BOOK THE SECOND - REAPING
11. Chapter Xi - Lower and Lower
THE figure descended the great stairs, steadily, steadily; always
verging, like a weight in deep water, to the black gulf at the
Mr. Gradgrind, apprised of his wife's decease, made an expedition
from London, and buried her in a business-like manner. He then
returned with promptitude to the national cinder-heap, and resumed
his sifting for the odds and ends he wanted, and his throwing of
the dust about into the eyes of other people who wanted other odds
and ends - in fact resumed his parliamentary duties.
In the meantime, Mrs. Sparsit kept unwinking watch and ward.
Separated from her staircase, all the week, by the length of iron
road dividing Coketown from the country house, she yet maintained
her cat-like observation of Louisa, through her husband, through
her brother, through James Harthouse, through the outsides of
letters and packets, through everything animate and inanimate that
at any time went near the stairs. 'Your foot on the last step, my
lady,' said Mrs. Sparsit, apostrophizing the descending figure,
with the aid of her threatening mitten, 'and all your art shall
never blind me.'
Art or nature though, the original stock of Louisa's character or
the graft of circumstances upon it, - her curious reserve did
baffle, while it stimulated, one as sagacious as Mrs. Sparsit.
There were times when Mr. James Harthouse was not sure of her.
There were times when he could not read the face he had studied so
long; and when this lonely girl was a greater mystery to him, than
any woman of the world with a ring of satellites to help her.
So the time went on; until it happened that Mr. Bounderby was
called away from home by business which required his presence
elsewhere, for three or four days. It was on a Friday that he
intimated this to Mrs. Sparsit at the Bank, adding: 'But you'll go
down to-morrow, ma'am, all the same. You'll go down just as if I
was there. It will make no difference to you.'
'Pray, sir,' returned Mrs. Sparsit, reproachfully, 'let me beg you
not to say that. Your absence will make a vast difference to me,
sir, as I think you very well know.'