IT WAS FALLING DARK when Stephen came out of Mr Bounderbys house. The shadows of night had gathered so fast, that he did not look about him when he closed the door, but plodded straight along the street. Nothing was further from his thoughts than the curious old woman he had encountered on his previous visit to the same house, when he heard a step behind him that he knew, and turning, saw her in Rachaels company.
He saw Rachael first, as he had heard her only.
Ah, Rachael, my dear! Missus, thou wi her!
Well, and now you are surprised to be sure, and with reason I must say, the old woman returned. Here I am again, you see.
But how wi Rachael? said Stephen, falling into their step, walking between them, and looking from the one to the other.
Why, I come to be with this good lass pretty much as I came to be with you, said the old woman, cheerfully, taking the reply upon herself. My visiting time is later this year than usual, for I have been rather troubled with shortness of breath, and so put it off till the weather was fine and warm. For the same reason I dont make all my journey in one day, but divide it into two days, and get a bed tonight at the Travellers Coffee House down by the railroad (a nice clean house), and go back Parliamentary, at six in the morning. Well, but what has this to do with this good lass, says you? Im going to tell you. I have heard of Mr Bounderby being married. I read it in the paper, where it looked grand oh, it looked fine! the old woman dwelt on it with strange enthusiasm: and I want to see his wife. I have never seen her yet. Now, if youll believe me, she hasnt come out of that house since noon today. So not to give her up too easily, I was waiting about, a little last bit more, when I passed close to this good lass two or three times; and her face being so friendly I spoke to her, and she spoke to me. There! said the old woman to Stephen, you can make all the rest out for yourself now, a deal shorter than I can, I dare say!
Once again, Stephen had to conquer an instinctive propensity to dislike this old woman, though her manner was as honest and simple as a manner possibly could be. With a gentleness that was as natural to him as he knew it to be to Rachael, he pursued the subject that interested her in her old age.
Well, missus, said he, I ha seen the lady, and she were young and hansom. Wi fine dark thinkin eyes, and a still way, Rachael, as I ha never seen the like on.
Young and handsome. Yes! cried the old woman, quite delighted. As bonny as a rose! And what a happy wife!
Aye, missus, I suppose she be, said Stephen. But with a doubtful glance at Rachael.
Suppose she be? She must be. Shes your masters wife, returned the old woman.
Stephen nodded assent. Though as to master, said he, glancing again at Rachael, not master onny more. Thats aw enden twixt him and me.
Have you left his work, Stephen? asked Rachael, anxiously and quickly.
Why, Rachael, he replied, whether I ha lefn his work, or whether his work ha lefn me, cooms t th same. His work and me are parted. Tis as weel so better, I were thinkin when yo coom up wi me. It would ha broughtn trouble upon trouble if I had stayed theer. Haply tis a kindness to monny that I go; haply tis a kindness to myseln; anyways it mun be done. I mun turn my face fro Coketown fur th time, and seek a fortn, dear, by beginnin fresh.
Where will you go, Stephen?
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