There was silence for several minutes, for the struggle in Adam's mind was not easily decided. Facile natures, whose emotions have little permanence, can hardly understand how much inward resistance he overcame before he rose from his seat and turned towards Arthur. Arthur heard the movement, and turning round, met the sad but softened look with which Adam said, "It's true what you say, sir. I'm hard — it's in my nature. I was too hard with my father, for doing wrong. I've been a bit hard t' everybody but her. I felt as if nobody pitied her enough — her suffering cut into me so; and when I thought the folks at the farm were too hard with her, I said I'd never be hard to anybody myself again. But feeling overmuch about her has perhaps made me unfair to you. I've known what it is in my life to repent and feel it's too late. I felt I'd been too harsh to my father when he was gone from me — I feel it now, when I think of him. I've no right to be hard towards them as have done wrong and repent."
Adam spoke these words with the firm distinctness of a man who is resolved to leave nothing unsaid that he is bound to say; but he went on with more hesitation.
"I wouldn't shake hands with you once, sir, when you asked me — but if you're willing to do it now, for all I refused then . . . "
Arthur's white hand was in Adam's large grasp in an instant, and with that action there was a strong rush, on both sides, of the old, boyish affection.
"Adam," Arthur said, impelled to full confession now, "it would never have happened if I'd known you loved her. That would have helped to save me from it. And I did struggle. I never meant to injure her. I deceived you afterwards — and that led on to worse; but I thought it was forced upon me, I thought it was the best thing I could do. And in that letter I told her to let me know if she were in any trouble: don't think I would not have done everything I could. But I was all wrong from the very first, and horrible wrong has come of it. God knows, I'd give my life if I could undo it."
They sat down again opposite each other, and Adam said, tremulously, "How did she seem when you left her, sir?"
"Don't ask me, Adam," Arthur said; "I feel sometimes as if I should go mad with thinking of her looks and what she said to me, and then, that I couldn't get a full pardon — that I couldn't save her from that wretched fate of being transported — that I can do nothing for her all those years; and she may die under it, and never know comfort any more."
"Ah, sir," said Adam, for the first time feeling his own pain merged in sympathy for Arthur, "you and me'll often be thinking o' the same thing, when we're a long way off one another. I'll pray God to help you, as I pray him to help me."
"But there's that sweet woman — that Dinah Morris," Arthur said, pursuing his own thoughts and not knowing what had been the sense of Adam's words, "she says she shall stay with her to the very last moment — till she goes; and the poor thing clings to her as if she found some comfort in her. I could worship that woman; I don't know what I should do if she were not there. Adam, you will see her when she comes back. I could say nothing to her yesterday — nothing of what I felt towards her. Tell her," Arthur went on hurriedly, as if he wanted to hide the emotion with which he spoke, while he took off his chain and watch, "tell her I asked you to give her this in remembrance of me — of the man to whom she is the one source of comfort, when he thinks of . . . I know she doesn't care about such things — or anything else I can give her for its own sake. But she will use the watch — I shall like to think of her using it."
"I'll give it to her, sir," Adam said, "and tell her your words. She told me she should come back to the people at the Hall Farm."
"And you will persuade the Poysers to stay, Adam?" said Arthur, reminded of the subject which both of them had forgotten in the first interchange of revived friendship. "You will stay yourself, and help Mr. Irwine to carry out the repairs and improvements on the estate?"
"There's one thing, sir, that perhaps you don't take account of," said Adam, with hesitating gentleness, "and that was what made me hang back longer. You see, it's the same with both me and the Poysers: if we stay, it's for our own worldly interest, and it looks as if we'd put up with anything for the sake o' that. I know that's what they'll feel, and I can't help feeling a little of it myself. When folks have got an honourable independent spirit, they don't like to do anything that might make 'em seem base-minded."
"But no one who knows you will think that, Adam. That is not a reason strong enough against a course that is really more generous, more unselfish than the other. And it will be known — it shall be made known, that both you and the Poysers stayed at my entreaty. Adam, don't try to make things worse for me; I'm punished enough without that."
"No, sir, no," Adam said, looking at Arthur with mournful affection. "God forbid I should make things worse for you. I used to wish I could do it, in my passion — but that was when I thought you didn't feel enough. I'll stay, sir, I'll do the best I can. It's all I've got to think of now — to do my work well and make the world a bit better place for them as can enjoy it."
"Then we'll part now, Adam. You will see Mr. Irwine to-morrow, and consult with him about everything."
"Are you going soon, sir?" said Adam.
"As soon as possible — after I've made the necessary arrangements. Good-bye, Adam. I shall think of you going about the old place."
"Good-bye, sir. God bless you."
The hands were clasped once more, and Adam left the Hermitage, feeling that sorrow was more bearable now hatred was gone.
As soon as the door was closed behind him, Arthur went to the waste-paper basket and took out the little pink silk handkerchief.