Summary of Chapter 38: The Quest
The narrative switches to Adam’s point of view. After Hetty has been gone for two weeks, the family begins to worry, and Adam decides to go to Snowfield to get her. Mrs. Poyser tells him to invite Dinah to come back too for the wedding. Adam starts his journey in hope for he has never been happier in his life.
When he reaches Dinah’s cottage, he asks to see her, but the old woman there says Dinah has gone to Leeds to preach. He then asks to see the other woman, Hetty, but the woman says she has never been there. Now Adam is worried. He wonders if Hetty is with Dinah at Leeds, but the old woman does not have an address for her. Adam next inquires at the coach stop, but she was never on the coach for Snowfield. The innkeeper takes him to Oakbourne in his cart, one of the stops of the Treddleston coach in which she departed. Adam vacillates between fear of an accident and fear that she has run off with Arthur. Adam knows Arthur is in Ireland.
The innkeeper in Oakbourne knows Hetty did not take the coach that goes to Snowfield, but he does not know where she went. From here Adam goes to Stoniton, knowing that Hetty must have gone here at first. The coachman remembers her, but not what happened after she left the coach. Adam can trace her no farther and returns home. He tells everything to his brother Seth but not his mother. Seth is surprised when Adam falls on his neck weeping, for he has never seen his brother break down. Next, Adam delivers the news to Mr. Poyser, but he does not tell him his suspicions about Arthur. Mr. Poyser is shocked and apologizes to Adam. Mr. Poyser thinks she did not want to be married and went to become a lady’s maid.
Adam asks Mr. Poyser to be easy with Hetty if she should decide to come home. They decide to keep everything quiet for now until they find her. Next Adam decides to go to Ireland to find Arthur, where he thinks Hetty has gone. He wants to go secretly and wills everything to Seth, if he should not return. He decides he must also inform Mr. Irwine.
Commentary on Chapter 38
Eliot skillfully builds suspense as a film would do by inter-cutting scenes, returning to the people Hetty has left behind as they realize she is gone. Adam has a piece of the puzzle that the others do not, concerning her involvement with Arthur. Readers know more than Adam does, but we too are waiting to find out what happens to her. Adam’s grief is so intense that his old jealousy is aroused, and Seth is worried for him. He hints that he hopes Adam won’t do anything rash. He supposedly means suicide, but the reader wonders about his anger and revenge towards Arthur. For the moment, Adam is crushed to realize that Hetty does not want to marry him, that she has run away. Yet, it is significant that he always begs for leniency towards her. He decides that he must tell Mr. Irwine about Hetty and Arthur because “I can’t stand alone in this way any longer” (p. 405). He knows now it is too late to protect their secret.