CHAPTER I: SAVED FROM THE GALLOWS
My name is Hetty Sorrel. If you have heard of me at all, it will have been for my ignominious part in the story of Adam Bede of Hayslope, the most (I was going to say the only) virtuous man in the village.
It was in the year 1800 that I was rescued at the last minute from the gallows, having murdered my little baby by leaving it for dead in a field. The child’s father, Captain Arthur Donnithorne, grandson of Squire Donnithorne, came riding at the gallop through the crowd with the life-preserving paper in his grasp. I collapsed instanter in the arms of my cousin, Dinah Morris, the celebrated female Methodist preacher, who later became the wife of Adam Bede. It was she who had visited me in my lonely cell and brought me to confession and repentance, and she who accompanied me in the dreaded cart. Alas, Dinah, if you had known then what my fate was to be thereafter, even your strong faith might have been shaken.
So I revived, tended, as I thought, by ministering hands, and for a moment I wondered whether I had already passed to that blessed Realm where it is said all tears shall be wiped forever from our eyes. The ministering hands soon turned out to be of mortal mould, and I was roughly dragged off to languish in my cell while folk thought about what should be done with me. Soon I was almost forgotten by the good people of Hayslope, who went about their courtships, marriages and harvest feasts as before.
I sat in my cell, and scarcely spoke to a living soul. Dinah came, of course, and made me kneel down on the cold flagstones with her while she said a good many comfortable words about salvation, miracles, Jesus &c which I barely understood. It has always been my fault that the things of this world make so vivid an impression upon me that I cannot easily follow talk of the soul and the world to come. I sometimes think that on the night of my confession Dinah only succeeded in bringing me round because she was speaking in complete darkness. But afterwards, whenever she visited me, I was back to my old habit of thought and kept thinking of the small drop of spittle at the corner of her mouth, and wondering whether she would wipe it off with her hand when she had finished talking or if she would leave it there to dry.