Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapters 8-9
When Godfrey comes home that night, he is too preoccupied with Nancy Lammeter to be surprised that Dunstan has not come home. The next morning he is as busy as the rest of the village in discussing the robbery.
The rain has washed away all footprints near the cottage, so the only evidence is a tinderbox that was found there. A minority of the villagers feel that this is not a robbery that can be solved by human powers anyway; but Mr. Snell, the landlord of the Rainbow, recalls that about a month before a peddler had been in Raveloe and had carried a tinderbox. This recollection leads other people to remember the man. It is recalled that he had rings in his ears and was altogether a suspicious person. Silas remembers only that the man came to his door and went away at once, but it is remarked that a "blind creatur" like Silas would hardly have noticed the man lurking in the hedgerows.
There is no attempt to link Dunstan's disappearance to the robbery, for Dunstan has gone off before for long periods. However, Godfrey is anxious about his horse, and he sets off to Batherly to look for Dunstan. On the way, he meets Bryce, who was to have bought the horse. Bryce tells him that Dunstan has killed Wildfire, but he does not know where Dunstan has gone.
Godfrey begins to fear that when Dunstan returns, he will tell the whole story rather than bear their father's anger alone. Godfrey decides that to forestall this, he must admit the truth himself. All that day he manages to maintain a resolve to make a complete avowal in the morning, but waking in the night he can only feel that if Dunstan does not come back for a few days, everything may blow over.
In the morning at breakfast, Godrey opens the subject with the news that Dunstan has staked Wildfire. He says that now he will be unable to pay the Squire the hundred pounds that the tenant Fowler has paid him for rent. The Squire goes purple with anger on finding that Godfrey has given the money to Dunstan. He demands that Dunstan be brought in to account for it. When he learns that Dunstan has not come back, he wants to know why Godfrey gave him the money in the first place. At this, Godfrey hesitates and finally says that it was only a bit of foolery between him and Dunstan. Squire Cass insists that it is time Godfrey had done with fooleries. He asks why Godfrey hasn't married Lammeter's daughter as he once seemed to intend and offers to ask her for him, if Godfrey hasn't the courage.
Godfrey says uncomfortably that he would rather manage for himself and hopes that his father won't say anything. His father intends to do as he chooses, and he instructs Godfrey to tell Dunstan that he need not come home again.
Godfrey is left more entangled than ever. He falls back on the hope that chance may favor him in the future.
The scene shifts from Silas to Godfrey at the same time that the news of the robbery spreads from the group present at the Rainbow to the upper part of Raveloe society. A "higher consultation" is carried out under Mr. Crackenthorp, "assisted by Squire Cass and other substantial parishioners." Thus the portions of the plot involving Silas and that centered on Godfrey begin to be brought together through the "background" characters.
It is not surprising that no one suspects Dunstan of the robbery. Despite his bad character, he is above suspicion as a member of the leading family of the village. In any case, no local person would be suspected if an outsider is available. This is exactly the sort of mistrust that Silas himself has faced. Eliot shows that it is unreasoning mistrust: a peddler is suspected because "men of that sort, with rings in their ears, had been known for murderers often and often; there had been one tried at the 'sizes not so long ago but what there were people living who remembered it."
Such an occurrence is not really very often, but it is often enough for people who believe that "everybody had a right to their own opinions, grounds or no grounds." In Raveloe, reputation for veracity is based on external evidences of character. The virtues are felt to be all of a piece. Hence the glazier's wife, "whose house was among the cleanest in the village," is thought to be certainly truthful. Eliot herself shows some belief in this in her treatment of the Lammeters, whose excellence extends to both morality and housekeeping, and the Casses, whose laxness carries over from the home to moral principle. However, the events demonstrate that this system is not valid for people whose imaginations overreach their sense of abstract "truth." Silas, being both honest and unimaginative, can recall nothing suspicious of the peddler, even though he "clutched strongly at the idea of the pedlar's being the culprit." But others, including the glazier's wife, can easily recall whatever seems to be required by the case.
Godfrey is placed a cut above the other characters by his refusal to become excited about the peddler. His level-headedness, however, is coupled with that weakness of will already noted. Eliot restates her opinions of Godfrey here. He is annoyed at his father's hard-heartedness, but "he was not critical on the faulty indulgence which preceded these fits; that seemed to him natural enough." Indulgence to Eliot is as much a fault as is lack of sympathy, and she tries to guide the reader, too, into that conviction.
To aid in this, she presents a scene between Godfrey and Squire Cass as a specific examination of the laxness of the Cass household. Note the particular point that "every one breakfasted at a different hour in the Red House." There is no ceremony here, no family ritual. The Squire himself shows "marks of habitual neglect, his dress was slovenly." Slovenliness, through constant connection with weakness and indulgence, comes to represent both cause and symbol of the moral weakness of the family. In this case, it leads into an example of Godfrey's irresolution at the crisis — his failure to tell his father of his marriage.
Eliot uses this event as the focus of a general statement to the reader. Like most such statements in the book, this is a gloss on an idea that is also integrated into the structure of the novel. What Eliot says here about chance is also brought out in action in the story.
In this one scene, Squire Cass takes on his full character, which is done almost entirely through his conversation, added to Eliot's personal comments. What description there is of him is brief and general. His talk gives him a strongly marked personality, but he is not developed in depth. The Squire serves conveniently as the hammer that Godfrey fears will crush him on the anvil of his marriage.
Note the metaphor of religion for chance, which is a further expression of Eliot's examination of religion of all sorts. Godfrey does indeed worship chance. He has only fear for "orderly sequence," for that must lead to the discovery of his marriage. Chance is good to Godfrey now, but it is the orderly sequence that triumphs in the end. It is this "orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind" that had developed Godfrey's moral laxity from his father's indulgence. The seed of his present irresolution brings forth a crop which will haunt his future life.