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BOOK I: 16. Husband And Wife
MR. BOUNDERBY'S first disquietude on hearing of his happiness, was occasioned by
the necessity of imparting it to Mrs. Sparsit. He could not make up his mind how to do
that, or what the consequences of the step might be. Whether she would instantly
depart, bag and baggage, to Lady Scadgers, or would positively refuse to budge from
the premises; whether she would be plaintive or abusive, tearful or tearing; whether she
would break her heart, or break the looking- glass; Mr. Bounderby could not all foresee.
However, as it must be done, he had no choice but to do it; so, after attempting several
letters, and failing in them all, he resolved to do it by word of mouth.
On his way home, on the evening he set aside for this momentous purpose, he took the
precaution of stepping into a chemist's shop and buying a bottle of the very strongest
smelling-salts. 'By George!' said Mr. Bounderby, 'if she takes it in the fainting way, I'll
have the skin off her nose, at all events!' But, in spite of being thus forearmed, he
entered his own house with anything but a courageous air; and appeared before the
object of his misgivings, like a dog who was conscious of coming direct from the pantry.
'Good evening, Mr. Bounderby!'
'Good evening, ma'am, good evening.' He drew up his chair, and Mrs. Sparsit drew
back hers, as who should say, 'Your fireside, sir. I freely admit it. It is for you to occupy it
all, if you think proper.'
'Don't go to the North Pole, ma'am!' said Mr. Bounderby.
'Thank you, sir,' said Mrs. Sparsit, and returned, though short of her former position.
Mr. Bounderby sat looking at her, as, with the points of a stiff, sharp pair of scissors, she
picked out holes for some inscrutable ornamental purpose, in a piece of cambric. An
operation which, taken in connexion with the bushy eyebrows and the Roman nose,
suggested with some liveliness the idea of a hawk engaged upon the eyes of a tough
little bird. She was so steadfastly occupied, that many minutes elapsed before she
looked up from her work; when she did so Mr. Bounderby bespoke her attention with a
hitch of his head.
'Mrs. Sparsit, ma'am,' said Mr. Bounderby, putting his hands in his pockets, and
assuring himself with his right hand that the cork of the little bottle was ready for use, 'I
have no occasion to say to you, that you are not only a lady born and bred, but a
devilish sensible woman.'
'Sir,' returned the lady, 'this is indeed not the first time that you have honoured me with
similar expressions of your good opinion.'