Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

71. CHAPTER LXXI (continued)

He ought to have assigned Ellen's unwillingness to see him to its true cause, but a guilty conscience made him think she had heard of his disgrace and was turning away from him in contempt. Brave as had been his resolutions about facing the world, this was more than he was prepared for; "What! you too shun me, Ellen?" he exclaimed.

The girl was crying bitterly and did not understand him. "Oh, Master Ernest," she sobbed, "let me go; you are too good for the likes of me to speak to now."

"Why, Ellen," said he, "what nonsense you talk; you haven't been in prison, have you?"

"Oh, no, no, no, not so bad as that," she exclaimed passionately.

"Well, I have," said Ernest, with a forced laugh, "I came out three or four days ago after six months with hard labour."

Ellen did not believe him, but she looked at him with a "Lor'! Master Ernest," and dried her eyes at once. The ice was broken between them, for as a matter of fact Ellen had been in prison several times, and though she did not believe Ernest, his merely saying he had been in prison made her feel more at ease with him. For her there were two classes of people, those who had been in prison and those who had not. The first she looked upon as fellow-creatures and more or less Christians, the second, with few exceptions, she regarded with suspicion, not wholly unmingled with contempt.

Then Ernest told her what had happened to him during the last six months, and by-and-by she believed him.

"Master Ernest," said she, after they had talked for a quarter of an hour or so, "There's a place over the way where they sell tripe and onions. I know you was always very fond of tripe and onions, let's go over and have some, and we can talk better there."

So the pair crossed the street and entered the tripe shop; Ernest ordered supper.

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