Silas Marner

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    1 Silas Marner,past and present
    In the early years of the nineteenth century,Strange-looking little men were often seen on the country roads,usually with a heavy bag on their shoulders.They were linen-weavers,taking the linen they had woven to the women in the villages.Unlike the strong,healthy country people,they were small and thin,with tired white faces,bent backs and round shoulders.They were often shortsighted too,because they had to look so closely at their work.To the villagers the weavers looked almost foreign,and quite frightening.Where did they come from?Was it the devil who sent them?Who were their parents?How could you trust a man if you didn't know his father or mother?Country people used to be very suspicious of all strangers and travellers.They were also suspi-cious of clever people,people who could do something they themselves had not learnt to do.That is why the linen-weavers,who often moved from towns to live and work in the country,were considered strangers all their lives by their neighbours,and were sometimes very lonely as a result.
    Silas Marner was one of these weavers.He lived in a small cottage near the village of Raveloe.Every day he worked at his loom in the cottage.The small boys of Raveloe had never heard the sound of a loom before,and sometimes they used to run up to his house to look quickly in at the window.If Silas noticed them,he lifted his shortsighted eyes from the loom to stare at the boys.There was something terrible about his stare,which made the boys run away at once,screaming with fear.The vil-lagers believed that Silas had an almost devilish power,which he could use to harm them if he wanted,and so they were all afraid of him.Raveloe was an important-looking village with a fine old church and a number of large farms.But it was at least an hour away from any other village,and very few strangers visited it,which explains why the villagers'opinions were so out of date.
    Silas Marner had first come to Raveloe fifteen years before,as a young man.He and his way of life seemed very strange to the villagers.He worked long hours at his loom,and had no friends or visitors from the village or anywhere else.He never talked to his neighbours unless it was necessary for his work,and he never looked at any of the Raveloe girls.'Who would want to marry him anyway?'the girls laughed to each other.'Marry a dead man come to life again,with that unhealthy white skin and those insect-like eyes of his?Certainly not!'
    One of the villagers had had a strange experience with Silas.One evening he had discovered the weaver resting on a field gate,his eyes open but unseeing,and his body cold and hard,like a dead man's.After a few moments Silas appeared to wake up,said'Good night',and walked away.
    When this was discussed in the village,some people thought that Silas had had a fit.But others,like Mr Macey,the church clerk,refused to accept a medical explanation.
    'No,he isn't ill,that weaver,'said old Mr Macey,shaking his head knowingly.'If he had a fit,he'd fall down,wouldn't he?I think his soul flies out of his body sometimes and that's why he looks so strange.He doesn't come to church,does he?And how does he know so much about medicines?You all re-member how he made Sally Oates better,when the doctor him-self could do no more for her.That's the devil's work,believe me!'
    However,the housewives needed Silas to weave their linen,and they could find nothing wrong with his work.The years passed,and Raveloe villagers did not change their opinion of the weaver.At the end of fifteen years they said exactly the same things about him,but they believed them more strongly.They also said that he had saved up a lot of money since he had come to Raveloe.
    Silas had come from a large town to the north of Raveloe.Here he had lived a very different life.Because he was one of a large number of weavers,he was not considered strange,and he belonged to an enthusiastic religious group.They met every Sunday at the chapel in Light Street.Once,at a chapel meeting,Silas had become unconscious and had sat without moving,hearing or seeing,for over an hour.This experience made him specially interesting to the rest of the group.
    'We should not call this strange unconsciousness a fit,'the minister,Mr Paston,told them.'No, it's much more than that.In that moment,when he is absent from us,our young friend Silas's soul is open,open to a possible message from God.I believe he has been chosen by God!'
    silas's best friend at chapel was William Dane,a serious young man who was,some people thought,a little too sure of his own goodness and cleverness.Silas,however,could see no fault in him,and trusted his friend completely.They remained good friends,when Silas became engaged to a young woman,Sarah,who belonged to the same chapel.In fact Silas was de-lighted that Sarah did not mind if William joined them some-times on their Sunday walks.
    Strangely,when Silas had his fit at the chapel meeting,William was the only one who disagreed with the minister.
    'To me it looks more like the devil's work than God's,'William had said.'Look deep into yourself,friend Silas.Is there any evil hiding in your soul?'
    Silas was hurt that his friend doubted him,and he began to be worried,too,about Sarah.She seemed to be showing signs of dislike towards him,but when he asked her about it,she did not give him any answer.
    At that time one of the chapel leaders was dangerously ill,and because he had no family,some of the young men offered to sit with him at night.One night Silas was sitting alone at the old man's bedside.Time seemed to pass slowly in the quiet,dark room.But suddenly he realized that the man was no longer breathing.He was dead.
    'Strange!'thought Silas.'His body's cold!He's been dead for some time!Why did't I notice?Perhaps I've had anoth-er fit.And it's already four o'clock in the morning.Why hasn't William come?He promised he'd come at two o'clock!'He hurried out of the house to call the doctor and the minister,and then went to work as usual,still wondering why William had not arrived.
    But that evening,after work,William came to his room,with the minister.They were both looking very serious.
    'You must come to the chapel at once,'said Mr Paston.
    'But why?'asked Silas,looking unhappily at them.
    'You will hear when you get there,was the only answer.
    Then,in the chapel,Silas stood alone,in front of all the peo-ple who were once his friends.The room was silent.There was a pocket-knife in the minister's hand.
    'Where did you leave this knife?'he asked.
    Silas was trembling at this strange question.I don't re-member,'he answered.
    'Silas,Silas,you must confess!'cried the minister.'Tell us the truth!This knife,your knife,was found at the dead man's bedside,and the bag of church money,which I saw there myself only yesterday,has gone!
    Silas did not speak for a moment.Then he said,'God knows I did not steal the money.Search my room-you won't find the money.I'm not a thief.'
    'You were the only one in our dead friend's house last night,when the money was stolen,'said Mr Paston.'William tells us he was suddenly ill,which prevented him from coming to take your place.We will search your room.
    And when they went to Silas's room,Willia m fond the missing bag,now empty,under Silas's bed.
    'Silas,my friend,'cried William,'confess your crime to us now!Send the devil away from your soul!'
    Silas turned to the man he had always trusted.'William,in the nine years since we've been friends,have I ever told you a lie?But God will prove the truth.'
    As he looked at William,he suddenly remembered something,and reddened.He said in a trembling voice,'The knife wasn't in my pocket last night!'
    'I don't know what you mean,'replied William coldly.
    In the strange little world of the Light Street chapel,they did not believe in the law or judges.They thought only God knew the answers,so they agreed to draw lots to decide what had happened.They all went down on their knees to ask for God's help in finding th truth.Silas knelt with them,sure that God would prove his honesty.There was silence,as the minister took one of the papers out of the covered box.
    'The lots say that Silas Marner has stolen the money,'he said.'You will leave the chapel,Silas Marner,and you will not be accepted back until you confess your crime.'
    Silas listened in horror.At last he walked over to William Dane and said firmly,'I lent you my knife,you know that.You stole the money,while I was having a fit,and you've blamed me for it.But perhaps you'll never be punished,since there is no God who takes care of the good and punishes the bad,only a God of lies.'
    'You hear,my friends?'said William,smiling sadly.' This is the voice of the devil speaking.'
    Silas went home.The next day he sat alone for the whole day,too miserable to do anything.On the second day the min- ister came to tell him that Sarah had decided she could not marry him.Only a month later,Sarah married William Dane,and soon afterwards Silas Marner left the town.
    At Raveloe,Silas shut himself away in his cottage.He did not want to think about the disaster he had experienced.He could not understand why God had refused to help him.But now that his trust in God and his friends had been broken, he did not feel strong enough to build up that trust again,in a new church and with new friends.From now on,he would live in a dark,loveless,hopeless world.
    All that was left to him was his weaving,and he sat at his loom seven days a week,working all the daylight hours.In the town he had earned less,and had given much of his money to the chapel,for the old,the poor,and the sick.But now he be-gan to earn more than ever before,and there was no reason for him to give away any of it.He was often paid for his linen in gold.He discovered that he liked holding the shining coins in his hand and looking at their bright faces.
    In his childhood,Silas had been taught,by his mother,to make simple medicines from wild flowers and plants.One day he saw the shoemaker's wife,Sally Oates,sitting at her cottage door,and he realized she had all the signs of the illness which had killed his mother.He felt sorry for Sally,and although he knew he could not prevent her dying,he prepared some medicine for her which made her feel much better.The vil-lagers considered this a good example of Silas's strange,fright-ening power,but as it had worked for Sally,they started visit-ing Silas to ask for help with their own illnesses.But Silas was too honest to take their money and give them useless medicine.He knew he had no special power,and so he sent them away.The villagers believed he was refusing to help them,and they were angry with him.They blamed him for accidents that hap-pened to them,and deaths in the village.So poor Silas's kind-ness to Sally did not help him make friends in Raveloe.
    But little by little,the piles of gold coins in his cottage grew higher.The harder he worked,the less he spent on himself.He counted the coins into piles of ten,and wanted to see them grow into a square,and then into a larger square.He was de-lighted with every new coin,but it made him want another.His gold became a habit,a delight,a reason for living,almost a reli-gion.He began to think the coins were his friends,who made the cottage less lonely for him.But it was only at night, when he had finished his work,that he spent time with them.He kept them in two bags,under the floorboards near the loom.Like a thirsty man who needs a drink,he took them out every evening to look at them,feel them,and count them.The coins shone in the firelight,and Silas loved every one of them.When he looked at his loom,he thought fondly of the half-earned gold in the work he was doing,and he looked forward to the years ahead of him,the countless days of weaving and the growing piles of gold.

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