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Hard Times

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CHAPTER I. 
EFFECTS IN THE BANK

A sunny midsummer day.  There was such a thing sometimes, even in Coketown.

Seen from a distance in such weather, Coketown lay shrouded in a haze of its own, which appeared impervious to the sun’s rays.  You only knew the town was there, because you knew there could have been no such sulky blotch upon the prospect without a town.  A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way, now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping along the earth, as the wind rose and fell, or changed its quarter: a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothing but masses of darkness:—Coketown in the distance was suggestive of itself, though not a brick of it could be seen.

The wonder was, it was there at all.  It had been ruined so often, that it was amazing how it had borne so many shocks.  Surely there never was such fragile china-ware as that of which the millers of Coketown were made.  Handle them never so lightly, and they fell to pieces with such ease that you might suspect them of having been flawed before.  They were ruined, when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone, when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke.  Besides Mr. Bounderby’s gold spoon which was generally received in Coketown, another prevalent fiction was very popular there.  It took the form of a threat.  Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used—that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts—he was sure to come out with the awful menace, that he would ‘sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic.’  This had terrified the Home Secretary within an inch of his life, on several occasions.

However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but, on the contrary, had been kind enough to take mighty good care of it.  So there it was, in the haze yonder; and it increased and multiplied.

The streets were hot and dusty on the summer day, and the sun was so bright that it even shone through the heavy vapour drooping over Coketown, and could not be looked at steadily.  Stokers emerged from low underground doorways into factory yards, and sat on steps, and posts, and palings, wiping their swarthy visages, and contemplating coals.  The whole town seemed to be frying in oil.  There was a stifling smell of hot oil everywhere.  The steam-engines shone with it, the dresses of the Hands were soiled with it, the mills throughout their many stories oozed and trickled it.  The atmosphere of those Fairy palaces was like the breath of the simoom: and their inhabitants, wasting with heat, toiled languidly in the desert.  But no temperature made the melancholy mad elephants more mad or more sane.  Their wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate, in hot weather and cold, wet weather and dry, fair weather and foul.  The measured motion of their shadows on the walls, was the substitute Coketown had to show for the shadows of rustling woods; while, for the summer hum of insects, it could offer, all the year round, from the dawn of Monday to the night of Saturday, the whirr of shafts and wheels.

Drowsily they whirred all through this sunny day, making the passenger more sleepy and more hot as he passed the humming walls of the mills.  Sun-blinds, and sprinklings of water, a little cooled the main streets and the shops; but the mills, and the courts and alleys, baked at a fierce heat.  Down upon the river that was black and thick with dye, some Coketown boys who were at large—a rare sight there—rowed a crazy boat, which made a spumous track upon the water as it jogged along, while every dip of an oar stirred up vile smells.  But the sun itself, however beneficent, generally, was less kind to Coketown than hard frost, and rarely looked intently into any of its closer regions without engendering more death than life.  So does the eye of Heaven itself become an evil eye, when incapable or sordid hands are interposed between it and the things it looks upon to bless.

Mrs. Sparsit sat in her afternoon apartment at the Bank, on the shadier side of the frying street.  Office-hours were over: and at that period of the day, in warm weather, she usually embellished with her genteel presence, a managerial board-room over the public office.  Her own private sitting-room was a story higher, at the window of which post of observation she was ready, every morning, to greet Mr. Bounderby, as he came across the road, with the sympathizing recognition appropriate to a Victim.  He had been married now a year; and Mrs. Sparsit had never released him from her determined pity a moment.

The Bank offered no violence to the wholesome monotony of the town.  It was another red brick house, with black outside shutters, green inside blinds, a black street-door up two white steps, a brazen door-plate, and a brazen door-handle full stop.  It was a size larger than Mr. Bounderby’s house, as other houses were from a size to half-a-dozen sizes smaller; in all other particulars, it was strictly according to pattern.

Mrs. Sparsit was conscious that by coming in the evening-tide among the desks and writing implements, she shed a feminine, not to say also aristocratic, grace upon the office.  Seated, with her needlework or netting apparatus, at the window, she had a self-laudatory sense of correcting, by her ladylike deportment, the rude business aspect of the place.  With this impression of her interesting character upon her, Mrs. Sparsit considered herself, in some sort, the Bank Fairy.  The townspeople who, in their passing and repassing, saw her there, regarded her as the Bank Dragon keeping watch over the treasures of the mine.

What those treasures were, Mrs. Sparsit knew as little as they did.  Gold and silver coin, precious paper, secrets that if divulged would bring vague destruction upon vague persons (generally, however, people whom she disliked), were the chief items in her ideal catalogue thereof.  For the rest, she knew that after office-hours, she reigned supreme over all the office furniture, and over a locked-up iron room with three locks, against the door of which strong chamber the light porter laid his head every night, on a truckle bed, that disappeared at cockcrow.  Further, she was lady paramount over certain vaults in the basement, sharply spiked off from communication with the predatory world; and over the relics of the current day’s work, consisting of blots of ink, worn-out pens, fragments of wafers, and scraps of paper torn so small, that nothing interesting could ever be deciphered on them when Mrs. Sparsit tried.  Lastly, she was guardian over a little armoury of cutlasses and carbines, arrayed in vengeful order above one of the official chimney-pieces; and over that respectable tradition never to be separated from a place of business claiming to be wealthy—a row of fire-buckets—vessels calculated to be of no physical utility on any occasion, but observed to exercise a fine moral influence, almost equal to bullion, on most beholders.

A deaf serving-woman and the light porter completed Mrs. Sparsit’s empire.  The deaf serving-woman was rumoured to be wealthy; and a saying had for years gone about among the lower orders of Coketown, that she would be murdered some night when the Bank was shut, for the sake of her money.  It was generally considered, indeed, that she had been due some time, and ought to have fallen long ago; but she had kept her life, and her situation, with an ill-conditioned tenacity that occasioned much offence and disappointment.

Mrs. Sparsit’s tea was just set for her on a pert little table, with its tripod of legs in an attitude, which she insinuated after office-hours, into the company of the stern, leathern-topped, long board-table that bestrode the middle of the room.  The light porter placed the tea-tray on it, knuckling his forehead as a form of homage.

‘Thank you, Bitzer,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘Thank you, ma’am,’ returned the light porter.  He was a very light porter indeed; as light as in the days when he blinkingly defined a horse, for girl number twenty.

‘All is shut up, Bitzer?’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘All is shut up, ma’am.’

‘And what,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, pouring out her tea, ‘is the news of the day?  Anything?’

‘Well, ma’am, I can’t say that I have heard anything particular.  Our people are a bad lot, ma’am; but that is no news, unfortunately.’

‘What are the restless wretches doing now?’ asked Mrs. Sparsit.

‘Merely going on in the old way, ma’am.  Uniting, and leaguing, and engaging to stand by one another.’

‘It is much to be regretted,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength of her severity, ‘that the united masters allow of any such class-combinations.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Bitzer.

‘Being united themselves, they ought one and all to set their faces against employing any man who is united with any other man,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘They have done that, ma’am,’ returned Bitzer; ‘but it rather fell through, ma’am.’

‘I do not pretend to understand these things,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, with dignity, ‘my lot having been signally cast in a widely different sphere; and Mr. Sparsit, as a Powler, being also quite out of the pale of any such dissensions.  I only know that these people must be conquered, and that it’s high time it was done, once for all.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ returned Bitzer, with a demonstration of great respect for Mrs. Sparsit’s oracular authority.  ‘You couldn’t put it clearer, I am sure, ma’am.’

As this was his usual hour for having a little confidential chat with Mrs. Sparsit, and as he had already caught her eye and seen that she was going to ask him something, he made a pretence of arranging the rulers, inkstands, and so forth, while that lady went on with her tea, glancing through the open window, down into the street.

‘Has it been a busy day, Bitzer?’ asked Mrs. Sparsit.

‘Not a very busy day, my lady.  About an average day.’  He now and then slided into my lady, instead of ma’am, as an involuntary acknowledgment of Mrs. Sparsit’s personal dignity and claims to reverence.

‘The clerks,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, carefully brushing an imperceptible crumb of bread and butter from her left-hand mitten, ‘are trustworthy, punctual, and industrious, of course?’

‘Yes, ma’am, pretty fair, ma’am.  With the usual exception.’

He held the respectable office of general spy and informer in the establishment, for which volunteer service he received a present at Christmas, over and above his weekly wage.  He had grown into an extremely clear-headed, cautious, prudent young man, who was safe to rise in the world.  His mind was so exactly regulated, that he had no affections or passions.  All his proceedings were the result of the nicest and coldest calculation; and it was not without cause that Mrs. Sparsit habitually observed of him, that he was a young man of the steadiest principle she had ever known.  Having satisfied himself, on his father’s death, that his mother had a right of settlement in Coketown, this excellent young economist had asserted that right for her with such a steadfast adherence to the principle of the case, that she had been shut up in the workhouse ever since.  It must be admitted that he allowed her half a pound of tea a year, which was weak in him: first, because all gifts have an inevitable tendency to pauperise the recipient, and secondly, because his only reasonable transaction in that commodity would have been to buy it for as little as he could possibly give, and sell it for as much as he could possibly get; it having been clearly ascertained by philosophers that in this is comprised the whole duty of man—not a part of man’s duty, but the whole.

‘Pretty fair, ma’am.  With the usual exception, ma’am,’ repeated Bitzer.

‘Ah—h!’ said Mrs. Sparsit, shaking her head over her tea-cup, and taking a long gulp.

‘Mr. Thomas, ma’am, I doubt Mr. Thomas very much, ma’am, I don’t like his ways at all.’

‘Bitzer,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, in a very impressive manner, ‘do you recollect my having said anything to you respecting names?’

‘I beg your pardon, ma’am.  It’s quite true that you did object to names being used, and they’re always best avoided.’

‘Please to remember that I have a charge here,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, with her air of state.  ‘I hold a trust here, Bitzer, under Mr. Bounderby.  However improbable both Mr. Bounderby and myself might have deemed it years ago, that he would ever become my patron, making me an annual compliment, I cannot but regard him in that light.  From Mr. Bounderby I have received every acknowledgment of my social station, and every recognition of my family descent, that I could possibly expect.  More, far more.  Therefore, to my patron I will be scrupulously true.  And I do not consider, I will not consider, I cannot consider,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, with a most extensive stock on hand of honour and morality, ‘that I should be scrupulously true, if I allowed names to be mentioned under this roof, that are unfortunately—most unfortunately—no doubt of that—connected with his.’

Bitzer knuckled his forehead again, and again begged pardon.

‘No, Bitzer,’ continued Mrs. Sparsit, ‘say an individual, and I will hear you; say Mr. Thomas, and you must excuse me.’

‘With the usual exception, ma’am,’ said Bitzer, trying back, ‘of an individual.’

‘Ah—h!’  Mrs. Sparsit repeated the ejaculation, the shake of the head over her tea-cup, and the long gulp, as taking up the conversation again at the point where it had been interrupted.

‘An individual, ma’am,’ said Bitzer, ‘has never been what he ought to have been, since he first came into the place.  He is a dissipated, extravagant idler.  He is not worth his salt, ma’am.  He wouldn’t get it either, if he hadn’t a friend and relation at court, ma’am!’

‘Ah—h!’ said Mrs. Sparsit, with another melancholy shake of her head.

‘I only hope, ma’am,’ pursued Bitzer, ‘that his friend and relation may not supply him with the means of carrying on.  Otherwise, ma’am, we know out of whose pocket that money comes.’

‘Ah—h!’ sighed Mrs. Sparsit again, with another melancholy shake of her head.

‘He is to be pitied, ma’am.  The last party I have alluded to, is to be pitied, ma’am,’ said Bitzer.

‘Yes, Bitzer,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘I have always pitied the delusion, always.’

‘As to an individual, ma’am,’ said Bitzer, dropping his voice and drawing nearer, ‘he is as improvident as any of the people in this town.  And you know what their improvidence is, ma’am.  No one could wish to know it better than a lady of your eminence does.’

‘They would do well,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘to take example by you, Bitzer.’

‘Thank you, ma’am.  But, since you do refer to me, now look at me, ma’am.  I have put by a little, ma’am, already.  That gratuity which I receive at Christmas, ma’am: I never touch it.  I don’t even go the length of my wages, though they’re not high, ma’am.  Why can’t they do as I have done, ma’am?  What one person can do, another can do.’

This, again, was among the fictions of Coketown.  Any capitalist there, who had made sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, always professed to wonder why the sixty thousand nearest Hands didn’t each make sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, and more or less reproached them every one for not accomplishing the little feat.  What I did you can do.  Why don’t you go and do it?

‘As to their wanting recreations, ma’am,’ said Bitzer, ‘it’s stuff and nonsense.  I don’t want recreations.  I never did, and I never shall; I don’t like ’em.  As to their combining together; there are many of them, I have no doubt, that by watching and informing upon one another could earn a trifle now and then, whether in money or good will, and improve their livelihood.  Then, why don’t they improve it, ma’am!  It’s the first consideration of a rational creature, and it’s what they pretend to want.’

‘Pretend indeed!’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘I am sure we are constantly hearing, ma’am, till it becomes quite nauseous, concerning their wives and families,’ said Bitzer.  ‘Why look at me, ma’am!  I don’t want a wife and family.  Why should they?’

‘Because they are improvident,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ returned Bitzer, ‘that’s where it is.  If they were more provident and less perverse, ma’am, what would they do?  They would say, “While my hat covers my family,” or “while my bonnet covers my family,”—as the case might be, ma’am—“I have only one to feed, and that’s the person I most like to feed.”’

‘To be sure,’ assented Mrs. Sparsit, eating muffin.

‘Thank you, ma’am,’ said Bitzer, knuckling his forehead again, in return for the favour of Mrs. Sparsit’s improving conversation.  ‘Would you wish a little more hot water, ma’am, or is there anything else that I could fetch you?’

‘Nothing just now, Bitzer.’

‘Thank you, ma’am.  I shouldn’t wish to disturb you at your meals, ma’am, particularly tea, knowing your partiality for it,’ said Bitzer, craning a little to look over into the street from where he stood; ‘but there’s a gentleman been looking up here for a minute or so, ma’am, and he has come across as if he was going to knock.  That is his knock, ma’am, no doubt.’

He stepped to the window; and looking out, and drawing in his head again, confirmed himself with, ‘Yes, ma’am.  Would you wish the gentleman to be shown in, ma’am?’

‘I don’t know who it can be,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, wiping her mouth and arranging her mittens.

‘A stranger, ma’am, evidently.’

‘What a stranger can want at the Bank at this time of the evening, unless he comes upon some business for which he is too late, I don’t know,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘but I hold a charge in this establishment from Mr. Bounderby, and I will never shrink from it.  If to see him is any part of the duty I have accepted, I will see him.  Use your own discretion, Bitzer.’

Here the visitor, all unconscious of Mrs. Sparsit’s magnanimous words, repeated his knock so loudly that the light porter hastened down to open the door; while Mrs. Sparsit took the precaution of concealing her little table, with all its appliances upon it, in a cupboard, and then decamped up-stairs, that she might appear, if needful, with the greater dignity.

‘If you please, ma’am, the gentleman would wish to see you,’ said Bitzer, with his light eye at Mrs. Sparsit’s keyhole.  So, Mrs. Sparsit, who had improved the interval by touching up her cap, took her classical features down-stairs again, and entered the board-room in the manner of a Roman matron going outside the city walls to treat with an invading general.

The visitor having strolled to the window, and being then engaged in looking carelessly out, was as unmoved by this impressive entry as man could possibly be.  He stood whistling to himself with all imaginable coolness, with his hat still on, and a certain air of exhaustion upon him, in part arising from excessive summer, and in part from excessive gentility.  For it was to be seen with half an eye that he was a thorough gentleman, made to the model of the time; weary of everything, and putting no more faith in anything than Lucifer.

‘I believe, sir,’ quoth Mrs. Sparsit, ‘you wished to see me.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, turning and removing his hat; ‘pray excuse me.’

‘Humph!’ thought Mrs. Sparsit, as she made a stately bend.  ‘Five and thirty, good-looking, good figure, good teeth, good voice, good breeding, well-dressed, dark hair, bold eyes.’  All which Mrs. Sparsit observed in her womanly way—like the Sultan who put his head in the pail of water—merely in dipping down and coming up again.

‘Please to be seated, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘Thank you.  Allow me.’  He placed a chair for her, but remained himself carelessly lounging against the table.  ‘I left my servant at the railway looking after the luggage—very heavy train and vast quantity of it in the van—and strolled on, looking about me.  Exceedingly odd place.  Will you allow me to ask you if it’s always as black as this?’

‘In general much blacker,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, in her uncompromising way.

‘Is it possible!  Excuse me: you are not a native, I think?’

‘No, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘It was once my good or ill fortune, as it may be—before I became a widow—to move in a very different sphere.  My husband was a Powler.’

‘Beg your pardon, really!’ said the stranger.  ‘Was—?’

Mrs. Sparsit repeated, ‘A Powler.’

‘Powler Family,’ said the stranger, after reflecting a few moments.  Mrs. Sparsit signified assent.  The stranger seemed a little more fatigued than before.

‘You must be very much bored here?’ was the inference he drew from the communication.

‘I am the servant of circumstances, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘and I have long adapted myself to the governing power of my life.’

‘Very philosophical,’ returned the stranger, ‘and very exemplary and laudable, and—’  It seemed to be scarcely worth his while to finish the sentence, so he played with his watch-chain wearily.

‘May I be permitted to ask, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘to what I am indebted for the favour of—’

‘Assuredly,’ said the stranger.  ‘Much obliged to you for reminding me.  I am the bearer of a letter of introduction to Mr. Bounderby, the banker.  Walking through this extraordinarily black town, while they were getting dinner ready at the hotel, I asked a fellow whom I met; one of the working people; who appeared to have been taking a shower-bath of something fluffy, which I assume to be the raw material—’

Mrs. Sparsit inclined her head.

‘—Raw material—where Mr. Bounderby, the banker, might reside.  Upon which, misled no doubt by the word Banker, he directed me to the Bank.  Fact being, I presume, that Mr. Bounderby the Banker does not reside in the edifice in which I have the honour of offering this explanation?’

‘No, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘he does not.’

‘Thank you.  I had no intention of delivering my letter at the present moment, nor have I. But strolling on to the Bank to kill time, and having the good fortune to observe at the window,’ towards which he languidly waved his hand, then slightly bowed, ‘a lady of a very superior and agreeable appearance, I considered that I could not do better than take the liberty of asking that lady where Mr. Bounderby the Banker does live.  Which I accordingly venture, with all suitable apologies, to do.’

The inattention and indolence of his manner were sufficiently relieved, to Mrs. Sparsit’s thinking, by a certain gallantry at ease, which offered her homage too.  Here he was, for instance, at this moment, all but sitting on the table, and yet lazily bending over her, as if he acknowledged an attraction in her that made her charming—in her way.

‘Banks, I know, are always suspicious, and officially must be,’ said the stranger, whose lightness and smoothness of speech were pleasant likewise; suggesting matter far more sensible and humorous than it ever contained—which was perhaps a shrewd device of the founder of this numerous sect, whosoever may have been that great man: ‘therefore I may observe that my letter—here it is—is from the member for this place—Gradgrind—whom I have had the pleasure of knowing in London.’

Mrs. Sparsit recognized the hand, intimated that such confirmation was quite unnecessary, and gave Mr. Bounderby’s address, with all needful clues and directions in aid.

‘Thousand thanks,’ said the stranger.  ‘Of course you know the Banker well?’

‘Yes, sir,’ rejoined Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘In my dependent relation towards him, I have known him ten years.’

‘Quite an eternity!  I think he married Gradgrind’s daughter?’

‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, suddenly compressing her mouth, ‘he had that—honour.’

‘The lady is quite a philosopher, I am told?’

‘Indeed, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘Is she?’

‘Excuse my impertinent curiosity,’ pursued the stranger, fluttering over Mrs. Sparsit’s eyebrows, with a propitiatory air, ‘but you know the family, and know the world.  I am about to know the family, and may have much to do with them.  Is the lady so very alarming?  Her father gives her such a portentously hard-headed reputation, that I have a burning desire to know.  Is she absolutely unapproachable?  Repellently and stunningly clever?  I see, by your meaning smile, you think not.  You have poured balm into my anxious soul.  As to age, now.  Forty?  Five and thirty?’

Mrs. Sparsit laughed outright.  ‘A chit,’ said she.  ‘Not twenty when she was married.’

‘I give you my honour, Mrs. Powler,’ returned the stranger, detaching himself from the table, ‘that I never was so astonished in my life!’

It really did seem to impress him, to the utmost extent of his capacity of being impressed.  He looked at his informant for full a quarter of a minute, and appeared to have the surprise in his mind all the time.  ‘I assure you, Mrs. Powler,’ he then said, much exhausted, ‘that the father’s manner prepared me for a grim and stony maturity.  I am obliged to you, of all things, for correcting so absurd a mistake.  Pray excuse my intrusion.  Many thanks.  Good day!’

He bowed himself out; and Mrs. Sparsit, hiding in the window curtain, saw him languishing down the street on the shady side of the way, observed of all the town.

‘What do you think of the gentleman, Bitzer?’ she asked the light porter, when he came to take away.

‘Spends a deal of money on his dress, ma’am.’

‘It must be admitted,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘that it’s very tasteful.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ returned Bitzer, ‘if that’s worth the money.’

‘Besides which, ma’am,’ resumed Bitzer, while he was polishing the table, ‘he looks to me as if he gamed.’

‘It’s immoral to game,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘It’s ridiculous, ma’am,’ said Bitzer, ‘because the chances are against the players.’

Whether it was that the heat prevented Mrs. Sparsit from working, or whether it was that her hand was out, she did no work that night.  She sat at the window, when the sun began to sink behind the smoke; she sat there, when the smoke was burning red, when the colour faded from it, when darkness seemed to rise slowly out of the ground, and creep upward, upward, up to the house-tops, up the church steeple, up to the summits of the factory chimneys, up to the sky.  Without a candle in the room, Mrs. Sparsit sat at the window, with her hands before her, not thinking much of the sounds of evening; the whooping of boys, the barking of dogs, the rumbling of wheels, the steps and voices of passengers, the shrill street cries, the clogs upon the pavement when it was their hour for going by, the shutting-up of shop-shutters.  Not until the light porter announced that her nocturnal sweetbread was ready, did Mrs. Sparsit arouse herself from her reverie, and convey her dense black eyebrows—by that time creased with meditation, as if they needed ironing out-up-stairs.

‘O, you Fool!’ said Mrs. Sparsit, when she was alone at her supper.  Whom she meant, she did not say; but she could scarcely have meant the sweetbread.

CHAPTER II. 
MR. JAMES HARTHOUSE

The Gradgrind party wanted assistance in cutting the throats of the Graces.  They went about recruiting; and where could they enlist recruits more hopefully, than among the fine gentlemen who, having found out everything to be worth nothing, were equally ready for anything?

Moreover, the healthy spirits who had mounted to this sublime height were attractive to many of the Gradgrind school.  They liked fine gentlemen; they pretended that they did not, but they did.  They became exhausted in imitation of them; and they yaw-yawed in their speech like them; and they served out, with an enervated air, the little mouldy rations of political economy, on which they regaled their disciples.  There never before was seen on earth such a wonderful hybrid race as was thus produced.

Among the fine gentlemen not regularly belonging to the Gradgrind school, there was one of a good family and a better appearance, with a happy turn of humour which had told immensely with the House of Commons on the occasion of his entertaining it with his (and the Board of Directors) view of a railway accident, in which the most careful officers ever known, employed by the most liberal managers ever heard of, assisted by the finest mechanical contrivances ever devised, the whole in action on the best line ever constructed, had killed five people and wounded thirty-two, by a casualty without which the excellence of the whole system would have been positively incomplete.  Among the slain was a cow, and among the scattered articles unowned, a widow’s cap.  And the honourable member had so tickled the House (which has a delicate sense of humour) by putting the cap on the cow, that it became impatient of any serious reference to the Coroner’s Inquest, and brought the railway off with Cheers and Laughter.

Now, this gentleman had a younger brother of still better appearance than himself, who had tried life as a Cornet of Dragoons, and found it a bore; and had afterwards tried it in the train of an English minister abroad, and found it a bore; and had then strolled to Jerusalem, and got bored there; and had then gone yachting about the world, and got bored everywhere.  To whom this honourable and jocular, member fraternally said one day, ‘Jem, there’s a good opening among the hard Fact fellows, and they want men.  I wonder you don’t go in for statistics.’  Jem, rather taken by the novelty of the idea, and very hard up for a change, was as ready to ‘go in’ for statistics as for anything else.  So, he went in.  He coached himself up with a blue-book or two; and his brother put it about among the hard Fact fellows, and said, ‘If you want to bring in, for any place, a handsome dog who can make you a devilish good speech, look after my brother Jem, for he’s your man.’  After a few dashes in the public meeting way, Mr. Gradgrind and a council of political sages approved of Jem, and it was resolved to send him down to Coketown, to become known there and in the neighbourhood.  Hence the letter Jem had last night shown to Mrs. Sparsit, which Mr. Bounderby now held in his hand; superscribed, ‘Josiah Bounderby, Esquire, Banker, Coketown.  Specially to introduce James Harthouse, Esquire.  Thomas Gradgrind.’

Within an hour of the receipt of this dispatch and Mr. James Harthouse’s card, Mr. Bounderby put on his hat and went down to the Hotel.  There he found Mr. James Harthouse looking out of window, in a state of mind so disconsolate, that he was already half-disposed to ‘go in’ for something else.

‘My name, sir,’ said his visitor, ‘is Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown.’

Mr. James Harthouse was very happy indeed (though he scarcely looked so) to have a pleasure he had long expected.

‘Coketown, sir,’ said Bounderby, obstinately taking a chair, ‘is not the kind of place you have been accustomed to.  Therefore, if you will allow me—or whether you will or not, for I am a plain man—I’ll tell you something about it before we go any further.’

Mr. Harthouse would be charmed.

‘Don’t be too sure of that,’ said Bounderby.  ‘I don’t promise it.  First of all, you see our smoke.  That’s meat and drink to us.  It’s the healthiest thing in the world in all respects, and particularly for the lungs.  If you are one of those who want us to consume it, I differ from you.  We are not going to wear the bottoms of our boilers out any faster than we wear ’em out now, for all the humbugging sentiment in Great Britain and Ireland.’

By way of ‘going in’ to the fullest extent, Mr. Harthouse rejoined, ‘Mr. Bounderby, I assure you I am entirely and completely of your way of thinking.  On conviction.’

‘I am glad to hear it,’ said Bounderby.  ‘Now, you have heard a lot of talk about the work in our mills, no doubt.  You have?  Very good.  I’ll state the fact of it to you.  It’s the pleasantest work there is, and it’s the lightest work there is, and it’s the best-paid work there is.  More than that, we couldn’t improve the mills themselves, unless we laid down Turkey carpets on the floors.  Which we’re not a-going to do.’

‘Mr. Bounderby, perfectly right.’

‘Lastly,’ said Bounderby, ‘as to our Hands.  There’s not a Hand in this town, sir, man, woman, or child, but has one ultimate object in life.  That object is, to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon.  Now, they’re not a-going—none of ’em—ever to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon.  And now you know the place.’

Mr. Harthouse professed himself in the highest degree instructed and refreshed, by this condensed epitome of the whole Coketown question.

‘Why, you see,’ replied Mr. Bounderby, ‘it suits my disposition to have a full understanding with a man, particularly with a public man, when I make his acquaintance.  I have only one thing more to say to you, Mr. Harthouse, before assuring you of the pleasure with which I shall respond, to the utmost of my poor ability, to my friend Tom Gradgrind’s letter of introduction.  You are a man of family.  Don’t you deceive yourself by supposing for a moment that I am a man of family.  I am a bit of dirty riff-raff, and a genuine scrap of tag, rag, and bobtail.’

If anything could have exalted Jem’s interest in Mr. Bounderby, it would have been this very circumstance.  Or, so he told him.

‘So now,’ said Bounderby, ‘we may shake hands on equal terms.  I say, equal terms, because although I know what I am, and the exact depth of the gutter I have lifted myself out of, better than any man does, I am as proud as you are.  I am just as proud as you are.  Having now asserted my independence in a proper manner, I may come to how do you find yourself, and I hope you’re pretty well.’

The better, Mr. Harthouse gave him to understand as they shook hands, for the salubrious air of Coketown.  Mr. Bounderby received the answer with favour.

‘Perhaps you know,’ said he, ‘or perhaps you don’t know, I married Tom Gradgrind’s daughter.  If you have nothing better to do than to walk up town with me, I shall be glad to introduce you to Tom Gradgrind’s daughter.’

‘Mr. Bounderby,’ said Jem, ‘you anticipate my dearest wishes.’

They went out without further discourse; and Mr. Bounderby piloted the new acquaintance who so strongly contrasted with him, to the private red brick dwelling, with the black outside shutters, the green inside blinds, and the black street door up the two white steps.  In the drawing-room of which mansion, there presently entered to them the most remarkable girl Mr. James Harthouse had ever seen.  She was so constrained, and yet so careless; so reserved, and yet so watchful; so cold and proud, and yet so sensitively ashamed of her husband’s braggart humility—from which she shrunk as if every example of it were a cut or a blow; that it was quite a new sensation to observe her.  In face she was no less remarkable than in manner.  Her features were handsome; but their natural play was so locked up, that it seemed impossible to guess at their genuine expression.  Utterly indifferent, perfectly self-reliant, never at a loss, and yet never at her ease, with her figure in company with them there, and her mind apparently quite alone—it was of no use ‘going in’ yet awhile to comprehend this girl, for she baffled all penetration.

From the mistress of the house, the visitor glanced to the house itself.  There was no mute sign of a woman in the room.  No graceful little adornment, no fanciful little device, however trivial, anywhere expressed her influence.  Cheerless and comfortless, boastfully and doggedly rich, there the room stared at its present occupants, unsoftened and unrelieved by the least trace of any womanly occupation.  As Mr. Bounderby stood in the midst of his household gods, so those unrelenting divinities occupied their places around Mr. Bounderby, and they were worthy of one another, and well matched.

‘This, sir,’ said Bounderby, ‘is my wife, Mrs. Bounderby: Tom Gradgrind’s eldest daughter.  Loo, Mr. James Harthouse.  Mr. Harthouse has joined your father’s muster-roll.  If he is not Tom Gradgrind’s colleague before long, I believe we shall at least hear of him in connexion with one of our neighbouring towns.  You observe, Mr. Harthouse, that my wife is my junior.  I don’t know what she saw in me to marry me, but she saw something in me, I suppose, or she wouldn’t have married me.  She has lots of expensive knowledge, sir, political and otherwise.  If you want to cram for anything, I should be troubled to recommend you to a better adviser than Loo Bounderby.’

To a more agreeable adviser, or one from whom he would be more likely to learn, Mr. Harthouse could never be recommended.

‘Come!’ said his host.  ‘If you’re in the complimentary line, you’ll get on here, for you’ll meet with no competition.  I have never been in the way of learning compliments myself, and I don’t profess to understand the art of paying ’em.  In fact, despise ’em.  But, your bringing-up was different from mine; mine was a real thing, by George!  You’re a gentleman, and I don’t pretend to be one.  I am Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, and that’s enough for me.  However, though I am not influenced by manners and station, Loo Bounderby may be.  She hadn’t my advantages—disadvantages you would call ’em, but I call ’em advantages—so you’ll not waste your power, I dare say.’

‘Mr. Bounderby,’ said Jem, turning with a smile to Louisa, ‘is a noble animal in a comparatively natural state, quite free from the harness in which a conventional hack like myself works.’

‘You respect Mr. Bounderby very much,’ she quietly returned.  ‘It is natural that you should.’

He was disgracefully thrown out, for a gentleman who had seen so much of the world, and thought, ‘Now, how am I to take this?’

‘You are going to devote yourself, as I gather from what Mr. Bounderby has said, to the service of your country.  You have made up your mind,’ said Louisa, still standing before him where she had first stopped—in all the singular contrariety of her self-possession, and her being obviously very ill at ease—‘to show the nation the way out of all its difficulties.’

‘Mrs. Bounderby,’ he returned, laughing, ‘upon my honour, no.  I will make no such pretence to you.  I have seen a little, here and there, up and down; I have found it all to be very worthless, as everybody has, and as some confess they have, and some do not; and I am going in for your respected father’s opinions—really because I have no choice of opinions, and may as well back them as anything else.’

‘Have you none of your own?’ asked Louisa.

‘I have not so much as the slightest predilection left.  I assure you I attach not the least importance to any opinions.  The result of the varieties of boredom I have undergone, is a conviction (unless conviction is too industrious a word for the lazy sentiment I entertain on the subject), that any set of ideas will do just as much good as any other set, and just as much harm as any other set.  There’s an English family with a charming Italian motto.  What will be, will be.  It’s the only truth going!’

This vicious assumption of honesty in dishonesty—a vice so dangerous, so deadly, and so common—seemed, he observed, a little to impress her in his favour.  He followed up the advantage, by saying in his pleasantest manner: a manner to which she might attach as much or as little meaning as she pleased: ‘The side that can prove anything in a line of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, Mrs. Bounderby, seems to me to afford the most fun, and to give a man the best chance.  I am quite as much attached to it as if I believed it.  I am quite ready to go in for it, to the same extent as if I believed it.  And what more could I possibly do, if I did believe it!’

‘You are a singular politician,’ said Louisa.

‘Pardon me; I have not even that merit.  We are the largest party in the state, I assure you, Mrs. Bounderby, if we all fell out of our adopted ranks and were reviewed together.’

Mr. Bounderby, who had been in danger of bursting in silence, interposed here with a project for postponing the family dinner till half-past six, and taking Mr. James Harthouse in the meantime on a round of visits to the voting and interesting notabilities of Coketown and its vicinity.  The round of visits was made; and Mr. James Harthouse, with a discreet use of his blue coaching, came off triumphantly, though with a considerable accession of boredom.

In the evening, he found the dinner-table laid for four, but they sat down only three.  It was an appropriate occasion for Mr. Bounderby to discuss the flavour of the hap’orth of stewed eels he had purchased in the streets at eight years old; and also of the inferior water, specially used for laying the dust, with which he had washed down that repast.  He likewise entertained his guest over the soup and fish, with the calculation that he (Bounderby) had eaten in his youth at least three horses under the guise of polonies and saveloys.  These recitals, Jem, in a languid manner, received with ‘charming!’ every now and then; and they probably would have decided him to ‘go in’ for Jerusalem again to-morrow morning, had he been less curious respecting Louisa.

‘Is there nothing,’ he thought, glancing at her as she sat at the head of the table, where her youthful figure, small and slight, but very graceful, looked as pretty as it looked misplaced; ‘is there nothing that will move that face?’

Yes!  By Jupiter, there was something, and here it was, in an unexpected shape.  Tom appeared.  She changed as the door opened, and broke into a beaming smile.

A beautiful smile.  Mr. James Harthouse might not have thought so much of it, but that he had wondered so long at her impassive face.  She put out her hand—a pretty little soft hand; and her fingers closed upon her brother’s, as if she would have carried them to her lips.

‘Ay, ay?’ thought the visitor.  ‘This whelp is the only creature she cares for.  So, so!’

The whelp was presented, and took his chair.  The appellation was not flattering, but not unmerited.

‘When I was your age, young Tom,’ said Bounderby, ‘I was punctual, or I got no dinner!’

‘When you were my age,’ resumed Tom, ‘you hadn’t a wrong balance to get right, and hadn’t to dress afterwards.’

‘Never mind that now,’ said Bounderby.

‘Well, then,’ grumbled Tom.  ‘Don’t begin with me.’

‘Mrs. Bounderby,’ said Harthouse, perfectly hearing this under-strain as it went on; ‘your brother’s face is quite familiar to me.  Can I have seen him abroad?  Or at some public school, perhaps?’

‘No,’ she resumed, quite interested, ‘he has never been abroad yet, and was educated here, at home.  Tom, love, I am telling Mr. Harthouse that he never saw you abroad.’

‘No such luck, sir,’ said Tom.

There was little enough in him to brighten her face, for he was a sullen young fellow, and ungracious in his manner even to her.  So much the greater must have been the solitude of her heart, and her need of some one on whom to bestow it.  ‘So much the more is this whelp the only creature she has ever cared for,’ thought Mr. James Harthouse, turning it over and over.  ‘So much the more.  So much the more.’

Both in his sister’s presence, and after she had left the room, the whelp took no pains to hide his contempt for Mr. Bounderby, whenever he could indulge it without the observation of that independent man, by making wry faces, or shutting one eye.  Without responding to these telegraphic communications, Mr. Harthouse encouraged him much in the course of the evening, and showed an unusual liking for him.  At last, when he rose to return to his hotel, and was a little doubtful whether he knew the way by night, the whelp immediately proffered his services as guide, and turned out with him to escort him thither.


CHAPTER III. 
THE WHELP

It was very remarkable that a young gentleman who had been brought up under one continuous system of unnatural restraint, should be a hypocrite; but it was certainly the case with Tom.  It was very strange that a young gentleman who had never been left to his own guidance for five consecutive minutes, should be incapable at last of governing himself; but so it was with Tom.  It was altogether unaccountable that a young gentleman whose imagination had been strangled in his cradle, should be still inconvenienced by its ghost in the form of grovelling sensualities; but such a monster, beyond all doubt, was Tom.

‘Do you smoke?’ asked Mr. James Harthouse, when they came to the hotel.

‘I believe you!’ said Tom.

He could do no less than ask Tom up; and Tom could do no less than go up.  What with a cooling drink adapted to the weather, but not so weak as cool; and what with a rarer tobacco than was to be bought in those parts; Tom was soon in a highly free and easy state at his end of the sofa, and more than ever disposed to admire his new friend at the other end.

Tom blew his smoke aside, after he had been smoking a little while, and took an observation of his friend.  ‘He don’t seem to care about his dress,’ thought Tom, ‘and yet how capitally he does it.  What an easy swell he is!’

Mr. James Harthouse, happening to catch Tom’s eye, remarked that he drank nothing, and filled his glass with his own negligent hand.

‘Thank’ee,’ said Tom.  ‘Thank’ee.  Well, Mr. Harthouse, I hope you have had about a dose of old Bounderby to-night.’  Tom said this with one eye shut up again, and looking over his glass knowingly, at his entertainer.

‘A very good fellow indeed!’ returned Mr. James Harthouse.

‘You think so, don’t you?’ said Tom.  And shut up his eye again.

Mr. James Harthouse smiled; and rising from his end of the sofa, and lounging with his back against the chimney-piece, so that he stood before the empty fire-grate as he smoked, in front of Tom and looking down at him, observed:

‘What a comical brother-in-law you are!’

‘What a comical brother-in-law old Bounderby is, I think you mean,’ said Tom.

‘You are a piece of caustic, Tom,’ retorted Mr. James Harthouse.

There was something so very agreeable in being so intimate with such a waistcoat; in being called Tom, in such an intimate way, by such a voice; in being on such off-hand terms so soon, with such a pair of whiskers; that Tom was uncommonly pleased with himself.

‘Oh!  I don’t care for old Bounderby,’ said he, ‘if you mean that.  I have always called old Bounderby by the same name when I have talked about him, and I have always thought of him in the same way.  I am not going to begin to be polite now, about old Bounderby.  It would be rather late in the day.’

‘Don’t mind me,’ returned James; ‘but take care when his wife is by, you know.’

‘His wife?’ said Tom.  ‘My sister Loo?  O yes!’  And he laughed, and took a little more of the cooling drink.

James Harthouse continued to lounge in the same place and attitude, smoking his cigar in his own easy way, and looking pleasantly at the whelp, as if he knew himself to be a kind of agreeable demon who had only to hover over him, and he must give up his whole soul if required.  It certainly did seem that the whelp yielded to this influence.  He looked at his companion sneakingly, he looked at him admiringly, he looked at him boldly, and put up one leg on the sofa.

‘My sister Loo?’ said Tom.  ‘She never cared for old Bounderby.’

‘That’s the past tense, Tom,’ returned Mr. James Harthouse, striking the ash from his cigar with his little finger.  ‘We are in the present tense, now.’

‘Verb neuter, not to care.  Indicative mood, present tense.  First person singular, I do not care; second person singular, thou dost not care; third person singular, she does not care,’ returned Tom.

‘Good!  Very quaint!’ said his friend.  ‘Though you don’t mean it.’

‘But I do mean it,’ cried Tom.  ‘Upon my honour!  Why, you won’t tell me, Mr. Harthouse, that you really suppose my sister Loo does care for old Bounderby.’

‘My dear fellow,’ returned the other, ‘what am I bound to suppose, when I find two married people living in harmony and happiness?’

Tom had by this time got both his legs on the sofa.  If his second leg had not been already there when he was called a dear fellow, he would have put it up at that great stage of the conversation.  Feeling it necessary to do something then, he stretched himself out at greater length, and, reclining with the back of his head on the end of the sofa, and smoking with an infinite assumption of negligence, turned his common face, and not too sober eyes, towards the face looking down upon him so carelessly yet so potently.

‘You know our governor, Mr. Harthouse,’ said Tom, ‘and therefore, you needn’t be surprised that Loo married old Bounderby.  She never had a lover, and the governor proposed old Bounderby, and she took him.’

‘Very dutiful in your interesting sister,’ said Mr. James Harthouse.

‘Yes, but she wouldn’t have been as dutiful, and it would not have come off as easily,’ returned the whelp, ‘if it hadn’t been for me.’

The tempter merely lifted his eyebrows; but the whelp was obliged to go on.

‘I persuaded her,’ he said, with an edifying air of superiority.  ‘I was stuck into old Bounderby’s bank (where I never wanted to be), and I knew I should get into scrapes there, if she put old Bounderby’s pipe out; so I told her my wishes, and she came into them.  She would do anything for me.  It was very game of her, wasn’t it?’

‘It was charming, Tom!’

‘Not that it was altogether so important to her as it was to me,’ continued Tom coolly, ‘because my liberty and comfort, and perhaps my getting on, depended on it; and she had no other lover, and staying at home was like staying in jail—especially when I was gone.  It wasn’t as if she gave up another lover for old Bounderby; but still it was a good thing in her.’

‘Perfectly delightful.  And she gets on so placidly.’

‘Oh,’ returned Tom, with contemptuous patronage, ‘she’s a regular girl.  A girl can get on anywhere.  She has settled down to the life, and she don’t mind.  It does just as well as another.  Besides, though Loo is a girl, she’s not a common sort of girl.  She can shut herself up within herself, and think—as I have often known her sit and watch the fire—for an hour at a stretch.’

‘Ay, ay?  Has resources of her own,’ said Harthouse, smoking quietly.

‘Not so much of that as you may suppose,’ returned Tom; ‘for our governor had her crammed with all sorts of dry bones and sawdust.  It’s his system.’

‘Formed his daughter on his own model?’ suggested Harthouse.

‘His daughter?  Ah! and everybody else.  Why, he formed Me that way!’ said Tom.

‘Impossible!’

‘He did, though,’ said Tom, shaking his head.  ‘I mean to say, Mr. Harthouse, that when I first left home and went to old Bounderby’s, I was as flat as a warming-pan, and knew no more about life, than any oyster does.’

‘Come, Tom!  I can hardly believe that.  A joke’s a joke.’

‘Upon my soul!’ said the whelp.  ‘I am serious; I am indeed!’  He smoked with great gravity and dignity for a little while, and then added, in a highly complacent tone, ‘Oh!  I have picked up a little since.  I don’t deny that.  But I have done it myself; no thanks to the governor.’

‘And your intelligent sister?’

‘My intelligent sister is about where she was.  She used to complain to me that she had nothing to fall back upon, that girls usually fall back upon; and I don’t see how she is to have got over that since.  But she don’t mind,’ he sagaciously added, puffing at his cigar again.  ‘Girls can always get on, somehow.’

‘Calling at the Bank yesterday evening, for Mr. Bounderby’s address, I found an ancient lady there, who seems to entertain great admiration for your sister,’ observed Mr. James Harthouse, throwing away the last small remnant of the cigar he had now smoked out.

‘Mother Sparsit!’ said Tom.  ‘What! you have seen her already, have you?’

His friend nodded.  Tom took his cigar out of his mouth, to shut up his eye (which had grown rather unmanageable) with the greater expression, and to tap his nose several times with his finger.

‘Mother Sparsit’s feeling for Loo is more than admiration, I should think,’ said Tom.  ‘Say affection and devotion.  Mother Sparsit never set her cap at Bounderby when he was a bachelor.  Oh no!’

These were the last words spoken by the whelp, before a giddy drowsiness came upon him, followed by complete oblivion.  He was roused from the latter state by an uneasy dream of being stirred up with a boot, and also of a voice saying: ‘Come, it’s late.  Be off!’

‘Well!’ he said, scrambling from the sofa.  ‘I must take my leave of you though.  I say.  Yours is very good tobacco.  But it’s too mild.’

‘Yes, it’s too mild,’ returned his entertainer.

‘It’s—it’s ridiculously mild,’ said Tom.  ‘Where’s the door!  Good night!’

He had another odd dream of being taken by a waiter through a mist, which, after giving him some trouble and difficulty, resolved itself into the main street, in which he stood alone.  He then walked home pretty easily, though not yet free from an impression of the presence and influence of his new friend—as if he were lounging somewhere in the air, in the same negligent attitude, regarding him with the same look.

The whelp went home, and went to bed.  If he had had any sense of what he had done that night, and had been less of a whelp and more of a brother, he might have turned short on the road, might have gone down to the ill-smelling river that was dyed black, might have gone to bed in it for good and all, and have curtained his head for ever with its filthy waters.

CHAPTER IV. 
MEN AND BROTHERS

‘Oh, my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown!  Oh, my friends and fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an iron-handed and a grinding despotism!  Oh, my friends and fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen, and fellow-men!  I tell you that the hour is come, when we must rally round one another as One united power, and crumble into dust the oppressors that too long have battened upon the plunder of our families, upon the sweat of our brows, upon the labour of our hands, upon the strength of our sinews, upon the God-created glorious rights of Humanity, and upon the holy and eternal privileges of Brotherhood!’

‘Good!’  ‘Hear, hear, hear!’  ‘Hurrah!’ and other cries, arose in many voices from various parts of the densely crowded and suffocatingly close Hall, in which the orator, perched on a stage, delivered himself of this and what other froth and fume he had in him.  He had declaimed himself into a violent heat, and was as hoarse as he was hot.  By dint of roaring at the top of his voice under a flaring gaslight, clenching his fists, knitting his brows, setting his teeth, and pounding with his arms, he had taken so much out of himself by this time, that he was brought to a stop, and called for a glass of water.

As he stood there, trying to quench his fiery face with his drink of water, the comparison between the orator and the crowd of attentive faces turned towards him, was extremely to his disadvantage.  Judging him by Nature’s evidence, he was above the mass in very little but the stage on which he stood.  In many great respects he was essentially below them.  He was not so honest, he was not so manly, he was not so good-humoured; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense.  An ill-made, high-shouldered man, with lowering brows, and his features crushed into an habitually sour expression, he contrasted most unfavourably, even in his mongrel dress, with the great body of his hearers in their plain working clothes.  Strange as it always is to consider any assembly in the act of submissively resigning itself to the dreariness of some complacent person, lord or commoner, whom three-fourths of it could, by no human means, raise out of the slough of inanity to their own intellectual level, it was particularly strange, and it was even particularly affecting, to see this crowd of earnest faces, whose honesty in the main no competent observer free from bias could doubt, so agitated by such a leader.

Good!  Hear, hear!  Hurrah!  The eagerness both of attention and intention, exhibited in all the countenances, made them a most impressive sight.  There was no carelessness, no languor, no idle curiosity; none of the many shades of indifference to be seen in all other assemblies, visible for one moment there.  That every man felt his condition to be, somehow or other, worse than it might be; that every man considered it incumbent on him to join the rest, towards the making of it better; that every man felt his only hope to be in his allying himself to the comrades by whom he was surrounded; and that in this belief, right or wrong (unhappily wrong then), the whole of that crowd were gravely, deeply, faithfully in earnest; must have been as plain to any one who chose to see what was there, as the bare beams of the roof and the whitened brick walls.  Nor could any such spectator fail to know in his own breast, that these men, through their very delusions, showed great qualities, susceptible of being turned to the happiest and best account; and that to pretend (on the strength of sweeping axioms, howsoever cut and dried) that they went astray wholly without cause, and of their own irrational wills, was to pretend that there could be smoke without fire, death without birth, harvest without seed, anything or everything produced from nothing.

The orator having refreshed himself, wiped his corrugated forehead from left to right several times with his handkerchief folded into a pad, and concentrated all his revived forces, in a sneer of great disdain and bitterness.

‘But oh, my friends and brothers!  Oh, men and Englishmen, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown!  What shall we say of that man—that working-man, that I should find it necessary so to libel the glorious name—who, being practically and well acquainted with the grievances and wrongs of you, the injured pith and marrow of this land, and having heard you, with a noble and majestic unanimity that will make Tyrants tremble, resolve for to subscribe to the funds of the United Aggregate Tribunal, and to abide by the injunctions issued by that body for your benefit, whatever they may be—what, I ask you, will you say of that working-man, since such I must acknowledge him to be, who, at such a time, deserts his post, and sells his flag; who, at such a time, turns a traitor and a craven and a recreant, who, at such a time, is not ashamed to make to you the dastardly and humiliating avowal that he will hold himself aloof, and will not be one of those associated in the gallant stand for Freedom and for Right?’

The assembly was divided at this point.  There were some groans and hisses, but the general sense of honour was much too strong for the condemnation of a man unheard.  ‘Be sure you’re right, Slackbridge!’  ‘Put him up!’  ‘Let’s hear him!’  Such things were said on many sides.  Finally, one strong voice called out, ‘Is the man heer?  If the man’s heer, Slackbridge, let’s hear the man himseln, ’stead o’ yo.’  Which was received with a round of applause.

Slackbridge, the orator, looked about him with a withering smile; and, holding out his right hand at arm’s length (as the manner of all Slackbridges is), to still the thundering sea, waited until there was a profound silence.

‘Oh, my friends and fellow-men!’ said Slackbridge then, shaking his head with violent scorn, ‘I do not wonder that you, the prostrate sons of labour, are incredulous of the existence of such a man.  But he who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage existed, and Judas Iscariot existed, and Castlereagh existed, and this man exists!’

Here, a brief press and confusion near the stage, ended in the man himself standing at the orator’s side before the concourse.  He was pale and a little moved in the face—his lips especially showed it; but he stood quiet, with his left hand at his chin, waiting to be heard.  There was a chairman to regulate the proceedings, and this functionary now took the case into his own hands.

‘My friends,’ said he, ‘by virtue o’ my office as your president, I askes o’ our friend Slackbridge, who may be a little over hetter in this business, to take his seat, whiles this man Stephen Blackpool is heern.  You all know this man Stephen Blackpool.  You know him awlung o’ his misfort’ns, and his good name.’

With that, the chairman shook him frankly by the hand, and sat down again.  Slackbridge likewise sat down, wiping his hot forehead—always from left to right, and never the reverse way.

‘My friends,’ Stephen began, in the midst of a dead calm; ‘I ha’ hed what’s been spok’n o’ me, and ’tis lickly that I shan’t mend it.  But I’d liefer you’d hearn the truth concernin myseln, fro my lips than fro onny other man’s, though I never cud’n speak afore so monny, wi’out bein moydert and muddled.’

Slackbridge shook his head as if he would shake it off, in his bitterness.

‘I’m th’ one single Hand in Bounderby’s mill, o’ a’ the men theer, as don’t coom in wi’ th’ proposed reg’lations.  I canna coom in wi’ ’em.  My friends, I doubt their doin’ yo onny good.  Licker they’ll do yo hurt.’

Slackbridge laughed, folded his arms, and frowned sarcastically.

‘But ’t an’t sommuch for that as I stands out.  If that were aw, I’d coom in wi’ th’ rest.  But I ha’ my reasons—mine, yo see—for being hindered; not on’y now, but awlus—awlus—life long!’

Slackbridge jumped up and stood beside him, gnashing and tearing.  ‘Oh, my friends, what but this did I tell you?  Oh, my fellow-countrymen, what warning but this did I give you?  And how shows this recreant conduct in a man on whom unequal laws are known to have fallen heavy?  Oh, you Englishmen, I ask you how does this subornation show in one of yourselves, who is thus consenting to his own undoing and to yours, and to your children’s and your children’s children’s?’

There was some applause, and some crying of Shame upon the man; but the greater part of the audience were quiet.  They looked at Stephen’s worn face, rendered more pathetic by the homely emotions it evinced; and, in the kindness of their nature, they were more sorry than indignant.

‘’Tis this Delegate’s trade for t’ speak,’ said Stephen, ‘an’ he’s paid for ’t, an’ he knows his work.  Let him keep to ’t.  Let him give no heed to what I ha had’n to bear.  That’s not for him.  That’s not for nobbody but me.’

There was a propriety, not to say a dignity in these words, that made the hearers yet more quiet and attentive.  The same strong voice called out, ‘Slackbridge, let the man be heern, and howd thee tongue!’  Then the place was wonderfully still.

‘My brothers,’ said Stephen, whose low voice was distinctly heard, ‘and my fellow-workmen—for that yo are to me, though not, as I knows on, to this delegate here—I ha but a word to sen, and I could sen nommore if I was to speak till Strike o’ day.  I know weel, aw what’s afore me.  I know weel that yo aw resolve to ha nommore ado wi’ a man who is not wi’ yo in this matther.  I know weel that if I was a lyin parisht i’ th’ road, yo’d feel it right to pass me by, as a forrenner and stranger.  What I ha getn, I mun mak th’ best on.’

‘Stephen Blackpool,’ said the chairman, rising, ‘think on ’t agen.  Think on ’t once agen, lad, afore thou’rt shunned by aw owd friends.’

There was an universal murmur to the same effect, though no man articulated a word.  Every eye was fixed on Stephen’s face.  To repent of his determination, would be to take a load from all their minds.  He looked around him, and knew that it was so.  Not a grain of anger with them was in his heart; he knew them, far below their surface weaknesses and misconceptions, as no one but their fellow-labourer could.

‘I ha thowt on ’t, above a bit, sir.  I simply canna coom in.  I mun go th’ way as lays afore me.  I mun tak my leave o’ aw heer.’

He made a sort of reverence to them by holding up his arms, and stood for the moment in that attitude; not speaking until they slowly dropped at his sides.

‘Monny’s the pleasant word as soom heer has spok’n wi’ me; monny’s the face I see heer, as I first seen when I were yoong and lighter heart’n than now.  I ha’ never had no fratch afore, sin ever I were born, wi’ any o’ my like; Gonnows I ha’ none now that’s o’ my makin’.  Yo’ll ca’ me traitor and that—yo I mean t’ say,’ addressing Slackbridge, ‘but ’tis easier to ca’ than mak’ out.  So let be.’

He had moved away a pace or two to come down from the platform, when he remembered something he had not said, and returned again.

‘Haply,’ he said, turning his furrowed face slowly about, that he might as it were individually address the whole audience, those both near and distant; ‘haply, when this question has been tak’n up and discoosed, there’ll be a threat to turn out if I’m let to work among yo.  I hope I shall die ere ever such a time cooms, and I shall work solitary among yo unless it cooms—truly, I mun do ’t, my friends; not to brave yo, but to live.  I ha nobbut work to live by; and wheerever can I go, I who ha worked sin I were no heighth at aw, in Coketown heer?  I mak’ no complaints o’ bein turned to the wa’, o’ bein outcasten and overlooken fro this time forrard, but hope I shall be let to work.  If there is any right for me at aw, my friends, I think ’tis that.’

Not a word was spoken.  Not a sound was audible in the building, but the slight rustle of men moving a little apart, all along the centre of the room, to open a means of passing out, to the man with whom they had all bound themselves to renounce companionship.  Looking at no one, and going his way with a lowly steadiness upon him that asserted nothing and sought nothing, Old Stephen, with all his troubles on his head, left the scene.

Then Slackbridge, who had kept his oratorical arm extended during the going out, as if he were repressing with infinite solicitude and by a wonderful moral power the vehement passions of the multitude, applied himself to raising their spirits.  Had not the Roman Brutus, oh, my British countrymen, condemned his son to death; and had not the Spartan mothers, oh my soon to be victorious friends, driven their flying children on the points of their enemies’ swords?  Then was it not the sacred duty of the men of Coketown, with forefathers before them, an admiring world in company with them, and a posterity to come after them, to hurl out traitors from the tents they had pitched in a sacred and a God-like cause?  The winds of heaven answered Yes; and bore Yes, east, west, north, and south.  And consequently three cheers for the United Aggregate Tribunal!

Slackbridge acted as fugleman, and gave the time.  The multitude of doubtful faces (a little conscience-stricken) brightened at the sound, and took it up.  Private feeling must yield to the common cause.  Hurrah!  The roof yet vibrated with the cheering, when the assembly dispersed.

Thus easily did Stephen Blackpool fall into the loneliest of lives, the life of solitude among a familiar crowd.  The stranger in the land who looks into ten thousand faces for some answering look and never finds it, is in cheering society as compared with him who passes ten averted faces daily, that were once the countenances of friends.  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.  Now, would you believe it, that although they have put this mark upon him, he is such a slave to them still, that he’s afraid to open his lips about them?’

‘I sed as I had nowt to sen, sir; not as I was fearfo’ o’ openin’ my lips.’

‘You said!  Ah!  I know what you said; more than that, I know what you mean, you see.  Not always the same thing, by the Lord Harry!  Quite different things.  You had better tell us at once, that that fellow Slackbridge is not in the town, stirring up the people to mutiny; and that he is not a regular qualified leader of the people: that is, a most confounded scoundrel.  You had better tell us so at once; you can’t deceive me.  You want to tell us so.  Why don’t you?’

‘I’m as sooary as yo, sir, when the people’s leaders is bad,’ said Stephen, shaking his head.  ‘They taks such as offers.  Haply ’tis na’ the sma’est o’ their misfortuns when they can get no better.’

The wind began to get boisterous.

‘Now, you’ll think this pretty well, Harthouse,’ said Mr. Bounderby.  ‘You’ll think this tolerably strong.  You’ll say, upon my soul this is a tidy specimen of what my friends have to deal with; but this is nothing, sir!  You shall hear me ask this man a question.  Pray, Mr. Blackpool’—wind springing up very fast—‘may I take the liberty of asking you how it happens that you refused to be in this Combination?’

‘How ’t happens?’

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Bounderby, with his thumbs in the arms of his coat, and jerking his head and shutting his eyes in confidence with the opposite wall: ‘how it happens.’

‘I’d leefer not coom to ’t, sir; but sin you put th’ question—an’ not want’n t’ be ill-manner’n—I’ll answer.  I ha passed a promess.’

‘Not to me, you know,’ said Bounderby.  (Gusty weather with deceitful calms.  One now prevailing.)

‘O no, sir.  Not to yo.’

‘As for me, any consideration for me has had just nothing at all to do with it,’ said Bounderby, still in confidence with the wall.  ‘If only Josiah Bounderby of Coketown had been in question, you would have joined and made no bones about it?’

‘Why yes, sir.  ’Tis true.’

‘Though he knows,’ said Mr. Bounderby, now blowing a gale, ‘that there are a set of rascals and rebels whom transportation is too good for!  Now, Mr. Harthouse, you have been knocking about in the world some time.  Did you ever meet with anything like that man out of this blessed country?’  And Mr. Bounderby pointed him out for inspection, with an angry finger.

‘Nay, ma’am,’ said Stephen Blackpool, staunchly protesting against the words that had been used, and instinctively addressing himself to Louisa, after glancing at her face.  ‘Not rebels, nor yet rascals.  Nowt o’ th’ kind, ma’am, nowt o’ th’ kind.  They’ve not doon me a kindness, ma’am, as I know and feel.  But there’s not a dozen men amoong ’em, ma’am—a dozen?  Not six—but what believes as he has doon his duty by the rest and by himseln.  God forbid as I, that ha’ known, and had’n experience o’ these men aw my life—I, that ha’ ett’n an’ droonken wi’ ’em, an’ seet’n wi’ ’em, and toil’n wi’ ’em, and lov’n ’em, should fail fur to stan by ’em wi’ the truth, let ’em ha’ doon to me what they may!’

He spoke with the rugged earnestness of his place and character—deepened perhaps by a proud consciousness that he was faithful to his class under all their mistrust; but he fully remembered where he was, and did not even raise his voice.

‘No, ma’am, no.  They’re true to one another, faithfo’ to one another, ’fectionate to one another, e’en to death.  Be poor amoong ’em, be sick amoong ’em, grieve amoong ’em for onny o’ th’ monny causes that carries grief to the poor man’s door, an’ they’ll be tender wi’ yo, gentle wi’ yo, comfortable wi’ yo, Chrisen wi’ yo.  Be sure o’ that, ma’am.  They’d be riven to bits, ere ever they’d be different.’

‘In short,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘it’s because they are so full of virtues that they have turned you adrift.  Go through with it while you are about it.  Out with it.’

‘How ’tis, ma’am,’ resumed Stephen, appearing still to find his natural refuge in Louisa’s face, ‘that what is best in us fok, seems to turn us most to trouble an’ misfort’n an’ mistake, I dunno.  But ’tis so.  I know ’tis, as I know the heavens is over me ahint the smoke.  We’re patient too, an’ wants in general to do right.  An’ I canna think the fawt is aw wi’ us.’

‘Now, my friend,’ said Mr. Bounderby, whom he could not have exasperated more, quite unconscious of it though he was, than by seeming to appeal to any one else, ‘if you will favour me with your attention for half a minute, I should like to have a word or two with you.  You said just now, that you had nothing to tell us about this business.  You are quite sure of that before we go any further.’

‘Sir, I am sure on ’t.’

‘Here’s a gentleman from London present,’ Mr. Bounderby made a backhanded point at Mr. James Harthouse with his thumb, ‘a Parliament gentleman.  I should like him to hear a short bit of dialogue between you and me, instead of taking the substance of it—for I know precious well, beforehand, what it will be; nobody knows better than I do, take notice!—instead of receiving it on trust from my mouth.’

Stephen bent his head to the gentleman from London, and showed a rather more troubled mind than usual.  He turned his eyes involuntarily to his former refuge, but at a look from that quarter (expressive though instantaneous) he settled them on Mr. Bounderby’s face.

‘Now, what do you complain of?’ asked Mr. Bounderby.

‘I ha’ not coom here, sir,’ Stephen reminded him, ‘to complain.  I coom for that I were sent for.’

‘What,’ repeated Mr. Bounderby, folding his arms, ‘do you people, in a general way, complain of?’

Stephen looked at him with some little irresolution for a moment, and then seemed to make up his mind.

‘Sir, I were never good at showin o ’t, though I ha had’n my share in feeling o ’t.  ’Deed we are in a muddle, sir.  Look round town—so rich as ’tis—and see the numbers o’ people as has been broughten into bein heer, fur to weave, an’ to card, an’ to piece out a livin’, aw the same one way, somehows, ’twixt their cradles and their graves.  Look how we live, an’ wheer we live, an’ in what numbers, an’ by what chances, and wi’ what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a goin, and how they never works us no nigher to ony dis’ant object—ceptin awlus, Death.  Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up wi’ yor deputations to Secretaries o’ State ’bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had’n no reason in us sin ever we were born.  Look how this ha growen an’ growen, sir, bigger an’ bigger, broader an’ broader, harder an’ harder, fro year to year, fro generation unto generation.  Who can look on ’t, sir, and fairly tell a man ’tis not a muddle?’

‘Of course,’ said Mr. Bounderby.  ‘Now perhaps you’ll let the gentleman know, how you would set this muddle (as you’re so fond of calling it) to rights.’

‘I donno, sir.  I canna be expecten to ’t.  ’Tis not me as should be looken to for that, sir.  ’Tis them as is put ower me, and ower aw the rest of us.  What do they tak upon themseln, sir, if not to do’t?’

‘I’ll tell you something towards it, at any rate,’ returned Mr. Bounderby.  ‘We will make an example of half a dozen Slackbridges.  We’ll indict the blackguards for felony, and get ’em shipped off to penal settlements.’

Stephen gravely shook his head.

‘Don’t tell me we won’t, man,’ said Mr. Bounderby, by this time blowing a hurricane, ‘because we will, I tell you!’

‘Sir,’ returned Stephen, with the quiet confidence of absolute certainty, ‘if yo was t’ tak a hundred Slackbridges—aw as there is, and aw the number ten times towd—an’ was t’ sew ’em up in separate sacks, an’ sink ’em in the deepest ocean as were made ere ever dry land coom to be, yo’d leave the muddle just wheer ’tis.  Mischeevous strangers!’ said Stephen, with an anxious smile; ‘when ha we not heern, I am sure, sin ever we can call to mind, o’ th’ mischeevous strangers!  ’Tis not by them the trouble’s made, sir.  ’Tis not wi’ them ’t commences.  I ha no favour for ’em—I ha no reason to favour ’em—but ’tis hopeless and useless to dream o’ takin them fro their trade, ’stead o’ takin their trade fro them!  Aw that’s now about me in this room were heer afore I coom, an’ will be heer when I am gone.  Put that clock aboard a ship an’ pack it off to Norfolk Island, an’ the time will go on just the same.  So ’tis wi’ Slackbridge every bit.’

Reverting for a moment to his former refuge, he observed a cautionary movement of her eyes towards the door.  Stepping back, he put his hand upon the lock.  But he had not spoken out of his own will and desire; and he felt it in his heart a noble return for his late injurious treatment to be faithful to the last to those who had repudiated him.  He stayed to finish what was in his mind.

‘Sir, I canna, wi’ my little learning an’ my common way, tell the genelman what will better aw this—though some working men o’ this town could, above my powers—but I can tell him what I know will never do ’t.  The strong hand will never do ’t.  Vict’ry and triumph will never do ’t.  Agreeing fur to mak one side unnat’rally awlus and for ever right, and toother side unnat’rally awlus and for ever wrong, will never, never do ’t.  Nor yet lettin alone will never do ’t.  Let thousands upon thousands alone, aw leading the like lives and aw faw’en into the like muddle, and they will be as one, and yo will be as anoother, wi’ a black unpassable world betwixt yo, just as long or short a time as sich-like misery can last.  Not drawin nigh to fok, wi’ kindness and patience an’ cheery ways, that so draws nigh to one another in their monny troubles, and so cherishes one another in their distresses wi’ what they need themseln—like, I humbly believe, as no people the genelman ha seen in aw his travels can beat—will never do ’t till th’ Sun turns t’ ice.  Most o’ aw, rating ’em as so much Power, and reg’latin ’em as if they was figures in a soom, or machines: wi’out loves and likens, wi’out memories and inclinations, wi’out souls to weary and souls to hope—when aw goes quiet, draggin on wi’ ’em as if they’d nowt o’ th’ kind, and when aw goes onquiet, reproachin ’em for their want o’ sitch humanly feelins in their dealins wi’ yo—this will never do ’t, sir, till God’s work is onmade.’

Stephen stood with the open door in his hand, waiting to know if anything more were expected of him.

‘Just stop a moment,’ said Mr. Bounderby, excessively red in the face.  ‘I told you, the last time you were here with a grievance, that you had better turn about and come out of that.  And I also told you, if you remember, that I was up to the gold spoon look-out.’

‘I were not up to ’t myseln, sir; I do assure yo.’

‘Now it’s clear to me,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘that you are one of those chaps who have always got a grievance.  And you go about, sowing it and raising crops.  That’s the business of your life, my friend.’

Stephen shook his head, mutely protesting that indeed he had other business to do for his life.

‘You are such a waspish, raspish, ill-conditioned chap, you see,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘that even your own Union, the men who know you best, will have nothing to do with you.  I never thought those fellows could be right in anything; but I tell you what!  I so far go along with them for a novelty, that I’ll have nothing to do with you either.’

Stephen raised his eyes quickly to his face.

‘You can finish off what you’re at,’ said Mr. Bounderby, with a meaning nod, ‘and then go elsewhere.’

‘Sir, yo know weel,’ said Stephen expressively, ‘that if I canna get work wi’ yo, I canna get it elsewheer.’

The reply was, ‘What I know, I know; and what you know, you know.  I have no more to say about it.’

Stephen glanced at Louisa again, but her eyes were raised to his no more; therefore, with a sigh, and saying, barely above his breath, ‘Heaven help us aw in this world!’ he departed.

CHAPTER VI. 
FADING AWAY

It was falling dark when Stephen came out of Mr. Bounderby’s house.  The shadows of night had gathered so fast, that he did not look about him when he closed the door, but plodded straight along the street.  Nothing was further from his thoughts than the curious old woman he had encountered on his previous visit to the same house, when he heard a step behind him that he knew, and turning, saw her in Rachael’s company.

He saw Rachael first, as he had heard her only.

‘Ah, Rachael, my dear!  Missus, thou wi’ her!’

‘Well, and now you are surprised to be sure, and with reason I must say,’ the old woman returned.  ‘Here I am again, you see.’

‘But how wi’ Rachael?’ said Stephen, falling into their step, walking between them, and looking from the one to the other.

‘Why, I come to be with this good lass pretty much as I came to be with you,’ said the old woman, cheerfully, taking the reply upon herself.  ‘My visiting time is later this year than usual, for I have been rather troubled with shortness of breath, and so put it off till the weather was fine and warm.  For the same reason I don’t make all my journey in one day, but divide it into two days, and get a bed to-night at the Travellers’ Coffee House down by the railroad (a nice clean house), and go back Parliamentary, at six in the morning.  Well, but what has this to do with this good lass, says you?  I’m going to tell you.  I have heard of Mr. Bounderby being married.  I read it in the paper, where it looked grand—oh, it looked fine!’ the old woman dwelt on it with strange enthusiasm: ‘and I want to see his wife.  I have never seen her yet.  Now, if you’ll believe me, she hasn’t come out of that house since noon to-day.  So not to give her up too easily, I was waiting about, a little last bit more, when I passed close to this good lass two or three times; and her face being so friendly I spoke to her, and she spoke to me.  There!’ said the old woman to Stephen, ‘you can make all the rest out for yourself now, a deal shorter than I can, I dare say!’

Once again, Stephen had to conquer an instinctive propensity to dislike this old woman, though her manner was as honest and simple as a manner possibly could be.  With a gentleness that was as natural to him as he knew it to be to Rachael, he pursued the subject that interested her in her old age.

‘Well, missus,’ said he, ‘I ha seen the lady, and she were young and hansom.  Wi’ fine dark thinkin eyes, and a still way, Rachael, as I ha never seen the like on.’

‘Young and handsome.  Yes!’ cried the old woman, quite delighted.  ‘As bonny as a rose!  And what a happy wife!’

‘Aye, missus, I suppose she be,’ said Stephen.  But with a doubtful glance at Rachael.

‘Suppose she be?  She must be.  She’s your master’s wife,’ returned the old woman.

Stephen nodded assent.  ‘Though as to master,’ said he, glancing again at Rachael, ‘not master onny more.  That’s aw enden ’twixt him and me.’

‘Have you left his work, Stephen?’ asked Rachael, anxiously and quickly.

‘Why, Rachael,’ he replied, ‘whether I ha lef’n his work, or whether his work ha lef’n me, cooms t’ th’ same.  His work and me are parted.  ’Tis as weel so—better, I were thinkin when yo coom up wi’ me.  It would ha brought’n trouble upon trouble if I had stayed theer.  Haply ’tis a kindness to monny that I go; haply ’tis a kindness to myseln; anyways it mun be done.  I mun turn my face fro Coketown fur th’ time, and seek a fort’n, dear, by beginnin fresh.’

‘Where will you go, Stephen?’

‘I donno t’night,’ said he, lifting off his hat, and smoothing his thin hair with the flat of his hand.  ‘But I’m not goin t’night, Rachael, nor yet t’morrow.  ’Tan’t easy overmuch t’ know wheer t’ turn, but a good heart will coom to me.’

Herein, too, the sense of even thinking unselfishly aided him.  Before he had so much as closed Mr. Bounderby’s door, he had reflected that at least his being obliged to go away was good for her, as it would save her from the chance of being brought into question for not withdrawing from him.  Though it would cost him a hard pang to leave her, and though he could think of no similar place in which his condemnation would not pursue him, perhaps it was almost a relief to be forced away from the endurance of the last four days, even to unknown difficulties and distresses.

So he said, with truth, ‘I’m more leetsome, Rachael, under ’t, than I could’n ha believed.’  It was not her part to make his burden heavier.  She answered with her comforting smile, and the three walked on together.

Age, especially when it strives to be self-reliant and cheerful, finds much consideration among the poor.  The old woman was so decent and contented, and made so light of her infirmities, though they had increased upon her since her former interview with Stephen, that they both took an interest in her.  She was too sprightly to allow of their walking at a slow pace on her account, but she was very grateful to be talked to, and very willing to talk to any extent: so, when they came to their part of the town, she was more brisk and vivacious than ever.

‘Come to my poor place, missus,’ said Stephen, ‘and tak a coop o’ tea.  Rachael will coom then; and arterwards I’ll see thee safe t’ thy Travellers’ lodgin.  ’T may be long, Rachael, ere ever I ha th’ chance o’ thy coompany agen.’

They complied, and the three went on to the house where he lodged.  When they turned into a narrow street, Stephen glanced at his window with a dread that always haunted his desolate home; but it was open, as he had left it, and no one was there.  The evil spirit of his life had flitted away again, months ago, and he had heard no more of her since.  The only evidence of her last return now, were the scantier moveables in his room, and the grayer hair upon his head.

He lighted a candle, set out his little tea-board, got hot water from below, and brought in small portions of tea and sugar, a loaf, and some butter from the nearest shop.  The bread was new and crusty, the butter fresh, and the sugar lump, of course—in fulfilment of the standard testimony of the Coketown magnates, that these people lived like princes, sir.  Rachael made the tea (so large a party necessitated the borrowing of a cup), and the visitor enjoyed it mightily.  It was the first glimpse of sociality the host had had for many days.  He too, with the world a wide heath before him, enjoyed the meal—again in corroboration of the magnates, as exemplifying the utter want of calculation on the part of these people, sir.

‘I ha never thowt yet, missus,’ said Stephen, ‘o’ askin thy name.’

The old lady announced herself as ‘Mrs. Pegler.’

‘A widder, I think?’ said Stephen.

‘Oh, many long years!’  Mrs. Pegler’s husband (one of the best on record) was already dead, by Mrs. Pegler’s calculation, when Stephen was born.

‘’Twere a bad job, too, to lose so good a one,’ said Stephen.  ‘Onny children?’

Mrs. Pegler’s cup, rattling against her saucer as she held it, denoted some nervousness on her part.  ‘No,’ she said.  ‘Not now, not now.’

‘Dead, Stephen,’ Rachael softly hinted.

‘I’m sooary I ha spok’n on ’t,’ said Stephen, ‘I ought t’ hadn in my mind as I might touch a sore place.  I—I blame myseln.’

While he excused himself, the old lady’s cup rattled more and more.  ‘I had a son,’ she said, curiously distressed, and not by any of the usual appearances of sorrow; ‘and he did well, wonderfully well.  But he is not to be spoken of if you please.  He is—’  Putting down her cup, she moved her hands as if she would have added, by her action, ‘dead!’  Then she said aloud, ‘I have lost him.’

Stephen had not yet got the better of his having given the old lady pain, when his landlady came stumbling up the narrow stairs, and calling him to the door, whispered in his ear.  Mrs. Pegler was by no means deaf, for she caught a word as it was uttered.

‘Bounderby!’ she cried, in a suppressed voice, starting up from the table.  ‘Oh hide me!  Don’t let me be seen for the world.  Don’t let him come up till I’ve got away.  Pray, pray!’  She trembled, and was excessively agitated; getting behind Rachael, when Rachael tried to reassure her; and not seeming to know what she was about.

‘But hearken, missus, hearken,’ said Stephen, astonished.  ‘’Tisn’t Mr. Bounderby; ’tis his wife.  Yo’r not fearfo’ o’ her.  Yo was hey-go-mad about her, but an hour sin.’

‘But are you sure it’s the lady, and not the gentleman?’ she asked, still trembling.

‘Certain sure!’

‘Well then, pray don’t speak to me, nor yet take any notice of me,’ said the old woman.  ‘Let me be quite to myself in this corner.’

Stephen nodded; looking to Rachael for an explanation, which she was quite unable to give him; took the candle, went downstairs, and in a few moments returned, lighting Louisa into the room.  She was followed by the whelp.

Rachael had risen, and stood apart with her shawl and bonnet in her hand, when Stephen, himself profoundly astonished by this visit, put the candle on the table.  Then he too stood, with his doubled hand upon the table near it, waiting to be addressed.

For the first time in her life Louisa had come into one of the dwellings of the Coketown Hands; for the first time in her life she was face to face with anything like individuality in connection with them.  She knew of their existence by hundreds and by thousands.  She knew what results in work a given number of them would produce in a given space of time.  She knew them in crowds passing to and from their nests, like ants or beetles.  But she knew from her reading infinitely more of the ways of toiling insects than of these toiling men and women.

Something to be worked so much and paid so much, and there ended; something to be infallibly settled by laws of supply and demand; something that blundered against those laws, and floundered into difficulty; something that was a little pinched when wheat was dear, and over-ate itself when wheat was cheap; something that increased at such a rate of percentage, and yielded such another percentage of crime, and such another percentage of pauperism; something wholesale, of which vast fortunes were made; something that occasionally rose like a sea, and did some harm and waste (chiefly to itself), and fell again; this she knew the Coketown Hands to be.  But, she had scarcely thought more of separating them into units, than of separating the sea itself into its component drops.

She stood for some moments looking round the room.  From the few chairs, the few books, the common prints, and the bed, she glanced to the two women, and to Stephen.

‘I have come to speak to you, in consequence of what passed just now.  I should like to be serviceable to you, if you will let me.  Is this your wife?’

Rachael raised her eyes, and they sufficiently answered no, and dropped again.

‘I remember,’ said Louisa, reddening at her mistake; ‘I recollect, now, to have heard your domestic misfortunes spoken of, though I was not attending to the particulars at the time.  It was not my meaning to ask a question that would give pain to any one here.  If I should ask any other question that may happen to have that result, give me credit, if you please, for being in ignorance how to speak to you as I ought.’

As Stephen had but a little while ago instinctively addressed himself to her, so she now instinctively addressed herself to Rachael.  Her manner was short and abrupt, yet faltering and timid.

‘He has told you what has passed between himself and my husband?  You would be his first resource, I think.’

‘I have heard the end of it, young lady,’ said Rachael.

‘Did I understand, that, being rejected by one employer, he would probably be rejected by all?  I thought he said as much?’

‘The chances are very small, young lady—next to nothing—for a man who gets a bad name among them.’

‘What shall I understand that you mean by a bad name?’

‘The name of being troublesome.’

‘Then, by the prejudices of his own class, and by the prejudices of the other, he is sacrificed alike?  Are the two so deeply separated in this town, that there is no place whatever for an honest workman between them?’

Rachael shook her head in silence.

‘He fell into suspicion,’ said Louisa, ‘with his fellow-weavers, because—he had made a promise not to be one of them.  I think it must have been to you that he made that promise.  Might I ask you why he made it?’

Rachael burst into tears.  ‘I didn’t seek it of him, poor lad.  I prayed him to avoid trouble for his own good, little thinking he’d come to it through me.  But I know he’d die a hundred deaths, ere ever he’d break his word.  I know that of him well.’

Stephen had remained quietly attentive, in his usual thoughtful attitude, with his hand at his chin.  He now spoke in a voice rather less steady than usual.

‘No one, excepting myseln, can ever know what honour, an’ what love, an’ respect, I bear to Rachael, or wi’ what cause.  When I passed that promess, I towd her true, she were th’ Angel o’ my life.  ’Twere a solemn promess.  ’Tis gone fro’ me, for ever.’

Louisa turned her head to him, and bent it with a deference that was new in her.  She looked from him to Rachael, and her features softened.  ‘What will you do?’ she asked him.  And her voice had softened too.

‘Weel, ma’am,’ said Stephen, making the best of it, with a smile; ‘when I ha finished off, I mun quit this part, and try another.  Fortnet or misfortnet, a man can but try; there’s nowt to be done wi’out tryin’—cept laying down and dying.’

‘How will you travel?’

‘Afoot, my kind ledy, afoot.’

Louisa coloured, and a purse appeared in her hand.  The rustling of a bank-note was audible, as she unfolded one and laid it on the table.

‘Rachael, will you tell him—for you know how, without offence—that this is freely his, to help him on his way?  Will you entreat him to take it?’

‘I canna do that, young lady,’ she answered, turning her head aside.  ‘Bless you for thinking o’ the poor lad wi’ such tenderness.  But ’tis for him to know his heart, and what is right according to it.’

Louisa looked, in part incredulous, in part frightened, in part overcome with quick sympathy, when this man of so much self-command, who had been so plain and steady through the late interview, lost his composure in a moment, and now stood with his hand before his face.  She stretched out hers, as if she would have touched him; then checked herself, and remained still.

‘Not e’en Rachael,’ said Stephen, when he stood again with his face uncovered, ‘could mak sitch a kind offerin, by onny words, kinder.  T’ show that I’m not a man wi’out reason and gratitude, I’ll tak two pound.  I’ll borrow ’t for t’ pay ’t back.  ’Twill be the sweetest work as ever I ha done, that puts it in my power t’ acknowledge once more my lastin thankfulness for this present action.’

She was fain to take up the note again, and to substitute the much smaller sum he had named.  He was neither courtly, nor handsome, nor picturesque, in any respect; and yet his manner of accepting it, and of expressing his thanks without more words, had a grace in it that Lord Chesterfield could not have taught his son in a century.

Tom had sat upon the bed, swinging one leg and sucking his walking-stick with sufficient unconcern, until the visit had attained this stage.  Seeing his sister ready to depart, he got up, rather hurriedly, and put in a word.

‘Just wait a moment, Loo!  Before we go, I should like to speak to him a moment.  Something comes into my head.  If you’ll step out on the stairs, Blackpool, I’ll mention it.  Never mind a light, man!’  Tom was remarkably impatient of his moving towards the cupboard, to get one.  ‘It don’t want a light.’

Stephen followed him out, and Tom closed the room door, and held the lock in his hand.

‘I say!’ he whispered.  ‘I think I can do you a good turn.  Don’t ask me what it is, because it may not come to anything.  But there’s no harm in my trying.’

His breath fell like a flame of fire on Stephen’s ear, it was so hot.

‘That was our light porter at the Bank,’ said Tom, ‘who brought you the message to-night.  I call him our light porter, because I belong to the Bank too.’

Stephen thought, ‘What a hurry he is in!’  He spoke so confusedly.

‘Well!’ said Tom.  ‘Now look here!  When are you off?’

‘T’ day’s Monday,’ replied Stephen, considering.  ‘Why, sir, Friday or Saturday, nigh ’bout.’

‘Friday or Saturday,’ said Tom.  ‘Now look here!  I am not sure that I can do you the good turn I want to do you—that’s my sister, you know, in your room—but I may be able to, and if I should not be able to, there’s no harm done.  So I tell you what.  You’ll know our light porter again?’

‘Yes, sure,’ said Stephen.

‘Very well,’ returned Tom.  ‘When you leave work of a night, between this and your going away, just hang about the Bank an hour or so, will you?  Don’t take on, as if you meant anything, if he should see you hanging about there; because I shan’t put him up to speak to you, unless I find I can do you the service I want to do you.  In that case he’ll have a note or a message for you, but not else.  Now look here!  You are sure you understand.’

He had wormed a finger, in the darkness, through a button-hole of Stephen’s coat, and was screwing that corner of the garment tight up round and round, in an extraordinary manner.

‘I understand, sir,’ said Stephen.

‘Now look here!’ repeated Tom.  ‘Be sure you don’t make any mistake then, and don’t forget.  I shall tell my sister as we go home, what I have in view, and she’ll approve, I know.  Now look here!  You’re all right, are you?  You understand all about it?  Very well then.  Come along, Loo!’

He pushed the door open as he called to her, but did not return into the room, or wait to be lighted down the narrow stairs.  He was at the bottom when she began to descend, and was in the street before she could take his arm.

Mrs. Pegler remained in her corner until the brother and sister were gone, and until Stephen came back with the candle in his hand.  She was in a state of inexpressible admiration of Mrs. Bounderby, and, like an unaccountable old woman, wept, ‘because she was such a pretty dear.’  Yet Mrs. Pegler was so flurried lest the object of her admiration should return by chance, or anybody else should come, that her cheerfulness was ended for that night.  It was late too, to people who rose early and worked hard; therefore the party broke up; and Stephen and Rachael escorted their mysterious acquaintance to the door of the Travellers’ Coffee House, where they parted from her.

They walked back together to the corner of the street where Rachael lived, and as they drew nearer and nearer to it, silence crept upon them.  When they came to the dark corner where their unfrequent meetings always ended, they stopped, still silent, as if both were afraid to speak.

‘I shall strive t’ see thee agen, Rachael, afore I go, but if not—’

‘Thou wilt not, Stephen, I know.  ’Tis better that we make up our minds to be open wi’ one another.’

‘Thou’rt awlus right.  ’Tis bolder and better.  I ha been thinkin then, Rachael, that as ’tis but a day or two that remains, ’twere better for thee, my dear, not t’ be seen wi’ me.  ’T might bring thee into trouble, fur no good.’

‘’Tis not for that, Stephen, that I mind.  But thou know’st our old agreement.  ’Tis for that.’

‘Well, well,’ said he.  ‘’Tis better, onnyways.’

‘Thou’lt write to me, and tell me all that happens, Stephen?’

‘Yes.  What can I say now, but Heaven be wi’ thee, Heaven bless thee, Heaven thank thee and reward thee!’

‘May it bless thee, Stephen, too, in all thy wanderings, and send thee peace and rest at last!’

‘I towd thee, my dear,’ said Stephen Blackpool—‘that night—that I would never see or think o’ onnything that angered me, but thou, so much better than me, should’st be beside it.  Thou’rt beside it now.  Thou mak’st me see it wi’ a better eye.  Bless thee.  Good night.  Good-bye!’

It was but a hurried parting in a common street, yet it was a sacred remembrance to these two common people.  Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact, genteel and used-up infidels, gabblers of many little dog’s-eared creeds, the poor you will have always with you.  Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the utmost graces of the fancies and affections, to adorn their lives so much in need of ornament; or, in the day of your triumph, when romance is utterly driven out of their souls, and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn, and make an end of you.

Stephen worked the next day, and the next, uncheered by a word from any one, and shunned in all his comings and goings as before.  At the end of the second day, he saw land; at the end of the third, his loom stood empty.

He had overstayed his hour in the street outside the Bank, on each of the two first evenings; and nothing had happened there, good or bad.  That he might not be remiss in his part of the engagement, he resolved to wait full two hours, on this third and last night.

There was the lady who had once kept Mr. Bounderby’s house, sitting at the first-floor window as he had seen her before; and there was the light porter, sometimes talking with her there, and sometimes looking over the blind below which had Bank upon it, and sometimes coming to the door and standing on the steps for a breath of air.  When he first came out, Stephen thought he might be looking for him, and passed near; but the light porter only cast his winking eyes upon him slightly, and said nothing.

Two hours were a long stretch of lounging about, after a long day’s labour.  Stephen sat upon the step of a door, leaned against a wall under an archway, strolled up and down, listened for the church clock, stopped and watched children playing in the street.  Some purpose or other is so natural to every one, that a mere loiterer always looks and feels remarkable.  When the first hour was out, Stephen even began to have an uncomfortable sensation upon him of being for the time a disreputable character.

Then came the lamplighter, and two lengthening lines of light all down the long perspective of the street, until they were blended and lost in the distance.  Mrs. Sparsit closed the first-floor window, drew down the blind, and went up-stairs.  Presently, a light went up-stairs after her, passing first the fanlight of the door, and afterwards the two staircase windows, on its way up.  By and by, one corner of the second-floor blind was disturbed, as if Mrs. Sparsit’s eye were there; also the other corner, as if the light porter’s eye were on that side.  Still, no communication was made to Stephen.  Much relieved when the two hours were at last accomplished, he went away at a quick pace, as a recompense for so much loitering.

He had only to take leave of his landlady, and lie down on his temporary bed upon the floor; for his bundle was made up for to-morrow, and all was arranged for his departure.  He meant to be clear of the town very early; before the Hands were in the streets.

It was barely daybreak, when, with a parting look round his room, mournfully wondering whether he should ever see it again, he went out.  The town was as entirely deserted as if the inhabitants had abandoned it, rather than hold communication with him.  Everything looked wan at that hour.  Even the coming sun made but a pale waste in the sky, like a sad sea.

By the place where Rachael lived, though it was not in his way; by the red brick streets; by the great silent factories, not trembling yet; by the railway, where the danger-lights were waning in the strengthening day; by the railway’s crazy neighbourhood, half pulled down and half built up; by scattered red brick villas, where the besmoked evergreens were sprinkled with a dirty powder, like untidy snuff-takers; by coal-dust paths and many varieties of ugliness; Stephen got to the top of the hill, and looked back.

Day was shining radiantly upon the town then, and the bells were going for the morning work.  Domestic fires were not yet lighted, and the high chimneys had the sky to themselves.  Puffing out their poisonous volumes, they would not be long in hiding it; but, for half an hour, some of the many windows were golden, which showed the Coketown people a sun eternally in eclipse, through a medium of smoked glass.

So strange to turn from the chimneys to the birds.  So strange, to have the road-dust on his feet instead of the coal-grit.  So strange to have lived to his time of life, and yet to be beginning like a boy this summer morning!  With these musings in his mind, and his bundle under his arm, Stephen took his attentive face along the high road.  And the trees arched over him, whispering that he left a true and loving heart behind.

CHAPTER VII. 
GUNPOWDER

Mr. James Harthouse, ‘going in’ for his adopted party, soon began to score.  With the aid of a little more coaching for the political sages, a little more genteel listlessness for the general society, and a tolerable management of the assumed honesty in dishonesty, most effective and most patronized of the polite deadly sins, he speedily came to be considered of much promise.  The not being troubled with earnestness was a grand point in his favour, enabling him to take to the hard Fact fellows with as good a grace as if he had been born one of the tribe, and to throw all other tribes overboard, as conscious hypocrites.

‘Whom none of us believe, my dear Mrs. Bounderby, and who do not believe themselves.  The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy—never mind the name—is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally and will never say so.’

Why should she be shocked or warned by this reiteration?  It was not so unlike her father’s principles, and her early training, that it need startle her.  Where was the great difference between the two schools, when each chained her down to material realities, and inspired her with no faith in anything else?  What was there in her soul for James Harthouse to destroy, which Thomas Gradgrind had nurtured there in its state of innocence!

It was even the worse for her at this pass, that in her mind—implanted there before her eminently practical father began to form it—a struggling disposition to believe in a wider and nobler humanity than she had ever heard of, constantly strove with doubts and resentments.  With doubts, because the aspiration had been so laid waste in her youth.  With resentments, because of the wrong that had been done her, if it were indeed a whisper of the truth.  Upon a nature long accustomed to self-suppression, thus torn and divided, the Harthouse philosophy came as a relief and justification.  Everything being hollow and worthless, she had missed nothing and sacrificed nothing.  What did it matter, she had said to her father, when he proposed her husband.  What did it matter, she said still.  With a scornful self-reliance, she asked herself, What did anything matter—and went on.

Towards what?  Step by step, onward and downward, towards some end, yet so gradually, that she believed herself to remain motionless.  As to Mr. Harthouse, whither he tended, he neither considered nor cared.  He had no particular design or plan before him: no energetic wickedness ruffled his lassitude.  He was as much amused and interested, at present, as it became so fine a gentleman to be; perhaps even more than it would have been consistent with his reputation to confess.  Soon after his arrival he languidly wrote to his brother, the honourable and jocular member, that the Bounderbys were ‘great fun;’ and further, that the female Bounderby, instead of being the Gorgon he had expected, was young, and remarkably pretty.  After that, he wrote no more about them, and devoted his leisure chiefly to their house.  He was very often in their house, in his flittings and visitings about the Coketown district; and was much encouraged by Mr. Bounderby.  It was quite in Mr. Bounderby’s gusty way to boast to all his world that he didn’t care about your highly connected people, but that if his wife Tom Gradgrind’s daughter did, she was welcome to their company.

Mr. James Harthouse began to think it would be a new sensation, if the face which changed so beautifully for the whelp, would change for him.

He was quick enough to observe; he had a good memory, and did not forget a word of the brother’s revelations.  He interwove them with everything he saw of the sister, and he began to understand her.  To be sure, the better and profounder part of her character was not within his scope of perception; for in natures, as in seas, depth answers unto depth; but he soon began to read the rest with a student’s eye.

Mr. Bounderby had taken possession of a house and grounds, about fifteen miles from the town, and accessible within a mile or two, by a railway striding on many arches over a wild country, undermined by deserted coal-shafts, and spotted at night by fires and black shapes of stationary engines at pits’ mouths.  This country, gradually softening towards the neighbourhood of Mr. Bounderby’s retreat, there mellowed into a rustic landscape, golden with heath, and snowy with hawthorn in the spring of the year, and tremulous with leaves and their shadows all the summer time.  The bank had foreclosed a mortgage effected on the property thus pleasantly situated, by one of the Coketown magnates, who, in his determination to make a shorter cut than usual to an enormous fortune, overspeculated himself by about two hundred thousand pounds.  These accidents did sometimes happen in the best regulated families of Coketown, but the bankrupts had no connexion whatever with the improvident classes.

It afforded Mr. Bounderby supreme satisfaction to instal himself in this snug little estate, and with demonstrative humility to grow cabbages in the flower-garden.  He delighted to live, barrack-fashion, among the elegant furniture, and he bullied the very pictures with his origin.  ‘Why, sir,’ he would say to a visitor, ‘I am told that Nickits,’ the late owner, ‘gave seven hundred pound for that Seabeach.  Now, to be plain with you, if I ever, in the whole course of my life, take seven looks at it, at a hundred pound a look, it will be as much as I shall do.  No, by George!  I don’t forget that I am Josiah Bounderby of Coketown.  For years upon years, the only pictures in my possession, or that I could have got into my possession, by any means, unless I stole ’em, were the engravings of a man shaving himself in a boot, on the blacking bottles that I was overjoyed to use in cleaning boots with, and that I sold when they were empty for a farthing a-piece, and glad to get it!’

Then he would address Mr. Harthouse in the same style.

‘Harthouse, you have a couple of horses down here.  Bring half a dozen more if you like, and we’ll find room for ’em.  There’s stabling in this place for a dozen horses; and unless Nickits is belied, he kept the full number.  A round dozen of ’em, sir.  When that man was a boy, he went to Westminster School.  Went to Westminster School as a King’s Scholar, when I was principally living on garbage, and sleeping in market baskets.  Why, if I wanted to keep a dozen horses—which I don’t, for one’s enough for me—I couldn’t bear to see ’em in their stalls here, and think what my own lodging used to be.  I couldn’t look at ’em, sir, and not order ’em out.  Yet so things come round.  You see this place; you know what sort of a place it is; you are aware that there’s not a completer place of its size in this kingdom or elsewhere—I don’t care where—and here, got into the middle of it, like a maggot into a nut, is Josiah Bounderby.  While Nickits (as a man came into my office, and told me yesterday), Nickits, who used to act in Latin, in the Westminster School plays, with the chief-justices and nobility of this country applauding him till they were black in the face, is drivelling at this minute—drivelling, sir!—in a fifth floor, up a narrow dark back street in Antwerp.’

It was among the leafy shadows of this retirement, in the long sultry summer days, that Mr. Harthouse began to prove the face which had set him wondering when he first saw it, and to try if it would change for him.

‘Mrs. Bounderby, I esteem it a most fortunate accident that I find you alone here.  I have for some time had a particular wish to speak to you.’

It was not by any wonderful accident that he found her, the time of day being that at which she was always alone, and the place being her favourite resort.  It was an opening in a dark wood, where some felled trees lay, and where she would sit watching the fallen leaves of last year, as she had watched the falling ashes at home.

He sat down beside her, with a glance at her face.

‘Your brother.  My young friend Tom—’

Her colour brightened, and she turned to him with a look of interest.  ‘I never in my life,’ he thought, ‘saw anything so remarkable and so captivating as the lighting of those features!’  His face betrayed his thoughts—perhaps without betraying him, for it might have been according to its instructions so to do.

‘Pardon me.  The expression of your sisterly interest is so beautiful—Tom should be so proud of it—I know this is inexcusable, but I am so compelled to admire.’

‘Being so impulsive,’ she said composedly.

‘Mrs. Bounderby, no: you know I make no pretence with you.  You know I am a sordid piece of human nature, ready to sell myself at any time for any reasonable sum, and altogether incapable of any Arcadian proceeding whatever.’

‘I am waiting,’ she returned, ‘for your further reference to my brother.’

‘You are rigid with me, and I deserve it.  I am as worthless a dog as you will find, except that I am not false—not false.  But you surprised and started me from my subject, which was your brother.  I have an interest in him.’

‘Have you an interest in anything, Mr. Harthouse?’ she asked, half incredulously and half gratefully.

‘If you had asked me when I first came here, I should have said no.  I must say now—even at the hazard of appearing to make a pretence, and of justly awakening your incredulity—yes.’

She made a slight movement, as if she were trying to speak, but could not find voice; at length she said, ‘Mr. Harthouse, I give you credit for being interested in my brother.’

‘Thank you.  I claim to deserve it.  You know how little I do claim, but I will go that length.  You have done so much for him, you are so fond of him; your whole life, Mrs. Bounderby, expresses such charming self-forgetfulness on his account—pardon me again—I am running wide of the subject.  I am interested in him for his own sake.’

She had made the slightest action possible, as if she would have risen in a hurry and gone away.  He had turned the course of what he said at that instant, and she remained.

‘Mrs. Bounderby,’ he resumed, in a lighter manner, and yet with a show of effort in assuming it, which was even more expressive than the manner he dismissed; ‘it is no irrevocable offence in a young fellow of your brother’s years, if he is heedless, inconsiderate, and expensive—a little dissipated, in the common phrase.  Is he?’

‘Yes.’

‘Allow me to be frank.  Do you think he games at all?’

‘I think he makes bets.’  Mr. Harthouse waiting, as if that were not her whole answer, she added, ‘I know he does.’

‘Of course he loses?’

‘Yes.’

‘Everybody does lose who bets.  May I hint at the probability of your sometimes supplying him with money for these purposes?’

She sat, looking down; but, at this question, raised her eyes searchingly and a little resentfully.

‘Acquit me of impertinent curiosity, my dear Mrs. Bounderby.  I think Tom may be gradually falling into trouble, and I wish to stretch out a helping hand to him from the depths of my wicked experience.—Shall I say again, for his sake?  Is that necessary?’

She seemed to try to answer, but nothing came of it.

‘Candidly to confess everything that has occurred to me,’ said James Harthouse, again gliding with the same appearance of effort into his more airy manner; ‘I will confide to you my doubt whether he has had many advantages.  Whether—forgive my plainness—whether any great amount of confidence is likely to have been established between himself and his most worthy father.’

‘I do not,’ said Louisa, flushing with her own great remembrance in that wise, ‘think it likely.’

‘Or, between himself, and—I may trust to your perfect understanding of my meaning, I am sure—and his highly esteemed brother-in-law.’

She flushed deeper and deeper, and was burning red when she replied in a fainter voice, ‘I do not think that likely, either.’

‘Mrs. Bounderby,’ said Harthouse, after a short silence, ‘may there be a better confidence between yourself and me?  Tom has borrowed a considerable sum of you?’

‘You will understand, Mr. Harthouse,’ she returned, after some indecision: she had been more or less uncertain, and troubled throughout the conversation, and yet had in the main preserved her self-contained manner; ‘you will understand that if I tell you what you press to know, it is not by way of complaint or regret.  I would never complain of anything, and what I have done I do not in the least regret.’

‘So spirited, too!’ thought James Harthouse.

‘When I married, I found that my brother was even at that time heavily in debt.  Heavily for him, I mean.  Heavily enough to oblige me to sell some trinkets.  They were no sacrifice.  I sold them very willingly.  I attached no value to them.  They, were quite worthless to me.’

Either she saw in his face that he knew, or she only feared in her conscience that he knew, that she spoke of some of her husband’s gifts.  She stopped, and reddened again.  If he had not known it before, he would have known it then, though he had been a much duller man than he was.

‘Since then, I have given my brother, at various times, what money I could spare: in short, what money I have had.  Confiding in you at all, on the faith of the interest you profess for him, I will not do so by halves.  Since you have been in the habit of visiting here, he has wanted in one sum as much as a hundred pounds.  I have not been able to give it to him.  I have felt uneasy for the consequences of his being so involved, but I have kept these secrets until now, when I trust them to your honour.  I have held no confidence with any one, because—you anticipated my reason just now.’  She abruptly broke off.

He was a ready man, and he saw, and seized, an opportunity here of presenting her own image to her, slightly disguised as her brother.

‘Mrs. Bounderby, though a graceless person, of the world worldly, I feel the utmost interest, I assure you, in what you tell me.  I cannot possibly be hard upon your brother.  I understand and share the wise consideration with which you regard his errors.  With all possible respect both for Mr. Gradgrind and for Mr. Bounderby, I think I perceive that he has not been fortunate in his training.  Bred at a disadvantage towards the society in which he has his part to play, he rushes into these extremes for himself, from opposite extremes that have long been forced—with the very best intentions we have no doubt—upon him.  Mr. Bounderby’s fine bluff English independence, though a most charming characteristic, does not—as we have agreed—invite confidence.  If I might venture to remark that it is the least in the world deficient in that delicacy to which a youth mistaken, a character misconceived, and abilities misdirected, would turn for relief and guidance, I should express what it presents to my own view.’

As she sat looking straight before her, across the changing lights upon the grass into the darkness of the wood beyond, he saw in her face her application of his very distinctly uttered words.

‘All allowance,’ he continued, ‘must be made.  I have one great fault to find with Tom, however, which I cannot forgive, and for which I take him heavily to account.’

Louisa turned her eyes to his face, and asked him what fault was that?

‘Perhaps,’ he returned, ‘I have said enough.  Perhaps it would have been better, on the whole, if no allusion to it had escaped me.’

‘You alarm me, Mr. Harthouse.  Pray let me know it.’

‘To relieve you from needless apprehension—and as this confidence regarding your brother, which I prize I am sure above all possible things, has been established between us—I obey.  I cannot forgive him for not being more sensible in every word, look, and act of his life, of the affection of his best friend; of the devotion of his best friend; of her unselfishness; of her sacrifice.  The return he makes her, within my observation, is a very poor one.  What she has done for him demands his constant love and gratitude, not his ill-humour and caprice.  Careless fellow as I am, I am not so indifferent, Mrs. Bounderby, as to be regardless of this vice in your brother, or inclined to consider it a venial offence.’

The wood floated before her, for her eyes were suffused with tears.  They rose from a deep well, long concealed, and her heart was filled with acute pain that found no relief in them.

‘In a word, it is to correct your brother in this, Mrs. Bounderby, that I must aspire.  My better knowledge of his circumstances, and my direction and advice in extricating them—rather valuable, I hope, as coming from a scapegrace on a much larger scale—will give me some influence over him, and all I gain I shall certainly use towards this end.  I have said enough, and more than enough.  I seem to be protesting that I am a sort of good fellow, when, upon my honour, I have not the least intention to make any protestation to that effect, and openly announce that I am nothing of the sort.  Yonder, among the trees,’ he added, having lifted up his eyes and looked about; for he had watched her closely until now; ‘is your brother himself; no doubt, just come down.  As he seems to be loitering in this direction, it may be as well, perhaps, to walk towards him, and throw ourselves in his way.  He has been very silent and doleful of late.  Perhaps, his brotherly conscience is touched—if there are such things as consciences.  Though, upon my honour, I hear of them much too often to believe in them.’

He assisted her to rise, and she took his arm, and they advanced to meet the whelp.  He was idly beating the branches as he lounged along: or he stooped viciously to rip the moss from the trees with his stick.  He was startled when they came upon him while he was engaged in this latter pastime, and his colour changed.

‘Halloa!’ he stammered; ‘I didn’t know you were here.’

‘Whose name, Tom,’ said Mr. Harthouse, putting his hand upon his shoulder and turning him, so that they all three walked towards the house together, ‘have you been carving on the trees?’

‘Whose name?’ returned Tom.  ‘Oh!  You mean what girl’s name?’

‘You have a suspicious appearance of inscribing some fair creature’s on the bark, Tom.’

‘Not much of that, Mr. Harthouse, unless some fair creature with a slashing fortune at her own disposal would take a fancy to me.  Or she might be as ugly as she was rich, without any fear of losing me.  I’d carve her name as often as she liked.’

‘I am afraid you are mercenary, Tom.’

‘Mercenary,’ repeated Tom.  ‘Who is not mercenary?  Ask my sister.’

‘Have you so proved it to be a failing of mine, Tom?’ said Louisa, showing no other sense of his discontent and ill-nature.

‘You know whether the cap fits you, Loo,’ returned her brother sulkily.  ‘If it does, you can wear it.’

‘Tom is misanthropical to-day, as all bored people are now and then,’ said Mr. Harthouse.  ‘Don’t believe him, Mrs. Bounderby.  He knows much better.  I shall disclose some of his opinions of you, privately expressed to me, unless he relents a little.’

‘At all events, Mr. Harthouse,’ said Tom, softening in his admiration of his patron, but shaking his head sullenly too, ‘you can’t tell her that I ever praised her for being mercenary.  I may have praised her for being the contrary, and I should do it again, if I had as good reason.  However, never mind this now; it’s not very interesting to you, and I am sick of the subject.’

They walked on to the house, where Louisa quitted her visitor’s arm and went in.  He stood looking after her, as she ascended the steps, and passed into the shadow of the door; then put his hand upon her brother’s shoulder again, and invited him with a confidential nod to a walk in the garden.

‘Tom, my fine fellow, I want to have a word with you.’

They had stopped among a disorder of roses—it was part of Mr. Bounderby’s humility to keep Nickits’s roses on a reduced scale—and Tom sat down on a terrace-parapet, plucking buds and picking them to pieces; while his powerful Familiar stood over him, with a foot upon the parapet, and his figure easily resting on the arm supported by that knee.  They were just visible from her window.  Perhaps she saw them.

‘Tom, what’s the matter?’

‘Oh!  Mr. Harthouse,’ said Tom with a groan, ‘I am hard up, and bothered out of my life.’

‘My good fellow, so am I.’

‘You!’ returned Tom.  ‘You are the picture of independence.  Mr. Harthouse, I am in a horrible mess.  You have no idea what a state I have got myself into—what a state my sister might have got me out of, if she would only have done it.’

He took to biting the rosebuds now, and tearing them away from his teeth with a hand that trembled like an infirm old man’s.  After one exceedingly observant look at him, his companion relapsed into his lightest air.

‘Tom, you are inconsiderate: you expect too much of your sister.  You have had money of her, you dog, you know you have.’

‘Well, Mr. Harthouse, I know I have.  How else was I to get it?  Here’s old Bounderby always boasting that at my age he lived upon twopence a month, or something of that sort.  Here’s my father drawing what he calls a line, and tying me down to it from a baby, neck and heels.  Here’s my mother who never has anything of her own, except her complaints.  What is a fellow to do for money, and where am I to look for it, if not to my sister?’

He was almost crying, and scattered the buds about by dozens.  Mr. Harthouse took him persuasively by the coat.

‘But, my dear Tom, if your sister has not got it—’

‘Not got it, Mr. Harthouse?  I don’t say she has got it.  I may have wanted more than she was likely to have got.  But then she ought to get it.  She could get it.  It’s of no use pretending to make a secret of matters now, after what I have told you already; you know she didn’t marry old Bounderby for her own sake, or for his sake, but for my sake.  Then why doesn’t she get what I want, out of him, for my sake?  She is not obliged to say what she is going to do with it; she is sharp enough; she could manage to coax it out of him, if she chose.  Then why doesn’t she choose, when I tell her of what consequence it is?  But no.  There she sits in his company like a stone, instead of making herself agreeable and getting it easily.  I don’t know what you may call this, but I call it unnatural conduct.’

There was a piece of ornamental water immediately below the parapet, on the other side, into which Mr. James Harthouse had a very strong inclination to pitch Mr. Thomas Gradgrind junior, as the injured men of Coketown threatened to pitch their property into the Atlantic.  But he preserved his easy attitude; and nothing more solid went over the stone balustrades than the accumulated rosebuds now floating about, a little surface-island.

‘My dear Tom,’ said Harthouse, ‘let me try to be your banker.’

‘For God’s sake,’ replied Tom, suddenly, ‘don’t talk about bankers!’  And very white he looked, in contrast with the roses.  Very white.

Mr. Harthouse, as a thoroughly well-bred man, accustomed to the best society, was not to be surprised—he could as soon have been affected—but he raised his eyelids a little more, as if they were lifted by a feeble touch of wonder.  Albeit it was as much against the precepts of his school to wonder, as it was against the doctrines of the Gradgrind College.

‘What is the present need, Tom?  Three figures?  Out with them.  Say what they are.’

‘Mr. Harthouse,’ returned Tom, now actually crying; and his tears were better than his injuries, however pitiful a figure he made: ‘it’s too late; the money is of no use to me at present.  I should have had it before to be of use to me.  But I am very much obliged to you; you’re a true friend.’

A true friend!  ‘Whelp, whelp!’ thought Mr. Harthouse, lazily; ‘what an Ass you are!’

‘And I take your offer as a great kindness,’ said Tom, grasping his hand.  ‘As a great kindness, Mr. Harthouse.’

‘Well,’ returned the other, ‘it may be of more use by and by.  And, my good fellow, if you will open your bedevilments to me when they come thick upon you, I may show you better ways out of them than you can find for yourself.’

‘Thank you,’ said Tom, shaking his head dismally, and chewing rosebuds.  ‘I wish I had known you sooner, Mr. Harthouse.’

‘Now, you see, Tom,’ said Mr. Harthouse in conclusion, himself tossing over a rose or two, as a contribution to the island, which was always drifting to the wall as if it wanted to become a part of the mainland: ‘every man is selfish in everything he does, and I am exactly like the rest of my fellow-creatures.  I am desperately intent;’ the languor of his desperation being quite tropical; ‘on your softening towards your sister—which you ought to do; and on your being a more loving and agreeable sort of brother—which you ought to be.’

‘I will be, Mr. Harthouse.’

‘No time like the present, Tom.  Begin at once.’

‘Certainly I will.  And my sister Loo shall say so.’

‘Having made which bargain, Tom,’ said Harthouse, clapping him on the shoulder again, with an air which left him at liberty to infer—as he did, poor fool—that this condition was imposed upon him in mere careless good nature to lessen his sense of obligation, ‘we will tear ourselves asunder until dinner-time.’

When Tom appeared before dinner, though his mind seemed heavy enough, his body was on the alert; and he appeared before Mr. Bounderby came in.  ‘I didn’t mean to be cross, Loo,’ he said, giving her his hand, and kissing her.  ‘I know you are fond of me, and you know I am fond of you.’

After this, there was a smile upon Louisa’s face that day, for some one else.  Alas, for some one else!

‘So much the less is the whelp the only creature that she cares for,’ thought James Harthouse, reversing the reflection of his first day’s knowledge of her pretty face.  ‘So much the less, so much the less.’

CHAPTER VIII. 
EXPLOSION

The next morning was too bright a morning for sleep, and James Harthouse rose early, and sat in the pleasant bay window of his dressing-room, smoking the rare tobacco that had had so wholesome an influence on his young friend.  Reposing in the sunlight, with the fragrance of his eastern pipe about him, and the dreamy smoke vanishing into the air, so rich and soft with summer odours, he reckoned up his advantages as an idle winner might count his gains.  He was not at all bored for the time, and could give his mind to it.

He had established a confidence with her, from which her husband was excluded.  He had established a confidence with her, that absolutely turned upon her indifference towards her husband, and the absence, now and at all times, of any congeniality between them.  He had artfully, but plainly, assured her that he knew her heart in its last most delicate recesses; he had come so near to her through its tenderest sentiment; he had associated himself with that feeling; and the barrier behind which she lived, had melted away.  All very odd, and very satisfactory!

And yet he had not, even now, any earnest wickedness of purpose in him.  Publicly and privately, it were much better for the age in which he lived, that he and the legion of whom he was one were designedly bad, than indifferent and purposeless.  It is the drifting icebergs setting with any current anywhere, that wreck the ships.

When the Devil goeth about like a roaring lion, he goeth about in a shape by which few but savages and hunters are attracted.  But, when he is trimmed, smoothed, and varnished, according to the mode; when he is aweary of vice, and aweary of virtue, used up as to brimstone, and used up as to bliss; then, whether he take to the serving out of red tape, or to the kindling of red fire, he is the very Devil.

So James Harthouse reclined in the window, indolently smoking, and reckoning up the steps he had taken on the road by which he happened to be travelling.  The end to which it led was before him, pretty plainly; but he troubled himself with no calculations about it.  What will be, will be.

As he had rather a long ride to take that day—for there was a public occasion ‘to do’ at some distance, which afforded a tolerable opportunity of going in for the Gradgrind men—he dressed early and went down to breakfast.  He was anxious to see if she had relapsed since the previous evening.  No.  He resumed where he had left off.  There was a look of interest for him again.

He got through the day as much (or as little) to his own satisfaction, as was to be expected under the fatiguing circumstances; and came riding back at six o’clock.  There was a sweep of some half-mile between the lodge and the house, and he was riding along at a foot pace over the smooth gravel, once Nickits’s, when Mr. Bounderby burst out of the shrubbery, with such violence as to make his horse shy across the road.

‘Harthouse!’ cried Mr. Bounderby.  ‘Have you heard?’

‘Heard what?’ said Harthouse, soothing his horse, and inwardly favouring Mr. Bounderby with no good wishes.

‘Then you haven’t heard!’

‘I have heard you, and so has this brute.  I have heard nothing else.’

Mr. Bounderby, red and hot, planted himself in the centre of the path before the horse’s head, to explode his bombshell with more effect.

‘The Bank’s robbed!’

‘You don’t mean it!’

‘Robbed last night, sir.  Robbed in an extraordinary manner.  Robbed with a false key.’

‘Of much?’

Mr. Bounderby, in his desire to make the most of it, really seemed mortified by being obliged to reply, ‘Why, no; not of very much.  But it might have been.’

‘Of how much?’

‘Oh! as a sum—if you stick to a sum—of not more than a hundred and fifty pound,’ said Bounderby, with impatience.  ‘But it’s not the sum; it’s the fact.  It’s the fact of the Bank being robbed, that’s the important circumstance.  I am surprised you don’t see it.’

‘My dear Bounderby,’ said James, dismounting, and giving his bridle to his servant, ‘I do see it; and am as overcome as you can possibly desire me to be, by the spectacle afforded to my mental view.  Nevertheless, I may be allowed, I hope, to congratulate you—which I do with all my soul, I assure you—on your not having sustained a greater loss.’

‘Thank’ee,’ replied Bounderby, in a short, ungracious manner.  ‘But I tell you what.  It might have been twenty thousand pound.’

‘I suppose it might.’

‘Suppose it might!  By the Lord, you may suppose so.  By George!’ said Mr. Bounderby, with sundry menacing nods and shakes of his head.  ‘It might have been twice twenty.  There’s no knowing what it would have been, or wouldn’t have been, as it was, but for the fellows’ being disturbed.’

Louisa had come up now, and Mrs. Sparsit, and Bitzer.

‘Here’s Tom Gradgrind’s daughter knows pretty well what it might have been, if you don’t,’ blustered Bounderby.  ‘Dropped, sir, as if she was shot when I told her!  Never knew her do such a thing before.  Does her credit, under the circumstances, in my opinion!’

She still looked faint and pale.  James Harthouse begged her to take his arm; and as they moved on very slowly, asked her how the robbery had been committed.

‘Why, I am going to tell you,’ said Bounderby, irritably giving his arm to Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘If you hadn’t been so mighty particular about the sum, I should have begun to tell you before.  You know this lady (for she is a lady), Mrs. Sparsit?’

‘I have already had the honour—’

‘Very well.  And this young man, Bitzer, you saw him too on the same occasion?’  Mr. Harthouse inclined his head in assent, and Bitzer knuckled his forehead.

‘Very well.  They live at the Bank.  You know they live at the Bank, perhaps?  Very well.  Yesterday afternoon, at the close of business hours, everything was put away as usual.  In the iron room that this young fellow sleeps outside of, there was never mind how much.  In the little safe in young Tom’s closet, the safe used for petty purposes, there was a hundred and fifty odd pound.’

‘A hundred and fifty-four, seven, one,’ said Bitzer.

‘Come!’ retorted Bounderby, stopping to wheel round upon him, ‘let’s have none of your interruptions.  It’s enough to be robbed while you’re snoring because you’re too comfortable, without being put right with your four seven ones.  I didn’t snore, myself, when I was your age, let me tell you.  I hadn’t victuals enough to snore.  And I didn’t four seven one.  Not if I knew it.’

Bitzer knuckled his forehead again, in a sneaking manner, and seemed at once particularly impressed and depressed by the instance last given of Mr. Bounderby’s moral abstinence.

‘A hundred and fifty odd pound,’ resumed Mr. Bounderby.  ‘That sum of money, young Tom locked in his safe, not a very strong safe, but that’s no matter now.  Everything was left, all right.  Some time in the night, while this young fellow snored—Mrs. Sparsit, ma’am, you say you have heard him snore?’

‘Sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘I cannot say that I have heard him precisely snore, and therefore must not make that statement.  But on winter evenings, when he has fallen asleep at his table, I have heard him, what I should prefer to describe as partially choke.  I have heard him on such occasions produce sounds of a nature similar to what may be sometimes heard in Dutch clocks.  Not,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, with a lofty sense of giving strict evidence, ‘that I would convey any imputation on his moral character.  Far from it.  I have always considered Bitzer a young man of the most upright principle; and to that I beg to bear my testimony.’

‘Well!’ said the exasperated Bounderby, ‘while he was snoring, or choking, or Dutch-clocking, or something or other—being asleep—some fellows, somehow, whether previously concealed in the house or not remains to be seen, got to young Tom’s safe, forced it, and abstracted the contents.  Being then disturbed, they made off; letting themselves out at the main door, and double-locking it again (it was double-locked, and the key under Mrs. Sparsit’s pillow) with a false key, which was picked up in the street near the Bank, about twelve o’clock to-day.  No alarm takes place, till this chap, Bitzer, turns out this morning, and begins to open and prepare the offices for business.  Then, looking at Tom’s safe, he sees the door ajar, and finds the lock forced, and the money gone.’

‘Where is Tom, by the by?’ asked Harthouse, glancing round.

‘He has been helping the police,’ said Bounderby, ‘and stays behind at the Bank.  I wish these fellows had tried to rob me when I was at his time of life.  They would have been out of pocket if they had invested eighteenpence in the job; I can tell ’em that.’

‘Is anybody suspected?’

‘Suspected?  I should think there was somebody suspected.  Egod!’ said Bounderby, relinquishing Mrs. Sparsit’s arm to wipe his heated head.  ‘Josiah Bounderby of Coketown is not to be plundered and nobody suspected.  No, thank you!’

Might Mr. Harthouse inquire Who was suspected?

‘Well,’ said Bounderby, stopping and facing about to confront them all, ‘I’ll tell you.  It’s not to be mentioned everywhere; it’s not to be mentioned anywhere: in order that the scoundrels concerned (there’s a gang of ’em) may be thrown off their guard.  So take this in confidence.  Now wait a bit.’  Mr. Bounderby wiped his head again.  ‘What should you say to;’ here he violently exploded: ‘to a Hand being in it?’

‘I hope,’ said Harthouse, lazily, ‘not our friend Blackpot?’

‘Say Pool instead of Pot, sir,’ returned Bounderby, ‘and that’s the man.’

Louisa faintly uttered some word of incredulity and surprise.

‘O yes!  I know!’ said Bounderby, immediately catching at the sound.  ‘I know!  I am used to that.  I know all about it.  They are the finest people in the world, these fellows are.  They have got the gift of the gab, they have.  They only want to have their rights explained to them, they do.  But I tell you what.  Show me a dissatisfied Hand, and I’ll show you a man that’s fit for anything bad, I don’t care what it is.’

Another of the popular fictions of Coketown, which some pains had been taken to disseminate—and which some people really believed.

‘But I am acquainted with these chaps,’ said Bounderby.  ‘I can read ’em off, like books.  Mrs. Sparsit, ma’am, I appeal to you.  What warning did I give that fellow, the first time he set foot in the house, when the express object of his visit was to know how he could knock Religion over, and floor the Established Church?  Mrs. Sparsit, in point of high connexions, you are on a level with the aristocracy,—did I say, or did I not say, to that fellow, “you can’t hide the truth from me: you are not the kind of fellow I like; you’ll come to no good”?’

‘Assuredly, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘you did, in a highly impressive manner, give him such an admonition.’

‘When he shocked you, ma’am,’ said Bounderby; ‘when he shocked your feelings?’

‘Yes, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, with a meek shake of her head, ‘he certainly did so.  Though I do not mean to say but that my feelings may be weaker on such points—more foolish if the term is preferred—than they might have been, if I had always occupied my present position.’

Mr. Bounderby stared with a bursting pride at Mr. Harthouse, as much as to say, ‘I am the proprietor of this female, and she’s worth your attention, I think.’  Then, resumed his discourse.

‘You can recall for yourself, Harthouse, what I said to him when you saw him.  I didn’t mince the matter with him.  I am never mealy with ’em.  I KNOW ’em.  Very well, sir.  Three days after that, he bolted.  Went off, nobody knows where: as my mother did in my infancy—only with this difference, that he is a worse subject than my mother, if possible.  What did he do before he went?  What do you say;’ Mr. Bounderby, with his hat in his hand, gave a beat upon the crown at every little division of his sentences, as if it were a tambourine; ‘to his being seen—night after night—watching the Bank?—to his lurking about there—after dark?—To its striking Mrs. Sparsit—that he could be lurking for no good—To her calling Bitzer’s attention to him, and their both taking notice of him—And to its appearing on inquiry to-day—that he was also noticed by the neighbours?’  Having come to the climax, Mr. Bounderby, like an oriental dancer, put his tambourine on his head.

‘Suspicious,’ said James Harthouse, ‘certainly.’

‘I think so, sir,’ said Bounderby, with a defiant nod.  ‘I think so.  But there are more of ’em in it.  There’s an old woman.  One never hears of these things till the mischief’s done; all sorts of defects are found out in the stable door after the horse is stolen; there’s an old woman turns up now.  An old woman who seems to have been flying into town on a broomstick, every now and then.  She watches the place a whole day before this fellow begins, and on the night when you saw him, she steals away with him and holds a council with him—I suppose, to make her report on going off duty, and be damned to her.’

There was such a person in the room that night, and she shrunk from observation, thought Louisa.

‘This is not all of ’em, even as we already know ’em,’ said Bounderby, with many nods of hidden meaning.  ‘But I have said enough for the present.  You’ll have the goodness to keep it quiet, and mention it to no one.  It may take time, but we shall have ’em.  It’s policy to give ’em line enough, and there’s no objection to that.’

‘Of course, they will be punished with the utmost rigour of the law, as notice-boards observe,’ replied James Harthouse, ‘and serve them right.  Fellows who go in for Banks must take the consequences.  If there were no consequences, we should all go in for Banks.’  He had gently taken Louisa’s parasol from her hand, and had put it up for her; and she walked under its shade, though the sun did not shine there.

‘For the present, Loo Bounderby,’ said her husband, ‘here’s Mrs. Sparsit to look after.  Mrs. Sparsit’s nerves have been acted upon by this business, and she’ll stay here a day or two.  So make her comfortable.’

‘Thank you very much, sir,’ that discreet lady observed, ‘but pray do not let My comfort be a consideration.  Anything will do for Me.’

It soon appeared that if Mrs. Sparsit had a failing in her association with that domestic establishment, it was that she was so excessively regardless of herself and regardful of others, as to be a nuisance.  On being shown her chamber, she was so dreadfully sensible of its comforts as to suggest the inference that she would have preferred to pass the night on the mangle in the laundry.  True, the Powlers and the Scadgerses were accustomed to splendour, ‘but it is my duty to remember,’ Mrs. Sparsit was fond of observing with a lofty grace: particularly when any of the domestics were present, ‘that what I was, I am no longer.  Indeed,’ said she, ‘if I could altogether cancel the remembrance that Mr. Sparsit was a Powler, or that I myself am related to the Scadgers family; or if I could even revoke the fact, and make myself a person of common descent and ordinary connexions; I would gladly do so.  I should think it, under existing circumstances, right to do so.’  The same Hermitical state of mind led to her renunciation of made dishes and wines at dinner, until fairly commanded by Mr. Bounderby to take them; when she said, ‘Indeed you are very good, sir;’ and departed from a resolution of which she had made rather formal and public announcement, to ‘wait for the simple mutton.’  She was likewise deeply apologetic for wanting the salt; and, feeling amiably bound to bear out Mr. Bounderby to the fullest extent in the testimony he had borne to her nerves, occasionally sat back in her chair and silently wept; at which periods a tear of large dimensions, like a crystal ear-ring, might be observed (or rather, must be, for it insisted on public notice) sliding down her Roman nose.

But Mrs. Sparsit’s greatest point, first and last, was her determination to pity Mr. Bounderby.  There were occasions when in looking at him she was involuntarily moved to shake her head, as who would say, ‘Alas, poor Yorick!’  After allowing herself to be betrayed into these evidences of emotion, she would force a lambent brightness, and would be fitfully cheerful, and would say, ‘You have still good spirits, sir, I am thankful to find;’ and would appear to hail it as a blessed dispensation that Mr. Bounderby bore up as he did.  One idiosyncrasy for which she often apologized, she found it excessively difficult to conquer.  She had a curious propensity to call Mrs. Bounderby ‘Miss Gradgrind,’ and yielded to it some three or four score times in the course of the evening.  Her repetition of this mistake covered Mrs. Sparsit with modest confusion; but indeed, she said, it seemed so natural to say Miss Gradgrind: whereas, to persuade herself that the young lady whom she had had the happiness of knowing from a child could be really and truly Mrs. Bounderby, she found almost impossible.  It was a further singularity of this remarkable case, that the more she thought about it, the more impossible it appeared; ‘the differences,’ she observed, ‘being such.’

In the drawing-room after dinner, Mr. Bounderby tried the case of the robbery, examined the witnesses, made notes of the evidence, found the suspected persons guilty, and sentenced them to the extreme punishment of the law.  That done, Bitzer was dismissed to town with instructions to recommend Tom to come home by the mail-train.

When candles were brought, Mrs. Sparsit murmured, ‘Don’t be low, sir.  Pray let me see you cheerful, sir, as I used to do.’  Mr. Bounderby, upon whom these consolations had begun to produce the effect of making him, in a bull-headed blundering way, sentimental, sighed like some large sea-animal.  ‘I cannot bear to see you so, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘Try a hand at backgammon, sir, as you used to do when I had the honour of living under your roof.’  ‘I haven’t played backgammon, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘since that time.’  ‘No, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, soothingly, ‘I am aware that you have not.  I remember that Miss Gradgrind takes no interest in the game.  But I shall be happy, sir, if you will condescend.’

They played near a window, opening on the garden.  It was a fine night: not moonlight, but sultry and fragrant.  Louisa and Mr. Harthouse strolled out into the garden, where their voices could be heard in the stillness, though not what they said.  Mrs. Sparsit, from her place at the backgammon board, was constantly straining her eyes to pierce the shadows without.  ‘What’s the matter, ma’am?’ said Mr. Bounderby; ‘you don’t see a Fire, do you?’  ‘Oh dear no, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘I was thinking of the dew.’  ‘What have you got to do with the dew, ma’am?’ said Mr. Bounderby.  ‘It’s not myself, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘I am fearful of Miss Gradgrind’s taking cold.’  ‘She never takes cold,’ said Mr. Bounderby.  ‘Really, sir?’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  And was affected with a cough in her throat.

When the time drew near for retiring, Mr. Bounderby took a glass of water.  ‘Oh, sir?’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘Not your sherry warm, with lemon-peel and nutmeg?’  ‘Why, I have got out of the habit of taking it now, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bounderby.  ‘The more’s the pity, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit; ‘you are losing all your good old habits.  Cheer up, sir!  If Miss Gradgrind will permit me, I will offer to make it for you, as I have often done.’

Miss Gradgrind readily permitting Mrs. Sparsit to do anything she pleased, that considerate lady made the beverage, and handed it to Mr. Bounderby.  ‘It will do you good, sir.  It will warm your heart.  It is the sort of thing you want, and ought to take, sir.’  And when Mr. Bounderby said, ‘Your health, ma’am!’ she answered with great feeling, ‘Thank you, sir.  The same to you, and happiness also.’  Finally, she wished him good night, with great pathos; and Mr. Bounderby went to bed, with a maudlin persuasion that he had been crossed in something tender, though he could not, for his life, have mentioned what it was.

Long after Louisa had undressed and lain down, she watched and waited for her brother’s coming home.  That could hardly be, she knew, until an hour past midnight; but in the country silence, which did anything but calm the trouble of her thoughts, time lagged wearily.  At last, when the darkness and stillness had seemed for hours to thicken one another, she heard the bell at the gate.  She felt as though she would have been glad that it rang on until daylight; but it ceased, and the circles of its last sound spread out fainter and wider in the air, and all was dead again.

She waited yet some quarter of an hour, as she judged.  Then she arose, put on a loose robe, and went out of her room in the dark, and up the staircase to her brother’s room.  His door being shut, she softly opened it and spoke to him, approaching his bed with a noiseless step.

She kneeled down beside it, passed her arm over his neck, and drew his face to hers.  She knew that he only feigned to be asleep, but she said nothing to him.

He started by and by as if he were just then awakened, and asked who that was, and what was the matter?

‘Tom, have you anything to tell me?  If ever you loved me in your life, and have anything concealed from every one besides, tell it to me.’

‘I don’t know what you mean, Loo.  You have been dreaming.’

‘My dear brother:’ she laid her head down on his pillow, and her hair flowed over him as if she would hide him from every one but herself: ‘is there nothing that you have to tell me?  Is there nothing you can tell me if you will?  You can tell me nothing that will change me.  O Tom, tell me the truth!’

‘I don’t know what you mean, Loo!’

‘As you lie here alone, my dear, in the melancholy night, so you must lie somewhere one night, when even I, if I am living then, shall have left you.  As I am here beside you, barefoot, unclothed, undistinguishable in darkness, so must I lie through all the night of my decay, until I am dust.  In the name of that time, Tom, tell me the truth now!’

‘What is it you want to know?’

‘You may be certain;’ in the energy of her love she took him to her bosom as if he were a child; ‘that I will not reproach you.  You may be certain that I will be compassionate and true to you.  You may be certain that I will save you at whatever cost.  O Tom, have you nothing to tell me?  Whisper very softly.  Say only “yes,” and I shall understand you!’

She turned her ear to his lips, but he remained doggedly silent.

‘Not a word, Tom?’

‘How can I say Yes, or how can I say No, when I don’t know what you mean?  Loo, you are a brave, kind girl, worthy I begin to think of a better brother than I am.  But I have nothing more to say.  Go to bed, go to bed.’

‘You are tired,’ she whispered presently, more in her usual way.

‘Yes, I am quite tired out.’

‘You have been so hurried and disturbed to-day.  Have any fresh discoveries been made?’

‘Only those you have heard of, from—him.’

‘Tom, have you said to any one that we made a visit to those people, and that we saw those three together?’

‘No.  Didn’t you yourself particularly ask me to keep it quiet when you asked me to go there with you?’

‘Yes.  But I did not know then what was going to happen.’

‘Nor I neither.  How could I?’

He was very quick upon her with this retort.

‘Ought I to say, after what has happened,’ said his sister, standing by the bed—she had gradually withdrawn herself and risen, ‘that I made that visit?  Should I say so?  Must I say so?’

‘Good Heavens, Loo,’ returned her brother, ‘you are not in the habit of asking my advice.  Say what you like.  If you keep it to yourself, I shall keep it to myself.  If you disclose it, there’s an end of it.’

It was too dark for either to see the other’s face; but each seemed very attentive, and to consider before speaking.

‘Tom, do you believe the man I gave the money to, is really implicated in this crime?’

‘I don’t know.  I don’t see why he shouldn’t be.’

‘He seemed to me an honest man.’

‘Another person may seem to you dishonest, and yet not be so.’  There was a pause, for he had hesitated and stopped.

‘In short,’ resumed Tom, as if he had made up his mind, ‘if you come to that, perhaps I was so far from being altogether in his favour, that I took him outside the door to tell him quietly, that I thought he might consider himself very well off to get such a windfall as he had got from my sister, and that I hoped he would make good use of it.  You remember whether I took him out or not.  I say nothing against the man; he may be a very good fellow, for anything I know; I hope he is.’

‘Was he offended by what you said?’

‘No, he took it pretty well; he was civil enough.  Where are you, Loo?’  He sat up in bed and kissed her.  ‘Good night, my dear, good night.’

‘You have nothing more to tell me?’

‘No.  What should I have?  You wouldn’t have me tell you a lie!’

‘I wouldn’t have you do that to-night, Tom, of all the nights in your life; many and much happier as I hope they will be.’

‘Thank you, my dear Loo.  I am so tired, that I am sure I wonder I don’t say anything to get to sleep.  Go to bed, go to bed.’

Kissing her again, he turned round, drew the coverlet over his head, and lay as still as if that time had come by which she had adjured him.  She stood for some time at the bedside before she slowly moved away.  She stopped at the door, looked back when she had opened it, and asked him if he had called her?  But he lay still, and she softly closed the door and returned to her room.

Then the wretched boy looked cautiously up and found her gone, crept out of bed, fastened his door, and threw himself upon his pillow again: tearing his hair, morosely crying, grudgingly loving her, hatefully but impenitently spurning himself, and no less hatefully and unprofitably spurning all the good in the world.

CHAPTER IX. 
HEARING THE LAST OF IT

Mrs. Sparsit, lying by to recover the tone of her nerves in Mr. Bounderby’s retreat, kept such a sharp look-out, night and day, under her Coriolanian eyebrows, that her eyes, like a couple of lighthouses on an iron-bound coast, might have warned all prudent mariners from that bold rock her Roman nose and the dark and craggy region in its neighbourhood, but for the placidity of her manner.  Although it was hard to believe that her retiring for the night could be anything but a form, so severely wide awake were those classical eyes of hers, and so impossible did it seem that her rigid nose could yield to any relaxing influence, yet her manner of sitting, smoothing her uncomfortable, not to say, gritty mittens (they were constructed of a cool fabric like a meat-safe), or of ambling to unknown places of destination with her foot in her cotton stirrup, was so perfectly serene, that most observers would have been constrained to suppose her a dove, embodied by some freak of nature, in the earthly tabernacle of a bird of the hook-beaked order.

She was a most wonderful woman for prowling about the house.  How she got from story to story was a mystery beyond solution.  A lady so decorous in herself, and so highly connected, was not to be suspected of dropping over the banisters or sliding down them, yet her extraordinary facility of locomotion suggested the wild idea.  Another noticeable circumstance in Mrs. Sparsit was, that she was never hurried.  She would shoot with consummate velocity from the roof to the hall, yet would be in full possession of her breath and dignity on the moment of her arrival there.  Neither was she ever seen by human vision to go at a great pace.

She took very kindly to Mr. Harthouse, and had some pleasant conversation with him soon after her arrival.  She made him her stately curtsey in the garden, one morning before breakfast.

‘It appears but yesterday, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘that I had the honour of receiving you at the Bank, when you were so good as to wish to be made acquainted with Mr. Bounderby’s address.’

‘An occasion, I am sure, not to be forgotten by myself in the course of Ages,’ said Mr. Harthouse, inclining his head to Mrs. Sparsit with the most indolent of all possible airs.

‘We live in a singular world, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.

‘I have had the honour, by a coincidence of which I am proud, to have made a remark, similar in effect, though not so epigrammatically expressed.’

‘A singular world, I would say, sir,’ pursued Mrs. Sparsit; after acknowledging the compliment with a drooping of her dark eyebrows, not altogether so mild in its expression as her voice was in its dulcet tones; ‘as regards the intimacies we form at one time, with individuals we were quite ignorant of, at another.  I recall, sir, that on that occasion you went so far as to say you were actually apprehensive of Miss Gradgrind.’

‘Your memory does me more honour than my insignificance deserves.  I availed myself of your obliging hints to correct my timidity, and it is unnecessary to add that they were perfectly accurate.  Mrs. Sparsit’s talent for—in fact for anything requiring accuracy—with a combination of strength of mind—and Family—is too habitually developed to admit of any question.’  He was almost falling asleep over this compliment; it took him so long to get through, and his mind wandered so much in the course of its execution.

‘You found Miss Gradgrind—I really cannot call her Mrs. Bounderby; it’s very absurd of me—as youthful as I described her?’ asked Mrs. Sparsit, sweetly.

‘You drew her portrait perfectly,’ said Mr. Harthouse.  ‘Presented her dead image.’

‘Very engaging, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, causing her mittens slowly to revolve over one another.

‘Highly so.’

‘It used to be considered,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘that Miss Gradgrind was wanting in animation, but I confess she appears to me considerably and strikingly improved in that respect.  Ay, and indeed here is Mr. Bounderby!’ cried Mrs. Sparsit, nodding her head a great many times, as if she had been talking and thinking of no one else.  ‘How do you find yourself this morning, sir?  Pray let us see you cheerful, sir.’

Now, these persistent assuagements of his misery, and lightenings of his load, had by this time begun to have the effect of making Mr. Bounderby softer than usual towards Mrs. Sparsit, and harder than usual to most other people from his wife downward.  So, when Mrs. Sparsit said with forced lightness of heart, ‘You want your breakfast, sir, but I dare say Miss Gradgrind will soon be here to preside at the table,’ Mr. Bounderby replied, ‘If I waited to be taken care of by my wife, ma’am, I believe you know pretty well I should wait till Doomsday, so I’ll trouble you to take charge of the teapot.’  Mrs. Sparsit complied, and assumed her old position at table.

This again made the excellent woman vastly sentimental.  She was so humble withal, that when Louisa appeared, she rose, protesting she never could think of sitting in that place under existing circumstances, often as she had had the honour of making Mr. Bounderby’s breakfast, before Mrs. Gradgrind—she begged pardon, she meant to say Miss Bounderby—she hoped to be excused, but she really could not get it right yet, though she trusted to become familiar with it by and by—had assumed her present position.  It was only (she observed) because Miss Gradgrind happened to be a little late, and Mr. Bounderby’s time was so very precious, and she knew it of old to be so essential that he should breakfast to the moment, that she had taken the liberty of complying with his request; long as his will had been a law to her.

‘There!  Stop where you are, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘stop where you are!  Mrs. Bounderby will be very glad to be relieved of the trouble, I believe.’

‘Don’t say that, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, almost with severity, ‘because that is very unkind to Mrs. Bounderby.  And to be unkind is not to be you, sir.’

‘You may set your mind at rest, ma’am.—You can take it very quietly, can’t you, Loo?’ said Mr. Bounderby, in a blustering way to his wife.

‘Of course.  It is of no moment.  Why should it be of any importance to me?’

‘Why should it be of any importance to any one, Mrs. Sparsit, ma’am?’ said Mr. Bounderby, swelling with a sense of slight.  ‘You attach too much importance to these things, ma’am.  By George, you’ll be corrupted in some of your notions here.  You are old-fashioned, ma’am.  You are behind Tom Gradgrind’s children’s time.’

‘What is the matter with you?’ asked Louisa, coldly surprised.  ‘What has given you offence?’

‘Offence!’ repeated Bounderby.  ‘Do you suppose if there was any offence given me, I shouldn’t name it, and request to have it corrected?  I am a straightforward man, I believe.  I don’t go beating about for side-winds.’

‘I suppose no one ever had occasion to think you too diffident, or too delicate,’ Louisa answered him composedly: ‘I have never made that objection to you, either as a child or as a woman.  I don’t understand what you would have.’

‘Have?’ returned Mr. Bounderby.  ‘Nothing.  Otherwise, don’t you, Loo Bounderby, know thoroughly well that I, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, would have it?’

She looked at him, as he struck the table and made the teacups ring, with a proud colour in her face that was a new change, Mr. Harthouse thought.  ‘You are incomprehensible this morning,’ said Louisa.  ‘Pray take no further trouble to explain yourself.  I am not curious to know your meaning.  What does it matter?’

Nothing more was said on this theme, and Mr. Harthouse was soon idly gay on indifferent subjects.  But from this day, the Sparsit action upon Mr. Bounderby threw Louisa and James Harthouse more together, and strengthened the dangerous alienation from her husband and confidence against him with another, into which she had fallen by degrees so fine that she could not retrace them if she tried.  But whether she ever tried or no, lay hidden in her own closed heart.

Mrs. Sparsit was so much affected on this particular occasion, that, assisting Mr. Bounderby to his hat after breakfast, and being then alone with him in the hall, she imprinted a chaste kiss upon his hand, murmured ‘My benefactor!’ and retired, overwhelmed with grief.  Yet it is an indubitable fact, within the cognizance of this history, that five minutes after he had left the house in the self-same hat, the same descendant of the Scadgerses and connexion by matrimony of the Powlers, shook her right-hand mitten at his portrait, made a contemptuous grimace at that work of art, and said ‘Serve you right, you Noodle, and I am glad of it.’

Mr. Bounderby had not been long gone, when Bitzer appeared.  Bitzer had come down by train, shrieking and rattling over the long line of arches that bestrode the wild country of past and present coal-pits, with an express from Stone Lodge.  It was a hasty note to inform Louisa that Mrs. Gradgrind lay very ill.  She had never been well within her daughter’s knowledge; but, she had declined within the last few days, had continued sinking all through the night, and was now as nearly dead, as her limited capacity of being in any state that implied the ghost of an intention to get out of it, allowed.

Accompanied by the lightest of porters, fit colourless servitor at Death’s door when Mrs. Gradgrind knocked, Louisa rumbled to Coketown, over the coal-pits past and present, and was whirled into its smoky jaws.  She dismissed the messenger to his own devices, and rode away to her old home.

She had seldom been there since her marriage.  Her father was usually sifting and sifting at his parliamentary cinder-heap in London (without being observed to turn up many precious articles among the rubbish), and was still hard at it in the national dust-yard.  Her mother had taken it rather as a disturbance than otherwise, to be visited, as she reclined upon her sofa; young people, Louisa felt herself all unfit for; Sissy she had never softened to again, since the night when the stroller’s child had raised her eyes to look at Mr. Bounderby’s intended wife.  She had no inducements to go back, and had rarely gone.

Neither, as she approached her old home now, did any of the best influences of old home descend upon her.  The dreams of childhood—its airy fables; its graceful, beautiful, humane, impossible adornments of the world beyond: so good to be believed in once, so good to be remembered when outgrown, for then the least among them rises to the stature of a great Charity in the heart, suffering little children to come into the midst of it, and to keep with their pure hands a garden in the stony ways of this world, wherein it were better for all the children of Adam that they should oftener sun themselves, simple and trustful, and not worldly-wise—what had she to do with these?  Remembrances of how she had journeyed to the little that she knew, by the enchanted roads of what she and millions of innocent creatures had hoped and imagined; of how, first coming upon Reason through the tender light of Fancy, she had seen it a beneficent god, deferring to gods as great as itself; not a grim Idol, cruel and cold, with its victims bound hand to foot, and its big dumb shape set up with a sightless stare, never to be moved by anything but so many calculated tons of leverage—what had she to do with these?  Her remembrances of home and childhood were remembrances of the drying up of every spring and fountain in her young heart as it gushed out.  The golden waters were not there.  They were flowing for the fertilization of the land where grapes are gathered from thorns, and figs from thistles.

She went, with a heavy, hardened kind of sorrow upon her, into the house and into her mother’s room.  Since the time of her leaving home, Sissy had lived with the rest of the family on equal terms.  Sissy was at her mother’s side; and Jane, her sister, now ten or twelve years old, was in the room.

There was great trouble before it could be made known to Mrs. Gradgrind that her eldest child was there.  She reclined, propped up, from mere habit, on a couch: as nearly in her old usual attitude, as anything so helpless could be kept in.  She had positively refused to take to her bed; on the ground that if she did, she would never hear the last of it.

Her feeble voice sounded so far away in her bundle of shawls, and the sound of another voice addressing her seemed to take such a long time in getting down to her ears, that she might have been lying at the bottom of a well.  The poor lady was nearer Truth than she ever had been: which had much to do with it.

On being told that Mrs. Bounderby was there, she replied, at cross-purposes, that she had never called him by that name since he married Louisa; that pending her choice of an objectionable name, she had called him J; and that she could not at present depart from that regulation, not being yet provided with a permanent substitute.  Louisa had sat by her for some minutes, and had spoken to her often, before she arrived at a clear understanding who it was.  She then seemed to come to it all at once.

‘Well, my dear,’ said Mrs. Gradgrind, ‘and I hope you are going on satisfactorily to yourself.  It was all your father’s doing.  He set his heart upon it.  And he ought to know.’

‘I want to hear of you, mother; not of myself.’

‘You want to hear of me, my dear?  That’s something new, I am sure, when anybody wants to hear of me.  Not at all well, Louisa.  Very faint and giddy.’

‘Are you in pain, dear mother?’

‘I think there’s a pain somewhere in the room,’ said Mrs. Gradgrind, ‘but I couldn’t positively say that I have got it.’

After this strange speech, she lay silent for some time.  Louisa, holding her hand, could feel no pulse; but kissing it, could see a slight thin thread of life in fluttering motion.

‘You very seldom see your sister,’ said Mrs. Gradgrind.  ‘She grows like you.  I wish you would look at her.  Sissy, bring her here.’

She was brought, and stood with her hand in her sister’s.  Louisa had observed her with her arm round Sissy’s neck, and she felt the difference of this approach.

‘Do you see the likeness, Louisa?’

‘Yes, mother.  I should think her like me.  But—’

‘Eh!  Yes, I always say so,’ Mrs. Gradgrind cried, with unexpected quickness.  ‘And that reminds me.  I—I want to speak to you, my dear.  Sissy, my good girl, leave us alone a minute.’ Louisa had relinquished the hand: had thought that her sister’s was a better and brighter face than hers had ever been: had seen in it, not without a rising feeling of resentment, even in that place and at that time, something of the gentleness of the other face in the room; the sweet face with the trusting eyes, made paler than watching and sympathy made it, by the rich dark hair.

Left alone with her mother, Louisa saw her lying with an awful lull upon her face, like one who was floating away upon some great water, all resistance over, content to be carried down the stream.  She put the shadow of a hand to her lips again, and recalled her.

‘You were going to speak to me, mother.’

‘Eh?  Yes, to be sure, my dear.  You know your father is almost always away now, and therefore I must write to him about it.’

‘About what, mother?  Don’t be troubled.  About what?’

‘You must remember, my dear, that whenever I have said anything, on any subject, I have never heard the last of it: and consequently, that I have long left off saying anything.’

‘I can hear you, mother.’  But, it was only by dint of bending down to her ear, and at the same time attentively watching the lips as they moved, that she could link such faint and broken sounds into any chain of connexion.

‘You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother.  Ologies of all kinds from morning to night.  If there is any Ology left, of any description, that has not been worn to rags in this house, all I can say is, I hope I shall never hear its name.’

‘I can hear you, mother, when you have strength to go on.’  This, to keep her from floating away.

‘But there is something—not an Ology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten, Louisa.  I don’t know what it is.  I have often sat with Sissy near me, and thought about it.  I shall never get its name now.  But your father may.  It makes me restless.  I want to write to him, to find out for God’s sake, what it is.  Give me a pen, give me a pen.’

Even the power of restlessness was gone, except from the poor head, which could just turn from side to side.

She fancied, however, that her request had been complied with, and that the pen she could not have held was in her hand.  It matters little what figures of wonderful no-meaning she began to trace upon her wrappers.  The hand soon stopped in the midst of them; the light that had always been feeble and dim behind the weak transparency, went out; and even Mrs. Gradgrind, emerged from the shadow in which man walketh and disquieteth himself in vain, took upon her the dread solemnity of the sages and patriarchs.

CHAPTER X. 
MRS. SPARSIT’S STAIRCASE

Mrs. Sparsit’s nerves being slow to recover their tone, the worthy woman made a stay of some weeks in duration at Mr. Bounderby’s retreat, where, notwithstanding her anchorite turn of mind based upon her becoming consciousness of her altered station, she resigned herself with noble fortitude to lodging, as one may say, in clover, and feeding on the fat of the land.  During the whole term of this recess from the guardianship of the Bank, Mrs. Sparsit was a pattern of consistency; continuing to take such pity on Mr. Bounderby to his face, as is rarely taken on man, and to call his portrait a Noodle to its face, with the greatest acrimony and contempt.

Mr. Bounderby, having got it into his explosive composition that Mrs. Sparsit was a highly superior woman to perceive that he had that general cross upon him in his deserts (for he had not yet settled what it was), and further that Louisa would have objected to her as a frequent visitor if it had comported with his greatness that she should object to anything he chose to do, resolved not to lose sight of Mrs. Sparsit easily.  So when her nerves were strung up to the pitch of again consuming sweetbreads in solitude, he said to her at the dinner-table, on the day before her departure, ‘I tell you what, ma’am; you shall come down here of a Saturday, while the fine weather lasts, and stay till Monday.’  To which Mrs. Sparsit returned, in effect, though not of the Mahomedan persuasion: ‘To hear is to obey.’

Now, Mrs. Sparsit was not a poetical woman; but she took an idea in the nature of an allegorical fancy, into her head.  Much watching of Louisa, and much consequent observation of her impenetrable demeanour, which keenly whetted and sharpened Mrs. Sparsit’s edge, must have given her as it were a lift, in the way of inspiration.  She erected in her mind a mighty Staircase, with a dark pit of shame and ruin at the bottom; and down those stairs, from day to day and hour to hour, she saw Louisa coming.

It became the business of Mrs. Sparsit’s life, to look up at her staircase, and to watch Louisa coming down.  Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, sometimes several steps at one bout, sometimes stopping, never turning back.  If she had once turned back, it might have been the death of Mrs. Sparsit in spleen and grief.

She had been descending steadily, to the day, and on the day, when Mr. Bounderby issued the weekly invitation recorded above.  Mrs. Sparsit was in good spirits, and inclined to be conversational.

‘And pray, sir,’ said she, ‘if I may venture to ask a question appertaining to any subject on which you show reserve—which is indeed hardy in me, for I well know you have a reason for everything you do—have you received intelligence respecting the robbery?’

‘Why, ma’am, no; not yet.  Under the circumstances, I didn’t expect it yet.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, ma’am.’

‘Very true, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, shaking her head.

‘Nor yet in a week, ma’am.’

‘No, indeed, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, with a gentle melancholy upon her.

‘In a similar manner, ma’am,’ said Bounderby, ‘I can wait, you know.  If Romulus and Remus could wait, Josiah Bounderby can wait.  They were better off in their youth than I was, however.  They had a she-wolf for a nurse; I had only a she-wolf for a grandmother.  She didn’t give any milk, ma’am; she gave bruises.  She was a regular Alderney at that.’

‘Ah!’ Mrs. Sparsit sighed and shuddered.

‘No, ma’am,’ continued Bounderby, ‘I have not heard anything more about it.  It’s in hand, though; and young Tom, who rather sticks to business at present—something new for him; he hadn’t the schooling I had—is helping.  My injunction is, Keep it quiet, and let it seem to blow over.  Do what you like under the rose, but don’t give a sign of what you’re about; or half a hundred of ’em will combine together and get this fellow who has bolted, out of reach for good.  Keep it quiet, and the thieves will grow in confidence by little and little, and we shall have ’em.’

‘Very sagacious indeed, sir,’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘Very interesting.  The old woman you mentioned, sir—’

‘The old woman I mentioned, ma’am,’ said Bounderby, cutting the matter short, as it was nothing to boast about, ‘is not laid hold of; but, she may take her oath she will be, if that is any satisfaction to her villainous old mind.  In the mean time, ma’am, I am of opinion, if you ask me my opinion, that the less she is talked about, the better.’

The same evening, Mrs. Sparsit, in her chamber window, resting from her packing operations, looked towards her great staircase and saw Louisa still descending.

She sat by Mr. Harthouse, in an alcove in the garden, talking very low; he stood leaning over her, as they whispered together, and his face almost touched her hair.  ‘If not quite!’ said Mrs. Sparsit, straining her hawk’s eyes to the utmost.  Mrs. Sparsit was too distant to hear a word of their discourse, or even to know that they were speaking softly, otherwise than from the expression of their figures; but what they said was this:

‘You recollect the man, Mr. Harthouse?’

‘Oh, perfectly!’

‘His face, and his manner, and what he said?’

‘Perfectly.  And an infinitely dreary person he appeared to me to be.  Lengthy and prosy in the extreme.  It was knowing to hold forth, in the humble-virtue school of eloquence; but, I assure you I thought at the time, “My good fellow, you are over-doing this!”’

‘It has been very difficult to me to think ill of that man.’

‘My dear Louisa—as Tom says.’  Which he never did say.  ‘You know no good of the fellow?’

‘No, certainly.’

‘Nor of any other such person?’

‘How can I,’ she returned, with more of her first manner on her than he had lately seen, ‘when I know nothing of them, men or women?’

‘My dear Louisa, then consent to receive the submissive representation of your devoted friend, who knows something of several varieties of his excellent fellow-creatures—for excellent they are, I am quite ready to believe, in spite of such little foibles as always helping themselves to what they can get hold of.  This fellow talks.  Well; every fellow talks.  He professes morality.  Well; all sorts of humbugs profess morality.  From the House of Commons to the House of Correction, there is a general profession of morality, except among our people; it really is that exception which makes our people quite reviving.  You saw and heard the case.  Here was one of the fluffy classes pulled up extremely short by my esteemed friend Mr. Bounderby—who, as we know, is not possessed of that delicacy which would soften so tight a hand.  The member of the fluffy classes was injured, exasperated, left the house grumbling, met somebody who proposed to him to go in for some share in this Bank business, went in, put something in his pocket which had nothing in it before, and relieved his mind extremely.  Really he would have been an uncommon, instead of a common, fellow, if he had not availed himself of such an opportunity.  Or he may have originated it altogether, if he had the cleverness.’

‘I almost feel as though it must be bad in me,’ returned Louisa, after sitting thoughtful awhile, ‘to be so ready to agree with you, and to be so lightened in my heart by what you say.’

‘I only say what is reasonable; nothing worse.  I have talked it over with my friend Tom more than once—of course I remain on terms of perfect confidence with Tom—and he is quite of my opinion, and I am quite of his.  Will you walk?’

They strolled away, among the lanes beginning to be indistinct in the twilight—she leaning on his arm—and she little thought how she was going down, down, down, Mrs. Sparsit’s staircase.

Night and day, Mrs. Sparsit kept it standing.  When Louisa had arrived at the bottom and disappeared in the gulf, it might fall in upon her if it would; but, until then, there it was to be, a Building, before Mrs. Sparsit’s eyes.  And there Louisa always was, upon it.

And always gliding down, down, down!

Mrs. Sparsit saw James Harthouse come and go; she heard of him here and there; she saw the changes of the face he had studied; she, too, remarked to a nicety how and when it clouded, how and when it cleared; she kept her black eyes wide open, with no touch of pity, with no touch of compunction, all absorbed in interest.  In the interest of seeing her, ever drawing, with no hand to stay her, nearer and nearer to the bottom of this new Giant’s Staircase.

With all her deference for Mr. Bounderby as contradistinguished from his portrait, Mrs. Sparsit had not the smallest intention of interrupting the descent.  Eager to see it accomplished, and yet patient, she waited for the last fall, as for the ripeness and fulness of the harvest of her hopes.  Hushed in expectancy, she kept her wary gaze upon the stairs; and seldom so much as darkly shook her right mitten (with her fist in it), at the figure coming down.

CHAPTER XI. 
LOWER AND LOWER

The figure descended the great stairs, steadily, steadily; always verging, like a weight in deep water, to the black gulf at the bottom.

Mr. Gradgrind, apprised of his wife’s decease, made an expedition from London, and buried her in a business-like manner.  He then returned with promptitude to the national cinder-heap, and resumed his sifting for the odds and ends he wanted, and his throwing of the dust about into the eyes of other people who wanted other odds and ends—in fact resumed his parliamentary duties.

In the meantime, Mrs. Sparsit kept unwinking watch and ward.  Separated from her staircase, all the week, by the length of iron road dividing Coketown from the country house, she yet maintained her cat-like observation of Louisa, through her husband, through her brother, through James Harthouse, through the outsides of letters and packets, through everything animate and inanimate that at any time went near the stairs.  ‘Your foot on the last step, my lady,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, apostrophizing the descending figure, with the aid of her threatening mitten, ‘and all your art shall never blind me.’

Art or nature though, the original stock of Louisa’s character or the graft of circumstances upon it,—her curious reserve did baffle, while it stimulated, one as sagacious as Mrs. Sparsit.  There were times when Mr. James Harthouse was not sure of her.  There were times when he could not read the face he had studied so long; and when this lonely girl was a greater mystery to him, than any woman of the world with a ring of satellites to help her.

So the time went on; until it happened that Mr. Bounderby was called away from home by business which required his presence elsewhere, for three or four days.  It was on a Friday that he intimated this to Mrs. Sparsit at the Bank, adding: ‘But you’ll go down to-morrow, ma’am, all the same.  You’ll go down just as if I was there.  It will make no difference to you.’

‘Pray, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, reproachfully, ‘let me beg you not to say that.  Your absence will make a vast difference to me, sir, as I think you very well know.’

‘Well, ma’am, then you must get on in my absence as well as you can,’ said Mr. Bounderby, not displeased.

‘Mr. Bounderby,’ retorted Mrs. Sparsit, ‘your will is to me a law, sir; otherwise, it might be my inclination to dispute your kind commands, not feeling sure that it will be quite so agreeable to Miss Gradgrind to receive me, as it ever is to your own munificent hospitality.  But you shall say no more, sir.  I will go, upon your invitation.’

‘Why, when I invite you to my house, ma’am,’ said Bounderby, opening his eyes, ‘I should hope you want no other invitation.’

‘No, indeed, sir,’ returned Mrs. Sparsit, ‘I should hope not.  Say no more, sir.  I would, sir, I could see you gay again.’

‘What do you mean, ma’am?’ blustered Bounderby.

‘Sir,’ rejoined Mrs. Sparsit, ‘there was wont to be an elasticity in you which I sadly miss.  Be buoyant, sir!’

Mr. Bounderby, under the influence of this difficult adjuration, backed up by her compassionate eye, could only scratch his head in a feeble and ridiculous manner, and afterwards assert himself at a distance, by being heard to bully the small fry of business all the morning.

‘Bitzer,’ said Mrs. Sparsit that afternoon, when her patron was gone on his journey, and the Bank was closing, ‘present my compliments to young Mr. Thomas, and ask him if he would step up and partake of a lamb chop and walnut ketchup, with a glass of India ale?’  Young Mr. Thomas being usually ready for anything in that way, returned a gracious answer, and followed on its heels.  ‘Mr. Thomas,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘these plain viands being on table, I thought you might be tempted.’

‘Thank’ee, Mrs. Sparsit,’ said the whelp.  And gloomily fell to.

‘How is Mr. Harthouse, Mr. Tom?’ asked Mrs. Sparsit.

‘Oh, he’s all right,’ said Tom.

‘Where may he be at present?’ Mrs. Sparsit asked in a light conversational manner, after mentally devoting the whelp to the Furies for being so uncommunicative.

‘He is shooting in Yorkshire,’ said Tom.  ‘Sent Loo a basket half as big as a church, yesterday.’

‘The kind of gentleman, now,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, sweetly, ‘whom one might wager to be a good shot!’

‘Crack,’ said Tom.

He had long been a down-looking young fellow, but this characteristic had so increased of late, that he never raised his eyes to any face for three seconds together.  Mrs. Sparsit consequently had ample means of watching his looks, if she were so inclined.

‘Mr. Harthouse is a great favourite of mine,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘as indeed he is of most people.  May we expect to see him again shortly, Mr. Tom?’

‘Why, I expect to see him to-morrow,’ returned the whelp.

‘Good news!’ cried Mrs. Sparsit, blandly.

‘I have got an appointment with him to meet him in the evening at the station here,’ said Tom, ‘and I am going to dine with him afterwards, I believe.  He is not coming down to the country house for a week or so, being due somewhere else.  At least, he says so; but I shouldn’t wonder if he was to stop here over Sunday, and stray that way.’

‘Which reminds me!’ said Mrs. Sparsit.  ‘Would you remember a message to your sister, Mr. Tom, if I was to charge you with one?’

‘Well?  I’ll try,’ returned the reluctant whelp, ‘if it isn’t a long un.’

‘It is merely my respectful compliments,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, ‘and I fear I may not trouble her with my society this week; being still a little nervous, and better perhaps by my poor self.’

‘Oh!  If that’s all,’ observed Tom, ‘it wouldn’t much matter, even if I was to forget it, for Loo’s not likely to think of you unless she sees you.’

Having paid for his entertainment with this agreeable compliment, he relapsed into a hangdog silence until there was no more India ale left, when he said, ‘Well, Mrs. Sparsit, I must be off!’ and went off.

Next day, Saturday, Mrs. Sparsit sat at her window all day long looking at the customers coming in and out, watching the postmen, keeping an eye on the general traffic of the street, revolving many things in her mind, but, above all, keeping her attention on her staircase.  The evening come, she put on her bonnet and shawl, and went quietly out: having her reasons for hovering in a furtive way about the station by which a passenger would arrive from Yorkshire, and for preferring to peep into it round pillars and corners, and out of ladies’ waiting-room windows, to appearing in its precincts openly.

Tom was in attendance, and loitered about until the expected train came in.  It brought no Mr. Harthouse.  Tom waited until the crowd had dispersed, and the bustle was over; and then referred to a posted list of trains, and took counsel with porters.  That done, he strolled away idly, stopping in the street and looking up it and down it, and lifting his hat off and putting it on again, and yawning and stretching himself, and exhibiting all the symptoms of mortal weariness to be expected in one who had still to wait until the next train should come in, an hour and forty minutes hence.

‘This is a device to keep him out of the way,’ said Mrs. Sparsit, starting from the dull office window whence she had watched him last.  ‘Harthouse is with his sister now!’

It was the conception of an inspired moment, and she shot off with her utmost swiftness to work it out.  The station for the country house was at the opposite end of the town, the time was short, the road not easy; but she was so quick in pouncing on a disengaged coach, so quick in darting out of it, producing her money, seizing her ticket, and diving into the train, that she was borne along the arches spanning the land of coal-pits past and present, as if she had been caught up in a cloud and whirled away.

All the journey, immovable in the air though never left behind; plain to the dark eyes of her mind, as the electric wires which ruled a colossal strip of music-paper out of the evening sky, were plain to the dark eyes of her body; Mrs. Sparsit saw her staircase, with the figure coming down.  Very near the bottom now.  Upon the brink of the abyss.

An overcast September evening, just at nightfall, saw beneath its drooping eyelids Mrs. Sparsit glide out of her carriage, pass down the wooden steps of the little station into a stony road, cross it into a green lane, and become hidden in a summer-growth of leaves and branches.  One or two late birds sleepily chirping in their nests, and a bat heavily crossing and recrossing her, and the reek of her own tread in the thick dust that felt like velvet, were all Mrs. Sparsit heard or saw until she very softly closed a gate.

She went up to the house, keeping within the shrubbery, and went round it, peeping between the leaves at the lower windows.  Most of them were open, as they usually were in such warm weather, but there were no lights yet, and all was silent.  She tried the garden with no better effect.  She thought of the wood, and stole towards it, heedless of long grass and briers: of worms, snails, and slugs, and all the creeping things that be.  With her dark eyes and her hook nose warily in advance of her, Mrs. Sparsit softly crushed her way through the thick undergrowth, so intent upon her object that she probably would have done no less, if the wood had been a wood of adders.

Hark!

The smaller birds might have tumbled out of their nests, fascinated by the glittering of Mrs. Sparsit’s eyes in the gloom, as she stopped and listened.

Low voices close at hand.  His voice and hers.  The appointment was a device to keep the brother away!  There they were yonder, by the felled tree.

Bending low among the dewy grass, Mrs. Sparsit advanced closer to them.  She drew herself up, and stood behind a tree, like Robinson Crusoe in his ambuscade against the savages; so near to them that at a spring, and that no great one, she could have touched them both.  He was there secretly, and had not shown himself at the house.  He had come on horseback, and must have passed through the neighbouring fields; for his horse was tied to the meadow side of the fence, within a few paces.

‘My dearest love,’ said he, ‘what could I do?  Knowing you were alone, was it possible that I could stay away?’

‘You may hang your head, to make yourself the more attractive; I don’t know what they see in you when you hold it up,’ thought Mrs. Sparsit; ‘but you little think, my dearest love, whose eyes are on you!’

That she hung her head, was certain.  She urged him to go away, she commanded him to go away; but she neither turned her face to him, nor raised it.  Yet it was remarkable that she sat as still as ever the amiable woman in ambuscade had seen her sit, at any period in her life.  Her hands rested in one another, like the hands of a statue; and even her manner of speaking was not hurried.

‘My dear child,’ said Harthouse; Mrs. Sparsit saw with delight that his arm embraced her; ‘will you not bear with my society for a little while?’

‘Not here.’

‘Where, Louisa?

‘Not here.’

‘But we have so little time to make so much of, and I have come so far, and am altogether so devoted, and distracted.  There never was a slave at once so devoted and ill-used by his mistress.  To look for your sunny welcome that has warmed me into life, and to be received in your frozen manner, is heart-rending.’

‘Am I to say again, that I must be left to myself here?’

‘But we must meet, my dear Louisa.  Where shall we meet?’

They both started.  The listener started, guiltily, too; for she thought there was another listener among the trees.  It was only rain, beginning to fall fast, in heavy drops.

‘Shall I ride up to the house a few minutes hence, innocently supposing that its master is at home and will be charmed to receive me?’

‘No!’

‘Your cruel commands are implicitly to be obeyed; though I am the most unfortunate fellow in the world, I believe, to have been insensible to all other women, and to have fallen prostrate at last under the foot of the most beautiful, and the most engaging, and the most imperious.  My dearest Louisa, I cannot go myself, or let you go, in this hard abuse of your power.’

Mrs. Sparsit saw him detain her with his encircling arm, and heard him then and there, within her (Mrs. Sparsit’s) greedy hearing, tell her how he loved her, and how she was the stake for which he ardently desired to play away all that he had in life.  The objects he had lately pursued, turned worthless beside her; such success as was almost in his grasp, he flung away from him like the dirt it was, compared with her.  Its pursuit, nevertheless, if it kept him near her, or its renunciation if it took him from her, or flight if she shared it, or secrecy if she commanded it, or any fate, or every fate, all was alike to him, so that she was true to him,—the man who had seen how cast away she was, whom she had inspired at their first meeting with an admiration, an interest, of which he had thought himself incapable, whom she had received into her confidence, who was devoted to her and adored her.  All this, and more, in his hurry, and in hers, in the whirl of her own gratified malice, in the dread of being discovered, in the rapidly increasing noise of heavy rain among the leaves, and a thunderstorm rolling up—Mrs. Sparsit received into her mind, set off with such an unavoidable halo of confusion and indistinctness, that when at length he climbed the fence and led his horse away, she was not sure where they were to meet, or when, except that they had said it was to be that night.

But one of them yet remained in the darkness before her; and while she tracked that one she must be right.  ‘Oh, my dearest love,’ thought Mrs. Sparsit, ‘you little think how well attended you are!’

Mrs. Sparsit saw her out of the wood, and saw her enter the house.  What to do next?  It rained now, in a sheet of water.  Mrs. Sparsit’s white stockings were of many colours, green predominating; prickly things were in her shoes; caterpillars slung themselves, in hammocks of their own making, from various parts of her dress; rills ran from her bonnet, and her Roman nose.  In such condition, Mrs. Sparsit stood hidden in the density of the shrubbery, considering what next?

Lo, Louisa coming out of the house!  Hastily cloaked and muffled, and stealing away.  She elopes!  She falls from the lowermost stair, and is swallowed up in the gulf.

Indifferent to the rain, and moving with a quick determined step, she struck into a side-path parallel with the ride.  Mrs. Sparsit followed in the shadow of the trees, at but a short distance; for it was not easy to keep a figure in view going quickly through the umbrageous darkness.

When she stopped to close the side-gate without noise, Mrs. Sparsit stopped.  When she went on, Mrs. Sparsit went on.  She went by the way Mrs. Sparsit had come, emerged from the green lane, crossed the stony road, and ascended the wooden steps to the railroad.  A train for Coketown would come through presently, Mrs. Sparsit knew; so she understood Coketown to be her first place of destination.

In Mrs. Sparsit’s limp and streaming state, no extensive precautions were necessary to change her usual appearance; but, she stopped under the lee of the station wall, tumbled her shawl into a new shape, and put it on over her bonnet.  So disguised she had no fear of being recognized when she followed up the railroad steps, and paid her money in the small office.  Louisa sat waiting in a corner.  Mrs. Sparsit sat waiting in another corner.  Both listened to the thunder, which was loud, and to the rain, as it washed off the roof, and pattered on the parapets of the arches.  Two or three lamps were rained out and blown out; so, both saw the lightning to advantage as it quivered and zigzagged on the iron tracks.

The seizure of the station with a fit of trembling, gradually deepening to a complaint of the heart, announced the train.  Fire and steam, and smoke, and red light; a hiss, a crash, a bell, and a shriek; Louisa put into one carriage, Mrs. Sparsit put into another: the little station a desert speck in the thunderstorm.

Though her teeth chattered in her head from wet and cold, Mrs. Sparsit exulted hugely.  The figure had plunged down the precipice, and she felt herself, as it were, attending on the body.  Could she, who had been so active in the getting up of the funeral triumph, do less than exult?  ‘She will be at Coketown long before him,’ thought Mrs. Sparsit, ‘though his horse is never so good.  Where will she wait for him?  And where will they go together?  Patience.  We shall see.’

The tremendous rain occasioned infinite confusion, when the train stopped at its destination.  Gutters and pipes had burst, drains had overflowed, and streets were under water.  In the first instant of alighting, Mrs. Sparsit turned her distracted eyes towards the waiting coaches, which were in great request.  ‘She will get into one,’ she considered, ‘and will be away before I can follow in another.  At all risks of being run over, I must see the number, and hear the order given to the coachman.’

But, Mrs. Sparsit was wrong in her calculation.  Louisa got into no coach, and was already gone.  The black eyes kept upon the railroad-carriage in which she had travelled, settled upon it a moment too late.  The door not being opened after several minutes, Mrs. Sparsit passed it and repassed it, saw nothing, looked in, and found it empty.  Wet through and through: with her feet squelching and squashing in her shoes whenever she moved; with a rash of rain upon her classical visage; with a bonnet like an over-ripe fig; with all her clothes spoiled; with damp impressions of every button, string, and hook-and-eye she wore, printed off upon her highly connected back; with a stagnant verdure on her general exterior, such as accumulates on an old park fence in a mouldy lane; Mrs. Sparsit had no resource but to burst into tears of bitterness and say, ‘I have lost her!’

CHAPTER XII. 
DOWN

The national dustmen, after entertaining one another with a great many noisy little fights among themselves, had dispersed for the present, and Mr. Gradgrind was at home for the vacation.

He sat writing in the room with the deadly statistical clock, proving something no doubt—probably, in the main, that the Good Samaritan was a Bad Economist.  The noise of the rain did not disturb him much; but it attracted his attention sufficiently to make him raise his head sometimes, as if he were rather remonstrating with the elements.  When it thundered very loudly, he glanced towards Coketown, having it in his mind that some of the tall chimneys might be struck by lightning.

The thunder was rolling into distance, and the rain was pouring down like a deluge, when the door of his room opened.  He looked round the lamp upon his table, and saw, with amazement, his eldest daughter.

‘Louisa!’

‘Father, I want to speak to you.’

‘What is the matter?  How strange you look!  And good Heaven,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, wondering more and more, ‘have you come here exposed to this storm?’

She put her hands to her dress, as if she hardly knew.  ‘Yes.’  Then she uncovered her head, and letting her cloak and hood fall where they might, stood looking at him: so colourless, so dishevelled, so defiant and despairing, that he was afraid of her.

‘What is it?  I conjure you, Louisa, tell me what is the matter.’

She dropped into a chair before him, and put her cold hand on his arm.

‘Father, you have trained me from my cradle?’

‘Yes, Louisa.’

‘I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny.’

He looked at her in doubt and dread, vacantly repeating: ‘Curse the hour?  Curse the hour?’

‘How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death?  Where are the graces of my soul?  Where are the sentiments of my heart?  What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!’

She struck herself with both her hands upon her bosom.

‘If it had ever been here, its ashes alone would save me from the void in which my whole life sinks.  I did not mean to say this; but, father, you remember the last time we conversed in this room?’

He had been so wholly unprepared for what he heard now, that it was with difficulty he answered, ‘Yes, Louisa.’

‘What has risen to my lips now, would have risen to my lips then, if you had given me a moment’s help.  I don’t reproach you, father.  What you have never nurtured in me, you have never nurtured in yourself; but O! if you had only done so long ago, or if you had only neglected me, what a much better and much happier creature I should have been this day!’

On hearing this, after all his care, he bowed his head upon his hand and groaned aloud.

‘Father, if you had known, when we were last together here, what even I feared while I strove against it—as it has been my task from infancy to strive against every natural prompting that has arisen in my heart; if you had known that there lingered in my breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses capable of being cherished into strength, defying all the calculations ever made by man, and no more known to his arithmetic than his Creator is,—would you have given me to the husband whom I am now sure that I hate?’

He said, ‘No.  No, my poor child.’

‘Would you have doomed me, at any time, to the frost and blight that have hardened and spoiled me?  Would you have robbed me—for no one’s enrichment—only for the greater desolation of this world—of the immaterial part of my life, the spring and summer of my belief, my refuge from what is sordid and bad in the real things around me, my school in which I should have learned to be more humble and more trusting with them, and to hope in my little sphere to make them better?’

‘O no, no.  No, Louisa.’

‘Yet, father, if I had been stone blind; if I had groped my way by my sense of touch, and had been free, while I knew the shapes and surfaces of things, to exercise my fancy somewhat, in regard to them; I should have been a million times wiser, happier, more loving, more contented, more innocent and human in all good respects, than I am with the eyes I have.  Now, hear what I have come to say.’

He moved, to support her with his arm.  She rising as he did so, they stood close together: she, with a hand upon his shoulder, looking fixedly in his face.

‘With a hunger and thirst upon me, father, which have never been for a moment appeased; with an ardent impulse towards some region where rules, and figures, and definitions were not quite absolute; I have grown up, battling every inch of my way.’

‘I never knew you were unhappy, my child.’

‘Father, I always knew it.  In this strife I have almost repulsed and crushed my better angel into a demon.  What I have learned has left me doubting, misbelieving, despising, regretting, what I have not learned; and my dismal resource has been to think that life would soon go by, and that nothing in it could be worth the pain and trouble of a contest.’

‘And you so young, Louisa!’ he said with pity.

‘And I so young.  In this condition, father—for I show you now, without fear or favour, the ordinary deadened state of my mind as I know it—you proposed my husband to me.  I took him.  I never made a pretence to him or you that I loved him.  I knew, and, father, you knew, and he knew, that I never did.  I was not wholly indifferent, for I had a hope of being pleasant and useful to Tom.  I made that wild escape into something visionary, and have slowly found out how wild it was.  But Tom had been the subject of all the little tenderness of my life; perhaps he became so because I knew so well how to pity him.  It matters little now, except as it may dispose you to think more leniently of his errors.’

As her father held her in his arms, she put her other hand upon his other shoulder, and still looking fixedly in his face, went on.

‘When I was irrevocably married, there rose up into rebellion against the tie, the old strife, made fiercer by all those causes of disparity which arise out of our two individual natures, and which no general laws shall ever rule or state for me, father, until they shall be able to direct the anatomist where to strike his knife into the secrets of my soul.’

‘Louisa!’ he said, and said imploringly; for he well remembered what had passed between them in their former interview.

‘I do not reproach you, father, I make no complaint.  I am here with another object.’

‘What can I do, child?  Ask me what you will.’

‘I am coming to it.  Father, chance then threw into my way a new acquaintance; a man such as I had had no experience of; used to the world; light, polished, easy; making no pretences; avowing the low estimate of everything, that I was half afraid to form in secret; conveying to me almost immediately, though I don’t know how or by what degrees, that he understood me, and read my thoughts.  I could not find that he was worse than I.  There seemed to be a near affinity between us.  I only wondered it should be worth his while, who cared for nothing else, to care so much for me.’

‘For you, Louisa!’

Her father might instinctively have loosened his hold, but that he felt her strength departing from her, and saw a wild dilating fire in the eyes steadfastly regarding him.

‘I say nothing of his plea for claiming my confidence.  It matters very little how he gained it.  Father, he did gain it.  What you know of the story of my marriage, he soon knew, just as well.’

Her father’s face was ashy white, and he held her in both his arms.

‘I have done no worse, I have not disgraced you.  But if you ask me whether I have loved him, or do love him, I tell you plainly, father, that it may be so.  I don’t know.’

She took her hands suddenly from his shoulders, and pressed them both upon her side; while in her face, not like itself—and in her figure, drawn up, resolute to finish by a last effort what she had to say—the feelings long suppressed broke loose.

‘This night, my husband being away, he has been with me, declaring himself my lover.  This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means.  I do not know that I am sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am degraded in my own esteem.  All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me.  Now, father, you have brought me to this.  Save me by some other means!’

He tightened his hold in time to prevent her sinking on the floor, but she cried out in a terrible voice, ‘I shall die if you hold me!  Let me fall upon the ground!’  And he laid her down there, and saw the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an insensible heap, at his feet.

END OF THE SECOND BOOK