Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 Next page
most unfortunate fellow in the world, I believe, to have been
insensible to all other women, and to have fallen prostrate at last
under the foot of the most beautiful, and the most engaging, and
the most imperious. My dearest Louisa, I cannot go myself, or let
you go, in this hard abuse of your power.'
Mrs. Sparsit saw him detain her with his encircling arm, and heard
him then and there, within her (Mrs. Sparsit's) greedy hearing,
tell her how he loved her, and how she was the stake for which he
ardently desired to play away all that he had in life. The objects
he had lately pursued, turned worthless beside her; such success as
was almost in his grasp, he flung away from him like the dirt it
was, compared with her. Its pursuit, nevertheless, if it kept him
near her, or its renunciation if it took him from her, or flight if
she shared it, or secrecy if she commanded it, or any fate, or
every fate, all was alike to him, so that she was true to him, -
the man who had seen how cast away she was, whom she had inspired
at their first meeting with an admiration, an interest, of which he
had thought himself incapable, whom she had received into her
confidence, who was devoted to her and adored her. All this, and
more, in his hurry, and in hers, in the whirl of her own gratified
malice, in the dread of being discovered, in the rapidly increasing
noise of heavy rain among the leaves, and a thunderstorm rolling up
- Mrs. Sparsit received into her mind, set off with such an
unavoidable halo of confusion and indistinctness, that when at
length he climbed the fence and led his horse away, she was not
sure where they were to meet, or when, except that they had said it
was to be that night.
But one of them yet remained in the darkness before her; and while
she tracked that one she must be right. 'Oh, my dearest love,'
thought Mrs. Sparsit, 'you little think how well attended you are!'
Mrs. Sparsit saw her out of the wood, and saw her enter the house.
What to do next? It rained now, in a sheet of water. Mrs.
Sparsit's white stockings were of many colours, green
predominating; prickly things were in her shoes; caterpillars slung
themselves, in hammocks of their own making, from various parts of
her dress; rills ran from her bonnet, and her Roman nose. In such
condition, Mrs. Sparsit stood hidden in the density of the
shrubbery, considering what next?
Lo, Louisa coming out of the house! Hastily cloaked and muffled,
and stealing away. She elopes! She falls from the lowermost
stair, and is swallowed up in the gulf.
Indifferent to the rain, and moving with a quick determined step,
she struck into a side-path parallel with the ride. Mrs. Sparsit
followed in the shadow of the trees, at but a short distance; for
it was not easy to keep a figure in view going quickly through the
When she stopped to close the side-gate without noise, Mrs. Sparsit
stopped. When she went on, Mrs. Sparsit went on. She went by the
way Mrs. Sparsit had come, emerged from the green lane, crossed the
stony road, and ascended the wooden steps to the railroad. A train
for Coketown would come through presently, Mrs. Sparsit knew; so
she understood Coketown to be her first place of destination.
In Mrs. Sparsit's limp and streaming state, no extensive
precautions were necessary to change her usual appearance; but, she
stopped under the lee of the station wall, tumbled her shawl into a
new shape, and put it on over her bonnet. So disguised she had no
fear of being recognized when she followed up the railroad steps,
and paid her money in the small office. Louisa sat waiting in a
corner. Mrs. Sparsit sat waiting in another corner. Both listened
to the thunder, which was loud, and to the rain, as it washed off
the roof, and pattered on the parapets of the arches. Two or three
lamps were rained out and blown out; so, both saw the lightning to
advantage as it quivered and zigzagged on the iron tracks.
The seizure of the station with a fit of trembling, gradually
deepening to a complaint of the heart, announced the train. Fire
and steam, and smoke, and red light; a hiss, a crash, a bell, and a
shriek; Louisa put into one carriage, Mrs. Sparsit put into
another: the little station a desert speck in the thunderstorm.
Though her teeth chattered in her head from wet and cold, Mrs.
Sparsit exulted hugely. The figure had plunged down the precipice,
and she felt herself, as it were, attending on the body. Could
she, who had been so active in the getting up of the funeral
triumph, do less than exult? 'She will be at Coketown long before
him,' thought Mrs. Sparsit, 'though his horse is never so good.
Where will she wait for him? And where will they go together?
Patience. We shall see.'
The tremendous rain occasioned infinite confusion, when the train
stopped at its destination. Gutters and pipes had burst, drains
had overflowed, and streets were under water. In the first instant
of alighting, Mrs. Sparsit turned her distracted eyes towards the
waiting coaches, which were in great request. 'She will get into
one,' she considered, 'and will be away before I can follow in
another. At all risks of being run over, I must see the number,
and hear the order given to the coachman.'
But, Mrs. Sparsit was wrong in her calculation. Louisa got into no
coach, and was already gone. The black eyes kept upon the
railroad-carriage in which she had travelled, settled upon it a
moment too late. The door not being opened after several minutes,
Mrs. Sparsit passed it and repassed it, saw nothing, looked in, and
found it empty. Wet through and through: with her feet squelching
and squashing in her shoes whenever she moved; with a rash of rain
upon her classical visage; with a bonnet like an over-ripe fig;
with all her clothes spoiled; with damp impressions of every
button, string, and hook-and-eye she wore, printed off upon her
highly connected back; with a stagnant verdure on her general
exterior, such as accumulates on an old park fence in a mouldy
lane; Mrs. Sparsit had no resource but to burst into tears of
bitterness and say, 'I have lost her!'
CHAPTER XII - DOWN
THE national dustmen, after entertaining one another with a great
many noisy little fights among themselves, had dispersed for the
present, and Mr. Gradgrind was at home for the vacation.
He sat writing in the room with the deadly statistical clock,
proving something no doubt - probably, in the main, that the Good
Samaritan was a Bad Economist. The noise of the rain did not
disturb him much; but it attracted his attention sufficiently to
make him raise his head sometimes, as if he were rather
remonstrating with the elements. When it thundered very loudly, he
glanced towards Coketown, having it in his mind that some of the
tall chimneys might be struck by lightning.
The thunder was rolling into distance, and the rain was pouring
down like a deluge, when the door of his room opened. He looked
round the lamp upon his table, and saw, with amazement, his eldest
'Father, I want to speak to you.'
'What is the matter? How strange you look! And good Heaven,' said
Mr. Gradgrind, wondering more and more, 'have you come here exposed
to this storm?'
She put her hands to her dress, as if she hardly knew. 'Yes.'
Then she uncovered her head, and letting her cloak and hood fall
where they might, stood looking at him: so colourless, so
dishevelled, so defiant and despairing, that he was afraid of her.
'What is it? I conjure you, Louisa, tell me what is the matter.'
She dropped into a chair before him, and put her cold hand on his
'Father, you have trained me from my cradle?'
'I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny.'
He looked at her in doubt and dread, vacantly repeating: 'Curse
the hour? Curse the hour?'
'How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable
things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are
the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What
have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that
should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here!'
She struck herself with both her hands upon her bosom.
'If it had ever been here, its ashes alone would save me from the
void in which my whole life sinks. I did not mean to say this;
but, father, you remember the last time we conversed in this room?'
He had been so wholly unprepared for what he heard now, that it was
with difficulty he answered, 'Yes, Louisa.'
'What has risen to my lips now, would have risen to my lips then,
if you had given me a moment's help. I don't reproach you, father.
What you have never nurtured in me, you have never nurtured in
yourself; but O! if you had only done so long ago, or if you had
only neglected me, what a much better and much happier creature I
should have been this day!'
On hearing this, after all his care, he bowed his head upon his
hand and groaned aloud.
'Father, if you had known, when we were last together here, what
even I feared while I strove against it - as it has been my task
from infancy to strive against every natural prompting that has
arisen in my heart; if you had known that there lingered in my
breast, sensibilities, affections, weaknesses capable of being
cherished into strength, defying all the calculations ever made by
man, and no more known to his arithmetic than his Creator is, -
would you have given me to the husband whom I am now sure that I
He said, 'No. No, my poor child.'
'Would you have doomed me, at any time, to the frost and blight
that have hardened and spoiled me? Would you have robbed me - for
no one's enrichment - only for the greater desolation of this world
- of the immaterial part of my life, the spring and summer of my
belief, my refuge from what is sordid and bad in the real things
around me, my school in which I should have learned to be more