Nancy Lammeter and her father arrive at the Red House for the Squire’s New Year’s dance. The trip over slushy roads has not been an easy one, and Nancy is annoyed that she has to let Godfrey help her out of her carriage. Nancy thinks she has made it clear that she does not wish to marry Godfrey. His unwelcome attention bothers her, though the way he often ignores her bothers her just as much. Nancy makes her way upstairs to a dressing room that she must share with six other women, including the Gunn sisters, who come from a larger town and regard Raveloe society with disdain. Mrs. Osgood, an aunt of whom Nancy is fond, is also among the women. As she puts on her dress for the dance, Nancy impresses the Gunn sisters as a “rustic beauty”—lovely and immaculate but, with her rough hands and slang, clearly ignorant of the higher social graces.
Nancy’s sister Priscilla arrives and complains about how Nancy always insists they wear matching gowns. Priscilla freely admits she is ugly and, in doing so, manages to imply that the Gunns are ugly as well. However, Priscilla insists that she has no desire to marry anyway. When Nancy says that she doesn’t want to marry either, Priscilla pooh-poohs her. When they go down to the parlor, Nancy accepts a seat between Godfrey and the rector, Mr. Crackenthorp. She cannot help but feel exhilarated by the prospect that she could be the mistress of the Red House herself. Nancy reminds herself, however, that she does not care for Godfrey’s money or status because she finds him of unsound character. She blushes at these thoughts. The rector notices and points out her blush to Godfrey. Though Godfrey determinedly avoids looking at Nancy, the half-drunk Squire tries to help things along by complimenting Nancy’s beauty. After a little more banter, the Squire pointedly asks Godfrey if he has asked Nancy for the first dance of the evening. Godfrey replies that he has not, but nonetheless embarrassedly asks Nancy, and she accepts.
The fiddler comes in, and, after playing a few preludes, he leads the guests into the White Parlour, where the dancing begins. Mr. Macey and a few other townspeople sit off to one side, commenting on the dancers. They notice Godfrey escorting Nancy off to the adjoining smaller parlor, and assume that the two are going “sweethearting.” In reality, Nancy has torn her dress and has asked to sit down to wait for her sister to help mend it. Nancy tells Godfrey that she doesn’t want to go into the smaller room with him and will just wait on her own. He insists that she will be more comfortable there and offers to leave. To her own exasperation, Nancy is as annoyed as she is relieved by Godfrey’s offer. He tells Nancy that dancing with her means very much to him and asks if she would ever forgive him if he changed his ways. She replies that it would be better if no change were necessary. Godfrey, aware that Nancy still cares for him, tells Nancy she is hard-hearted, hoping to provoke a quarrel. Just then, however, Priscilla arrives to fix the hem of Nancy’s dress. Godfrey, exhilarated by the opportunity to be near Nancy, decides to stay with them rather than go back to the dance.
While Godfrey is at the dance, his wife Molly is approaching Raveloe on foot with their baby daughter in her arms. Godfrey has told Molly that he would rather die than acknowledge her as his wife. She knows there is a dance being held at the Red House and plans to crash the party in order to get revenge against Godfrey. Molly is addicted to opium and knows that this, not Godfrey, is the primary reason for her troubles, but she also resents Godfrey’s wealth and comfort and believes that he should support her.
Molly has been walking since morning, and, as evening falls, she begins to tire in the snow and cold. To comfort herself, she takes a draft of opium. The drug makes her drowsy, and after a while she passes out by the side of the road, still holding the child. As Molly’s arms relax, the little girl wakes up and sees a light moving. Thinking it is a living thing, she tries to catch the light but fails. She follows it to its source, which is the fire in Silas Marner’s nearby cottage. The child toddles through the open door, sits down on the hearth, and soon falls asleep, content in the warmth of the fire.
In the weeks since the theft, Silas has developed a habit of opening his door and looking out distractedly, as if he might somehow see his gold return, or at least get some news of it. On New Year’s Eve he is particularly agitated and opens the door repeatedly. The last time he does so, he stands and looks out for a long time, but does not see what is actually coming toward him at that instant: Molly’s child. As he turns to shut the door again, Silas has one of his cataleptic fits, and stands unaware and unmoving with his hand on the open door. When he comes out of the fit—as always, unaware that it has even occurred—he shuts the door.
As Silas walks back inside, his eyes nearsighted and weak from his years of close work at the loom, he sees what he thinks is his gold on the floor. He leans forward to touch the gold, but finds that the object under his fingers is soft—the blonde hair of the sleeping child. Silas kneels down to examine the child, thinking for a moment that his little sister, who died in childhood, has been brought back to him. This memory of his sister triggers a flood of other memories of Lantern Yard, the first he has had in many years. These memories occupy Silas until the child wakes up, calling for her mother. Silas reheats some of his porridge, sweetening it with the brown sugar he has always denied himself, and feeds it to the child, which quiets her. Finally, seeing the child’s wet boots, it occurs to Silas to wonder where she came from, and he follows her tracks along the road until he finds her mother’s body lying in the snow.
The appearance of the little girl on Silas’s hearth is the second of the three intersections between the parallel narratives of Silas and the Cass family. Like the first intersection, the theft of Silas’s gold, it is one of the novel’s two major turning points. Her appearance will at once fill Silas’s sense of loss and resume his process of reentering the community. The fact that Silas first mistakes the little girl for his gold—previously the central driving force of his life—foreshadows the strength of the bond that Silas will soon forge with the girl.
Several details of the girl’s arrival link the event to the two earlier turning points in Silas’s life—his expulsion from his religious sect and the theft of his gold. Like Dunsey, the little girl passes by Silas’s cottage in inclement weather, feels drawn to the cottage by the light of the fire, and enters without Silas’s knowledge. In addition, just as Silas’s fit rendered him unaware that William Dane had framed him for theft in Lantern Yard, another fit renders him unaware of the little girl’s arrival. Significantly, in all three of these key events, Silas is passive, not active—he is framed, he is robbed, he is standing with the door open when a child toddles in from a snowstorm.
A key symbolic difference between Dunsey’s visit and the little girl’s, however, is that Silas opens the door himself this time. Even though he opens the door only to peer out into the darkness after his lost gold, and though he is unaware that the girl actually enters, Silas’s act of standing at his open door contrasts markedly with his previous habits. Silas was once a man obsessed with isolation—closing his shutters, locking his doors, and viewing his customers as nothing more than a means to acquire more money. In opening his door, Silas symbolically opens himself up to the outside world from which he has lived apart for so long. As Silas realizes, if only vaguely, in Chapter 10, “if any help came to him it must come from without.”
It is not until this point, halfway through the novel, that we meet the last two of the major characters: Nancy Lammeter and the little girl who will become known as Eppie. Eppie does not develop as a true character until she grows up a bit. However, we learn much about Nancy’s character in the first scene in which she appears, the Squire’s New Year’s dance. We have already heard much about Nancy, especially her beauty. Thus, not surprisingly, Nancy’s introduction focuses on her appearance, specifically on how her beauty is still evident despite her muddy raincoat and the frightened expression on her face. This opening image is fitting for Nancy, who is called a “rustic beauty.” Though blessed with natural grace and poise, Nancy is unpolished—her speech is somewhat vulgar, her hands are calloused, and she has had little formal schooling. Thus, though Nancy is separated from Silas and his neighbors by degrees of wealth and privilege, she is no less a product of Raveloe’s sleepy isolation. Like the poorer townspeople, she has created her own code of conduct and beliefs from a mix of religion and superstition. However, like her upstanding, almost priggish father, Nancy displays a Calvinist severity in her judgments, frowning on Godfrey’s weakness of character and attempting to curb her feelings for him. Nancy stubbornly holds to these beliefs, with one exception—we see her conspicuously waver in her attitude toward Godfrey.