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printed in great black letters on a staring broadsheet; and he
caused the walls to be posted with it in the dead of night, so that
it should strike upon the sight of the whole population at one
The factory-bells had need to ring their loudest that morning to
disperse the groups of workers who stood in the tardy daybreak,
collected round the placards, devouring them with eager eyes. Not
the least eager of the eyes assembled, were the eyes of those who
could not read. These people, as they listened to the friendly
voice that read aloud - there was always some such ready to help
them - stared at the characters which meant so much with a vague
awe and respect that would have been half ludicrous, if any aspect
of public ignorance could ever be otherwise than threatening and
full of evil. Many ears and eyes were busy with a vision of the
matter of these placards, among turning spindles, rattling looms,
and whirling wheels, for hours afterwards; and when the Hands
cleared out again into the streets, there were still as many
readers as before.
Slackbridge, the delegate, had to address his audience too that
night; and Slackbridge had obtained a clean bill from the printer,
and had brought it in his pocket. Oh, my friends and fellow-
countrymen, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown, oh, my fellow-
brothers and fellow-workmen and fellow-citizens and fellowmen, what
a to-do was there, when Slackbridge unfolded what he called 'that
damning document,' and held it up to the gaze, and for the
execration of the working-man community! 'Oh, my fellow-men,
behold of what a traitor in the camp of those great spirits who are
enrolled upon the holy scroll of Justice and of Union, is
appropriately capable! Oh, my prostrate friends, with the galling
yoke of tyrants on your necks and the iron foot of despotism
treading down your fallen forms into the dust of the earth, upon
which right glad would your oppressors be to see you creeping on
your bellies all the days of your lives, like the serpent in the
garden - oh, my brothers, and shall I as a man not add, my sisters
too, what do you say, now, of Stephen Blackpool, with a slight
stoop in his shoulders and about five foot seven in height, as set
forth in this degrading and disgusting document, this blighting
bill, this pernicious placard, this abominable advertisement; and
with what majesty of denouncement will you crush the viper, who
would bring this stain and shame upon the God-like race that
happily has cast him out for ever! Yes, my compatriots, happily
cast him out and sent him forth! For you remember how he stood
here before you on this platform; you remember how, face to face
and foot to foot, I pursued him through all his intricate windings;
you remember how he sneaked and slunk, and sidled, and splitted of
straws, until, with not an inch of ground to which to cling, I
hurled him out from amongst us: an object for the undying finger
of scorn to point at, and for the avenging fire of every free and
thinking mind to scorch and scar! And now, my friends - my
labouring friends, for I rejoice and triumph in that stigma - my
friends whose hard but honest beds are made in toil, and whose
scanty but independent pots are boiled in hardship; and now, I say,
my friends, what appellation has that dastard craven taken to
himself, when, with the mask torn from his features, he stands
before us in all his native deformity, a What? A thief! A
plunderer! A proscribed fugitive, with a price upon his head; a
fester and a wound upon the noble character of the Coketown
operative! Therefore, my band of brothers in a sacred bond, to
which your children and your children's children yet unborn have
set their infant hands and seals, I propose to you on the part of
the United Aggregate Tribunal, ever watchful for your welfare, ever
zealous for your benefit, that this meeting does Resolve: That
Stephen Blackpool, weaver, referred to in this placard, having been
already solemnly disowned by the community of Coketown Hands, the
same are free from the shame of his misdeeds, and cannot as a class
be reproached with his dishonest actions!'
Thus Slackbridge; gnashing and perspiring after a prodigious sort.
A few stern voices called out 'No!' and a score or two hailed, with
assenting cries of 'Hear, hear!' the caution from one man,
'Slackbridge, y'or over hetter in't; y'or a goen too fast!' But
these were pigmies against an army; the general assemblage
subscribed to the gospel according to Slackbridge, and gave three
cheers for him, as he sat demonstratively panting at them.
These men and women were yet in the streets, passing quietly to
their homes, when Sissy, who had been called away from Louisa some
minutes before, returned.
'Who is it?' asked Louisa.
'It is Mr. Bounderby,' said Sissy, timid of the name, 'and your
brother Mr. Tom, and a young woman who says her name is Rachael,
and that you know her.'
'What do they want, Sissy dear?'
'They want to see you. Rachael has been crying, and seems angry.'
'Father,' said Louisa, for he was present, 'I cannot refuse to see
them, for a reason that will explain itself. Shall they come in
As he answered in the affirmative, Sissy went away to bring them.
She reappeared with them directly. Tom was last; and remained
standing in the obscurest part of the room, near the door.
'Mrs. Bounderby,' said her husband, entering with a cool nod, 'I
don't disturb you, I hope. This is an unseasonable hour, but here
is a young woman who has been making statements which render my
visit necessary. Tom Gradgrind, as your son, young Tom, refuses
for some obstinate reason or other to say anything at all about
those statements, good or bad, I am obliged to confront her with
'You have seen me once before, young lady,' said Rachael, standing
in front of Louisa.
'You have seen me, young lady,' repeated Rachael, as she did not
answer, 'once before.'
Tom coughed again.
Rachael cast her eyes proudly towards Mr. Bounderby, and said,
'Will you make it known, young lady, where, and who was there?'
'I went to the house where Stephen Blackpool lodged, on the night
of his discharge from his work, and I saw you there. He was there
too; and an old woman who did not speak, and whom I could scarcely
see, stood in a dark corner. My brother was with me.'
'Why couldn't you say so, young Tom?' demanded Bounderby.
'I promised my sister I wouldn't.' Which Louisa hastily confirmed.
'And besides,' said the whelp bitterly, 'she tells her own story so
precious well - and so full - that what business had I to take it
out of her mouth!'
'Say, young lady, if you please,' pursued Rachael, 'why, in an evil
hour, you ever came to Stephen's that night.'
'I felt compassion for him,' said Louisa, her colour deepening,
'and I wished to know what he was going to do, and wished to offer
'Thank you, ma'am,' said Bounderby. 'Much flattered and obliged.'
'Did you offer him,' asked Rachael, 'a bank-note?'
'Yes; but he refused it, and would only take two pounds in gold.'
Rachael cast her eyes towards Mr. Bounderby again.
'Oh, certainly!' said Bounderby. 'If you put the question whether
your ridiculous and improbable account was true or not, I am bound
to say it's confirmed.'
'Young lady,' said Rachael, 'Stephen Blackpool is now named as a
thief in public print all over this town, and where else! There
have been a meeting to-night where he have been spoken of in the
same shameful way. Stephen! The honestest lad, the truest lad,
the best!' Her indignation failed her, and she broke off sobbing.
'I am very, very sorry,' said Louisa.
'Oh, young lady, young lady,' returned Rachael, 'I hope you may be,
but I don't know! I can't say what you may ha' done! The like of
you don't know us, don't care for us, don't belong to us. I am not
sure why you may ha' come that night. I can't tell but what you
may ha' come wi' some aim of your own, not mindin to what trouble
you brought such as the poor lad. I said then, Bless you for
coming; and I said it of my heart, you seemed to take so pitifully
to him; but I don't know now, I don't know!'
Louisa could not reproach her for her unjust suspicions; she was so
faithful to her idea of the man, and so afflicted.
'And when I think,' said Rachael through her sobs, 'that the poor
lad was so grateful, thinkin you so good to him - when I mind that
he put his hand over his hard-worken face to hide the tears that
you brought up there - Oh, I hope you may be sorry, and ha' no bad
cause to be it; but I don't know, I don't know!'
'You're a pretty article,' growled the whelp, moving uneasily in
his dark corner, 'to come here with these precious imputations!
You ought to be bundled out for not knowing how to behave yourself,
and you would be by rights.'
She said nothing in reply; and her low weeping was the only sound
that was heard, until Mr. Bounderby spoke.
'Come!' said he, 'you know what you have engaged to do. You had
better give your mind to that; not this.'
''Deed, I am loath,' returned Rachael, drying her eyes, 'that any
here should see me like this; but I won't be seen so again. Young
lady, when I had read what's put in print of Stephen - and what has
just as much truth in it as if it had been put in print of you - I
went straight to the Bank to say I knew where Stephen was, and to
give a sure and certain promise that he should be here in two days.
I couldn't meet wi' Mr. Bounderby then, and your brother sent me
away, and I tried to find you, but you was not to be found, and I
went back to work. Soon as I come out of the Mill to-night, I
hastened to hear what was said of Stephen - for I know wi' pride he