The Revelation in
The Dining Room
'It's a coincidence,' exclaimed Mrs. Sparsit, as she was releasedby the coachman. 'It's a Providence! Come out, ma'am, then'said Mrs. Sparsit, to some one inside, 'Come out, or we'll haveyou dragged out!'
Hereupon, no other than the mysterious old woman descended. Whom Mrs. Sparsit incontinently collared.
'Leave her alone, everybody!' cried Mrs. Sparsit, with great energy. 'Let nobody touch her. She belongs to me. Come inma'am!' then said Mrs. Sparsit, reversing her former word ofcommand. 'Come in, ma'am, or we'll have you dragged in!'
The spectacle of a matron of classical deportment, seizing anancient woman by the throat, and hauling her into a dwelling-house, would have been under any circumstances, sufficienttemptation to all true English stragglers so blest as to witness itto force a way into that dwelling-house and see the matter out,But when the phenomenon was enhanced by the notoriety andmystery by this time associated all over the town, with the Bankrobbery, it would have lured the stragglers in, with an irresistible attraction, though the roof had been expected to fall upontheir heads. Accordingly, the chance witnesses on the ground,consisting of the busiest of the neighbours to the number ofsome five-and-twenty, closed in after Sissy and Rachael, as theyclosed in after Mrs. Sparsit and her prize; and the whole bodymade a disorderly irruption into Mr. Bounderby's dining-room,where the people behind lost not a moment's time in mountingon the chairs, to get the better of the people in front.
'Fetch Mr. Bounderby down!' cried Mrs. Sparsit. 'Rachael,young woman; you know who this is?'
'It's Mrs. Pegler,' said Rachael.
'I should think it is!' cried Mrs. Sparsit, exulting. 'Fetch Mr.Bounderby. Stand away, everybody!' Here old Mrs. Pegler,muffling herself up, and shrinking from observation, whispereda word of entreaty. 'Don't tell me,' said Mrs. Sparsit, aloud. 'Ihave told you twenty times, coming along, that I will not leaveyou till I have handed you over to him myself.'
Mr. Bounderby now appeared, accompanied by Mr. Gradgrind and the whelp, with whom he had been holding conference upstairs. Mr. Bounderby looked more astonished than hospitable, at sight of this uninvited Party in his dining-room.
'Why, what's the matter now?' said he. 'Mrs. Sparsit, ma'am?'
'Sir,' explained that worthy woman, 'I trust it is my goodfortune to produce a person you have much desired to find.Stimulated by my wish to relieve your mind, Sir, and connectingtogether such imperfect clues to the part of the country in whichthat person might be supposed to reside, as have been affordedby the young woman, Rachael, fortunately now present toidentify, I have had the happiness to succeed, and to bring thatperson with me --- I need not say most unwillingly on her part. Ithas not been, Sir, without some trouble that I have effected this;but trouble in your service is to me a pleasure, and hunger,thirst, and cold a real gratification.'
Here Mrs. Sparsit ceased; for Mr. Bounderby's visage exhibited an extraordinary combination of all possible colours andexpressions of discomfiture, as old Mrs. Pegler was disclosed tohis view.
'Why, what do you mean by this?' was his highly unexpecteddemand, in great warmth. 'I ask you, what do you mean by this,Mrs. Sparsit, ma'am?'
'Sir!' exclaimed Mrs. Sparsit, faintly.
'Why don't you mind your own business, ma'am?' roaredBounderby. 'How dare you go and poke your officious nose intomy family affairs?'
This allusion to her favourite feature overpowered Mrs.Sparsit. She sat down stiffly in a chair, as if she were frozen; andwith a fixed stare at Mr. Bounderby, slowly grated her mittensagainst one another, as if they were frozen too.
'My dear Josiah!' cried Mrs. Pegler, trembling. 'My darlingboy! I am not to blame. It's not my fault, Josiah. I told this ladyover and over again, that I knew she was doing what would notbe agreeable to you, but she would do it.'
'What did you let her bring you for? Couldn't you knock her cap off, or her tooth out, or scratch her, or do something or otherto her?' asked Bounderby.
'My own boy! She threatened me that if I resisted her, Ishould be brought by constables, and it was better to comequietly than make that stir in such a' --- Mrs. Pegler glancedtimidly but proudly round the walls --- 'such a fine house as this.Indeed, indeed, it is not my fault! My dear, noble, stately boy!I have always lived quiet and secret, Josiah, my dear. I havenever broken the condition once. I have never said I was yourmother. I have admired you at a distance; and if I have come totown sometimes, with long times between, to take a proud peepat you, I have done it unbeknown, my love, and gone awayagain.'
Mr. Bounderby, with his hands in his pockets, walked inimpatient mortification up and down at the side of the longdining-table, while the spectators greedily took in every syllable of Mrs. Pegler's appeal, and at each succeeding syllable becamemore and more round-eyed. Mr. Bounderby still walking upand down when Mrs. Pegler had done, Mr. Gradgrind addressedthat maligned old lady:
'I am surprised, madam,' he observed with severity, 'that inyour old age you have the face to claim Mr. Bounderby for yourson, after your unnatural and inhuman treatment of him.'
'Me unnatural!' cried poor old Mrs. Pegler. 'Me inhuman!To my dear boy?'
'Dear!' repeated Mr. Gradgrind. 'Yes; dear in his self-madeprosperity, madam, I dare say. Not very dear, however, whenyou deserted him in his infancy, and left him to the brutality ofa drunken grandmother.'
'I deserted my Josiah!' cried Mrs. Pegler, clasping her hands. Now, Lord forgive you, Sir, for your wicked imaginations, andfor your scandal against the memory of my poor mother, whodied in my arms before Josiah was born. May you repent of it,Sir, and live to know better!'She was so very earnest and injured, that Mr. Gradgrind,shocked by the possibility which dawned upon him, said in agentler tone:
'Do you deny, then, madam, that you left your son to --- to be brought up in the gutter?'
'Josiah in the gutter!' exclaimed Mrs. Pegler. 'No such athing, Sir. Never! For shame on you! My dear boy knows, andwill give you to know, that though he come of humble parents,he come of parents that loved him as dear as the best could, andnever thought it hardship on themselves to pinch a bit that hemight write and cipher beautiful, and I've his books at home toshow it! Aye, have I!' said Mrs. Pegler, with indignant pride.'And my dear boy knows, and will give you to know, Sir, thatafter his beloved father died, when he was eight years old, hismother, too, could pinch a bit, as it was her duty and herpleasure and her pride to do it, to help him out in life, and puthim 'prentice. And a steady lad he was, and a kind master hehad to lend him a hand, and well he worked his own way forward to be rich and thriving. And I'll give you to know, Sir --- forthis my dear boy won't --- that though his mother kept but a littlevillage shop, he never forgot her, but pensioned me on thirtypound a year --- more than I want, for I put by out of it --- onlymaking the condition that I was to keep down to my own part,and make no boasts about him, and not trouble him. And Inever have, except with looking at him once a year, when he hasnever knowed it. And it's right,' said poor old Mrs. Pegler, inaffectionate championship, 'that I should keep down in my ownpart, and I have no doubts that if I was here I should do a manyunbefitting things, and I am well contented, and I can keep mypride in my Josiah to myself, and I can love for love's own sake. And I am ashamed of you, Sir,' said Mrs. Pegler, lastly, 'foryour slanders and suspicions. And for I never stood here before,nor never wanted to stand here when my dear son said no. AndI shouldn't be here now, if it hadn't been for being brought here.And for shame upon you, O for shame, to accuse me of beinga bad mother to my son, with my son standing here to tell youso different!'
The bystanders, on and of the dining-room chairs, raised amurmur of sympathy with Mrs. Pegler, and Mr. Gradgrind felthimself innocently placed in a very distressing predicament, when Mr. Bounderby, who had never ceased walking updown, and had every moment swelled larger and larger,grown redder and redder, stopped short.
'I don't exactly know,' said Mr. Bounderby, 'how I come tobe favoured with the attendance of the present company, but Idon't inquire. When they're quite satisfied, perhaps they'll beso good as to disperse; whether they're satisfied or not, perhapsthey'll be so good as to disperse. I'm not bound to deliver alecture on my family affairs, I have not undertaken to do it, andI'm not a going to do it. Therefore those who expect any explanation whatever upon that branch of the subject, will bedisappointed --- particularly Tom Gradgrind, and he can't knowit too soon. In reference to the Bank robbery, there has been amistake made, concerning my mother. If there hadn't beenover-officiousness it wouldn't have been made, and I hate over-officiousness at all times, whether or no. Good evening!'
Although Mr. Bounderby carried it off in these terms, holdingthe door open for the company to depart, there was a blusteringsheepishness upon him, at once extremely crestfallen and superlatively absurd. Detected as the Bully of humility, who hadbuilt his windy reputation upon lies, and in his boastfulness hadput the honest truth as far away from him as if he had advancedthe mean claim (there is no meaner) to tack himself on to apedigree, he cut a most ridiculous figure. With the people filingoff at the door he held, who he knew would carry what hadpassed to the whole town, to be given to the four winds, he couldnot have looked a Bully more shorn and forlorn, if he had hadhis ears cropped. Even that unlucky female, Mrs. Sparsit, fallenfrom her pinnacle of exultation into the Slough of Despond, wasnot in so bad a plight as that remarkable man and self-madeHumbug, Josiah Bounderby of Coketown.
--- From Hard Times