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In the remote village of Raveloe lives Silas Marner, a weaver. He had come to stay in Raveloe fifteen years ago, and since then his cloistered existence and the ceaseless clacking of his loom has been a source of fascination and ridicule to the Raveloe peasantry. Silas had been compelled to migrate because he was falsely accused by his scheming friend, William Dane, of murdering and looting the senior deacon. Consequently, Silas was excommunicated and rendered a pariah by the Lantern yard community. Silas' fiancee, Sarah, broke off her engagement with him and eventually married William Dane. Deeply disillusioned, Silas hid himself from God and humanity and gave his heart to the lonely accumulation of gold, earned from his weaving. At the beginning of the novel, Silas Marner's life revolves around the twin axis of weaving and hoarding gold.
Godfrey Cass is the son of Squire Cass, "the greatest man in Raveloe." Godfrey is in love with Nancy Lammeter, a wealthy landowner's daughter, and he wishes to marry her, but his chances with her are jeopardized by his hasty and secret marriage to Molly Farren, a woman ruined by addiction to opium. Godfrey is forced to part with his horse in order to remunerate the rental money that he had given to Dunstan and which the squire is now demanding. Dunstan sells Godfrey's horse to Bryce, but in spite of having made the deal, he rides the horse in a chase and the horse is accidentally killed. On his way back home, Dunstan checks in at Silas Marner's cottage with the intention of wriggling some money out of him. On finding the house empty he plunders Silas' fortune and scoots away in the dark.
At the New Year eve's party at the squire's residence, Godfrey Cass is busy courting Nancy Lammeter, while his ill-fated wife is treading her way through the snow with their child in her arms; she is determined to tell the truth to the squire. She collapses and dies in the snow, and her daughter makes her way into Silas' cottage, unobserved by Silas who is in a habitual trance. On discovering the child, Silas imagines it to be his lost gold and later thinks his little sister, who had died, has come to life again. After feeding the child, Silas follows her boot-marks in the snow and comes across a woman lying dead. He rushes to Squire Cass' house to get help. Godfrey is baffled at the sight of his child in Silas' arms. As he huddles along with others to the site of calamity, his face is pale, his mind in consternation, and his heart fearful that "the woman might not be dead." Molly Farren's death delivers him from his long bondage, and he is free to marry Nancy Lammeter.
Godfrey's self-centeredness prevents him from acknowledging his own child; he merely undertakes financially to provide for her occasionally in order to appease his guilt. The villagers are pleasantly surprised at Silas Marner's decision to adopt the "tramp's child" and the sinister preconceptions that surround Silas now begin to fade. In truth, Silas seems a changed man. He names the child Hepzibah (Eppie) after his mother and his deceased sister. Dolly Winthrop is immensely helpful to Silas in bringing up the child. While Silas is rediscovering life through the adoring eyes of Eppie, Godfrey's hearth is silent and craves for the naughty noises of a child. But Godfrey and Nancy are childless, and Godfrey's suggestion to adopt Eppie is rejected by Nancy, who believes that if Providence did not provide them with a child, they had no claim to adopt one.