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HARD TIMES.
BY CHARLES DICKENS.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

DAY and night again, day and night again.
No Stephen Blackpool. Where was the man,
and why did he not come back?

Every night, Sissy went to Rachael's lodging,
and sat with her in her small neat room.
All day, Rachael toiled as such people must
toil, whatever their anxieties. The smoke-
serpents were indifferent who was lost or found,
who turned out bad or good; the melancholy
mad elephants, like the Hard Fact men,
abated nothing of their set routine, whatever
happened. Day and night again, day and night
again. The monotony was unbroken. Even
Stephen Blackpool's disappearance was falling
into the general way, and becoming as
monotonous a wonder as any piece of
machinery in Coketown.

" I misdoubt," said Rachael, " if there is as
many as twenty left in all this place, who
have any trust in the poor dear lad now."

She said it to Sissy, as they sat in her
lodging, lighted only by the lamp at the
street corner. Sissy had come there when it
was already dark, to await her return from
work; and they had since sat at the window
where Rachael had found her, wanting no
brighter light to shine on their sorrowful
talk.

"If it hadn't been mercifully brought
about that I was to have you to speak to,"
pursued Rachael, "times are when I think
my mind would not have kept right. But I
get hope and strength through you; and you
believe that though appearances may rise
against him, he will be proved clear."

"I do believe so," returned Sissy, " with
my whole heart. I feel so certain, Rachael,
that the confidence you hold in yours against
all discouragement, is not like to be wrong,
that I have no more doubt of him than if I
had known him through as many years of
trial as you have."

"And I, my dear," said Rachael, with a
tremble in her voice, " have known him
through them all, to be, according to his
quiet ways, so faithful to everything honest
and good, that if he was never to be heard of
more, and I was to live to be a hundred
years old, I could say with my last breath,
God knows my heart, I have never once left
trusting Stephen Blackpool!"

"We all believe, up at the Lodge, Rachael,
that he will be freed from suspicion, sooner
or later."

"The better I know it to be so believed
there, my dear," said Rachael, " and the
kinder I feel it that you come away from
there, purposely to comfort me, and keep me
company, and be seen wi' me when I am not
yet free from all suspicion myself, the more
grieved I am that I should ever have spoken
those mistrusting words to the young lady.
And yet—"

"You don't mistrust her now, Rachael?"

"Now that you have brought us more
together, no. But I can't at all times keep
out of my mind— "

Her voice so sunk into a low and slow
communing with herself, that Sissy, sitting
by her side, was obliged to listen with
attention.

"I can't at all times keep out of my mind,
mistrustings of some one. I can't think who
'tis, I can't think how or why it may be done,
but I mistrust that some one has put Stephen
out of the way. I mistrust that by his coming
back of his own accord, and showing himself
innocent before them all, some one would be
confounded, whoto prevent thathas
stopped him, and put him out of the way."

"That is a dreadful thought," said Sissy,
turning pale.

"It is a dreadful thought to think he may
be murdered."

Sissy shuddered, and turned paler yet.

"When it makes its way into my mind,
dear," said Rachael, " and it will come
sometimes, though I do all I can to keep it out,
wi' counting on to high numbers as I work,
and saying over and over again pieces that I
knew when I were a child,—I fall into such a
wild, hot hurry, that, however tired I am, I
want to walk fast, miles and miles. I must
get the better of this before bed-time. I'll
walk home wi' you."

"He might fall ill upon the journey back,"
said Sissy, faintly offering a worn-out scrap of
hope; " and in such a case, there are many
places on the road where he might stop."

"But he is in none of them. He has been
sought for in all, and he's not there."

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