose.
In haste he lifted
up two bricks, and saw what he had no
doubt was the object of his search; for what could there be but money in
those two leathern bags?
And, from their weight, they must be filled
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
Now Silas Marner met with
open smiling faces and
cheerful questioning, as a individual
whose satisfactions and difficulties could be understood.
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
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
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
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
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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