Clyde: Silas Marner

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2023

By Clyde

“In the days when the spinning wheel hummed busily in the farmhouse,” outside limbs showed dark against the early autumn. Sunset, “no one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin.” This small important-looking town was home to one thin figure named Silas, an artist, whose strange unearthly eyes could see through most untruths that beset the common man.

Together with his cures, he would wander through the fields in search of blue porcelain berries, dandelion and comfrey, perchance to use as subjects for his paintings. His “ill will and irritated glances” didn’t show in his work, which he sold in town to clients who in turn told conjectured stories of a miser who “lived on moldy bread to check his appetite” and had a fascination for youngins who were drawn to his door. They knew that “opening the door would fix on them a gaze enough to make them take to their legs in terror.”

His broken house sat down by the old wooden bridge over the N.C. Railroad and the gully with high stone walls of dry-laid granite. There was nothing here when he rose in the deep morning mist to sketch by the little lantern “light that he possessed spread its beams so narrowly — nothing moved in its view.” He fetched his water from the stone trough in the back yard not far from where Thomas Nelson and Sarah Sanders laid their heads in the rear of the house next door. Factory Street had once been teeming with prisoners being herded across the bridge to the old cotton factory which had been used by the Confederacy to hold deserters, convicts, and escapees.

Gradually, his money grew in a heap and Silas drew less for his own wants. He kept his Morgan Silver Dollars in an old feed sack under his trunkle bed oven in the corner, counting them each night. He looked at the “shiny bright faces on the coins. “He loved no man that he should offer them a share.” For long twenty years mysterious money had stood to him as “the symbol of earthly good and immediate object of foil.”

A strange forgetfulness in a miser was not in his thoughts as he left late one afternoon with his door unlocked and returned to behold his room: blind, boundless, barren, besieged, battered, barricaded, bloody and burglarized, the tinderbox and sack with its contents were gone. “A visit unmasked, unwanted, and unexpected.” Who would know that anybody had come to take it away. Instantly in a rage, determined to find the intruder, he unlatched the paneled door and stepped forward into the darkness, leaving the warm light of the cottage. God help them if he could get his hands on the thief. Only one thing was on his troubled mind. “There were no stars, no earth, no time, no check, no change, no good, no crime, but silence and a stirless breath.” No sing or sound of any earthly life; man or beast. The quiet held no answers. Nothing to stop him from finding the interloper, except his own misfortune.

Days later, being summoned by neighbors alarmed by children, the local police had come and found the door ajar, the shutters closed, cold food on the wood stove, only ashes from the coal in the grate. A steady line of onlookers threaded up to the door to peer inside, each one with a tale of supposition as to what had become of the old master artist? Had he had a struggle with an out-of-town Yankee carpet bagger? Had he fallen down the slippery embankment along the track and met his death under the belly of a fire belching steam locomotive. They all agreed he was bad to go into a fit over the least little thing.

Did the fates, as Dr. Rumple had warned, been able to catch up with him? The letters scratched in the window pane by the open door spelled out “I.H.S.;” The same as on the altar cloth at St. Luke’s Church. One curious onlooker, when hearing of his probable demise, recalled how Silas had told him about a large greenish-brown pot that had fallen off the shelf and broken into three pieces. He picked up the pieces and carried them home with grief in his heart. It could never be of any use to anyone, but he stuck the bits together and propped the ruin in its old place for a memorial. It is too late to mend some things though, say what you will. How will we be remembered? Will the coins be found by a new-fangled machine that can see underground? Will there be skeletons when they excavate for the new Fisher St. Bridge? Will newcomers simply sweep away any evidence and call it restoration?

And people stopped on the street overlooking the place, ask the name of this town and they won’t know anything about it or even how it got its name or how folks could have lived this way, so close together but yet, miles apart. It’s all gone, but the silent stones remain.

Clyde S. Marner