Book II, Chapters 7-8: Summary and Analysis
Chapter 7: Gunpowder
Chapter 8: Explosion
Ever since being dazzled, on the evening he first met Louisa, by the affectionate smile she gave to her brother, James Harthouse has wanted the same smile turned on him. His conversion to Bounderby and Gradgrind’s political and economic views, his making himself an intimate of the Bounderby household, his becoming a frequent guest at Mr. Bounderby’s newly acquired summer house—all have had this same end in view.
Mr. Harthouse knows from Tom’s indiscretions the night he got the boy drunk that his sister has entered a loveless marriage for his sake. He also senses that if he appears to take an interest in Tom he will gain her confidence. Accordingly, when Harthouse finds Louisa alone in her favorite spot on the grounds of Bounderby’s estate, a secluded clearing in the woods, it is of her brother, and of her brother’s problems, chiefly his habit of gambling, that he speaks.
When Tom himself appears through the trees, Harthouse draws him aside for a private talk. Strolling with Tom through Mr. Bounderby’s rose garden, Harthouse offers to settle his gambling debts, asking in return only that he act more kindly toward his sister. Tom seems extraordinarily moody and distracted—he keeps tearing up rosebuds, scattering their petals, even chewing the buds. Harthouse’s offer to “be his banker,” intended to set his mind at ease, has the opposite effect. Apparently, no amount of money from Harthouse would be of any help now.
The following evening, pleased with his progress in gaining Louisa’s confidence, Mr. Harthouse is riding back from a public meeting when Bounderby suddenly bursts into view, shouting that his bank has been robbed. It seems a small safe in which Tom routinely locked up the petty cash has been broken into, and about 150 pounds taken. Bounderby suspects Blackpool—he was observed by Mrs. Sparsit and Bitzer loitering outside the bank for several nights in a suspicious manner—and several others, including an old woman known to have been in Blackpool’s company.
Mr. Bounderby has come from the bank with Bitzer and a nervous Mrs. Sparsit. He invites Mrs. Sparsit to stay on at his country house so that she can recover from the shock of the robbery. Tom is still at the bank, busy with the police. Louisa, terribly worried about him and what he might have had to do with the robbery, waits up for his return.
It is after midnight when Tom returns. Dressed only in a loose robe, Louisa steals into his room, where he lies on his bed pretending to be asleep. She asks him—begs him, really—if he has anything special to tell her, and “taking him to her bosom as if he were a child,” assures him she will save him no matter what he might have done. Tom protests that he has nothing to say and keeps telling her to go to bed. Louisa asks him if she should mention their having been to see the suspected man, Stephen Blackpool. Saying that it’s up to her, Tom gives her a false explanation of what he had said to Stephen that night and again urges her to go to bed. When she leaves, he gets up, locks the door, throws himself on his pillow, and gives way to a flood of tears.
Mr. Bounderby’s reaction to the bank robbery, his absurd need to magnify the crime, is at first merely laughable, like so much of what he says and does. But then his readiness to assign blame and convict the wrong-doers ahead of time suddenly makes...
(The entire section is 896 words.)