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This sentence is from the first chapter of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

No doubt the feat was easy to Mr. Utterson; for he was undemonstrative at the best, and even his friendship seemed to be founded in a similar catholicity of good-nature. It is the mark of a modest man to accept his friendly circle ready-made from the hands of opportunity; and that was the lawyer’s way. His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the longest; his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied no aptness in the object. Hence, no doubt the bond that united him to Mr. Richard Enfield, his distant kinsman, the well-known man about town. It was a nut to crack for many, what these two could see in each other, or what subject they could find in common. It was reported by those who encountered them in their Sunday walks, that they said nothing, looked singularly dull and would hail with obvious relief the appearance of a friend. For all that, the two men put the greatest store by these excursions, counted them the chief jewel of each week, and not only set aside occasions of pleasure, but even resisted the calls of business, that they might enjoy them uninterrupted.

How do they hail the appearance of a friend if they say nothing? Or am I completely misinterpreting the phrase?

  • It just means they were so relieved to see a friend (because they were so bored with each other) that they welcomed that distraction. – Robusto Nov 24 '18 at 22:34
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Hail: to greet

With obvious relief: they greeted the person in a way that obviously showed they were relieved. Probably because the new person broke the monotony.

The appearance of a friend: they just run into someone on their walk. It was not planned, just serendipity.

The sentence would have been clearer with commas, in my opinion.

hail, with obvious relief, the appearance of a friend.

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Even to a native speaker it sounds a little odd, unless we assume Stevenson meant to imply that, during these walks, they would say nothing to each other, and seemed bored, particularly because they would greet with happiness any friends who should appear to relieve the monotony.

Side not: Be aware the book was originally published in 1886 and so the language is somewhat archaic. The meanings of most of the words and phrases haven't changed, but the writing style would seem excessively formal today. For example, this sentence:

“No, sir: I had a delicacy,” was the reply. “I feel very strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style of the day of judgment. You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others; and presently some bland old bird (the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head in his own back garden and the family have to change their name."

The avalanche metaphor is fine, but nowadays the character might use a more modern idiom, something like:

I didn't want to make a scene, because you never know if the scandal might turn around and bite some perfectly innocent old guy on the ass.

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