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Adam Bede by George Eliot

Irwine and speaking in a tone of angry suspicion


Adam

started up from his chair and seized his hat, which lay on the table. But he stood still then, and looked at Mr. Irwine, as if he had a question to ask which it was yet difficult to utter. Bartle Massey rose quietly, turned the key in the door, and put it in his pocket.

"Is he come back?" said Adam at last.

"No, he is not," said Mr. Irwine, quietly. "Lay down your hat, Adam, unless you like to walk out with me for a little fresh air. I fear you have not been out again to-day."

"You needn't deceive me, sir," said Adam, looking hard at Mr. Irwine and speaking in a tone of angry suspicion. "You needn't be afraid of me. I only want justice. I want him to feel what she feels. It's his work...she was a child as it 'ud ha' gone t' anybody's heart to look at...I don't care what she's done...it was him brought her to it. And he shall know it...he shall feel it...if there's a just God, he shall feel what it is t' ha' brought a child like her to sin and misery."

"I'm not deceiving you, Adam," said Mr. Irwine. "Arthur Donnithorne is not come back--was not come back when I left. I have left a letter for him: he will know all as soon as he arrives."

"But you don't mind about it," said Adam indignantly. "You think it doesn't matter as she lies there in shame and misery, and he knows nothing about it--he suffers nothing."

style="text-align: justify;">"Adam, he WILL know--he WILL suffer, long and bitterly. He has a heart and a conscience: I can't be entirely deceived in his character. I am convinced--I am sure he didn't fall under temptation without a struggle. He may be weak, but he is not callous, not coldly selfish. I am persuaded that this will be a shock of which he will feel the effects all his life. Why do you crave vengeance in this way? No amount of torture that you could inflict on him could benefit her."

"No--O God, no," Adam groaned out, sinking on his chair again; "but then, that's the deepest curse of all...that's what makes the blackness of it...IT CAN NEVER BE UNDONE. My poor Hetty...she can never be my sweet Hetty again...the prettiest thing God had made--smiling up at me...I thought she loved me...and was good..."

Adam's voice had been gradually sinking into a hoarse undertone, as if he were only talking to himself; but now he said abruptly, looking at Mr. Irwine, "But she isn't as guilty as they say? You don't think she is, sir? She can't ha' done it."

"That perhaps can never be known with certainty, Adam," Mr. Irwine answered gently. "In these cases we sometimes form our judgment on what seems to us strong evidence, and yet, for want of knowing some small fact, our judgment is wrong. But suppose the worst: you have no right to say that the guilt of her crime lies with him, and that he ought to bear the punishment. It is not for us men to apportion the shares of moral guilt and retribution. We find it impossible to avoid mistakes even in determining who has committed a single criminal act, and the problem how far a man is to be held responsible for the unforeseen consequences of his own deed is one that might well make us tremble to look into it. The evil consequences that may lie folded in a single act of selfish indulgence is a thought so awful that it ought surely to awaken some feeling less presumptuous than a rash desire to punish. You have a mind that can understand this fully, Adam, when you are calm. Don't suppose I can't enter into the anguish that drives you into this state of revengeful hatred. But think of this: if you were to obey your passion--for it IS passion, and you deceive yourself in calling it justice--it might be with you precisely as it has been with Arthur; nay, worse; your passion might lead you yourself into a horrible crime."


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