BOOK THE SECOND
As Louisa continues down the "staircase," Gradgrind arrives from London to bury his wife in a "businesslike manner." Mrs. Sparsit maintains her relentless scrutiny, even to the point of looking through personal letters for a clue. But nothing happens.
Bounderby goes away on business but insists that Mrs. Sparsit spend her usual weekend at his house, no matter what objections Louisa might have.
Before Mrs. Sparsit leaves for the country, she pumps Tom for information regarding Harthouse. Tom tells her that Harthouse is away on a hunting trip, but that he expects Harthouse to be at the Bounderbys on Sunday. Mrs. Sparsit then asks Tom to tell Louisa that she won't be coming to the Bounderbys for the weekend after all.
Mrs. Sparsit is laying a trap for Louisa. She thinks that Louisa and Harthouse are planning a rendezvous while Bounderby is out of town. Mrs. Sparsit cancels her own trip in order to give the couple the chance to be alone- and therefore enough rope to hang themselves.
The next day, from a discreet hiding place, Mrs. Sparsit watches Tom at the train station, where he is supposed to meet Harthouse. When Harthouse doesn't arrive, Mrs. Sparsit knows why. Harthouse asked Tom to meet him there as a diversion so that he could slip off alone to the country house.
As it begins to rain, Mrs. Sparsit hurries across town to the country house, all the while imagining Louisa "very near the bottom" of the staircase.
Creeping through the shrubbery to the house, Mrs. Sparsit peers through the window, but all is quiet. She moves to the nearby woods and there finds what she's looking for: Harthouse, with his arms around Louisa! He tells her of his love for her, but Louisa turns away from him time and again. Plans are made between them, but the steadily increasing rain keeps Mrs. Sparsit from hearing them. She is certain, however, that they arrange to meet later that night.
Paying little attention to the fact that Louisa appeared to discourage Harthouse's advances, Mrs. Sparsit is certain that Louisa has finally fallen into the abyss. Cold and drenched to the skin, Mrs. Sparsit is nonetheless triumphant. That sneaking through bushes and standing in the rain to eavesdrop might be beneath her dignity- and her proud pedigree- never occurs to her. She is obsessed with finding Louisa guilty.
Still crouching in the shrubbery, Mrs. Sparsit sees Louisa leave the house. Certain that the young woman is about to elope, Mrs. Sparsit follows her to the railroad station and gets on the same train. Mrs. Sparsit assumes that Louisa is on her way to Coketown. She rides to that stop, only to get off the train and find Louisa is nowhere to be seen. Louisa has left the train at an earlier stop and Mrs. Sparsit has lost her!
NOTE: Notice how Dickens adds to the tension and suspense of these scenes by setting them in the midst of a rainstorm. Many readers see a parallel between the storm outside and the inner lives of the characters. As the storm rises, so do Mrs. Sparsit's expectations that she will finally see Louisa disgraced. And the mounting violence of the storm also suggests the rising passion between Harthouse and Louisa. The events of the chapter would mean the same without the storm, but they are more vivid and exciting because of Dickens's masterly touch. Watch how the storm continues to add tension in the next chapter.
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