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Home -> Charles Dickens -> Hard Times -> Chapter 4

Hard Times - Chapter 4

1. Book First - Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14

15. Chapter 15

16. Chapter 16

17. Book Second - Chapter 1

18. Chapter 2

19. Chapter 3

20. Chapter 4

21. Chapter 5

22. Chapter 6

23. Chapter 7

24. Chapter 8

25. Chapter 9

26. Chapter 10

27. Chapter 11

28. Chapter 12

29. Book Third - Chapter 1

30. Chapter 2

31. Chapter 3

32. Chapter 4

33. Chapter 5

34. Chapter 6

35. Chapter 7

36. Chapter 8

37. Chapter 9


THE robbery at the Bank had not languished before, and did not
cease to occupy a front place in the attention of the principal of
that establishment now. In boastful proof of his promptitude and
activity, as a remarkable man, and a self-made man, and a
commercial wonder more admirable than Venus, who had risen out of
the mud instead of the sea, he liked to show how little his
domestic affairs abated his business ardour. Consequently, in the
first few weeks of his resumed bachelorhood, he even advanced upon
his usual display of bustle, and every day made such a rout in
renewing his investigations into the robbery, that the officers who
had it in hand almost wished it had never been committed.

They were at fault too, and off the scent. Although they had been
so quiet since the first outbreak of the matter, that most people
really did suppose it to have been abandoned as hopeless, nothing
new occurred. No implicated man or woman took untimely courage, or
made a self-betraying step. More remarkable yet, Stephen Blackpool
could not be heard of, and the mysterious old woman remained a

Things having come to this pass, and showing no latent signs of
stirring beyond it, the upshot of Mr. Bounderby's investigations
was, that he resolved to hazard a bold burst. He drew up a
placard, offering Twenty Pounds reward for the apprehension of
Stephen Blackpool, suspected of complicity in the robbery of
Coketown Bank on such a night; he described the said Stephen
Blackpool by dress, complexion, estimated height, and manner, as
minutely as he could; he recited how he had left the town, and in
what direction he had been last seen going; he had the whole
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
your daughter.'

'You have seen me once before, young lady,' said Rachael, standing
in front of Louisa.

Tom coughed.

'You have seen me, young lady,' repeated Rachael, as she did not
answer, 'once before.'

Tom coughed again.

'I have.'

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
him assistance.'

'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
will come back to shame it! - and then I went again to seek Mr.
Bounderby, and I found him, and I told him every word I knew; and
he believed no word I said, and brought me here.'

'So far, that's true enough,' assented Mr. Bounderby, with his
hands in his pockets and his hat on. 'But I have known you people
before to-day, you'll observe, and I know you never die for want of
talking. Now, I recommend you not so much to mind talking just
now, as doing. You have undertaken to do something; all I remark
upon that at present is, do it!'

'I have written to Stephen by the post that went out this
afternoon, as I have written to him once before sin' he went away,'
said Rachael; 'and he will be here, at furthest, in two days.'

'Then, I'll tell you something. You are not aware perhaps,'
retorted Mr. Bounderby, 'that you yourself have been looked after
now and then, not being considered quite free from suspicion in
this business, on account of most people being judged according to
the company they keep. The post-office hasn't been forgotten
either. What I'll tell you is, that no letter to Stephen Blackpool
has ever got into it. Therefore, what has become of yours, I leave
you to guess. Perhaps you're mistaken, and never wrote any.'

'He hadn't been gone from here, young lady,' said Rachael, turning
appealingly to Louisa, 'as much as a week, when he sent me the only
letter I have had from him, saying that he was forced to seek work
in another name.'

'Oh, by George!' cried Bounderby, shaking his head, with a whistle,
'he changes his name, does he! That's rather unlucky, too, for
such an immaculate chap. It's considered a little suspicious in
Courts of Justice, I believe, when an Innocent happens to have many

'What,' said Rachael, with the tears in her eyes again, 'what,
young lady, in the name of Mercy, was left the poor lad to do! The
masters against him on one hand, the men against him on the other,
he only wantin to work hard in peace, and do what he felt right.
Can a man have no soul of his own, no mind of his own? Must he go
wrong all through wi' this side, or must he go wrong all through
wi' that, or else be hunted like a hare?'

'Indeed, indeed, I pity him from my heart,' returned Louisa; 'and I
hope that he will clear himself.'

'You need have no fear of that, young lady. He is sure!'

'All the surer, I suppose,' said Mr. Bounderby, 'for your refusing
to tell where he is? Eh?'

'He shall not, through any act of mine, come back wi' the unmerited
reproach of being brought back. He shall come back of his own
accord to clear himself, and put all those that have injured his
good character, and he not here for its defence, to shame. I have
told him what has been done against him,' said Rachael, throwing
off all distrust as a rock throws of the sea, 'and he will be here,
at furthest, in two days.'

'Notwithstanding which,' added Mr. Bounderby, 'if he can be laid
hold of any sooner, he shall have an earlier opportunity of
clearing himself. As to you, I have nothing against you; what you
came and told me turns out to be true, and I have given you the
means of proving it to be true, and there's an end of it. I wish
you good night all! I must be off to look a little further into

Tom came out of his corner when Mr. Bounderby moved, moved with
him, kept close to him, and went away with him. The only parting
salutation of which he delivered himself was a sulky 'Good night,
father!' With a brief speech, and a scowl at his sister, he left
the house.

Since his sheet-anchor had come home, Mr. Gradgrind had been
sparing of speech. He still sat silent, when Louisa mildly said:

'Rachael, you will not distrust me one day, when you know me

'It goes against me,' Rachael answered, in a gentler manner, 'to
mistrust any one; but when I am so mistrusted - when we all are - I
cannot keep such things quite out of my mind. I ask your pardon
for having done you an injury. I don't think what I said now. Yet
I might come to think it again, wi' the poor lad so wronged.'

'Did you tell him in your letter,' inquired Sissy, 'that suspicion
seemed to have fallen upon him, because he had been seen about the
Bank at night? He would then know what he would have to explain on
coming back, and would be ready.'

'Yes, dear,' she returned; 'but I can't guess what can have ever
taken him there. He never used to go there. It was never in his
way. His way was the same as mine, and not near it.'

Sissy had already been at her side asking her where she lived, and
whether she might come to-morrow night, to inquire if there were
news of him.

'I doubt,' said Rachael, 'if he can be here till next day.'

'Then I will come next night too,' said Sissy.

When Rachael, assenting to this, was gone, Mr. Gradgrind lifted up
his head, and said to his daughter:

'Louisa, my dear, I have never, that I know of, seen this man. Do
you believe him to be implicated?'

'I think I have believed it, father, though with great difficulty.
I do not believe it now.'

'That is to say, you once persuaded yourself to believe it, from
knowing him to be suspected. His appearance and manner; are they
so honest?'

'Very honest.'

'And her confidence not to be shaken! I ask myself,' said Mr.
Gradgrind, musing, 'does the real culprit know of these
accusations? Where is he? Who is he?'

His hair had latterly began to change its colour. As he leaned
upon his hand again, looking gray and old, Louisa, with a face of
fear and pity, hurriedly went over to him, and sat close at his
side. Her eyes by accident met Sissy's at the moment. Sissy
flushed and started, and Louisa put her finger on her lip.

Next night, when Sissy returned home and told Louisa that Stephen
was not come, she told it in a whisper. Next night again, when she
came home with the same account, and added that he had not been
heard of, she spoke in the same low frightened tone. From the
moment of that interchange of looks, they never uttered his name,
or any reference to him, aloud; nor ever pursued the subject of the
robbery, when Mr. Gradgrind spoke of it.

The two appointed days ran out, three days and nights ran out, and
Stephen Blackpool was not come, and remained unheard of. On the
fourth day, Rachael, with unabated confidence, but considering her
despatch to have miscarried, went up to the Bank, and showed her
letter from him with his address, at a working colony, one of many,
not upon the main road, sixty miles away. Messengers were sent to
that place, and the whole town looked for Stephen to be brought in
next day.

During this whole time the whelp moved about with Mr. Bounderby
like his shadow, assisting in all the proceedings. He was greatly
excited, horribly fevered, bit his nails down to the quick, spoke
in a hard rattling voice, and with lips that were black and burnt
up. At the hour when the suspected man was looked for, the whelp
was at the station; offering to wager that he had made off before
the arrival of those who were sent in quest of him, and that he
would not appear.

The whelp was right. The messengers returned alone. Rachael's
letter had gone, Rachael's letter had been delivered. Stephen
Blackpool had decamped in that same hour; and no soul knew more of
him. The only doubt in Coketown was, whether Rachael had written
in good faith, believing that he really would come back, or warning
him to fly. On this point opinion was divided.

Six days, seven days, far on into another week. The wretched whelp
plucked up a ghastly courage, and began to grow defiant. 'Was the
suspected fellow the thief? A pretty question! If not, where was
the man, and why did he not come back?'

Where was the man, and why did he not come back? In the dead of
night the echoes of his own words, which had rolled Heaven knows
how far away in the daytime, came back instead, and abided by him
until morning.

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