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HARD TIMES.

BY CHARLES DICKENS.

CHAPTER XXII.

It was falling dark when Stephen came out
of Mr. Bounderby's 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 Rachael's 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 don't make all my journey
in one day, but divide it into two days, and
get a bed to-night 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? I'm going
to tell you. I have heard of Mr. Bounderby
being married. I read it in the paper, where
it looked grandoh, 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 you'll believe
me, she hasn't come out of that house since
noon to-day. 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 yoong 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. She's
your master's wife," returned the old woman.

Stephen nodded assent. "Though as to
master," said he, glancing again at Rachael,
"not master onny more. That's aw enden,
twixt him and me."

"Have you left his work, Stephen?" asked
Rachael, anxiously and quickly.

"Why, Rachael," he replied, "whether I ha
left'n his work, or whether his work ha left'n
me, cooms t' th' same. His work and me are
parted. 'Tis as weel sobetter, I were
thinkin when yo coom up wi' me. It would ha
brought'n 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, an seek a fort'n,
dear, by beginnin fresh."

"Where will you go, Stephen?"

"I donno t'night," said he, lifting off his
hat, and smoothing his thin hair with the flat
of his hand. "But I'm not a goin' t'night,
Rachael; nor yet t' morrow. Tan't easy
overmuch, t' know wheer t' turn, but a good
heart will coom to me."

Herein, too, the sense of even thinking
unselfishly aided him. Before he had so much
as closed Mr. Bounderby's door, he had
reflected that at least his being obliged to go
away was good for her, as it would save
her from the chance of being brought
into question for not withdrawing from him.
Though it would cost him a hard pang to

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