Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

Chapter VIII— Philosophical

THEY went back into the booth, Sleary shutting the door to keep intruders out. Bitzer, still holding the paralysed culprit by the collar, stood in the Ring, blinking at his old patron through the darkness of the twilight.

‘Bitzer,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, broken down, and miserably submissive to him, ‘have you a heart?’

‘The circulation, sir,’ returned Bitzer, smiling at the oddity of the question, ‘couldn’t be carried on without one. No man, sir, acquainted with the facts established by Harvey relating to the circulation of the blood, can doubt that I have a heart.’

‘Is it accessible,’ cried Mr. Gradgrind, ‘to any compassionate influence?’

‘It is accessible to Reason, sir,’ returned the excellent young man. ‘And to nothing else.’

They stood looking at each other; Mr. Gradgrind’s face as white as the pursuer’s.

‘What motive — even what motive in reason — can you have for preventing the escape of this wretched youth,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, ‘and crushing his miserable father? See his sister here. Pity us!’

‘Sir,’ returned Bitzer, in a very business-like and logical manner, ‘since you ask me what motive I have in reason, for taking young Mr. Tom back to Coketown, it is only reasonable to let you know. I have suspected young Mr. Tom of this bank-robbery from the first. I had had my eye upon him before that time, for I knew his ways. I have kept my observations to myself, but I have made them; and I have got ample proofs against him now, besides his running away, and besides his own confession, which I was just in time to overhear. I had the pleasure of watching your house yesterday morning, and following you here. I am going to take young Mr. Tom back to Coketown, in order to deliver him over to Mr. Bounderby. Sir, I have no doubt whatever that Mr. Bounderby will then promote me to young Mr. Tom’s situation. And I wish to have his situation, sir, for it will be a rise to me, and will do me good.’

‘If this is solely a question of self-interest with you — ‘ Mr. Gradgrind began.

‘I beg your pardon for interrupting you, sir,’ returned Bitzer; ‘but I am sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to, is a person’s self-interest. It’s your only hold. We are so constituted. I was brought up in that catechism when I was very young, sir, as you are aware.’

‘What sum of money,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, ‘will you set against your expected promotion?’

‘Thank you, sir,’ returned Bitzer, ‘for hinting at the proposal; but I will not set any sum against it. Knowing that your clear head would propose that alternative, I have gone over the calculations in my mind; and I find that to compound a felony, even on very high terms indeed, would not be as safe and good for me as my improved prospects in the Bank.’

‘Bitzer,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, stretching out his hands as though he would have said, See how miserable I am! ‘Bitzer, I have but one chance left to soften you. You were many years at my school. If, in remembrance of the pains bestowed upon you there, you can persuade yourself in any degree to disregard your present interest and release my son, I entreat and pray you to give him the benefit of that remembrance.’

‘I really wonder, sir,’ rejoined the old pupil in an argumentative manner, ‘to find you taking a position so untenable. My schooling was paid for; it was a bargain; and when I came away, the bargain ended.’

It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter. And if we didn’t get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there.

‘I don’t deny,’ added Bitzer, ‘that my schooling was cheap. But that comes right, sir. I was made in the cheapest market, and have to dispose of myself in the dearest.’

He was a little troubled here, by Louisa and Sissy crying.

‘Pray don’t do that,’ said he, ‘it’s of no use doing that: it only worries. You seem to think that I have some animosity against young Mr. Tom; whereas I have none at all. I am only going, on the reasonable grounds I have mentioned, to take him back to Coketown. If he was to resist, I should set up the cry of Stop thief! But, he won’t resist, you may depend upon it.’

Mr. Sleary, who with his mouth open and his rolling eye as immovably jammed in his head as his fixed one, had listened to these doctrines with profound attention, here stepped forward.

‘Thquire, you know perfectly well, and your daughter knowth perfectly well (better than you, becauthe I thed it to her), that I didn’t know what your thon had done, and that I didn’t want to know — I thed it wath better not, though I only thought, then, it wath thome thkylarking. However, thith young man having made it known to be a robbery of a bank, why, that’h a theriouth thing; muth too theriouth a thing for me to compound, ath thith young man hath very properly called it. Conthequently, Thquire, you muthn’t quarrel with me if I take thith young man’th thide, and thay he’th right and there’th no help for it. But I tell you what I’ll do, Thquire; I’ll drive your thon and thith young man over to the rail, and prevent expothure here. I can’t conthent to do more, but I’ll do that.’

Fresh lamentations from Louisa, and deeper affliction on Mr. Gradgrind’s part, followed this desertion of them by their last friend. But, Sissy glanced at him with great attention; nor did she in her own breast misunderstand him. As they were all going out again, he favoured her with one slight roll of his movable eye, desiring her to linger behind. As he locked the door, he said excitedly:

‘The Thquire thtood by you, Thethilia, and I’ll thtand by the Thquire. More than that: thith ith a prethiouth rathcal, and belongth to that bluthtering Cove that my people nearly pitht out o’ winder. It’ll be a dark night; I’ve got a horthe that’ll do anything but thpeak; I’ve got a pony that’ll go fifteen mile an hour with Childerth driving of him; I’ve got a dog that’ll keep a man to one plathe four-and-twenty hourth. Get a word with the young Thquire. Tell him, when he theeth our horthe begin to danthe, not to be afraid of being thpilt, but to look out for a pony-gig coming up. Tell him, when he theeth that gig clothe by, to jump down, and it’ll take him off at a rattling pathe. If my dog leth thith young man thtir a peg on foot, I give him leave to go. And if my horthe ever thtirth from that thpot where he beginth a danthing, till the morning — I don’t know him? — Tharp’th the word!’

The word was so sharp, that in ten minutes Mr. Childers, sauntering about the market-place in a pair of slippers, had his cue, and Mr. Sleary’s equipage was ready. It was a fine sight, to behold the learned dog barking round it, and Mr. Sleary instructing him, with his one practicable eye, that Bitzer was the object of his particular attentions. Soon after dark they all three got in and started; the learned dog (a formidable creature) already pinning Bitzer with his eye, and sticking close to the wheel on his side, that he might be ready for him in the event of his showing the slightest disposition to alight.

The other three sat up at the inn all night in great suspense. At eight o’clock in the morning Mr. Sleary and the dog reappeared: both in high spirits.

‘All right, Thquire!’ said Mr. Sleary, ‘your thon may be aboard-a-thip by thith time. Childerth took him off, an hour and a half after we left there latht night. The horthe danthed the polka till he wath dead beat (he would have walthed if he hadn’t been in harneth), and then I gave him the word and he went to thleep comfortable. When that prethiouth young Rathcal thed he’d go for’ard afoot, the dog hung on to hith neck-hankercher with all four legth in the air and pulled him down and rolled him over. Tho he come back into the drag, and there he that, ‘till I turned the horthe’th head, at half-patht thixth thith morning.’

Mr. Gradgrind overwhelmed him with thanks, of course; and hinted as delicately as he could, at a handsome remuneration in money.

‘I don’t want money mythelf, Thquire; but Childerth ith a family man, and if you wath to like to offer him a five-pound note, it mightn’t be unactheptable. Likewithe if you wath to thtand a collar for the dog, or a thet of bellth for the horthe, I thould be very glad to take ’em. Brandy and water I alwayth take.’ He had already called for a glass, and now called for another. ‘If you wouldn’t think it going too far, Thquire, to make a little thpread for the company at about three and thixth ahead, not reckoning Luth, it would make ’em happy.’

All these little tokens of his gratitude, Mr. Gradgrind very willingly undertook to render. Though he thought them far too slight, he said, for such a service.

‘Very well, Thquire; then, if you’ll only give a Horthe-riding, a bethpeak, whenever you can, you’ll more than balanthe the account. Now, Thquire, if your daughter will ethcuthe me, I thould like one parting word with you.’

Louisa and Sissy withdrew into an adjoining room; Mr. Sleary, stirring and drinking his brandy and water as he stood, went on:

‘Thquire, — you don’t need to be told that dogth ith wonderful animalth.’

‘Their instinct,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, ‘is surprising.’

‘Whatever you call it — and I’m bletht if I know what to call it’ — said Sleary, ‘it ith athtonithing. The way in whith a dog’ll find you — the dithtanthe he’ll come!’

‘His scent,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, ‘being so fine.’

‘I’m bletht if I know what to call it,’ repeated Sleary, shaking his head, ‘but I have had dogth find me, Thquire, in a way that made me think whether that dog hadn’t gone to another dog, and thed, “You don’t happen to know a perthon of the name of Thleary, do you? Perthon of the name of Thleary, in the Horthe–Riding way — thtout man — game eye?” And whether that dog mightn’t have thed, “Well, I can’t thay I know him mythelf, but I know a dog that I think would be likely to be acquainted with him.” And whether that dog mightn’t have thought it over, and thed, “Thleary, Thleary! O yeth, to be thure! A friend of mine menthioned him to me at one time. I can get you hith addreth directly.” In conthequenth of my being afore the public, and going about tho muth, you thee, there mutht be a number of dogth acquainted with me, Thquire, that I don’t know!’

Mr. Gradgrind seemed to be quite confounded by this speculation.

‘Any way,’ said Sleary, after putting his lips to his brandy and water, ‘ith fourteen month ago, Thquire, thinthe we wath at Chethter. We wath getting up our Children in the Wood one morning, when there cometh into our Ring, by the thtage door, a dog. He had travelled a long way, he wath in a very bad condithon, he wath lame, and pretty well blind. He went round to our children, one after another, as if he wath a theeking for a child he know’d; and then he come to me, and throwd hithelf up behind, and thtood on hith two forelegth, weak ath he wath, and then he wagged hith tail and died. Thquire, that dog wath Merrylegth.’

‘Sissy’s father’s dog!’

‘Thethilia’th father’th old dog. Now, Thquire, I can take my oath, from my knowledge of that dog, that that man wath dead — and buried — afore that dog come back to me. Joth’phine and Childerth and me talked it over a long time, whether I thould write or not. But we agreed, “No. There’th nothing comfortable to tell; why unthettle her mind, and make her unhappy?” Tho, whether her father bathely detherted her; or whether he broke hith own heart alone, rather than pull her down along with him; never will be known, now, Thquire, till — no, not till we know how the dogth findth uth out!’

‘She keeps the bottle that he sent her for, to this hour; and she will believe in his affection to the last moment of her life,’ said Mr. Gradgrind.

‘It theemth to prethent two thingth to a perthon, don’t it, Thquire?’ said Mr. Sleary, musing as he looked down into the depths of his brandy and water: ‘one, that there ith a love in the world, not all Thelf-interetht after all, but thomething very different; t’other, that it bath a way of ith own of calculating or not calculating, whith thomehow or another ith at leatht ath hard to give a name to, ath the wayth of the dogth ith!’

Mr. Gradgrind looked out of window, and made no reply. Mr. Sleary emptied his glass and recalled the ladies.

‘Thethilia my dear, kith me and good-bye! Mith Thquire, to thee you treating of her like a thithter, and a thithter that you trutht and honour with all your heart and more, ith a very pretty thight to me. I hope your brother may live to be better detherving of you, and a greater comfort to you. Thquire, thake handth, firtht and latht! Don’t be croth with uth poor vagabondth. People mutht be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it. You mutht have uth, Thquire. Do the withe thing and the kind thing too, and make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!’

‘And I never thought before,’ said Mr. Sleary, putting his head in at the door again to say it, ‘that I wath tho muth of a Cackler!’

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30