NOT BEING Mrs Grundy, who was Bounderby?
Why, Mr Bounderby was as near being Mr Gradgrinds bosom friend, as a man perfectly devoid of sentiment can approach that spiritual relationship towards another man perfectly devoid of sentiment. So near was Mr Bounderby or, if the reader should prefer it, so far off.
He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him. A man with a great puffed head and forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such a strained skin to his face that it seemed to hold his eyes open, and lift his eyebrows up. A man with a pervading appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start. A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility.
A year or two younger than his eminently practical friend, Mr Bounderby looked older; his seven or eight and forty might have had the seven or eight added to it again, without surprising anybody. He had not much hair. One might have fancied he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness.
In the formal drawing-room of Stone Lodge, standing on the hearthrug, warming himself before the fire, Mr Bounderby delivered some observations to Mrs Gradgrind on the circumstance of its being his birthday. He stood before the fire, partly because it was a cool spring afternoon, though the sun shone; partly because the shade of Stone Lodge was always haunted by the ghost of damp mortar; partly because he thus took up a commanding position, from which to subdue Mrs Gradgrind.
I hadnt a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, I didnt know such a thing by name. I passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. Thats the way I spent my tenth birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch.
Mrs Gradgrind, a little, thin, white, pink-eyed bundle of shawls, of surpassing feebleness, mental and bodily; who was always taking physic without any effect, and who, whenever she showed a symptom of coming to life, was invariably stunned by some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her; Mrs Gradgrind hoped it was a dry ditch?
No! As wet as a sop. A foot of water in it, said Mr Bounderby.
Enough to give a baby cold, Mrs Gradgrind considered.
Cold? I was born with inflammation of the lungs, and of everything else, I believe, that was capable of inflammation, returned Mr Bounderby. For years, maam, I was one of the most miserable little wretches ever seen. I was so sickly, that I was always moaning and groaning. I was so ragged and dirty, that you wouldnt have touched me with a pair of tongs.
Mrs Gradgrind faintly looked at the tongs, as the most appropriate thing her imbecility could think of doing.
How I fought through it, I dont know, said Bounderby. I was determined, I suppose. I have been a determined character in later life, and I suppose I was then. Here I am, Mrs Gradgrind, anyhow, and nobody to thank for my being here, but myself.
Mrs Gradgrind meekly and weakly hoped that his mother
My mother? Bolted, maam! said Bounderby.
Mrs Gradgrind, stunned as usual, collapsed and gave it up.
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