Silas Marner HTML version

Chapter 1
In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses-- and
even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels
of polished oak--there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or
deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of
the brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. The
shepherd's dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared
on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure
bent under a heavy bag?--and these pale men rarely stirred abroad without that
mysterious burden. The shepherd himself, though he had good reason to believe
that the bag held nothing but flaxen thread, or else the long rolls of strong linen
spun from that thread, was not quite sure that this trade of weaving,
indispensable though it was, could be carried on entirely without the help of the
Evil One. In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing
that was at all unwonted, or even intermittent and occasional merely, like the
visits of the pedlar or the knife-grinder. No one knew where wandering men had
their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at
least knew somebody who knew his father and mother? To the peasants of old
times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness
and mystery: to their untravelled thought a state of wandering was a conception
as dim as the winter life of the swallows that came back with the spring; and even
a settler, if he came from distant parts, hardly ever ceased to be viewed with a
remnant of distrust, which would have prevented any surprise if a long course of
inoffensive conduct on his part had ended in the commission of a crime;
especially if he had any reputation for knowledge, or showed any skill in
handicraft. All cleverness, whether in the rapid use of that difficult instrument the
tongue, or in some other art unfamiliar to villagers, was in itself suspicious:
honest folk, born and bred in a visible manner, were mostly not overwise or
clever--at least, not beyond such a matter as knowing the signs of the weather;
and the process by which rapidity and dexterity of any kind were acquired was so
wholly hidden, that they partook of the nature of conjuring. In this way it came to
pass that those scattered linen-weavers--emigrants from the town into the
country--were to the last regarded as aliens by their rustic neighbours, and
usually contracted the eccentric habits which belong to a state of loneliness.
In the early years of this century, such a linen-weaver, named Silas Marner,
worked at his vocation in a stone cottage that stood among the nutty hedgerows
near the village of Raveloe, and not far from the edge of a deserted stone-pit.
The questionable sound of Silas's loom, so unlike the natural cheerful trotting of
the winnowing-machine, or the simpler rhythm of the flail, had a half-fearful
fascination for the Raveloe boys, who would often leave off their nutting or birds'-
nesting to peep in at the window of the stone cottage, counterbalancing a certain
awe at the mysterious action of the loom, by a pleasant sense of scornful
superiority, drawn from the mockery of its alternating noises, along with the bent,
tread-mill attitude of the weaver. But sometimes it happened that Marner,
pausing to adjust an irregularity in his thread, became aware of the small