Last Updated January 12, 2023.
Stephen Blackpool is forty years old but looks older. He is a “Hand” who works in one of Coketown’s mills. The narrator notes that Hands might be better liked if they were “only hands and stomachs” rather than actual human beings. “Old Stephen” has gray hair and a stooping gait. He is not especially intelligent, the narrator remarks, but there is, perhaps, something else in him.
One wet night, Stephen is standing outside waiting for Rachael. He finally meets her, and while she admits that they are “old friends,” she also reminds him that it is best for them not to be seen together too often. She tells him not to think or fret too much, and he remarks that things are in such a muddle. He can never get beyond it. Stephen walks Rachael home, and they wish each other a fond good night.
Stephen’s home is merely a rented room, and he finds an unpleasant surprise when he returns. There is a woman in the room. She is drunk, dirty, and disheveled, and she is Stephen’s wife, come back again after another of her frequent absences. She falls heavily onto Stephen’s bed and goes to sleep while he sits in a chair, only getting up to put a covering over her.