“You want to speak to me, Adam,” he said, in that low constrainedly quiet tone which a man uses when he is determined to suppress agitation. “Sit down here.” He pointed to a chair just opposite to him, at no more than a yard’s distance from his own, and Adam sat down with a sense that this cold manner of Mr. Irwine’s gave an additional unexpected difficulty to his disclosure. But when Adam had made up his mind to a measure, he was not the man to renounce it for any but imperative reasons.
“I come to you, sir,” he said, “as the gentleman I look up to most of anybody. I’ve something very painful to tell you—something as it’ll pain you to hear as well as me to tell. But if I speak o’ the wrong other people have done, you’ll see I didn’t speak till I’d good reason.”
Mr. Irwine nodded slowly, and Adam went on rather tremulously, “You was t’ ha’ married me and Hetty Sorrel, you know, sir, o’ the fifteenth o’ this month. I thought she loved me, and I was th’ happiest man i’ the parish. But a dreadful blow’s come upon me.”
Mr. Irwine started up from his chair, as if involuntarily, but then, determined to control himself, walked to the window and looked out.
“She’s gone away, sir, and we don’t know where. She said she was going to Snowfield o’ Friday was a fortnight, and I went last Sunday to fetch her back; but she’d never been there, and she took the coach to Stoniton, and beyond that I can’t trace her. But now I’m going a long journey to look for her, and I can’t trust t’ anybody but you where I’m going.”
Mr. Irwine came back from the window and sat down.
“Have you no idea of the reason why she went away?” he said.
“It’s plain enough she didn’t want to marry me, sir,” said Adam. “She didn’t like it when it came so near. But that isn’t all, I doubt. There’s something else I must tell you, sir. There’s somebody else concerned besides me.”
A gleam of something—it was almost like relief or joy—came across the eager anxiety of Mr. Irwine’s face at that moment. Adam was looking on the ground, and paused a little: the next words were hard to speak. But when he went on, he lifted up his head and looked straight at Mr. Irwine. He would do the thing he had resolved to do, without flinching.
“You know who’s the man I’ve reckoned my greatest friend,” he said, “and used to be proud to think as I should pass my life i’ working for him, and had felt so ever since we were lads....”
Mr. Irwine, as if all self-control had forsaken him, grasped Adam’s arm, which lay on the table, and, clutching it tightly like a man in pain, said, with pale lips and a low hurried voice, “No, Adam, no—don’t say it, for God’s sake!”
Adam, surprised at the violence of Mr. Irwine’s feeling, repented of the words that had passed his lips and sat in distressed silence. The grasp on his arm gradually relaxed, and Mr. Irwine threw himself back in his chair, saying, “Go on—I must know it.”