By this time, however, the ladies had pressed forward, curious to know what could have brought the solitary linen-weaver there under such strange circumstances, and interested in the pretty child, who, half alarmed and half attracted by the brightness and the numerous company, now frowned and hid her face, now lifted up her head again and looked round placably, until a touch or a coaxing word brought back the frown, and made her bury her face with new determination.
What child is it? said several ladies at once, and among the rest Nancy Lammeter, addressing Godfrey.
I dont knowsome poor womans who has been found in the snow, I believe, was the answer Godfrey wrung from himself with a terrible effort. (After all, am I certain? he hastened to add, in anticipation of his own conscience.)
Why, youd better leave the child here, then, Master Marner, said good-natured Mrs. Kimble, hesitating, however, to take those dingy clothes into contact with her own ornamented satin bodice. Ill tell one o the girls to fetch it.
No, no; I cant part with it; I cant let it go, said Silas abruptly. Its come to me: Ive a right to keep it.
The proposition to take the child from him had come to Silas quite unexpectedly, and his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse, was almost like a revelation to himself. A minute before he had no distinct intention about the child.
Did you ever hear the like? said Mrs. Kimble in mild surprise to her neighbour.
Now, ladies, I must trouble you to stand aside, said Mr. Kimble, coming from the card-room, in some bitterness at the interruption, but drilled by the long habit of his profession into obedience to unpleasant calls, even when he was hardly sober.
Its a nasty business turning out now, eh, Kimble? said the Squire. He might ha gone for your young fellowthe prentice therewhats his name?
Might? ay, whats the use of talking about might? growled Uncle Kimble, hastening out with Marner, and followed by Mr. Crackenthorp and Godfrey.Get me a pair of thick boots, Godfrey, will you? And staylet somebody run to Winthrops and fetch Dolly; shes the best woman to get. Ben was here himself before supper; is he gone?
Yes, sir, I met him, said Marner; but I couldnt stop to tell him anything, only I said I was going for the Doctor, and he said the Doctor was at the Squires. And I made haste and ran, and there was nobody to be seen at the back o the house, and so I went in to where the company was.
The child, no longer distracted by the bright light and the smiling womens faces, began to cry and call for mammy, though always clinging to Marner, who had apparently won her thorough confidence. Godfrey had come back with the boots, and felt the cry as if some fibre were drawn tight within him.
Ill go, he said hastily, eager for some movement; Ill go and fetch the womanMrs. Winthrop.
Oh, pooh! send somebody else, said Uncle Kimble, hurrying away with Marner.
Youll let me know if I can be of any use, Kimble, said Mr. Crackenthorp. But the Doctor was out of hearing.
Godfrey too had disappeared: he was gone to snatch his hat and coat, having just reflection enough to remember that he must not look like a madman; but he rushed out of the house into the snow without heeding his thin shoes.
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