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                   HARD TIMES.


                CHAPTER XXV.

MRS. SPARSIT, lying by to recover the tone
of her nerves in Mr. Bounderby's retreat,
kept such a sharp look-out, night and day,
under her Coriolanian eyebrows, that her eyes,
like a couple of lighthouses on an iron-bound
coast, might have warned all prudent mariners
from that bold rock her Roman nose and
the dark and craggy region in its neighbourhood,
but for the placidity of her manner.
Although it was hard to believe that her
retiring for the night could be anything but
a form, so severely wide awake were those
classical eyes of hers, and so impossible did
it seem that her rigid nose could yield to any
relaxing influence, yet her manner of sitting,
smoothing her uncomfortable, not to say,
gritty, mittens (they were constructed of a
cool fabric like a meat-safe), or of ambling to
unknown places of destination with her foot
in her cotton stirrup, was so perfectly serene,
that most observers would have been
constrained to suppose her a dove,
embodied, by some freak of nature, in the
earthly tabernacle of a bird of the hook-
beaked order.

She was a most wonderful woman for
prowling about the house. How she got
from story to story, was a mystery beyond
solution. A lady so decorous in herself, and
so highly connected, was not to be suspected
of dropping over the bannisters or sliding
down them, yet her extraordinary facility of
locomotion suggested the wild idea. Another
noticeable circumstance in Mrs. Sparsit was,
that she was never hurried. She would
shoot with consummate velocity from the
roof to the hall, yet would be in full possession
of her breath and dignity on the moment
of her arrival there. Neither was she ever
seen by human vision to go at a great pace.

She took very kindly to Mr. Harthouse,
and had some pleasant conversation with him
soon after her arrival. She made him her
stately curtsey in the garden, one morning
before breakfast.

"It appears but yesterday, sir," said Mrs.
Sparsit, "that I had the honor of receiving
you at the Bank, when you were so good as
to wish to be made acquainted with Mr.
Bounderby's address."

"An occasion, I am sure, not to be
forgotten by myself in the course of Ages," said
Mr. Harthouse, inclining his head to Mrs.
Sparsit with the most indolent of all possible

"We live in a singular world, sir," said
Mrs. Sparsit.

"I have had the honor, by a coincidence
of which I am proud, to have made a remark,
similar in effect, though not so epigrammatically

"A singular world, I would say, sir,"
pursued Mrs. Sparsit; after acknowledging
the compliment with a drooping of her dark
eyebrows, not altogether so mild in its
expression as her voice was in its dulcet tones;
"as regards the intimacies we form at one
time, with individuals we were quite ignorant
of, at another. I recall, sir, that on that
occasion you went so far as to say you were
actually apprehensive of Miss Gradgrind."

"Your memory does me more honor than
my insignificance deserves. I availed myself
of your obliging hints to correct my timidity,
and it is unnecessary to add that they were
perfectly accurate. Mrs. Sparsit's talent for
in fact for anything requiring accuracy
with a combination of strength of mindand
Familyis too habitually developed to admit
of any question." He was almost falling
asleep over this compliment; it took him so
long to get through, and his mind wandered
so much in the course of its execution.

"You found Miss GradgrindI really
cannot call her Mrs. Bounderby; it's very absurd
of meas youthful as I described her?"
asked Mrs. Sparsit, sweetly.

"You drew her portrait perfectly," said
Mr. Harthouse. "Presented her dead

"Very engaging, sir?" said Mrs. Sparsit,
causing her mittens slowly to revolve over
one another.

"Highly so."

"It used to be considered," said Mrs.
Sparsit, "that Miss Gradgrind was wanting
in animation, but I confess she appears to me
considerably and strikingly improved in that
respect. Ay, and indeed here is Mr.
Bounderby!" cried Mrs. Sparsit, nodding her
head a great many times, as if she had been