Ah, lad! Tis thou? When she had said this, with a smile which would have been quite expressed, though nothing of her had been seen but her pleasant eyes, she replaced her hood again, and they went on together.
I thought thou wast ahind me, Rachael?
Early tnight, lass?
Times Im a little early, Stephen! times a little late. Im never to be counted on, going home.
Nor going tother way, neither, t seems to me, Rachael?
He looked at her with some disappointment in his face, but with a respectful and patient conviction that she must be right in whatever she did. The expression was not lost upon her; she laid her hand lightly on his arm a moment as if to thank him for it.
We are such true friends, lad, and such old friends, and getting to be such old folk, now.
No, Rachael, thourt as young as ever thou wast.
One of us would be puzzled how to get old, Stephen, without tother getting so too, both being alive, she answered, laughing; but, anyways, were such old friends, and thide a word of honest truth fro one another would be a sin and a pity. Tis better not to walk too much together. Times, yes! Twould be hard, indeed, if twas not to be at all, she said, with a cheerfulness she sought to communicate to him.
Tis hard, anyways, Rachael.
Try to think not; and twill seem better.
Ive tried a long time, and tant got better. But thourt right; t might mak fok talk, even of thee. Thou hast been that to me, Rachael, through so many year: thou hast done me so much good, and heartened of me in that cheering way, that thy word is a law to me. Ah, lass, and a bright good law! Better than some real ones.
Never fret about them, Stephen, she answered quickly, and not without an anxious glance at his face. Let the laws be.
Yes, he said, with a slow nod or two. Let em be. Let everything be. Let all sorts alone. Tis a muddle, and thats aw.
Always a muddle? said Rachael, with another gentle touch upon his arm, as if to recall him out of the thoughtfulness, in which he was biting the long ends of his loose neckerchief as he walked along. The touch had its instantaneous effect. He let them fall, turned a smiling face upon her, and said, as he broke into a good-humoured laugh, Ay, Rachael, lass, awlus a muddle. Thats where I stick. I come to the muddle many times and agen, and I never get beyond it.
They had walked some distance, and were near their own homes. The womans was the first reached. It was in one of the many small streets for which the favourite undertaker (who turned a handsome sum out of the one poor ghastly pomp of the neighbourhood) kept a black ladder, in order that those who had done their daily groping up and down the narrow stairs might slide out of this working world by the windows. She stopped at the corner, and putting her hand in his, wished him good night.
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