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BOOK I: 4. Mr. Bounderby
NOT being Mrs. Grundy, who was Mr. Bounderby?
Why, Mr. Bounderby was as near being Mr. Gradgrind's bosom friend, as a man
perfectly devoid of sentiment can approach that spiritual relationship towards another
man perfectly devoid of sentiment. So near was Mr. Bounderby - or, if the reader should
prefer it, so far off.
He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man,
with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed
to have been stretched to make so much of him. A man with a great puffed head and
forehead, swelled veins in his temples, and such a strained skin to his face that it
seemed to hold his eyes open, and lift his eyebrows up. A man with a pervading
appearance on him of being inflated like a balloon, and ready to start. A man who could
never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming,
through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old
poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility.
A year or two younger than his eminently practical friend, Mr. Bounderby looked older;
his seven or eight and forty might have had the seven or eight added to it again, without
surprising anybody. He had not much hair. One might have fancied he had talked it off;
and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being
constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness.
In the formal drawing-room of Stone Lodge, standing on the hearthrug, warming himself
before the fire, Mr. Bounderby delivered some observations to Mrs. Gradgrind on the
circumstance of its being his birthday. He stood before the fire, partly because it was a
cool spring afternoon, though the sun shone; partly because the shade of Stone Lodge
was always haunted by the ghost of damp mortar; partly because he thus took up a
commanding position, from which to subdue Mrs. Gradgrind.
'I hadn't a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, I didn't know such a thing by name. I
passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. That's the way I spent my tenth
birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch.'
Mrs. Gradgrind, a little, thin, white, pink-eyed bundle of shawls, of surpassing
feebleness, mental and bodily; who was always taking physic without any effect, and
who, whenever she showed a symptom of coming to life, was invariably stunned by
some weighty piece of fact tumbling on her; Mrs. Gradgrind hoped it was a dry ditch?
'No! As wet as a sop. A foot of water in it,' said Mr. Bounderby.
'Enough to give a baby cold,' Mrs. Gradgrind considered.