Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 4 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning, as Dunstan Cass is riding to join the hunt, he passes Silas Marner's cottage and thinks of the rumors that Silas has a hoard of money hidden there. He decides that, even if he manages to sell Wildfire, he will suggest that Godfrey Cass borrow from Silas and secure the loan against his future inheritance. At the hunt, he tells Bryce he has traded horses with Godfrey so Wildfire now belongs to Dunstan. He knows Bryce won't believe him but lies just for the fun of it. He goes on to say he's had an offer of £150 for Wildfire but didn't want to sell. Bryce realizes this is the start of a negotiation and says Dunstan would be lucky to get £100. Keating enters the bidding, and eventually Bryce buys the horse for £120 "to be paid on the delivery of Wildfire, safe and sound, at the Batherley stables." Dunstan thinks it might be best to take the horse straight to Batherley but decides against it. He takes Wildfire on the hunt, jumps "one fence too many, and [gets] his horse pierced with a hedge-stake." No one sees the accident, and Dunstan starts walking to Batherley, where he can hire a horse to ride home.

Soon it occurs to Dunstan that he doesn't have enough money on him to hire a horse and that "the stable-keeper had declared he would never do any more business with Dunsey Cass" without payment up front. Realizing he's not much closer to Batherley than he is to Raveloe, he changes course. A mist is coming in, and it's getting dark. He buttons his coat, and twists the lash around the gold handle of Godfrey's hunting whip, which he took without permission. Soon, he can't see through the darkness and mist and has to use the whip like a cane in front of him. He knows he's nearing the quarry and soon notices the lights from Silas Marner's windows. By this time, he has talked himself into believing that Godfrey will ask him to approach Marner about the loan, so he decides to do so immediately—and ask the weaver for a lantern at the same time. He is cautious in approaching the cottage, using his whip to check the ground the entire way. Finally, he reaches the door and knocks. When no one answers, he is surprised to find the door is unlocked and lets himself in. The cottage is empty.

Dunsey sits waiting for Marner to return and speculates that the man may have slipped into the quarry in the dark and slimy mist. In that case, he wonders, who would have a right to Marner's money? Would anyone know where it was? If it were missing, would anyone know that? Now he decides to find the money, having "quite forg[otten] that the weaver's death was not a certainty." The usual hiding places, he thinks, are "the thatch, the bed, and a hole in the floor." The roof isn't thatch, and Dunsey is about to check the bed when he notices a section of the brick floor that has more sand on it than other areas; he even sees the marks of fingers in the sand. Under the bricks, he finds the two leather bags, heavy with coins. Suddenly he feels terrified he'll be caught. He gathers up the bags and the whip and leaves the cottage, closing the door behind him. If he just goes a few yards into the darkness, he thinks, no one will be able to see him; then he can go more cautiously. "So he stepped forward into the darkness."

Analysis

Dunstan's actions in Chapter 4 show that Godfrey was right to worry his brother might not take good care of the horse. Elated with the promise of £120 and a few swallows of brandy, Dunsey chooses the pleasure of showing off his riding skills over getting the horse safely to Blatherley. The good luck he professes to have fails him, and Wildfire—along with the money from the sale—is gone. His lack of reaction to Wildfire's death is typical of his apathetic temperament: He shows—and feels—little emotion. This may explain why he takes so many risks and riles up so many people: He needs constant excitement to find life at all interesting.

Readers come to know a lot about Dunstan in this chapter, which uses free indirect discourse to share his thoughts. They learn he likes lying—even though others know he's lying—and that his lies can be quite elaborate. For instance, he claims to have had an offer on Wildfire "from a man over at Flitton—he's buying for Lord Cromleck—a fellow with a cast in his eye, and a green waistcoat." Not only does Dunsey fabricate the offer, but he creates a very detailed and convincing picture of the man who supposedly made the offer. A stranger might be taken in.

In fact, Dunstan is often taken in by his own imaginings. After Wildfire's death, he quickly convinces himself he'll be able to talk Godfrey into borrowing Silas Marner's money, so he doesn't worry much about Godfrey's reaction to the loss of the horse. Empathy is not Dunsey's strong point. Next, he realizes he must walk back to Raveloe in the fog and darkness. He worries about two things: his safety—because he could be robbed or fall in the darkness—and the humiliation that will result if he is seen by some acquaintance covered with mud and on foot. Soon, though, he is near Raveloe and the quarry. Having convinced himself not only that Godfrey will want to approach Silas for a loan but also that he'll want Dunsey to do it for him, Dunstan decides to take the opportunity to lay the groundwork right away. Again, his imagination has taken him in. Dunstan doesn't understand business, either; he sees borrowing money against collateral as a way of tricking someone out of their money. He doesn't understand the concept of interest—that, by paying interest, the borrower is in effect buying the use of the lender's money; nor does he understand that the lender can take possession of the collateral if the debt isn't paid. For that reason, he looks forward not just to negotiating a loan but also "a little frightening added to the cajolery." It's a good thing for Silas that he's out when Dunstan arrives. The next thing Dunstan convinces himself of is that Silas has fallen into the quarry and won't be returning home. This is all the excuse Dunsey needs to find and steal Silas's hoard. The last thing Dunsey convinces himself of is that he only needs to get a couple of yards away from the lights of the cottage and then he'll be safe. He seems to have forgotten the worries he had about falling into the quarry as he carefully made his way toward the cottage's shining windows just a few minutes earlier.

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