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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
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
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