He came downstairs and opened the inner door leading from the kitchen into the workshop, intending to let out Gyp; but he stood still in the doorway, smitten with a sudden shock at the sight of Adam seated listlessly on the bench, pale, unwashed, with sunken blank eyes, almost like a drunkard in the morning. But Seth felt in an instant what the marks meant — not drunkenness, but some great calamity. Adam looked up at him without speaking, and Seth moved forward towards the bench, himself trembling so that speech did not come readily.
"God have mercy on us, Addy," he said, in a low voice, sitting down on the bench beside Adam, "what is it?"
Adam was unable to speak. The strong man, accustomed to suppress the signs of sorrow, had felt his heart swell like a child's at this first approach of sympathy. He fell on Seth's neck and sobbed.
Seth was prepared for the worst now, for, even in his recollections of their boyhood, Adam had never sobbed before.
"Is it death, Adam? Is she dead?" he asked, in a low tone, when Adam raised his head and was recovering himself.
"No, lad; but she's gone — gone away from us. She's never been to Snowfield. Dinah's been gone to Leeds ever since last Friday was a fortnight, the very day Hetty set out. I can't find out where she went after she got to Stoniton."
Seth was silent from utter astonishment: he knew nothing that could suggest to him a reason for Hetty's going away.
"Hast any notion what she's done it for?" he said, at last.
"She can't ha' loved me. She didn't like our marriage when it came nigh — that must be it," said Adam. He had determined to mention no further reason.
"I hear Mother stirring," said Seth. "Must we tell her?"
"No, not yet," said Adam, rising from the bench and pushing the hair from his face, as if he wanted to rouse himself. "I can't have her told yet; and I must set out on another journey directly, after I've been to the village and th' Hall Farm. I can't tell thee where I'm going, and thee must say to her I'm gone on business as nobody is to know anything about. I'll go and wash myself now." Adam moved towards the door of the workshop, but after a step or two he turned round, and, meeting Seth's eyes with a calm sad glance, he said, "I must take all the money out o' the tin box, lad; but if anything happens to me, all the rest 'll be thine, to take care o' Mother with."
Seth was pale and trembling: he felt there was some terrible secret under all this. "Brother," he said, faintly — he never called Adam "Brother" except in solemn moments — "I don't believe you'll do anything as you can't ask God's blessing on."
"Nay, lad," said Adam, "don't be afraid. I'm for doing nought but what's a man's duty."
The thought that if he betrayed his trouble to his mother, she would only distress him by words, half of blundering affection, half of irrepressible triumph that Hetty proved as unfit to be his wife as she had always foreseen, brought back some of his habitual firmness and self-command. He had felt ill on his journey home — he told her when she came down — had stayed all night at Tredddleston for that reason; and a bad headache, that still hung about him this morning, accounted for his paleness and heavy eyes.
He determined to go to the village, in the first place, attend to his business for an hour, and give notice to Burge of his being obliged to go on a journey, which he must beg him not to mention to any one; for he wished to avoid going to the Hall Farm near breakfast-time, when the children and servants would be in the house-place, and there must be exclamations in their hearing about his having returned without Hetty. He waited until the clock struck nine before he left the work-yard at the village, and set off, through the fields, towards the Farm. It was an immense relief to him, as he came near the Home Close, to see Mr. Poyser advancing towards him, for this would spare him the pain of going to the house. Mr. Poyser was walking briskly this March morning, with a sense of spring business on his mind: he was going to cast the master's eye on the shoeing of a new cart-horse, carrying his spud as a useful companion by the way. His surprise was great when he caught sight of Adam, but he was not a man given to presentiments of evil.
"Why, Adam, lad, is't you? Have ye been all this time away and not brought the lasses back, after all? Where are they?"
"No, I've not brought 'em," said Adam, turning round, to indicate that he wished to walk back with Mr. Poyser.
"Why," said Martin, looking with sharper attention at Adam, "ye look bad. Is there anything happened?"
"Yes," said Adam, heavily. "A sad thing's happened. I didna find Hetty at Snowfield."
Mr. Poyser's good-natured face showed signs of troubled astonishment. "Not find her? What's happened to her?" he said, his thoughts flying at once to bodily accident.
"That I can't tell, whether anything's happened to her. She never went to Snowfield — she took the coach to Stoniton, but I can't learn nothing of her after she got down from the Stoniton coach."
"Why, you donna mean she's run away?" said Martin, standing still, so puzzled and bewildered that the fact did not yet make itself felt as a trouble by him.
"She must ha' done," said Adam. "She didn't like our marriage when it came to the point — that must be it. She'd mistook her feelings."
Martin was silent for a minute or two, looking on the ground and rooting up the grass with his spud, without knowing what he was doing. His usual slowness was always trebled when the subject of speech was painful. At last he looked up, right in Adam's face, saying, "Then she didna deserve t' ha' ye, my lad. An' I feel i' fault myself, for she was my niece, and I was allays hot for her marr'ing ye. There's no amends I can make ye, lad — the more's the pity: it's a sad cut-up for ye, I doubt."
Adam could say nothing; and Mr. Poyser, after pursuing his walk for a little while, went on, "I'll be bound she's gone after trying to get a lady's maid's place, for she'd got that in her head half a year ago, and wanted me to gi' my consent. But I'd thought better on her" — he added, shaking his head slowly and sadly — "I'd thought better on her, nor to look for this, after she'd gi'en y' her word, an' everything been got ready."
Adam had the strongest motives for encouraging this supposition in Mr. Poyser, and he even tried to believe that it might possibly be true. He had no warrant for the certainty that she was gone to Arthur.
"It was better it should be so," he said, as quietly as he could, "if she felt she couldn't like me for a husband. Better run away before than repent after. I hope you won't look harshly on her if she comes back, as she may do if she finds it hard to get on away from home."
"I canna look on her as I've done before," said Martin decisively. "She's acted bad by you, and by all of us. But I'll not turn my back on her: she's but a young un, and it's the first harm I've knowed on her. It'll be a hard job for me to tell her aunt. Why didna Dinah come back wi' ye? She'd ha' helped to pacify her aunt a bit."
"Dinah wasn't at Snowfield. She's been gone to Leeds this fortnight, and I couldn't learn from th' old woman any direction where she is at Leeds, else I should ha' brought it you."
"She'd a deal better be staying wi' her own kin," said Mr. Poyser, indignantly, "than going preaching among strange folks a-that'n."
"I must leave you now, Mr. Poyser," said Adam, "for I've a deal to see to."
"Aye, you'd best be after your business, and I must tell the missis when I go home. It's a hard job."
"But," said Adam, "I beg particular, you'll keep what's happened quiet for a week or two. I've not told my mother yet, and there's no knowing how things may turn out."
"Aye, aye; least said, soonest mended. We'n no need to say why the match is broke off, an' we may hear of her after a bit. Shake hands wi' me, lad: I wish I could make thee amends."
There was something in Martin Poyser's throat at that moment which caused him to bring out those scanty words in rather a broken fashion. Yet Adam knew what they meant all the better, and the two honest men grasped each other's hard hands in mutual understanding.
There was nothing now to hinder Adam from setting off. He had told Seth to go to the Chase and leave a message for the squire, saying that Adam Bede had been obliged to start off suddenly on a journey — and to say as much, and no more, to any one else who made inquiries about him. If the Poysers learned that he was gone away again, Adam knew they would infer that he was gone in search of Hetty.
He had intended to go right on his way from the Hall Farm, but now the impulse which had frequently visited him before — to go to Mr. Irwine, and make a confidant of him — recurred with the new force which belongs to a last opportunity. He was about to start on a long journey — a difficult one — by sea — and no soul would know where he was gone. If anything happened to him? Or, if he absolutely needed help in any matter concerning Hetty? Mr. Irwine was to be trusted; and the feeling which made Adam shrink from telling anything which was her secret must give way before the need there was that she should have some one else besides himself who would be prepared to defend her in the worst extremity. Towards Arthur, even though he might have incurred no new guilt, Adam felt that he was not bound to keep silence when Hetty's interest called on him to speak.
"I must do it," said Adam, when these thoughts, which had spread themselves through hours of his sad journeying, now rushed upon him in an instant, like a wave that had been slowly gathering; "it's the right thing. I can't stand alone in this way any longer."