Summary of Chapter 28: A Dilemma
Arthur regains consciousness and asks for water. Adam is sorry about the fight and tries to help Arthur get home, but he is weak, and asks for Adam’s help in walking to the Hermitage, the house in the woods. Adam has never known that this place was furnished; Arthur has been using it for a personal retreat. He asks Adam to go to his servant Pym and get some brandy. While Adam is gone, Arthur removes a woman’s handkerchief. Adam returns with the brandy. Arthur is too confused to say anything, but he wishes he could confess and make it all right with Adam. Adam apologizes for hurting him and being hasty. He knows Arthur was ignorant of his love for Hetty, and he says the only joy he can have now is to think the best of Arthur. Arthur tries to make some apology saying he was wrong, and he is going away so there will be no more mistake. Adam insists that Arthur write Hetty a letter admitting he was wrong and that it is over, so that Hetty will not be waiting for him and her life ruined with false hope. Arthur is irritated by Adam telling him what to do, but Adam insists, saying that he has to know where he stands with Hetty, and “in this thing we’re man and man, and I can’t give up” (p. 310). Arthur promises to write the letter, and Adam will pick it up and deliver it to Hetty.
Commentary on Chapter 28
Adam takes action, as is his nature. He does not want the thing to drag on, and he still hopes Hetty could love him if she knows Arthur is not serious. He makes Arthur see that rank has no privilege here. They are two men courting the same woman, and if Arthur doesn’t want her, he has to play fair, and give him and Hetty a chance. Adam may be rash, and he is not playing his hand with full knowledge, but he is thinking of Hetty’s life as well as his own. He says he is the only one who can care for Hetty. He equates Hetty’s honor with his own. This is assuming a lot on his part to take responsibility for her.
Adam is rash to think that he can solve the situation, but his attempt is a natural one and more noble than Arthur’s cowardice. Eliot does not say directly that it is too late for Adam and Hetty, but the handkerchief lying carelessly in the Hermitage is proof that it has been the trysting place, and that Arthur and Hetty have no doubt had many meetings there. The chance that Adam could step in at this point if Arthur simply writes a letter is again naïve, but it is the only thing he can think of. Arthur’s giving in to the request indicates that he is trying to get out of a tight spot, for if he had done nothing very wrong, he would probably refuse.