Book3 Chapters 5-9
Book the Third: Garnering
Rachel confesses to Sissy that she thinks someone may have deliberately prevented Stephen from returning to proclaim his innocence. She even fears that he may have been murdered. As the two women walk together in the street, an excited Mrs. Sparsit alights from a coach with an unwilling Mrs. Pegler. Mrs. Sparsit insists on taking the old woman to Bounderby.
Rachel, Sissy, Gradgrind, Tom, Mrs. Sparsit and Mrs. Pegler gather in Bounderby's dining room. Bounderby is extremely discomfited by the sight of Mrs. Pegler, who turns out to be his mother. Mrs. Pegler sets the story straight about Bounderby's early years. She did not desert him, as he has always claimed. She looked after him as well as she could, bearing in mind that his father died when he was eight. She skimped on her own needs and managed to apprentice her son to a kind master. Bounderby has been paying her a small allowance all these years in exchange for a promise that she will stay away from him. Bounderby refuses to explain his family affairs to the gathered company, and asks them to leave. But he is humbled by the disclosure that he has lied about his past.
On a bright Sunday in autumn, Sissy and Rachel take a train a few miles out of Coketown and walk in the country. They have not been walking long when they find a hat lying in the grass. It belongs to Stephen. Nearby, they almost fall down a concealed, disused mine shaft. They realize that Stephen must have fallen down it, and they call down for him, but there is no reply. They run to get help. Soon a group of men from the nearest village arrives. It takes four hours before a machine is rigged up in which two men are lowered into the mine shaft. A crowd of over a hundred, including Louisa, Gradgrind and Bounderby, looks on. One man returns to the surface and reports that Stephen is alive but badly injured. Apparently he was walking back to Coketown when, in the dark, he fell down the shaft. It is dark before Stephen can be brought to the surface. He speaks to Rachel and then asks Gradgrind to clear his name by asking Tom about the matter. Stephen dies as the men carry him across the fields and down the lanes.
Tom goes missing. Gradgrind and Louisa both suspect he is guilty of the robbery and that he deliberately cast suspicion on Stephen Blackpool. Sissy explains that Tom, on her advice, has taken refuge with the circus folk, in a town three hours away from the port city of Liverpool. They make the journey, Gradgrind traveling separately. He plans to have Tom sent to America. Louisa and Sissy arrive first and meet Sleary in the circus booth. All the circus people crowd around Sissy, whom they have not seen for many years. Tom is dressed up as in a comic outfit as a black servant. Later, when Gradgrind arrives, Tom tells of how he carried out the robbery. Sleary plans to send Tom by coach, and then by rail, to Liverpool. Tom, who has harsh words for his sister, is about to depart when Bitzer arrives and grabs him.
Gradgrind pleads with Bitzer not to take Tom back to Coketown. But Bitzer is determined to do so. He expects that Bounderby will reward him by promoting him to Tom's position at the bank. Gradgrind tries to bargain with him but to no avail; Bitzer succeeds in turning Gradgrind's philosophy of hard practicality against him. But Sleary arranges for Tom to be rescued on the way back to Coketown. Sleary's aggressive dog prevents Bitzer from giving chase. Tom is duly sent to America.
The novel ends with a glimpse of what happens to the major characters in the future. Mrs. Sparsit, having been sent away by Bounderby, lives in cramped quarters with her unpleasant relative, Lady Scadgers. Bounderby dies five years later, of a fit. His will is the subject of endless disputes. Gradgrind tries to live by the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, but he is scorned by his former political associates. Rachel continues to take pity on Stephen's drunken widow. Tom is lonely in America, and comes back to England, but dies before he can be reconciled with Louisa. Sissy marries and has children. Louisa tries to encourage in others the "imaginative graces and delights" that enrich life. She sees this as her duty.
There are no happy endings in this bleak novel. There is some justice, but there is also some tragic injustice. Those who get their just desserts include Bounderby, whose fabrications are publicly exposed, and Tom, who pays a high price for his misspent life. Gradgrind fares little better. His "hard facts" philosophy turns round and bites him in the form of Bitzer, who continues to show that he has learned his lessons well. The repentant Gradgrind is a broken man. Louisa is left to make the best of things and to try to live by the values that are inherent in her but which were crushed by her upbringing and her marriage. The main injustice in the novel is of course the persecution and tragic death of Stephen Blackpool, which is hardly lightened by the sentimental way Dickens describes it. In short, these last chapters show the consequences for everyone when life is lived according to narrow principles, using only the intellect at the expense of the heart.