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Charles Dickens > Hard Times > Chapter XVI

Hard Times

Chapter XVI


MR. BOUNDERBY'S first disquietude on hearing of his happiness, was
occasioned by the necessity of imparting it to Mrs. Sparsit. He
could not make up his mind how to do that, or what the consequences
of the step might be. Whether she would instantly depart, bag and
baggage, to Lady Scadgers, or would positively refuse to budge from
the premises; whether she would be plaintive or abusive, tearful or
tearing; whether she would break her heart, or break the looking-
glass; Mr. Bounderby could not all foresee. However, as it must be
done, he had no choice but to do it; so, after attempting several
letters, and failing in them all, he resolved to do it by word of

On his way home, on the evening he set aside for this momentous
purpose, he took the precaution of stepping into a chemist's shop
and buying a bottle of the very strongest smelling-salts. 'By
George!' said Mr. Bounderby, 'if she takes it in the fainting way,
I'll have the skin off her nose, at all events!' But, in spite of
being thus forearmed, he entered his own house with anything but a
courageous air; and appeared before the object of his misgivings,
like a dog who was conscious of coming direct from the pantry.

'Good evening, Mr. Bounderby!'

'Good evening, ma'am, good evening.' He drew up his chair, and
Mrs. Sparsit drew back hers, as who should say, 'Your fireside,
sir. I freely admit it. It is for you to occupy it all, if you
think proper.'

'Don't go to the North Pole, ma'am!' said Mr. Bounderby.

'Thank you, sir,' said Mrs. Sparsit, and returned, though short of
her former position.

Mr. Bounderby sat looking at her, as, with the points of a stiff,
sharp pair of scissors, she picked out holes for some inscrutable
ornamental purpose, in a piece of cambric. An operation which,
taken in connexion with the bushy eyebrows and the Roman nose,
suggested with some liveliness the idea of a hawk engaged upon the
eyes of a tough little bird. She was so steadfastly occupied, that
many minutes elapsed before she looked up from her work; when she
did so Mr. Bounderby bespoke her attention with a hitch of his

'Mrs. Sparsit, ma'am,' said Mr. Bounderby, putting his hands in his
pockets, and assuring himself with his right hand that the cork of
the little bottle was ready for use, 'I have no occasion to say to
you, that you are not only a lady born and bred, but a devilish
sensible woman.'

'Sir,' returned the lady, 'this is indeed not the first time that
you have honoured me with similar expressions of your good

'Mrs. Sparsit, ma'am,' said Mr. Bounderby, 'I am going to astonish

'Yes, sir?' returned Mrs. Sparsit, interrogatively, and in the most
tranquil manner possible. She generally wore mittens, and she now
laid down her work, and smoothed those mittens.

'I am going, ma'am,' said Bounderby, 'to marry Tom Gradgrind's

'Yes, sir,' returned Mrs. Sparsit. 'I hope you may be happy, Mr.
Bounderby. Oh, indeed I hope you may be happy, sir!' And she said
it with such great condescension as well as with such great
compassion for him, that Bounderby, - far more disconcerted than if
she had thrown her workbox at the mirror, or swooned on the
hearthrug, - corked up the smelling-salts tight in his pocket, and
thought, 'Now confound this woman, who could have even guessed that
she would take it in this way!'

'I wish with all my heart, sir,' said Mrs. Sparsit, in a highly
superior manner; somehow she seemed, in a moment, to have
established a right to pity him ever afterwards; 'that you may be
in all respects very happy.'

'Well, ma'am,' returned Bounderby, with some resentment in his
tone: which was clearly lowered, though in spite of himself, 'I am
obliged to you. I hope I shall be.'

'Do you, sir!' said Mrs. Sparsit, with great affability. 'But
naturally you do; of course you do.'

A very awkward pause on Mr. Bounderby's part, succeeded. Mrs.
Sparsit sedately resumed her work and occasionally gave a small
cough, which sounded like the cough of conscious strength and

'Well, ma'am,' resumed Bounderby, 'under these circumstances, I
imagine it would not be agreeable to a character like yours to
remain here, though you would be very welcome here.'

'Oh, dear no, sir, I could on no account think of that!' Mrs.
Sparsit shook her head, still in her highly superior manner, and a
little changed the small cough - coughing now, as if the spirit of
prophecy rose within her, but had better be coughed down.

'However, ma'am,' said Bounderby, 'there are apartments at the
Bank, where a born and bred lady, as keeper of the place, would be
rather a catch than otherwise; and if the same terms - '

'I beg your pardon, sir. You were so good as to promise that you
would always substitute the phrase, annual compliment.'

'Well, ma'am, annual compliment. If the same annual compliment
would be acceptable there, why, I see nothing to part us, unless
you do.'

'Sir,' returned Mrs. Sparsit. 'The proposal is like yourself, and
if the position I shall assume at the Bank is one that I could
occupy without descending lower in the social scale - '

'Why, of course it is,' said Bounderby. 'If it was not, ma'am, you
don't suppose that I should offer it to a lady who has moved in the
society you have moved in. Not that I care for such society, you
know! But you do.'

'Mr. Bounderby, you are very considerate.'

'You'll have your own private apartments, and you'll have your
coals and your candles, and all the rest of it, and you'll have
your maid to attend upon you, and you'll have your light porter to
protect you, and you'll be what I take the liberty of considering
precious comfortable,' said Bounderby.

'Sir,' rejoined Mrs. Sparsit, 'say no more. In yielding up my
trust here, I shall not be freed from the necessity of eating the
bread of dependence:' she might have said the sweetbread, for that
delicate article in a savoury brown sauce was her favourite supper:
'and I would rather receive it from your hand, than from any other.
Therefore, sir, I accept your offer gratefully, and with many
sincere acknowledgments for past favours. And I hope, sir,' said
Mrs. Sparsit, concluding in an impressively compassionate manner,
'I fondly hope that Miss Gradgrind may be all you desire, and

Nothing moved Mrs. Sparsit from that position any more. It was in
vain for Bounderby to bluster or to assert himself in any of his
explosive ways; Mrs. Sparsit was resolved to have compassion on
him, as a Victim. She was polite, obliging, cheerful, hopeful;
but, the more polite, the more obliging, the more cheerful, the
more hopeful, the more exemplary altogether, she; the forlorner
Sacrifice and Victim, he. She had that tenderness for his
melancholy fate, that his great red countenance used to break out
into cold perspirations when she looked at him.

Meanwhile the marriage was appointed to be solemnized in eight
weeks' time, and Mr. Bounderby went every evening to Stone Lodge as
an accepted wooer. Love was made on these occasions in the form of
bracelets; and, on all occasions during the period of betrothal,
took a manufacturing aspect. Dresses were made, jewellery was
made, cakes and gloves were made, settlements were made, and an
extensive assortment of Facts did appropriate honour to the
contract. The business was all Fact, from first to last. The
Hours did not go through any of those rosy performances, which
foolish poets have ascribed to them at such times; neither did the
clocks go any faster, or any slower, than at other seasons. The
deadly statistical recorder in the Gradgrind observatory knocked
every second on the head as it was born, and buried it with his
accustomed regularity.

So the day came, as all other days come to people who will only
stick to reason; and when it came, there were married in the church
of the florid wooden legs - that popular order of architecture -
Josiah Bounderby Esquire of Coketown, to Louisa eldest daughter of
Thomas Gradgrind Esquire of Stone Lodge, M.P. for that borough.
And when they were united in holy matrimony, they went home to
breakfast at Stone Lodge aforesaid.

There was an improving party assembled on the auspicious occasion,
who knew what everything they had to eat and drink was made of, and
how it was imported or exported, and in what quantities, and in
what bottoms, whether native or foreign, and all about it. The
bridesmaids, down to little Jane Gradgrind, were, in an
intellectual point of view, fit helpmates for the calculating boy;
and there was no nonsense about any of the company.

After breakfast, the bridegroom addressed them in the following

'Ladies and gentlemen, I am Josiah Bounderby of Coketown. Since
you have done my wife and myself the honour of drinking our healths
and happiness, I suppose I must acknowledge the same; though, as
you all know me, and know what I am, and what my extraction was,
you won't expect a speech from a man who, when he sees a Post, says
"that's a Post," and when he sees a Pump, says "that's a Pump," and
is not to be got to call a Post a Pump, or a Pump a Post, or either
of them a Toothpick. If you want a speech this morning, my friend
and father-in-law, Tom Gradgrind, is a Member of Parliament, and
you know where to get it. I am not your man. However, if I feel a
little independent when I look around this table to-day, and
reflect how little I thought of marrying Tom Gradgrind's daughter
when I was a ragged street-boy, who never washed his face unless it
was at a pump, and that not oftener than once a fortnight, I hope I
may be excused. So, I hope you like my feeling independent; if you
don't, I can't help it. I do feel independent. Now I have
mentioned, and you have mentioned, that I am this day married to
Tom Gradgrind's daughter. I am very glad to be so. It has long
been my wish to be so. I have watched her bringing-up, and I
believe she is worthy of me. At the same time - not to deceive you
- I believe I am worthy of her. So, I thank you, on both our
parts, for the good-will you have shown towards us; and the best
wish I can give the unmarried part of the present company, is this:
I hope every bachelor may find as good a wife as I have found. And
I hope every spinster may find as good a husband as my wife has

Shortly after which oration, as they were going on a nuptial trip
to Lyons, in order that Mr. Bounderby might take the opportunity of
seeing how the Hands got on in those parts, and whether they, too,
required to be fed with gold spoons; the happy pair departed for
the railroad. The bride, in passing down-stairs, dressed for her
journey, found Tom waiting for her - flushed, either with his
feelings, or the vinous part of the breakfast.

'What a game girl you are, to be such a first-rate sister, Loo!'
whispered Tom.

She clung to him as she should have clung to some far better nature
that day, and was a little shaken in her reserved composure for the
first time.

'Old Bounderby's quite ready,' said Tom. 'Time's up. Good-bye! I
shall be on the look-out for you, when you come back. I say, my
dear Loo! AN'T it uncommonly jolly now!'



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