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Hard Times

BOOK II: 6. Fading Away
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
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 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 young and hansom. Wi' fine
dark thinkin eyes, and a still way, Rachael, as I ha never seen the like on.'
 
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