"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, began to wear
to him the
character of a 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 their 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.
blemishes others might discern in William, to his friend's mind he was
faultless; for Silas Marner had one of those
impressible self doubting
natures which, at an inexperienced age, admire imperativeness and
expression 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 fear, and
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 Bible.
Such colloquies have entranced many
pale faced weavers, whose
unnurtured souls have been like
young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight.
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
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.
He 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.
Silas 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
shrinking and dislike.
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,
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
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.'
At this 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
'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'.
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
'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
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
But at last he spoke feebly, looking at William. 'I remember now - the knife wasn't in
William said, 'I know nothing of what you mean.'
other individuals 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.
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, but feeling that there
was sorrow for him even then that
his trust in man had been cruelly
The lots declared that Silas
Marner was guilty.
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
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. As you may prosper,
for all that: there is no just God that governs
the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the
There was a general
shudder at this blasphemy.
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,
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
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.
To 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.
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
If there is an angel who
records the sorrows of men as well as their sins, he desire how many and deep
are the 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
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 this solitude, his
guineas rising in the iron
pot, and 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.
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
round the hole, to be certain that it held no more; then hastily replaced the
bricks, and spread the sand over them.
"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 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 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 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
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 compassion between him and the child
that blent them into one, and there was compassion 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 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 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
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
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 earth, so that they look no
more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.
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, and they
have a less vague, a
more answering look; but in everything else one sees signs of a frame much
enfeebled by the lapse of the sixteen years.
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.
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
"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
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