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Adam Bede

and get possession of Hetty's heart and hand, while he himself was still in a
position that made him shrink from asking her to accept him. Even if he had had
a strong hope that she was fond of him--and his hope was far from being strong--
he had been too heavily burdened with other claims to provide a home for
himself and Hetty--a home such as he could expect her to be content with after
the comfort and plenty of the Farm. Like all strong natures, Adam had confidence
in his ability to achieve something in the future; he felt sure he should some day,
if he lived, be able to maintain a family and make a good broad path for himself;
but he had too cool a head not to estimate to the full the obstacles that were to
be overcome. And the time would be so long! And there was Hetty, like a bright-
cheeked apple hanging over the orchard wall, within sight of everybody, and
everybody must long for her! To be sure, if she loved him very much, she would
be content to wait for him: but DID she love him? His hopes had never risen so
high that he had dared to ask her. He was clear-sighted enough to be aware that
her uncle and aunt would have looked kindly on his suit, and indeed, without this
encouragement he would never have persevered in going to the Farm; but it was
impossible to come to any but fluctuating conclusions about Hetty's feelings. She
was like a kitten, and had the same distractingly pretty looks, that meant nothing,
for everybody that came near her.
But now he could not help saying to himself that the heaviest part of his burden
was removed, and that even before the end of another year his circumstances
might be brought into a shape that would allow him to think of marrying. It would
always be a hard struggle with his mother, he knew: she would be jealous of any
wife he might choose, and she had set her mind especially against Hetty--
perhaps for no other reason than that she suspected Hetty to be the woman he
HAD chosen. It would never do, he feared, for his mother to live in the same
house with him when he was married; and yet how hard she would think it if he
asked her to leave him! Yes, there was a great deal of pain to be gone through
with his mother, but it was a case in which he must make her feel that his will
was strong--it would be better for her in the end. For himself, he would have liked
that they should all live together till Seth was married, and they might have built a
bit themselves to the old house, and made more room. He did not like "to part wi'
th' lad": they had hardly every been separated for more than a day since they
were born.
But Adam had no sooner caught his imagination leaping forward in this way--
making arrangements for an uncertain future--than he checked himself. "A pretty
building I'm making, without either bricks or timber. I'm up i' the garret a'ready,
and haven't so much as dug the foundation." Whenever Adam was strongly
convinced of any proposition, it took the form of a principle in his mind: it was
knowledge to be acted on, as much as the knowledge that damp will cause rust.
Perhaps here lay the secret of the hardness he had accused himself of: he had
too little fellow-feeling with the weakness that errs in spite of foreseen
consequences. Without this fellow-feeling, how are we to get enough patience
and charity towards our stumbling, falling companions in the long and changeful
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