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Some one opened the door at the other end of the room, and Nancy felt that it was her husband. She turned from the window with gladness in her eyes, for the wife's chief dread was stilled.
"Dear, I'm so thankful you're come," she said, going towards him. "I began to get - "
She paused abruptly, for Godfrey was laying down his hat with trembling hands, and turned towards her with a pale face and a strange unanswering glance, as if he saw her indeed, but saw her as part of a scene invisible to herself. She laid her hand on his arm, not daring to speak again; but he left the touch unnoticed, and threw himself into his chair.
Jane was already at the door with the hissing urn. "Tell her to keep away, will you?" said Godfrey; and when the door was closed again he exerted himself to speak more distinctly.
"Sit down, Nancy - there," he said, pointing to a chair opposite him. "I came back as soon as I could, to hinder anybody's telling you but me. I've had a great shock - but I care most about the shock it'll be to you."
"It isn't father and Priscilla?" said Nancy, with quivering lips, clasping her hands together tightly on her lap.
"No, it's nobody living," said Godfrey, unequal to the considerate skill with which he would have wished to make his revelation. "It's Dunstan - my brother Dunstan, that we lost sight of sixteen years ago. We've found him - found his body - his skeleton."
The deep dread Godfrey's look had created in Nancy made her feel these words a relief. She sat in comparative calmness to hear what else he had to tell. He went on:
"The Stone-pit has gone dry suddenly - from the draining, I suppose; and there he lies - has lain for sixteen years, wedged between two great stones. There's his watch and seals, and there's my gold-handled hunting-whip, with my name on: he took it away, without my knowing, the day he went hunting on Wildfire, the last time he was seen."
Godfrey paused: it was not so easy to say what came next. "Do you think he drowned himself?" said Nancy, almost wondering that her husband should be so deeply shaken by what had happened all those years ago to an unloved brother, of whom worse things had been augured.
"No, he fell in," said Godfrey, in a low but distinct voice, as if he felt some deep meaning in the fact. Presently he added: "Dunstan was the man that robbed Silas Marner."
The blood rushed to Nancy's face and neck at this surprise and shame, for she had been bred up to regard even a distant kinship with crime as a dishonour.
"O Godfrey!" she said, with compassion in her tone, for she had immediately reflected that the dishonour must be felt still more keenly by her husband.
"There was the money in the pit," he continued - "all the weaver's money. Everything's been gathered up, and they're taking the skeleton to the Rainbow. But I came back to tell you: there was no hindering it; you must know."
He was silent, looking on the ground for two long minutes. Nancy would have said some words of comfort under this disgrace, but she refrained, from an instinctive sense that there was something behind-that Godfrey had something else to tell her. Presently he lifted his eyes to her face, and kept them fixed on her, as he said -
"Everything comes to light, Nancy, sooner or later. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out. I've lived with a secret on my mind, but I'll keep it from you no longer. I wouldn't have you know it by somebody else, and not by me - I wouldn't have you find it out after I'm dead. I'll tell you now. It's been "I will" and "I won't" with me all my life - I'll make sure of myself now."
Nancy's utmost dread had returned. The eyes of the husband and wife met with awe in them, as at a crisis which suspended affection.
"Nancy," said Godfrey, slowly, "when I married you, I hid something from you - something I ought to have told you. That woman Marner found dead in the snow - Eppie's mother - that wretched woman - was my wife: Eppie is my child."
He paused, dreading the effect of his confession. But Nancy sat quite still, only that her eyes dropped and ceased to meet his. She was pale and quiet as a meditative statue, clasping her hands on her lap.
"You'll never think the same of me again," said Godfrey, after a little while, with some tremor in his voice.
She was silent.
"I oughtn't to have left the child unowned: I oughtn't to have kept it from you. But I couldn't bear to give you up, Nancy. I was led away into marrying her - I suffered for it."
Still Nancy was silent, looking down; and he almost expected that she would presently get up and say she would go to her father's. How could she have any mercy for faults that must seem so black to her, with her simple, severe notions?
But at last she lifted up her eyes to his again and spoke. There was no indignation in her voice - only deep regret.
"Godfrey, if you had but told me this six years ago, we could have done some of our duty by the child. Do you think I'd have refused to take her in, if I'd known she was yours?"
At that moment Godfrey felt all the bitterness of an error that was not simply futile, but had defeated its own end. He had not measured this wife with whom he had lived so long. But she spoke again, with more agitation.
"And - Oh, Godfrey - if we'd had her from the first, if you'd taken to her as you ought, she'd have loved me for her mother - and you'd have been happier with me: I could better have bore my little baby dying, and our life might have been more like what we used to think it 'ud be."
The tears fell, and Nancy ceased to speak.
"But you wouldn't have married me then, Nancy, if I'd told you," said Godfrey, urged, in the bitterness of his self-reproach, to prove to himself that his conduct had not been utter folly. "You may think you would now, but you wouldn't then. With your pride and your father's, you'd have hated having anything to do with me after the talk there'd have been."
"I can't say what I should have done about that, Godfrey. I should never have married anybody else. But I wasn't worth doing wrong for-nothing is in this world. Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand - not even our marrying wasn't, you see." There was a faint sad smile on Nancy's face as she said the last words.
"I'm a worse man than you thought I was, Nancy," said Godfrey, rather tremulously. "Can you forgive me ever?"
"The wrong to me is but little, Godfrey: you've made it up to me-you've been good to me for fifteen years. It's another you did the wrong to; and I doubt it can never be all made up for."
"But we can take Eppie now," said Godfrey. "I won't mind the world knowing at last. I'll be plain and open for the rest o' my life."
"It'll be different coming to us, now she's grown up," said Nancy, shaking her head sadly. "But it's your duty to acknowledge her and provide for her; and I'll do my part by her, and pray to God Almighty to make her love me."
"Then we'll go together to Silas Marner's this very night, as soon as everything's quiet at the Stone-pits."
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XIX