ok the Second: Reaping
Bounderby asks Stephen about what has happened between him and the other men. Stephen replies that he has nothing to say about it. Bounderby asks him directly why he refuses to join the union, but all Stephen will say is that he gave a promise (to Rachel, as will be revealed in the next chapter). Bounderby makes disparaging remarks about the union officials and the working men, but Stephen defends them, addressing Louisa rather than Bounderby. Then Bounderby asks him what the men in general complain about. Stephen replies in a matter-of-fact kind of way, explaining about the poor living and working conditions the people endure. He also points out that the bosses think they are always right and the workers always wrong. When Bounderby asks him how he would remedy the situation, Stephen says it will do no good to prosecute the union leaders, as Bounderby threatens. Stephen refuses to speak ill of the men who have rejected him. He does not pretend to know how relations between employers and employees can be improved. But he does explain what will not work, and that includes treating people as if they were soulless machines. Bounderby objects to Stephen's words, calls him a complainer, and then fires him. Stephen knows this means he will not be able to obtain work elsewhere.
When he leaves Bounderby's, Stephen meets Rachel in the street. She is accompanied by the mysterious old woman whom Stephen met earlier (Book 1, chapter 12). The old woman has been waiting outside Bounderby's house in order to catch a glimpse of his wife. Stephen tells Rachel he has been fired, and that he plans to leave Coketown, although he does not know where he will go. They all go to Stephen's lodgings for tea. His wife has been gone for months.
The old woman's name is Mrs. Pegler. She says she is a widow, and that she has a son, but she will say nothing about him. At that moment, Louisa arrives, accompanied by Tom. Louisa wants to help Stephen. Stephen...