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Shortly after which oration, as they were going on a nuptial trip
to Lyons, in order that Mr. Bounderby might take the opportunity of
seeing how the Hands got on in those parts, and whether they, too,
required to be fed with gold spoons; the happy pair departed for
the railroad. The bride, in passing down-stairs, dressed for her
journey, found Tom waiting for her - flushed, either with his
feelings, or the vinous part of the breakfast.
'What a game girl you are, to be such a first-rate sister, Loo!'
She clung to him as she should have clung to some far better nature
that day, and was a little shaken in her reserved composure for the
'Old Bounderby's quite ready,' said Tom. 'Time's up. Good-bye! I
shall be on the look-out for you, when you come back. I say, my
dear Loo! AN'T it uncommonly jolly now!'
END OF THE FIRST BOOK
BOOK THE SECOND - REAPING
CHAPTER I - EFFECTS IN THE BANK
A SUNNY midsummer day. There was such a thing sometimes, even in
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
'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,
'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-
'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