Such experience was to be Stephen's now, in every waking moment of his life; at his work, on his way to it and from it, at his door, at his window, everywhere. By general consent, they even avoided that side of the street on which he habitually walked; and left it, of all the working men, to him only.
He had been for many years, a quiet silent man, associating but little with other men, and used to companionship with his own thoughts. He had never known before the strength of the want in his heart for the frequent recognition of a nod, a look, a word; or the immense amount of relief that had been poured into it by drops through such small means. It was even harder than he could have believed possible, to separate in his own conscience his abandonment by all his fellows from a baseless sense of shame and disgrace.
The first four days of his endurance were days so long and heavy, that he began to be appalled by the prospect before him. Not only did he see no Rachael all the time, but he avoided every chance of seeing her; for, although he knew that the prohibition did not yet formally extend to the women working in the factories, he found that some of them with whom he was acquainted were changed to him, and he feared to try others, and dreaded that Rachael might be even singled out from the rest if she were seen in his company. So, he had been quite alone during the four days, and had spoken to no one, when, as he was leaving his work at night, a young man of a very light complexion accosted him in the street.
'Your name's Blackpool, ain't it?' said the young man.
Stephen coloured to find himself with his hat in his hand, in his gratitude for being spoken to, or in the suddenness of it, or both. He made a feint of adjusting the lining, and said, 'Yes.'
'You are the Hand they have sent to Coventry, I mean?' said Bitzer, the very light young man in question.
Stephen answered 'Yes,' again.
'I supposed so, from their all appearing to keep away from you. Mr. Bounderby wants to speak to you. You know his house, don't you?'
Stephen said 'Yes,' again.
'Then go straight up there, will you?' said Bitzer. 'You're expected, and have only to tell the servant it's you. I belong to the Bank; so, if you go straight up without me (I was sent to fetch you), you'll save me a walk.'
Stephen, whose way had been in the contrary direction, turned about, and betook himself as in duty bound, to the red brick castle of the giant Bounderby.
CHAPTER V - MEN AND MASTERS
'WELL, Stephen,' said Bounderby, in his windy manner, 'what's this I hear? What have these pests of the earth been doing to you? Come in, and speak up.'
It was into the drawing-room that he was thus bidden. A tea-table was set out; and Mr. Bounderby's young wife, and her brother, and a great gentleman from London, were present. To whom Stephen made his obeisance, closing the door and standing near it, with his hat in his hand.
'This is the man I was telling you about, Harthouse,' said Mr. Bounderby. The gentleman he addressed, who was talking to Mrs. Bounderby on the sofa, got up, saying in an indolent way, 'Oh really?' and dawdled to the hearthrug where Mr. Bounderby stood.
'Now,' said Bounderby, 'speak up!'
After the four days he had passed, this address fell rudely and discordantly on Stephen's ear. Besides being a rough handling of his wounded mind, it seemed to assume that he really was the self- interested deserter he had been called.
'What were it, sir,' said Stephen, 'as yo were pleased to want wi' me?'
'Why, I have told you,' returned Bounderby. 'Speak up like a man, since you are a man, and tell us about yourself and this Combination.'
'Wi' yor pardon, sir,' said Stephen Blackpool, 'I ha' nowt to sen about it.'
Mr. Bounderby, who was always more or less like a Wind, finding something in his way here, began to blow at it directly.
'Now, look here, Harthouse,' said he, 'here's a specimen of 'em. When this man was here once before, I warned this man against the mischievous strangers who are always about - and who ought to be hanged wherever they are found - and I told this man that he was going in the wrong direction.