Husband and Wife
MR BOUNDERBYS first disquietude on hearing of his happiness, was occasioned by the necessity of imparting it to Mrs Sparsit. He could not make up his mind how to do that, or what the consequences of the step might be. Whether she would instantly depart, bag and baggage, to Lady Scadgers, or would positively refuse to budge from the premises; whether she would be plaintive or abusive; tearful or tearing; whether she would break her heart, or break the looking-glass; Mr Bounderby could not at all foresee. However, as it must be done, he had no choice but to do it; so, after attempting several letters, and failing in them all, he resolved to do it by word of mouth.
On his way home, on the evening he set aside for this momentous purpose, he took the precaution of stepping into a chemists shop and buying a bottle of the very strongest smelling-salts. By George! said Mr Bounderby, if she takes it in the fainting way, Ill have the skin off her nose, at all events! But, in spite of being thus forearmed, he entered his own house with anything but a courageous air; and appeared before the object of his misgivings, like a dog who was conscious of coming direct from the pantry.
Good-evening, Mr Bounderby!
Good-evening, maam, good-evening. He drew up his chair, and Mrs Sparsit drew back hers, as who should say, Your fireside, sir. I freely admit it. It is for you to occupy it all, if you think proper.
Dont go to the North Pole, maam! said Mr Bounderby.
Thank you, sir, said Mrs Sparsit, and returned, though short of her former position.
Mr Bounderby sat looking at her, as, with the points of a stiff, sharp pair of scissors, she picked out holes for some inscrutable ornamental purpose, in a piece of cambric. An operation which, taken in connexion with the bushy eyebrows and the Roman nose, suggested with some liveliness the idea of a hawk engaged upon the eyes of a tough little bird. She was so steadfastly occupied, that many minutes elapsed before she looked up from her work; when she did so Mr Bounderby bespoke her attention with a hitch of his head.
Mrs Sparsit maam, said Mr Bounderby, putting his hands in his pockets, and assuring himself with his right hand that the cork of the little bottle was ready for use, I have no occasion to say to you, that you are not only a lady born and bred, but a devilish sensible woman.
Sir, returned the lady, this is indeed not the first time that you have honoured me with similar expressions of your good opinion.
Mrs Sparsit maam, said Mr Bounderby, I am going to astonish you.
Yes, sir? returned Mrs Sparsit, interrogatively, and in the most tranquil manner possible. She generally wore mittens, and she now laid down her work, and smoothed those mittens.
I am going, maam, said Bounderby, to marry Tom Gradgrinds daughter.
Yes, sir, returned Mrs Sparsit. I hope you may be happy, Mr Bounderby. Oh, indeed I hope you may be happy, sir! And she said it with such great condescension as well as with such great compassion for him, that Bounderby, far more disconcerted than if she had thrown her work-box at the mirror, or swooned on the hearthrug, corked up the smelling-salts tight in his pocket, and thought, Now confound this woman, who could have ever guessed that she would take it in this way!
I wish with all my heart, sir, said Mrs Sparsit, in a highly superior manner; somehow she seemed in a moment, to have established a right to pity him ever afterwards; that you may be in all respects very happy.
Well, maam, returned Bounderby, with some resentment in his tone: which was clearly lowered, though in spite of himself, I am obliged to you. I hope I shall be.
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