'If I were to do such a very ridiculous thing,' he said, stopping again presently, and leaning against the chimney-piece, 'it could only be in the most inviolable confidence.'
'I will trust to you, sir,' returned Sissy, 'and you will trust to me.'
His leaning against the chimney-piece reminded him of the night with the whelp. It was the self-same chimney-piece, and somehow he felt as if he were the whelp to-night. He could make no way at all.
'I suppose a man never was placed in a more ridiculous position,' he said, after looking down, and looking up, and laughing, and frowning, and walking off, and walking back again. 'But I see no way out of it. What will be, will be. This will be, I suppose. I must take off myself, I imagine — in short, I engage to do it.'
Sissy rose. She was not surprised by the result, but she was happy in it, and her face beamed brightly.
'You will permit me to say,' continued Mr. James Harthouse, 'that I doubt if any other ambassador, or ambassadress, could have addressed me with the same success. I must not only regard myself as being in a very ridiculous position, but as being vanquished at all points. Will you allow me the privilege of remembering my enemy's name?'
'My name?' said the ambassadress.
'The only name I could possibly care to know, to-night.'
'Pardon my curiosity at parting. Related to the family?'
'I am only a poor girl,' returned Sissy. 'I was separated from my father — he was only a stroller — and taken pity on by Mr. Gradgrind. I have lived in the house ever since.'
She was gone.
'It wanted this to complete the defeat,' said Mr. James Harthouse, sinking, with a resigned air, on the sofa, after standing transfixed a little while. 'The defeat may now be considered perfectly accomplished. Only a poor girl — only a stroller — only James Harthouse made nothing of — only James Harthouse a Great Pyramid of failure.'
The Great Pyramid put it into his head to go up the Nile. He took a pen upon the instant, and wrote the following note (in appropriate hieroglyphics) to his brother:
Dear Jack, — All up at Coketown. Bored out of the place, and going in for camels. Affectionately, JEM,
He rang the bell.
'Send my fellow here.'
'Gone to bed, sir.'
'Tell him to get up, and pack up.'
He wrote two more notes. One, to Mr. Bounderby, announcing his retirement from that part of the country, and showing where he would be found for the next fortnight. The other, similar in effect, to Mr. Gradgrind. Almost as soon as the ink was dry upon their superscriptions, he had left the tall chimneys of Coketown behind, and was in a railway carriage, tearing and glaring over the dark landscape.
The moral sort of fellows might suppose that Mr. James Harthouse derived some comfortable reflections afterwards, from this prompt retreat, as one of his few actions that made any amends for anything, and as a token to himself that he had escaped the climax of a very bad business. But it was not so, at all. A secret sense of having failed and been ridiculous — a dread of what other fellows who went in for similar sorts of things, would say at his expense if they knew it — so oppressed him, that what was about the very best passage in his life was the one of all others he would not have owned to on any account, and the only one that made him ashamed of himself.