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For, now, the rope came in, tightened and strained to its utmost as
it appeared, and the men turned heavily, and the windlass
complained. It was scarcely endurable to look at the rope, and
think of its giving way. But, ring after ring was coiled upon the
barrel of the windlass safely, and the connecting chains appeared,
and finally the bucket with the two men holding on at the sides - a
sight to make the head swim, and oppress the heart - and tenderly
supporting between them, slung and tied within, the figure of a
poor, crushed, human creature.
A low murmur of pity went round the throng, and the women wept
aloud, as this form, almost without form, was moved very slowly
from its iron deliverance, and laid upon the bed of straw. At
first, none but the surgeon went close to it. He did what he could
in its adjustment on the couch, but the best that he could do was
to cover it. That gently done, he called to him Rachael and Sissy.
And at that time the pale, worn, patient face was seen looking up
at the sky, with the broken right hand lying bare on the outside of
the covering garments, as if waiting to be taken by another hand.
They gave him drink, moistened his face with water, and
administered some drops of cordial and wine. Though he lay quite
motionless looking up at the sky, he smiled and said, 'Rachael.'
She stooped down on the grass at his side, and bent over him until
her eyes were between his and the sky, for he could not so much as
turn them to look at her.
'Rachael, my dear.'
She took his hand. He smiled again and said, 'Don't let 't go.'
'Thou'rt in great pain, my own dear Stephen?'
'I ha' been, but not now. I ha' been - dreadful, and dree, and
long, my dear - but 'tis ower now. Ah, Rachael, aw a muddle! Fro'
first to last, a muddle!'
The spectre of his old look seemed to pass as he said the word.
'I ha' fell into th' pit, my dear, as have cost wi'in the knowledge
o' old fok now livin, hundreds and hundreds o' men's lives -
fathers, sons, brothers, dear to thousands an' thousands, an'
keeping 'em fro' want and hunger. I ha' fell into a pit that ha'
been wi' th' Firedamp crueller than battle. I ha' read on 't in
the public petition, as onny one may read, fro' the men that works
in pits, in which they ha' pray'n and pray'n the lawmakers for
Christ's sake not to let their work be murder to 'em, but to spare
'em for th' wives and children that they loves as well as gentlefok
loves theirs. When it were in work, it killed wi'out need; when
'tis let alone, it kills wi'out need. See how we die an' no need,
one way an' another - in a muddle - every day!'
He faintly said it, without any anger against any one. Merely as
'Thy little sister, Rachael, thou hast not forgot her. Thou'rt not
like to forget her now, and me so nigh her. Thou know'st - poor,
patient, suff'rin, dear - how thou didst work for her, seet'n all
day long in her little chair at thy winder, and how she died, young
and misshapen, awlung o' sickly air as had'n no need to be, an'
awlung o' working people's miserable homes. A muddle! Aw a
Louisa approached him; but he could not see her, lying with his
face turned up to the night sky.
'If aw th' things that tooches us, my dear, was not so muddled, I
should'n ha' had'n need to coom heer. If we was not in a muddle
among ourseln, I should'n ha' been, by my own fellow weavers and
workin' brothers, so mistook. If Mr. Bounderby had ever know'd me
right - if he'd ever know'd me at aw - he would'n ha' took'n
offence wi' me. He would'n ha' suspect'n me. But look up yonder,
Rachael! Look aboove!'
Following his eyes, she saw that he was gazing at a star.
'It ha' shined upon me,' he said reverently, 'in my pain and
trouble down below. It ha' shined into my mind. I ha' look'n at
't and thowt o' thee, Rachael, till the muddle in my mind have
cleared awa, above a bit, I hope. If soom ha' been wantin' in
unnerstan'in me better, I, too, ha' been wantin' in unnerstan'in
them better. When I got thy letter, I easily believen that what
the yoong ledy sen and done to me, and what her brother sen and
done to me, was one, and that there were a wicked plot betwixt 'em.
When I fell, I were in anger wi' her, an' hurryin on t' be as
onjust t' her as oothers was t' me. But in our judgments, like as
in our doins, we mun bear and forbear. In my pain an' trouble,
lookin up yonder, - wi' it shinin on me - I ha' seen more clear,
and ha' made it my dyin prayer that aw th' world may on'y coom
toogether more, an' get a better unnerstan'in o' one another, than
when I were in 't my own weak seln.'
Louisa hearing what he said, bent over him on the opposite side to
Rachael, so that he could see her.
'You ha' heard?' he said, after a few moments' silence. 'I ha' not
forgot you, ledy.'
'Yes, Stephen, I have heard you. And your prayer is mine.'
'You ha' a father. Will yo tak' a message to him?'
'He is here,' said Louisa, with dread. 'Shall I bring him to you?'
'If yo please.'
Louisa returned with her father. Standing hand-in-hand, they both
looked down upon the solemn countenance.
'Sir, yo will clear me an' mak my name good wi' aw men. This I
leave to yo.'
Mr. Gradgrind was troubled and asked how?
'Sir,' was the reply: 'yor son will tell yo how. Ask him. I mak
no charges: I leave none ahint me: not a single word. I ha' seen
an' spok'n wi' yor son, one night. I ask no more o' yo than that
yo clear me - an' I trust to yo to do 't.'
The bearers being now ready to carry him away, and the surgeon
being anxious for his removal, those who had torches or lanterns,
prepared to go in front of the litter. Before it was raised, and
while they were arranging how to go, he said to Rachael, looking
upward at the star:
'Often as I coom to myseln, and found it shinin' on me down there
in my trouble, I thowt it were the star as guided to Our Saviour's
home. I awmust think it be the very star!'
They lifted him up, and he was overjoyed to find that they were
about to take him in the direction whither the star seemed to him
'Rachael, beloved lass! Don't let go my hand. We may walk
toogether t'night, my dear!'
'I will hold thy hand, and keep beside thee, Stephen, all the way.'
'Bless thee! Will soombody be pleased to coover my face!'
They carried him very gently along the fields, and down the lanes,
and over the wide landscape; Rachael always holding the hand in
hers. Very few whispers broke the mournful silence. It was soon a
funeral procession. The star had shown him where to find the God
of the poor; and through humility, and sorrow, and forgiveness, he
had gone to his Redeemer's rest.
CHAPTER VII - WHELP-HUNTING
BEFORE the ring formed round the Old Hell Shaft was broken, one
figure had disappeared from within it. Mr. Bounderby and his
shadow had not stood near Louisa, who held her father's arm, but in
a retired place by themselves. When Mr. Gradgrind was summoned to
the couch, Sissy, attentive to all that happened, slipped behind
that wicked shadow - a sight in the horror of his face, if there
had been eyes there for any sight but one - and whispered in his
ear. Without turning his head, he conferred with her a few
moments, and vanished. Thus the whelp had gone out of the circle
before the people moved.
When the father reached home, he sent a message to Mr. Bounderby's,
desiring his son to come to him directly. The reply was, that Mr.
Bounderby having missed him in the crowd, and seeing nothing of him
since, had supposed him to be at Stone Lodge.
'I believe, father,' said Louisa, 'he will not come back to town
to-night.' Mr. Gradgrind turned away, and said no more.
In the morning, he went down to the Bank himself as soon as it was
opened, and seeing his son's place empty (he had not the courage to
look in at first) went back along the street to meet Mr. Bounderby
on his way there. To whom he said that, for reasons he would soon
explain, but entreated not then to be asked for, he had found it
necessary to employ his son at a distance for a little while.
Also, that he was charged with the duty of vindicating Stephen
Blackpool's memory, and declaring the thief. Mr. Bounderby quite
confounded, stood stock-still in the street after his father-in-law
had left him, swelling like an immense soap-bubble, without its
Mr. Gradgrind went home, locked himself in his room, and kept it
all that day. When Sissy and Louisa tapped at his door, he said,
without opening it, 'Not now, my dears; in the evening.' On their
return in the evening, he said, 'I am not able yet - to-morrow.'
He ate nothing all day, and had no candle after dark; and they
heard him walking to and fro late at night.
But, in the morning he appeared at breakfast at the usual hour, and
took his usual place at the table. Aged and bent he looked, and
quite bowed down; and yet he looked a wiser man, and a better man,
than in the days when in this life he wanted nothing - but Facts.
Before he left the room, he appointed a time for them to come to
him; and so, with his gray head drooping, went away.
'Dear father,' said Louisa, when they kept their appointment, 'you
have three young children left. They will be different, I will be
different yet, with Heaven's help.'
She gave her hand to Sissy, as if she meant with her help too.