BOOK THE FIRST - SOWING
12. Chapter Xii - the Old Woman
OLD STEPHEN descended the two white steps, shutting the black door
with the brazen door-plate, by the aid of the brazen full-stop, to
which he gave a parting polish with the sleeve of his coat,
observing that his hot hand clouded it. He crossed the street with
his eyes bent upon the ground, and thus was walking sorrowfully
away, when he felt a touch upon his arm.
It was not the touch he needed most at such a moment - the touch
that could calm the wild waters of his soul, as the uplifted hand
of the sublimest love and patience could abate the raging of the
sea - yet it was a woman's hand too. It was an old woman, tall and
shapely still, though withered by time, on whom his eyes fell when
he stopped and turned. She was very cleanly and plainly dressed,
had country mud upon her shoes, and was newly come from a journey.
The flutter of her manner, in the unwonted noise of the streets;
the spare shawl, carried unfolded on her arm; the heavy umbrella,
and little basket; the loose long-fingered gloves, to which her
hands were unused; all bespoke an old woman from the country, in
her plain holiday clothes, come into Coketown on an expedition of
rare occurrence. Remarking this at a glance, with the quick
observation of his class, Stephen Blackpool bent his attentive face
- his face, which, like the faces of many of his order, by dint of
long working with eyes and hands in the midst of a prodigious
noise, had acquired the concentrated look with which we are
familiar in the countenances of the deaf - the better to hear what
she asked him.
'Pray, sir,' said the old woman, 'didn't I see you come out of that
gentleman's house?' pointing back to Mr. Bounderby's. 'I believe
it was you, unless I have had the bad luck to mistake the person in
'Yes, missus,' returned Stephen, 'it were me.'
'Have you - you'll excuse an old woman's curiosity - have you seen