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'Why, I have been otherwise engaged, Loo, in the evenings; and in
the daytime old Bounderby has been keeping me at it rather. But I
touch him up with you when he comes it too strong, and so we
preserve an understanding. I say! Has father said anything
particular to you to-day or yesterday, Loo?'
'No, Tom. But he told me to-night that he wished to do so in the
'Ah! That's what I mean,' said Tom. 'Do you know where he is to-
night?' - with a very deep expression.
'Then I'll tell you. He's with old Bounderby. They are having a
regular confab together up at the Bank. Why at the Bank, do you
think? Well, I'll tell you again. To keep Mrs. Sparsit's ears as
far off as possible, I expect.'
With her hand upon her brother's shoulder, Louisa still stood
looking at the fire. Her brother glanced at her face with greater
interest than usual, and, encircling her waist with his arm, drew
her coaxingly to him.
'You are very fond of me, an't you, Loo?'
'Indeed I am, Tom, though you do let such long intervals go by
without coming to see me.'
'Well, sister of mine,' said Tom, 'when you say that, you are near
my thoughts. We might be so much oftener together - mightn't we?
Always together, almost - mightn't we? It would do me a great deal
of good if you were to make up your mind to I know what, Loo. It
would be a splendid thing for me. It would be uncommonly jolly!'
Her thoughtfulness baffled his cunning scrutiny. He could make
nothing of her face. He pressed her in his arm, and kissed her
cheek. She returned the kiss, but still looked at the fire.
'I say, Loo! I thought I'd come, and just hint to you what was
going on: though I supposed you'd most likely guess, even if you
didn't know. I can't stay, because I'm engaged to some fellows to-
night. You won't forget how fond you are of me?'
'No, dear Tom, I won't forget.'
'That's a capital girl,' said Tom. 'Good-bye, Loo.'
She gave him an affectionate good-night, and went out with him to
the door, whence the fires of Coketown could be seen, making the
distance lurid. She stood there, looking steadfastly towards them,
and listening to his departing steps. They retreated quickly, as
glad to get away from Stone Lodge; and she stood there yet, when he
was gone and all was quiet. It seemed as if, first in her own fire
within the house, and then in the fiery haze without, she tried to
discover what kind of woof Old Time, that greatest and longest-
established Spinner of all, would weave from the threads he had
already spun into a woman. But his factory is a secret place, his
work is noiseless, and his Hands are mutes.
CHAPTER XV - FATHER AND DAUGHTER
ALTHOUGH Mr. Gradgrind did not take after Blue Beard, his room was
quite a blue chamber in its abundance of blue books. Whatever they
could prove (which is usually anything you like), they proved
there, in an army constantly strengthening by the arrival of new
recruits. In that charmed apartment, the most complicated social
questions were cast up, got into exact totals, and finally settled
- if those concerned could only have been brought to know it. As
if an astronomical observatory should be made without any windows,
and the astronomer within should arrange the starry universe solely
by pen, ink, and paper, so Mr. Gradgrind, in his Observatory (and
there are many like it), had no need to cast an eye upon the
teeming myriads of human beings around him, but could settle all
their destinies on a slate, and wipe out all their tears with one
dirty little bit of sponge.
To this Observatory, then: a stern room, with a deadly statistical
clock in it, which measured every second with a beat like a rap
upon a coffin-lid; Louisa repaired on the appointed morning. A
window looked towards Coketown; and when she sat down near her
father's table, she saw the high chimneys and the long tracts of
smoke looming in the heavy distance gloomily.
'My dear Louisa,' said her father, 'I prepared you last night to
give me your serious attention in the conversation we are now going
to have together. You have been so well trained, and you do, I am
happy to say, so much justice to the education you have received,
that I have perfect confidence in your good sense. You are not
impulsive, you are not romantic, you are accustomed to view
everything from the strong dispassionate ground of reason and
calculation. From that ground alone, I know you will view and
consider what I am going to communicate.'
He waited, as if he would have been glad that she said something.
But she said never a word.
'Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage
that has been made to me.'
Again he waited, and again she answered not one word. This so far
surprised him, as to induce him gently to repeat, 'a proposal of
marriage, my dear.' To which she returned, without any visible
'I hear you, father. I am attending, I assure you.'
'Well!' said Mr. Gradgrind, breaking into a smile, after being for
the moment at a loss, 'you are even more dispassionate than I
expected, Louisa. Or, perhaps, you are not unprepared for the
announcement I have it in charge to make?'
'I cannot say that, father, until I hear it. Prepared or
unprepared, I wish to hear it all from you. I wish to hear you
state it to me, father.'
Strange to relate, Mr. Gradgrind was not so collected at this
moment as his daughter was. He took a paper-knife in his hand,
turned it over, laid it down, took it up again, and even then had
to look along the blade of it, considering how to go on.
'What you say, my dear Louisa, is perfectly reasonable. I have
undertaken then to let you know that - in short, that Mr. Bounderby
has informed me that he has long watched your progress with
particular interest and pleasure, and has long hoped that the time
might ultimately arrive when he should offer you his hand in
marriage. That time, to which he has so long, and certainly with
great constancy, looked forward, is now come. Mr. Bounderby has
made his proposal of marriage to me, and has entreated me to make
it known to you, and to express his hope that you will take it into
your favourable consideration.'
Silence between them. The deadly statistical clock very hollow.
The distant smoke very black and heavy.
'Father,' said Louisa, 'do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?'
Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited by this unexpected
question. 'Well, my child,' he returned, 'I - really - cannot take
upon myself to say.'
'Father,' pursued Louisa in exactly the same voice as before, 'do
you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?'
'My dear Louisa, no. No. I ask nothing.'
'Father,' she still pursued, 'does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love
'Really, my dear,' said Mr. Gradgrind, 'it is difficult to answer
your question - '
'Difficult to answer it, Yes or No, father?
'Certainly, my dear. Because;' here was something to demonstrate,
and it set him up again; 'because the reply depends so materially,
Louisa, on the sense in which we use the expression. Now, Mr.
Bounderby does not do you the injustice, and does not do himself
the injustice, of pretending to anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I
am using synonymous terms) sentimental. Mr. Bounderby would have
seen you grow up under his eyes, to very little purpose, if he
could so far forget what is due to your good sense, not to say to
his, as to address you from any such ground. Therefore, perhaps
the expression itself - I merely suggest this to you, my dear - may
be a little misplaced.'
'What would you advise me to use in its stead, father?'
'Why, my dear Louisa,' said Mr. Gradgrind, completely recovered by
this time, 'I would advise you (since you ask me) to consider this
question, as you have been accustomed to consider every other
question, simply as one of tangible Fact. The ignorant and the
giddy may embarrass such subjects with irrelevant fancies, and
other absurdities that have no existence, properly viewed - really
no existence - but it is no compliment to you to say, that you know
better. Now, what are the Facts of this case? You are, we will
say in round numbers, twenty years of age; Mr. Bounderby is, we
will say in round numbers, fifty. There is some disparity in your
respective years, but in your means and positions there is none; on
the contrary, there is a great suitability. Then the question
arises, Is this one disparity sufficient to operate as a bar to
such a marriage? In considering this question, it is not
unimportant to take into account the statistics of marriage, so far
as they have yet been obtained, in England and Wales. I find, on
reference to the figures, that a large proportion of these
marriages are contracted between parties of very unequal ages, and
that the elder of these contracting parties is, in rather more than
three-fourths of these instances, the bridegroom. It is remarkable
as showing the wide prevalence of this law, that among the natives
of the British possessions in India, also in a considerable part of
China, and among the Calmucks of Tartary, the best means of
computation yet furnished us by travellers, yield similar results.
The disparity I have mentioned, therefore, almost ceases to be
disparity, and (virtually) all but disappears.'
'What do you recommend, father,' asked Louisa, her reserved
composure not in the least affected by these gratifying results,
'that I should substitute for the term I used just now? For the