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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
'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
'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
'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
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
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.
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
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
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
'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
'Your cruel commands are implicitly to be obeyed; though I am the