Adam Bede HTML version

34.The Betrothal
IT was a dry Sunday, and really a pleasant day for the 2d of November. There
was no sunshine, but the clouds were high, and the wind was so still that the
yellow leaves which fluttered down from the hedgerow elms must have fallen
from pure decay. Nevertheless, Mrs. Poyser did not go to church, for she had
taken a cold too serious to be neglected; only two winters ago she had been laid
up for weeks with a cold; and since his wife did not go to church, Mr. Poyser
considered that on the whole it would be as well for him to stay away too and
"keep her company." He could perhaps have given no precise form to the
reasons that determined this conclusion, but it is well known to all experienced
minds that our firmest convictions are often dependent on subtle impressions for
which words are quite too coarse a medium. However it was, no one from the
Poyser family went to church that afternoon except Hetty and the boys; yet Adam
was bold enough to join them after church, and say that he would walk home with
them, though all the way through the village he appeared to be chiefly occupied
with Marty and Tommy, telling them about the squirrels in Binton Coppice, and
promising to take them there some day. But when they came to the fields he said
to the boys, "Now, then, which is the stoutest walker? Him as gets to th' home-
gate first shall be the first to go with me to Binton Coppice on the donkey. But
Tommy must have the start up to the next stile, because he's the smallest."
Adam had never behaved so much like a determined lover before. As soon as
the boys had both set off, he looked down at Hetty and said, "Won't you hang on
my arm, Hetty?" in a pleading tone, as if he had already asked her and she had
refused. Hetty looked up at him smilingly and put her round arm through his in a
moment. It was nothing to her, putting her arm through Adam's, but she knew he
cared a great deal about having her arm through his, and she wished him to
care. Her heart beat no faster, and she looked at the half-bare hedgerows and
the ploughed field with the same sense of oppressive dulness as before. But
Adam scarcely felt that he was walking. He thought Hetty must know that he was
pressing her arm a little--a very little. Words rushed to his lips that he dared not
utter--that he had made up his mind not to utter yet-- and so he was silent for the
length of that field. The calm patience with which he had once waited for Hetty's
love, content only with her presence and the thought of the future, had forsaken
him since that terrible shock nearly three months ago. The agitations of jealousy
had given a new restlessness to his passion--had made fear and uncertainty too
hard almost to bear. But though he might not speak to Hetty of his love, he would
tell her about his new prospects and see if she would be pleased. So when he
was enough master of himself to talk, he said, "I'm going to tell your uncle some
news that'll surprise him, Hetty; and I think he'll be glad to hear it too."
"What's that?" Hetty said indifferently.