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"Father," she still pursued, "does Mr.
Bounderby ask me to love him?"

"Really, my dear," said Mr. Gradgrind,
"it is difficult to answer your question—"

"Difficult to answer it, Yes or No, father?"

"Certainly, my dear. Because;" here was
something to demonstrate, and it set him up
again; "because the reply depends so
materially, Louisa, on the sense in which we use
the expression. Now, Mr. Bounderby does
not do you the injustice, and does not do
himself the injustice, of pretending to
anything fanciful, fantastic, or (I am using
synonymous terms) sentimental. Mr. Bounderby
would have seen you grow up under
his eyes, to very little purpose, if he could so
far forget what is due to your good sense, not
to say to his, as to address you from any such
ground. Therefore, perhaps the expression
itselfI merely suggest this to you, my
dearmay be a little misplaced."

"What would you advise me to use in its
stead, father?"

"Why, my dear Louisa," said Mr.
Gradgrind, completely recovered by this time, "I
would advise you (since you ask me) to
consider this question, as you have been
accustomed to consider every other question,
simply as one of tangible Fact. The ignorant
and the giddy may embarrass such subjects
with irrelevant fancies, and other
absurdities that have no existence, properly
viewedreally no existencebut it is no
compliment to you to say, that you know
better. Now, what are the Facts of this
case? You are, we will say in round
numbers, twenty years of age; Mr. Bounderby
is, we will say in round numbers, fifty.
There is some disparity in your respective
years, but in your means and positions there
is none; on the contrary, there is a great
suitability. Then the question arises, Is this
one disparity sufficient to operate as a bar to
such a marriage? In considering this
question, it is not unimportant to take into account
the statistics of marriage, so far as they have
yet been obtained, in England and Wales.
I find, on reference to the figures, that a large
proportion of these marriages are contracted
between parties of very unequal ages, and
that the elder of these contracting parties is,
in rather more than three-fourths of these
instances, the bridegroom. It is remarkable
as showing the wide prevalence of this law,
that among the natives of the British
possessions in India, also in a considerable part of
China, and among the Calmucks of Tartary,
the best means of computation yet furnished
us by travellers, yield similar results. The
disparity I have mentioned, therefore, almost
ceases to be disparity, and (virtually) all but
disappears."

"What do you recommend, father," asked
Louisa, her reserved composure not in the
least affected by these gratifying results,
"that I should substitute   for the term I used
just now? For the misplaced expression?"

"Louisa," returned her father, "it appears
to me that nothing can be plainer. Confining
yourself rigidly to Fact, the question of Fact
you state to yourself is: Does Mr. Bounderby
ask me to marry him? Yes, he does. The
sole remaining question then is: Shall I
marry him?  I think nothing can be plainer
than that."

"Shall I marry him?" repeated Louisa,
with great deliberation.

"Precisely. And it is satisfactory to me,
as your father, my dear Louisa, to know that
you do not come to the consideration of that
question with the previous habits of mind,
and habits of life, that belong to many young
women."

"No, father," she returned, "I do not."

"I now leave you to judge for yourself,"
said Mr. Gradgrind. "I have stated the case,
as such cases are usually stated among
practical minds; I have stated it, as the case of
your mother and myself was stated in its
time. The rest, my dear Louisa, is for you
to decide."

From the beginning, she had sat looking
at him fixedly. As he now leaned back in
his chair, and bent his deep-set eyes upon her
in his turn, perhaps he might have seen one
wavering moment in her, when she was
impelled to throw herself upon his breast, and
give him the pent-up confidences of her heart.
But, to see it, he must have overleaped at a
bound the artificial barriers he had for many
years been erecting, between himself and all
those subtle essences of humanity which will
elude the utmost cunning of algebra until the
last trumpet ever to be sounded shall blow
even algebra to wreck. The barriers were too
many and too high for such a leap. He did
not see it. With his unbending, utilitarian,
matter-of-fact face, he hardened her again;
and the moment shot away into the
plumbless depths of the past, to mingle with all the
lost opportunities that are drowned there.

Removing her eyes from him, she sat so
long looking silently towards the town, that
he said, at length: "Are you consulting the
chimneys of the Coketown works, Louisa?"

"There seems to be nothing there, but
languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when
the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!" she
answered, turning quickly.

"Of course I know that, Louisa. I do not
see the application of the remark." To do
him justice he did not, at all.

She passed it away with a slight motion of
her hand, and concentrating her attention upon
him again, said, "Father, I have often thought
that life is very short "—This was so
distinctly one of his subjects that he interposed:

"It is short, no doubt, my dear. Still, the
average duration of human life is proved to
have increased of late years. The calculations
of various life assurance and annuity offices,
among other figures which cannot go wrong,
have established the fact."

"I speak of my own life, father."

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