BOOK I: 11. No Way Out
THE Fairy palaces burst into illumination, before pale morning showed the monstrous
serpents of smoke trailing themselves over Coketown. A clattering of clogs upon the
pavement; a rapid ringing of bells; and all the melancholy mad elephants, polished and
oiled up for the day's monotony, were at their heavy exercise again.
Stephen bent over his loom, quiet, watchful, and steady. A special contrast, as every
man was in the forest of looms where Stephen worked, to the crashing, smashing,
tearing piece of mechanism at which he laboured. Never fear, good people of an
anxious turn of mind, that Art will consign Nature to oblivion. Set anywhere, side by
side, the work of GOD and the work of man; and the former, even though it be a troop of
Hands of very small account, will gain in dignity from the comparison.
So many hundred Hands in this Mill; so many hundred horse Steam Power. It is known,
to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but, not all the calculators
of the National Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for
patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any
single moment in the soul of one of these its quiet servants, with the composed faces
and the regulated actions. There is no mystery in it; there is an unfathomable mystery in
the meanest of them, for ever. - Supposing we were to reverse our arithmetic for
material objects, and to govern these awful unknown quantities by other means!
The day grew strong, and showed itself outside, even against the flaming lights within.
The lights were turned out, and the work went on. The rain fell, and the Smoke-
serpents, submissive to the curse of all that tribe, trailed themselves upon the earth. In
the waste-yard outside, the steam from the escape pipe, the litter of barrels and old iron,
the shining heaps of coals, the ashes everywhere, were shrouded in a veil of mist and
The work went on, until the noon-bell rang. More clattering upon the pavements. The
looms, and wheels, and Hands all out of gear for an hour.
Stephen came out of the hot mill into the damp wind and cold wet streets, haggard and
worn. He turned from his own class and his own quarter, taking nothing but a little bread
as he walked along, towards the hill on which his principal employer lived, in a red
house with black outside shutters, green inside blinds, a black street door, up two white
steps, BOUNDERBY (in letters very like himself) upon a brazen plate, and a round
brazen door-handle underneath it, like a brazen full-stop.
Mr. Bounderby was at his lunch. So Stephen had expected. Would his servant say that
one of the Hands begged leave to speak to him? Message in return, requiring name of
such Hand. Stephen Blackpool. There was nothing troublesome against Stephen
Blackpool; yes, he might come in.