From the outside of his home he gloomily passed to the inside, with suspended breath and with a slow footstep. He went up to his door, opened it, and so into the room.
Quiet and peace were there. Rachael was there, sitting by the bed.
She turned her head, and the light of her face shone in upon the midnight of his mind. She sat by the bed, watching and tending his wife. That is to say, he saw that some one lay there, and he knew too well it must be she; but Rachaels hands had put a curtain up, so that she was screened from his eyes. Her disgraceful garments were removed, and some of Rachaels were in the room. Everything was in its place and order as he had always kept it, the little fire was newly trimmed, and the hearth was freshly swept. It appeared to him that he saw all this in Rachaels face, and looked at nothing besides. While looking at it, it was shut out from his view by the softened tears that filled his eyes; but not before he had seen how earnestly she looked at him, and how her own eyes were filled too.
She turned again towards the bed, and satisfying herself that all was quiet there, spoke in a low, calm, cheerful voice.
I am glad you have come at last, Stephen. You are very late.
I ha been walking up an down.
I thought so. But tis too bad a night for that. The rain falls very heavy, and the wind has risen.
The wind? True. It was blowing hard. Hark to the thundering in the chimney, and the surging noise! To have been out in such a wind, and not to have known it was blowing!
I have been here once before, today, Stephen. Landlady came round for me at dinner-time. There was some one here that needed looking to, she said. And deed she was right. All wandering and lost, Stephen. Wounded too, and bruised.
He slowly moved to a chair and sat down, drooping his head before her.
I came to do what little I could, Stephen; first, for that she worked with me when we were girls both, and that you courted her and married her when I was her friend
He laid his furrowed forehead on his hand, with a low groan.
And next, for that I know your heart, and am right sure and certain that tis far too merciful to let her die, or even so much as suffer, for want of aid. Thou knowest who said, Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her! There have been plenty to do that. Thou art not the man to cast the last stone, Stephen, when she is brought so low.
O Rachael, Rachael!
Thou hast been a cruel sufferer, Heaven reward thee! she said, in compassionate accents. I am thy poor friend, with all my heart and mind.
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