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
" A singular world, I would say, sir," pursued Mrs. Sparsit ; after
acknowledging the compliment with a drooping of her dark eyebrows,
Mrs. Spar sit more superior than ever. 49*
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 indi-
viduals 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 ohliging 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
" You found Miss Gradgrind I really cannot call her Mrs. Boun-
derby ; it's very absurd of me as youthful as I described her ? "
asked Mrs. Sparsit, sweetly.
" You drew her portrait perfectly, ' said Mr. Harthouse. " Pre-
sented 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 Grad-
grind 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 Mis
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
492 Hard Times.
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
" 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
" Of course. It is of no moment. Why should it be of any im-
portance 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
" 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.
Louisa summoned to Coketown. 493
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
Fowlers, shook her right-hand mitten at his portrait, made a con-
temptuous 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 go"ue, 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 adorn-
ments 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 coining
494 Hard Times.
upon Reason throngh 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 any-
thing but so many calculated tons of leverage what had she to do
with these ? Her remembrances of home and childhood were remem-
brances 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 colich : 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. Grad-
grind, " 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.
Mrs. Gradgrind 1 s Sick Chamber 495
"You very seldom see your sister," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "She
grows like you. I wish you would look at her. Sissy, bring her
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 un-
expected 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 here had ever been : had seen in
it, not without a rising feeling o2 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, lr; 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 any-
thing on any subject, I have never heard the last of it : and con-
sequently, 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 deaj, 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
496 Hard Times.
that the pen she could not have held was in her hand. It matters
little what figures of wonderful no-meaning she hegan 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 trans-
parency, 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.
MBS. SPABSIT'S STAIRCASE.
MBS. SPABSIT'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
demeanor, 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,
Mr. Bcnnderby can wait. 497
sometimes quickly, sometimes several steps at one botit, 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. Eome 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
" 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 grand-
mother. She didn't give any milk, ma'am ; she gave bruises. She
was a regiilar 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 foi-
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."
That 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 eves to know that they were
498 Hard Times.
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 repre-
sentation 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
" 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 t .vilight she leaning on his arm and she little thought how she
was going down, down, down, Mrs. Sparsit's staircase.
Coining down tJie Staircase. 499
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 inter-
rupting 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