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HARD TIMES.

BY CHARLES DICKENS.
CHAPTER XV.

Although Mr. Gradgrind did not take
after Blue Beard, his room was quite a Blue
chamber in its abundance of blue books.
Whatever they could prove (which is usually
anything you like), they proved there, in an
army constantly strengthening by the arrival
of new recruits. In that charmed apartment,
the most complicated social questions were
cast up, got into exact totals, and finally
settledif those concerned could only have
been brought to know it. As if an astronomical
observatory should be made without
any windows, and the astronomer within
should arrange the starry universe solely by
pen, ink and paper, so Mr. Gradgrind, in
his Observatory (and there are many like it),
had no need to cast an eye upon the teeming
myriads of human beings around him, but
could settle all their destinies on a slate, and
wipe out all their tears with one dirty little
bit of sponge.

To this Observatory, then: a stern room
with a deadly-statistical clock in it, which
measured every second with a beat like a rap
upon a coffin-lid: Louisa repaired on the
appointed morning. The window looked
towards Coketown; and when she sat
down near her father's table, she saw the
high chimneys and the long tracks of
smoke looming in the heavy distance
gloomily.

"My dear Louisa," said her father, "I
prepared you last night to give me your
serious attention in the conversation we are
now going to have together. You have been
so well trained, and you do, I am happy to
say, so much justice to the education you
have received, that I have perfect confidence
in your good sense. You are not impulsive,
you are not romantic, you are accustomed to
view everything from the strong dispassionate
ground of reason and calculation. From that
ground alone, I know you will view and
consider what I am going to communicate."

He waited, as if he would have been
glad that she said something. But, she said
never a word.

"Louisa my dear, you are the subject of a
proposal of marriage that has been made to
me."

Again he waited, and again she answered
not one word.  This so far surprised him, as
to induce him gently to repeat, "a proposal of
marriage, my dear." To which, she returned
without any visible emotion whatever:

"I hear you, father. I am attending, I
assure you."

"Well!" said Mr. Gradgrind, breaking
into a smile, after being for the moment at a
loss, "you are even more dispassionate than
I expected, Louisa. Or, perhaps you are
not unprepared for the announcement I have
it in charge to make?"

"I cannot say that, father, until I hear it.
Prepared or unprepared, I wish to hear it all
from you. I wish to hear you state it to me,
father."

Strange to relate, Mr. Gradgrind was not
so collected at this moment as his daughter
was. He took a paper-knife in his hand,
turned it over, laid it down, took it up again,
and even then had to look along the blade of
it, considering how to go on.

"What you say, my dear Louisa, is
perfectly reasonable. I have undertaken then to
let you know thatthat Mr. Bounderby
has informed me that he has long watched
your progress with particular interest and
pleasure, and has long hoped that the time
might ultimately arrive when he should offer
you his hand in marriage. That time, to which
he has so long, and certainly with great
constancy, looked forward, is now come. Mr.
Bounderby has made his proposal of marriage
to me, and has entreated me to make it
known to you, and to express his hope that
you will take it into your favourable
consideration."

Silence between them. The deadly-statistical
clock very hollow. The distant smoke very
black and heavy.

"Father," said Louisa, "do you think I
love Mr. Bounderby?"

Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomfited
by this unexpected question. "Well, my
child," he returned, "Ireallycannot take
upon myself to say."

"Father," pursued Louisa in exactly the
same voice as before, "do you ask me to love
Mr. Bounderby?"

"My dear Louisa, no. No. I ask nothing."

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