George Eliot, Silas Marner: Vol. 1, Ch. 6

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CHAPTER VI

The conversation, which was at a high pitch of animation when Silas approached the door of the Rainbow, had, as usual, been slow and intermittent when the company first assembled. The pipes began to be puffed in a silence which had an air of severity; the more important customers, who drank spirits and sat nearest the fire, staring at each other as if a bet were depending on the first man who winkedd; while the beer-drinkers, chiefly men in fustian jackets and smock-frocks,w kept their eyelids down and rubbed their hands across their mouths, as if their draughts of beer were a funereal duty attended with embarrassing sadness. At last Mr. Snell, the landlord, a man of a neutral disposition,d accustomed to stand aloof from human differences as those of beings who were all alike in need of liquor, broke silence, by saying in a doubtful tone to his cousin the butcher—

"Some folks 'ud say that was a fine beast you druv in yesterday, Bob?"

The butcher, a jolly, smiling, red-haired man, was not disposed to answer rashly. He gave a few puffs before he spat and replied, "And they wouldn't be fur wrong, John."

After this feeble delusive thaw, the silence set in as severely as before.

"Was it a red Durham?"h said the farrier,w taking up the thread of discourse after the lapse of a few minutes.

The farrier looked at the landlord, and the landlord looked at the butcher, as the person who must take the responsibility of answering.

"Red it was," said the butcher, in his good-humoured husky treble—"and a Durham it was."

"Then you needn't tell me who you bought it of," said the farrier, looking round with some triumph; "I know who it is has got the red Durhams o' this country-side. And she'd a white star on her brow, I'll bet a penny?" The farrier leaned forward with his hands on his knees as he put this question, and his eyes twinkled knowingly.

"Well; yes—she might," said the butcher, slowly, considering that he was giving a decided affirmative. "I don't say contrairy."

"I knew that very well," said the farrier, throwing himself backward again, and speaking defiantly; "if I don't know Mr. Lammeter's cows, I should like to know who does—that's all. And as for the cow you've bought, bargain or no bargain, I've been at the drenchingw of her—contradick me who will."

The farrier looked fierce, and the mild butcher's conversational spirit was roused a little.

"I'm not for contradicking no man," he said; "I'm for peace and quietness. Some are for cutting long ribs—I'm for cutting 'em short myself; but I don't quarrel with 'em. All I say is, it's a lovely carkiss—and anybody as was reasonable, it 'ud bring tears into their eyes to look at it."

"Well, it's the cow as I drenched, whatever it is," pursued the farrier, angrily; "and it was Mr. Lammeter's cow, else you told a lie when you said it was a red Durham."

"I tell no lies," said the butcher, with the same mild huskiness as before, "and I contradick none—not if a man was to swear himself black: he's no meat o' mine, nor none o' my bargains. All I say is, it's a lovely carkiss. And what I say, I'll stick to; but I'll quarrel wi' no man."

"No," said the farrier, with bitter sarcasm, looking at the company generally; "and p'rhaps you aren't pig-headed; and p'rhaps you didn't say the cow was a red Durham; and p'rhaps you didn't say she'd got a star on her brow—stick to that, now you're at it."

"Come, come," said the landlord; "let the cow alone. The truth lies atween you: you're both right and both wrong, as I allays say.d And as for the cow's being Mr. Lammeter's, I say nothing to that; but this I say, as the Rainbow's the Rainbow. And for the matter o' that, if the talk is to be o' the Lammeters, you know the most upo' that head, eh, Mr. Macey? You remember when first Mr. Lammeter's father come into these parts, and took the Warrens?"

X [d] The pipes began to be puffed in a silence whi…

Daily Life

Hierarchies of class determined by birth, occupation, or money extended to the pub and to those people, mostly artisans here, who were essentially on the same level (artisans were below independent farmers). Micro-distinctions such as those who drank spirits vs. those who drank beer continued to structure the pecking order. Class so stratified English society that butlers and valets, for instance, when congregating in a pub, would assume a hierarchy dependent on the relative status of their “masters.”

X [w] fustian jackets and smock-frocks,

Daily Life

Laborers' clothing. Fustian is a coarse material made of  "thick, twilled, cotton cloth with a short pile or nap, usually dyed of an olive, leaden, or other dark colour"; smock-frock is "A loose-fitting garment of coarse linen or the like, worn by farm-labourers over or instead of a coat and usually reaching to mid-leg or lower" (OED).


 

X [d] a man of a neutral disposition,

Writing & Reading

Neutrality defines the Rainbow's landlord, who must navigate a middle course so as to offend no patron or faction. These men have known one another through their entire lives, have intermarried, do business with one another, and must continue to get along and not jeopardize relations among their wives and children.…

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X [h] red Durham?"

Daily Life

Short-horned cattle originating in northeast England in the late 18th c. and therefore not long before the time of this discussion. They were used for both milk and beef. 

X [w] farrier,

Shoes horses and also acts as a large animal veterinarian.

X [w] drenching

"To make to drink; to administer drink to; now spec. to administer a draught of medicine in a forcible manner to (an animal)" (OED).

 

X [d] you're both right and both wrong, as I allays…

Writing & Reading

Such contentious disputes over trivial matter must be regular fare at the Rainbow—the name suggests, other than a pot of gold, a spectrum of opinions—is as common and as competitive as darts. The cow is an excuse. Eliot emphasizes, as in Lantern Yard, the inadequate ways of pursuing truth. Here the matter could be resolved quickly, but the desire to argue or the fear of defeat is more important than a resolution. …

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