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
humble and more trusting with them, and to hope in my little sphere
to make them better?'
'O no, no. No, Louisa.'
'Yet, father, if I had been stone blind; if I had groped my way by
my sense of touch, and had been free, while I knew the shapes and
surfaces of things, to exercise my fancy somewhat, in regard to
them; I should have been a million times wiser, happier, more
loving, more contented, more innocent and human in all good
respects, than I am with the eyes I have. Now, hear what I have
come to say.'
He moved, to support her with his arm. She rising as he did so,
they stood close together: she, with a hand upon his shoulder,
looking fixedly in his face.
'With a hunger and thirst upon me, father, which have never been
for a moment appeased; with an ardent impulse towards some region
where rules, and figures, and definitions were not quite absolute;
I have grown up, battling every inch of my way.'
'I never knew you were unhappy, my child.'
'Father, I always knew it. In this strife I have almost repulsed
and crushed my better angel into a demon. What I have learned has
left me doubting, misbelieving, despising, regretting, what I have
not learned; and my dismal resource has been to think that life
would soon go by, and that nothing in it could be worth the pain
and trouble of a contest.'
'And you so young, Louisa!' he said with pity.
'And I so young. In this condition, father - for I show you now,
without fear or favour, the ordinary deadened state of my mind as I
know it - you proposed my husband to me. I took him. I never made
a pretence to him or you that I loved him. I knew, and, father,
you knew, and he knew, that I never did. I was not wholly
indifferent, for I had a hope of being pleasant and useful to Tom.
I made that wild escape into something visionary, and have slowly
found out how wild it was. But Tom had been the subject of all the
little tenderness of my life; perhaps he became so because I knew
so well how to pity him. It matters little now, except as it may
dispose you to think more leniently of his errors.'
As her father held her in his arms, she put her other hand upon his
other shoulder, and still looking fixedly in his face, went on.
'When I was irrevocably married, there rose up into rebellion
against the tie, the old strife, made fiercer by all those causes
of disparity which arise out of our two individual natures, and
which no general laws shall ever rule or state for me, father,
until they shall be able to direct the anatomist where to strike
his knife into the secrets of my soul.'
'Louisa!' he said, and said imploringly; for he well remembered
what had passed between them in their former interview.
'I do not reproach you, father, I make no complaint. I am here
with another object.'
'What can I do, child? Ask me what you will.'
'I am coming to it. Father, chance then threw into my way a new
acquaintance; a man such as I had had no experience of; used to the
world; light, polished, easy; making no pretences; avowing the low
estimate of everything, that I was half afraid to form in secret;
conveying to me almost immediately, though I don't know how or by
what degrees, that he understood me, and read my thoughts. I could
not find that he was worse than I. There seemed to be a near
affinity between us. I only wondered it should be worth his while,
who cared for nothing else, to care so much for me.'
'For you, Louisa!'
Her father might instinctively have loosened his hold, but that he
felt her strength departing from her, and saw a wild dilating fire
in the eyes steadfastly regarding him.
'I say nothing of his plea for claiming my confidence. It matters
very little how he gained it. Father, he did gain it. What you
know of the story of my marriage, he soon knew, just as well.'
Her father's face was ashy white, and he held her in both his arms.
'I have done no worse, I have not disgraced you. But if you ask me
whether I have loved him, or do love him, I tell you plainly,
father, that it may be so. I don't know.'
She took her hands suddenly from his shoulders, and pressed them
both upon her side; while in her face, not like itself - and in her
figure, drawn up, resolute to finish by a last effort what she had
to say - the feelings long suppressed broke loose.
'This night, my husband being away, he has been with me, declaring
himself my lover. This minute he expects me, for I could release
myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am
sorry, I do not know that I am ashamed, I do not know that I am
degraded in my own esteem. All that I know is, your philosophy and
your teaching will not save me. Now, father, you have brought me
to this. Save me by some other means!'
He tightened his hold in time to prevent her sinking on the floor,
but she cried out in a terrible voice, 'I shall die if you hold me!
Let me fall upon the ground!' And he laid her down there, and saw
the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system, lying, an
insensible heap, at his feet.
END OF THE SECOND BOOK