Little Dorrit, page 43
CHAPTER 5. Something Wrong Somewhere
The family had been a month or two at Venice, when Mr Dorrit, who wasmuch among Counts and Marquises, and had but scant leisure, set an hourof one day apart, beforehand, for the purpose of holding some conferencewith Mrs General.
The time he had reserved in his mind arriving, he sent Mr Tinkler, hisvalet, to Mrs General's apartment (which would have absorbed about athird of the area of the Marshalsea), to present his compliments to thatlady, and represent him as desiring the favour of an interview. It beingthat period of the forenoon when the various members of the family hadcoffee in their own chambers, some couple of hours before assembling atbreakfast in a faded hall which had once been sumptuous, but was nowthe prey of watery vapours and a settled melancholy, Mrs General wasaccessible to the valet. That envoy found her on a little square ofcarpet, so extremely diminutive in reference to the size of her stoneand marble floor that she looked as if she might have had it spread forthe trying on of a ready-made pair of shoes; or as if she had come intopossession of the enchanted piece of carpet, bought for forty purses byone of the three princes in the Arabian Nights, and had that moment beentransported on it, at a wish, into a palatial saloon with which it hadno connection.
Mrs General, replying to the envoy, as she set down her emptycoffee-cup, that she was willing at once to proceed to Mr Dorrit'sapartment, and spare him the trouble of coming to her (which, in hisgallantry, he had proposed), the envoy threw open the door, andescorted Mrs General to the presence. It was quite a walk, by mysteriousstaircases and corridors, from Mrs General's apartment,--hoodwinked bya narrow side street with a low gloomy bridge in it, and dungeon-likeopposite tenements, their walls besmeared with a thousand downwardstains and streaks, as if every crazy aperture in them had been weepingtears of rust into the Adriatic for centuries--to Mr Dorrit's apartment:with a whole English house-front of window, a prospect of beautifulchurch-domes rising into the blue sky sheer out of the water whichreflected them, and a hushed murmur of the Grand Canal laving thedoorways below, where his gondolas and gondoliers attended his pleasure,drowsily swinging in a little forest of piles.
Mr Dorrit, in a resplendent dressing-gown and cap--the dormant grub thathad so long bided its time among the Collegians had burst into a rarebutterfly--rose to receive Mrs General. A chair to Mrs General. Aneasier chair, sir; what are you doing, what are you about, what do youmean? Now, leave us!
'Mrs General,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I took the liberty--'
'By no means,' Mrs General interposed. 'I was quite at your disposition.I had had my coffee.'
'--I took the liberty,' said Mr Dorrit again, with the magnificentplacidity of one who was above correction, 'to solicit the favour ofa little private conversation with you, because I feel rather worriedrespecting my--ha--my younger daughter. You will have observed a greatdifference of temperament, madam, between my two daughters?'
Said Mrs General in response, crossing her gloved hands (she was neverwithout gloves, and they never creased and always fitted), 'There is agreat difference.'
'May I ask to be favoured with your view of it?' said Mr Dorrit, with adeference not incompatible with majestic serenity.
'Fanny,' returned Mrs General, 'has force of character andself-reliance. Amy, none.'
None? O Mrs General, ask the Marshalsea stones and bars. O Mrs General,ask the milliner who taught her to work, and the dancing-master whotaught her sister to dance. O Mrs General, Mrs General, ask me, herfather, what I owe her; and hear my testimony touching the life of thisslighted little creature from her childhood up!
No such adjuration entered Mr. Dorrit's head. He looked at MrsGeneral, seated in her usual erect attitude on her coach-box behind theproprieties, and he said in a thoughtful manner, 'True, madam.'
'I would not,' said Mrs General, 'be understood to say, observe,that there is nothing to improve in Fanny. But there is materialthere--perhaps, indeed, a little too much.'
'Will you be kind enough, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'to be--ha--moreexplicit? I do not quite understand my elder daughter's having--hum--toomuch material. What material?'
'Fanny,' returned Mrs General, 'at present forms too many opinions.Perfect breeding forms none, and is never demonstrative.'
Lest he himself should be found deficient in perfect breeding, Mr Dorrithastened to reply, 'Unquestionably, madam, you are right.' Mrs Generalreturned, in her emotionless and expressionless manner, 'I believe so.'
'But you are aware, my dear madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'that my daughtershad the misfortune to lose their lamented mother when they were veryyoung; and that, in consequence of my not having been until latelythe recognised heir to my property, they have lived with me asa comparatively poor, though always proud, gentleman, in--hahum--retirement!'
'I do not,' said Mrs General, 'lose sight of the circumstance.'
'Madam,' pursued Mr Dorrit, 'of my daughter Fanny, under her presentguidance and with such an example constantly before her--'
(Mrs General shut her eyes.)
--'I have no misgivings. There is adaptability of character in Fanny.But my younger daughter, Mrs General, rather worries and vexes mythoughts. I must inform you that she has always been my favourite.'
'There is no accounting,' said Mrs General, 'for these partialities.'
'Ha--no,' assented Mr Dorrit. 'No. Now, madam, I am troubled by noticingthat Amy is not, so to speak, one of ourselves. She does not care to goabout with us; she is lost in the society we have here; our tastesare evidently not her tastes. Which,' said Mr Dorrit, summing up withjudicial gravity, 'is to say, in other words, that there is somethingwrong in--ha--Amy.'
'May we incline to the supposition,' said Mrs General, with a littletouch of varnish, 'that something is referable to the novelty of theposition?'
'Excuse me, madam,' observed Mr Dorrit, rather quickly. 'The daughterof a gentleman, though--ha--himself at one time comparatively far fromaffluent--comparatively--and herself reared in--hum--retirement, neednot of necessity find this position so very novel.'
'True,' said Mrs General, 'true.'
'Therefore, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I took the liberty' (he laid anemphasis on the phrase and repeated it, as though he stipulated, withurbane firmness, that he must not be contradicted again), 'I took theliberty of requesting this interview, in order that I might mention thetopic to you, and inquire how you would advise me?'
'Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, 'I have conversed with Amy severaltimes since we have been residing here, on the general subject of theformation of a demeanour. She has expressed herself to me as wonderingexceedingly at Venice. I have mentioned to her that it is better not towonder. I have pointed out to her that the celebrated Mr Eustace, theclassical tourist, did not think much of it; and that he compared theRialto, greatly to its disadvantage, with Westminster and BlackfriarsBridges. I need not add, after what you have said, that I have not yetfound my arguments successful. You do me the honour to ask me what toadvise. It always appears to me (if this should prove to be a baselessassumption, I shall be pardoned), that Mr Dorrit has been accustomed toexercise influence over the minds of others.'
'Hum--madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I have been at the head of--ha ofa considerable community. You are right in supposing that I am notunaccustomed to--an influential position.'
'I am happy,' returned Mrs General, 'to be so corroborated. I wouldtherefore the more confidently recommend that Mr Dorrit should speak toAmy himself, and make his observations and wishes known to her. Beinghis favourite, besides, and no doubt attached to him, she is all themore likely to yield to his influence.'
'I had anticipated your suggestion, madam,' said Mr Dorrit,'but--ha--was not sure that I might--hum--not encroach on--'
'On my province, Mr Dorrit?' said Mrs General, graciously. 'Do notmention it.'
'Then, with your leave, madam,' resumed Mr Dorrit, ringing his littlebell to summon his valet, 'I will send for her at once.'
'Does Mr Dorrit wish me to remain?'
'Not at all.'
So, Tinkler the valet was instructed to find Miss Amy's maid, and torequest that subordinate to inform Miss Amy that Mr Dorrit wished tosee her in his own room. In delivering this charge to Tinkler, Mr Dorritlooked severely at him, and also kept a jealous eye upon him until hewent out at the door, mistrusting that he might have something in hismind prejudicial to the family dignity; that he might have even got windof some Collegiate joke before he came into the service, and might bederisively reviving its remembrance at the present moment. If Tinklerhad happened to smile, however faintly and innocently, nothing wouldhave persuaded Mr Dorrit, to the hour of his death, but that this wasthe case. As Tinkler happened, however, very fortunately for himself, tobe of a serious and composed countenance, he escaped the secret dangerthat threatened him. And as on his return--when Mr Dorrit eyed himagain--he announced Miss Amy as if she had come to a funeral, he left avague impression on Mr Dorrit's mind that he was a well-conducted youngfellow, who had been brought up in the study of his Catechism by awidowed mother.
'Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, 'you have just now been the subject of someconversation between myself and Mrs General. We agree that you scarcelyseem at home here. Ha--how is this?'
'I think, father, I require a little time.'
'Papa is a preferable mode of address,' observed Mrs General. 'Father israther vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form tothe lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all verygood words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find itserviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say toyourself in company--on entering a room, for instance--Papa, potatoes,poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.'
'Pray, my child,' said Mr Dorrit, 'attend to the--hum--precepts of MrsGeneral.'
Poor Little Dorrit, with a rather forlorn glance at that eminentvarnisher, promised to try.
'You say, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, 'that you think you require time.Time for what?'
'To become accustomed to the novelty of my life, was all I meant,' saidLittle Dorrit, with her loving eyes upon her father; whom she had verynearly addressed as poultry, if not prunes and prism too, in her desireto submit herself to Mrs General and please him.
Mr Dorrit frowned, and looked anything but pleased. 'Amy,' he returned,'it appears to me, I must say, that you have had abundance of time forthat. Ha--you surprise me. You disappoint me. Fanny has conquered anysuch little difficulties, and--hum--why not you?'
'I hope I shall do better soon,' said Little Dorrit.
'I hope so,' returned her father. 'I--ha--I most devoutly hope so, Amy.I sent for you, in order that I might say--hum--impressively say, inthe presence of Mrs General, to whom we are all so much indebtedfor obligingly being present among us, on--ha--on this or any otheroccasion,' Mrs General shut her eyes, 'that I--ha hum--am not pleasedwith you. You make Mrs General's a thankless task. You--ha--embarrassme very much. You have always (as I have informed Mrs General) been myfavourite child; I have always made you a--hum--a friend and companion;in return, I beg--I--ha--I _do_ beg, that you accommodate yourselfbetter to--hum--circumstances, and dutifully do what becomes your--yourstation.'
Mr Dorrit was even a little more fragmentary than usual, being excitedon the subject and anxious to make himself particularly emphatic.
'I do beg,' he repeated, 'that this may be attended to, and that youwill seriously take pains and try to conduct yourself in a manner bothbecoming your position as--ha--Miss Amy Dorrit, and satisfactory tomyself and Mrs General.'
That lady shut her eyes again, on being again referred to; then, slowlyopening them and rising, added these words:
'If Miss Amy Dorrit will direct her own attention to, and will accept ofmy poor assistance in, the formation of a surface, Mr. Dorrit will haveno further cause of anxiety. May I take this opportunity of remarking,as an instance in point, that it is scarcely delicate to look atvagrants with the attention which I have seen bestowed upon them by avery dear young friend of mine? They should not be looked at. Nothingdisagreeable should ever be looked at. Apart from such a habit standingin the way of that graceful equanimity of surface which is so expressiveof good breeding, it hardly seems compatible with refinement of mind. Atruly refined mind will seem to be ignorant of the existence of anythingthat is not perfectly proper, placid, and pleasant.' Having deliveredthis exalted sentiment, Mrs General made a sweeping obeisance, andretired with an expression of mouth indicative of Prunes and Prism.
Little Dorrit, whether speaking or silent, had preserved her quietearnestness and her loving look. It had not been clouded, except for apassing moment, until now. But now that she was left alone with himthe fingers of her lightly folded hands were agitated, and there wasrepressed emotion in her face.
Not for herself. She might feel a little wounded, but her care was notfor herself. Her thoughts still turned, as they always had turned, tohim. A faint misgiving, which had hung about her since their accessionto fortune, that even now she could never see him as he used to bebefore the prison days, had gradually begun to assume form in her mind.She felt that, in what he had just now said to her and in his wholebearing towards her, there was the well-known shadow of the Marshalseawall. It took a new shape, but it was the old sad shadow. She beganwith sorrowful unwillingness to acknowledge to herself that she wasnot strong enough to keep off the fear that no space in the life of mancould overcome that quarter of a century behind the prison bars. She hadno blame to bestow upon him, therefore: nothing to reproach him with,no emotions in her faithful heart but great compassion and unboundedtenderness.
This is why it was, that, even as he sat before her on his sofa, in thebrilliant light of a bright Italian day, the wonderful city without andthe splendours of an old palace within, she saw him at the moment in thelong-familiar gloom of his Marshalsea lodging, and wished to take herseat beside him, and comfort him, and be again full of confidence withhim, and of usefulness to him. If he divined what was in her thoughts,his own were not in tune with it. After some uneasy moving in his seat,he got up and walked about, looking very much dissatisfied.
'Is there anything else you wish to say to me, dear father?'
'No, no. Nothing else.'
'I am sorry you have not been pleased with me, dear. I hope you will notthink of me with displeasure now. I am going to try, more than ever, toadapt myself as you wish to what surrounds me--for indeed I have triedall along, though I have failed, I know.'
'Amy,' he returned, turning short upon her. 'You--ha--habitually hurtme.'
'Hurt you, father! I!'
'There is a--hum--a topic,' said Mr Dorrit, looking all about theceiling of the room, and never at the attentive, uncomplainingly shockedface, 'a painful topic, a series of events which I wish--ha--altogetherto obliterate. This is understood by your sister, who has alreadyremonstrated with you in my presence; it is understood by your brother;it is understood by--ha hum--by every one of delicacy and sensitivenessexcept yourself--ha--I am sorry to say, except yourself. You,Amy--hum--you alone and only you--constantly revive the topic, thoughnot in words.'
She laid her hand on his arm. She did nothing more. She gently touchedhim. The trembling hand may have said, with some expression, 'Think ofme, think how I have worked, think of my many cares!' But she said not asyllable herself.
There was a reproach in the touch so addressed to him that she hadnot foreseen, or she would have withheld her hand. He began to justifyhimself in a heated, stumbling, angry manner, which made nothing of it.
'I was there all those years. I was--ha--universally acknowledged asthe head of the place. I--hum--I caused you to be respected there, Amy.I--ha hum--I gave my family a position there. I deserve a return. Iclaim a return. I say, sweep it off the face of the earth and beginafresh. Is that much? I ask, is _that_ much?'
He did not once look at her, as he rambled on in this way;
'I have suffered. Probably I know how much I have suffered better thanany one--ha--I say than any one! If _I_ can put that aside, if _I_ caneradicate the marks of what I have endured, and can emerge before theworld--a--ha--gentleman unspoiled, unspotted--is it a great deal toexpect--I say again, is it a great deal to expect--that my childrenshould--hum--do the same and sweep that accursed experience off the faceof the earth?'
In spite of his flustered state, he made all these exclamations in acarefully suppressed voice, lest the valet should overhear anything.
'Accordingly, they do it. Your sister does it. Your brother does it. Youalone, my favourite child, whom I made the friend and companion of mylife when you were a mere--hum--Baby, do not do it. You alone say youcan't do it. I provide you with valuable assistance to do it. I attachan accomplished and highly bred lady--ha--Mrs General, to you, for thepurpose of doing it. Is it surprising that I should be displeased? Is itnecessary that I should defend myself for expressing my displeasure?No!'
Notwithstanding which, he continued to defend himself, without anyabatement of his flushed mood.
'I am careful to appeal to that lady for confirmation, before I expressany displeasure at all. I--hum--I necessarily make that appeal withinlimited bounds, or I--ha--should render legible, by that lady, what Idesire to be blotted out. Am I selfish? Do I complain for my own sake?No. No. Principally for--ha hum--your sake, Amy.'
This last consideration plainly appeared, from his manner of pursuingit, to have just that instant come into his head.
'I said I was hurt. So I am. So I--ha--am determined to be, whateveris advanced to the contrary. I am hurt that my daughter, seated inthe--hum--lap of fortune, should mope and retire and proclaim herselfunequal to her destiny. I am hurt that she should--ha--systematicallyreproduce what the rest of us blot out; and seem--hum--I had almost saidpositively anxious--to announce to wealthy and distinguished societythat she was born and bred in--ha hum--a place that I myself decline toname. But there is no inconsistency--ha--not the least, in my feelinghurt, and yet complaining principally for your sake, Amy. I do; I sayagain, I do. It is for your sake that I wish you, under the auspices ofMrs General, to form a--hum--a surface. It is for your sake that I wishyou to have a--ha--truly refined mind, and (in the striking words ofMrs General) to be ignorant of everything that is not perfectly proper,placid, and pleasant.'
He had been running down by jerks, during his last speech, like asort of ill-adjusted alarum. The touch was still upon his arm. He fellsilent; and after looking about the ceiling again for a little while,looked down at her. Her head drooped, and he could not see her face; buther touch was tender and quiet, and in the expression of her dejectedfigure there was no blame--nothing but love. He began to whimper, justas he had done that night in the prison when she afterwards sat athis bedside till morning; exclaimed that he was a poor ruin and a poorwretch in the midst of his wealth; and clasped her in his arms. 'Hush,hush, my own dear! Kiss me!' was all she said to him. His tearswere soon dried, much sooner than on the former occasion; and he waspresently afterwards very high with his valet, as a way of rightinghimself for having shed any.
With one remarkable exception, to be recorded in its place, this wasthe only time, in his life of freedom and fortune, when he spoke to hisdaughter Amy of the old days.
But, now, the breakfast hour arrived; and with it Miss Fanny from herapartment, and Mr Edward from his apartment. Both these young persons ofdistinction were something the worse for late hours. As to Miss Fanny,she had become the victim of an insatiate mania for what she called'going into society;'and would have gone into it head-foremost fiftytimes between sunset and sunrise, if so many opportunities had been ather disposal. As to Mr Edward, he, too, had a large acquaintance, andwas generally engaged (for the most part, in diceing circles, or othersof a kindred nature), during the greater part of every night. For thisgentleman, when his fortunes changed, had stood at the great advantageof being already prepared for the highest associates, and having littleto learn: so much was he indebted to the happy accidents which had madehim acquainted with horse-dealing and billiard-marking.
At breakfast, Mr Frederick Dorrit likewise appeared. As the oldgentleman inhabited the highest story of the palace, where he might havepractised pistol-shooting without much chance of discovery by the otherinmates, his younger niece had taken courage to propose the restorationto him of his clarionet, which Mr Dorrit had ordered to be confiscated,but which she had ventured to preserve. Notwithstanding some objectionsfrom Miss Fanny, that it was a low instrument, and that she detested thesound of it, the concession had been made. But it was then discoveredthat he had had enough of it, and never played it, now that it was nolonger his means of getting bread. He had insensibly acquired a newhabit of shuffling into the picture-galleries, always with his twistedpaper of snuff in his hand (much to the indignation of Miss Fanny, whohad proposed the purchase of a gold box for him that the family mightnot be discredited, which he had absolutely refused to carry when it wasbought); and of passing hours and hours before the portraits of renownedVenetians. It was never made out what his dazed eyes saw in them;whether he had an interest in them merely as pictures, or whether heconfusedly identified them with a glory that was departed, like thestrength of his own mind. But he paid his court to them with greatexactness, and clearly derived pleasure from the pursuit. After thefirst few days, Little Dorrit happened one morning to assist at theseattentions. It so evidently heightened his gratification that she oftenaccompanied him afterwards, and the greatest delight of which the oldman had shown himself susceptible since his ruin, arose out of theseexcursions, when he would carry a chair about for her from pictureto picture, and stand behind it, in spite of all her remonstrances,silently presenting her to the noble Venetians.
It fell out that, at this family breakfast, he referred to their havingseen in a gallery, on the previous day, the lady and gentleman whom theyhad encountered on the Great Saint Bernard, 'I forget the name,' saidhe. 'I dare say you remember them, William? I dare say you do, Edward?'
'_I_ remember 'em well enough,' said the latter.
'I should think so,' observed Miss Fanny, with a toss of her head anda glance at her sister. 'But they would not have been recalled to ourremembrance, I suspect, if Uncle hadn't tumbled over the subject.'
'My dear, what a curious phrase,' said Mrs General. 'Would notinadvertently lighted upon, or accidentally referred to, be better?'
'Thank you very much, Mrs General,' returned the young lady, 'no, Ithink not. On the whole I prefer my own expression.'
This was always Miss Fanny's way of receiving a suggestion from MrsGeneral. But she always stored it up in her mind, and adopted it atanother time.
'I should have mentioned our having met Mr and Mrs Gowan, Fanny,' saidLittle Dorrit, 'even if Uncle had not. I have scarcely seen you since,you know. I meant to have spoken of it at breakfast; because I shouldlike to pay a visit to Mrs Gowan, and to become better acquainted withher, if Papa and Mrs General do not object.'
'Well, Amy,' said Fanny, 'I am sure I am glad to find you at lastexpressing a wish to become better acquainted with anybody in Venice.Though whether Mr and Mrs Gowan are desirable acquaintances, remains tobe determined.'
'Mrs Gowan I spoke of, dear.'
'No doubt,' said Fanny. 'But you can't separate her from her husband, Ibelieve, without an Act of Parliament.'
'Do you think, Papa,' inquired Little Dorrit, with diffidence andhesitation, 'there is any objection to my making this visit?'
'Really,' he replied, 'I--ha--what is Mrs General's view?'
Mrs General's view was, that not having the honour of any acquaintancewith the lady and gentleman referred to, she was not in a positionto varnish the present article. She could only remark, as a generalprinciple observed in the varnishing trade, that much depended on thequarter from which the lady under consideration was accredited to afamily so conspicuously niched in the social temple as the fa
At this remark the face of Mr Dorrit gloomed considerably. He was about(connecting the accrediting with an obtrusive person of the nameof Clennam, whom he imperfectly remembered in some former state ofexistence) to black-ball the name of Gowan finally, when Edward Dorrit,Esquire, came into the conversation, with his glass in his eye, and thepreliminary remark of 'I say--you there! Go out, will you!'--which wasaddressed to a couple of men who were handing the dishes round, as acourteous intimation that their services could be temporarily dispensedwith.
Those menials having obeyed the mandate, Edward Dorrit, Esquire,proceeded.
'Perhaps it's a matter of policy to let you all know that theseGowans--in whose favour, or at least the gentleman's, I can't besupposed to be much prepossessed myself--are known to people ofimportance, if that makes any difference.'
'That, I would say,' observed the fair varnisher, 'Makes the greatestdifference. The connection in question, being really people ofimportance and consideration--'
'As to that,' said Edward Dorrit, Esquire, 'I'll give you the means ofjudging for yourself. You are acquainted, perhaps, with the famous nameof Merdle?'
'The great Merdle!' exclaimed Mrs General.
'_The_ Merdle,' said Edward Dorrit, Esquire. 'They are known to him.Mrs Gowan--I mean the dowager, my polite friend's mother--is intimatewith Mrs Merdle, and I know these two to be on their visiting list.'
'If so, a more undeniable guarantee could not be given,' said MrsGeneral to Mr Dorrit, raising her gloves and bowing her head, as if shewere doing homage to some visible graven image.
'I beg to ask my son, from motives of--ah--curiosity,' Mr Dorritobserved, with a decided change in his manner, 'how he becomes possessedof this--hum--timely information?'
'It's not a long story, sir,' returned Edward Dorrit, Esquire, 'and youshall have it out of hand. To begin with, Mrs Merdle is the lady you hadthe parley with at what's-his-name place.'
'Martigny,' interposed Miss Fanny with an air of infinite languor.
'Martigny,' assented her brother, with a slight nod and a slight wink;in acknowledgment of which, Miss Fanny looked surprised, and laughed andreddened.
'How can that be, Edward?' said Mr Dorrit. 'You informed me that thename of the gentleman with whom you conferred was--ha--Sparkler. Indeed,you showed me his card. Hum. Sparkler.'
'No doubt of it, father; but it doesn't follow that his mother's namemust be the same. Mrs Merdle was married before, and he is her son. Sheis in Rome now; where probably we shall know more of her, as you decideto winter there. Sparkler is just come here. I passed last evening incompany with Sparkler. Sparkler is a very good fellow on thewhole, though rather a bore on one subject, in consequence of beingtremendously smitten with a certain young lady.' Here Edward Dorrit,Esquire, eyed Miss Fanny through his glass across the table. 'Wehappened last night to compare notes about our travels, and I had theinformation I have given you from Sparkler himself.' Here he ceased;continuing to eye Miss Fanny through his glass, with a face muchtwisted, and not ornamentally so, in part by the action of keeping hisglass in his eye, and in part by the great subtlety of his smile.
'Under these circumstances,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I believe I express thesentiments of--ha--Mrs General, no less than my own, when I saythat there is no objection, but--ha hum--quite the contrary--to yourgratifying your desire, Amy. I trust I may--ha--hail--this desire,' saidMr Dorrit, in an encouraging and forgiving manner, 'as an auspiciousomen. It is quite right to know these people. It is a very properthing. Mr Merdle's is a name of--ha--world-wide repute. Mr Merdle'sundertakings are immense. They bring him in such vast sums of money thatthey are regarded as--hum--national benefits. Mr Merdle is the man ofthis time. The name of Merdle is the name of the age. Pray do everythingon my behalf that is civil to Mr and Mrs Gowan, for we will--ha--we willcertainly notice them.'
This magnificent accordance of Mr Dorrit's recognition settled thematter. It was not observed that Uncle had pushed away his plate, andforgotten his breakfast; but he was not much observed at any time,except by Little Dorrit. The servants were recalled, and the mealproceeded to its conclusion. Mrs General rose and left the table.Little Dorrit rose and left the table. When Edward and Fanny remainedwhispering together across it, and when Mr Dorrit remained eating figsand reading a French newspaper, Uncle suddenly fixed the attention ofall three by rising out of his chair, striking his hand upon the table,and saying, 'Brother! I protest against it!'
If he had made a proclamation in an unknown tongue, and given up theghost immediately afterwards, he could not have astounded his audiencemore. The paper fell from Mr Dorrit's hand, and he sat petrified, with afig half way to his mouth.
'Brother!' said the old man, conveying a surprising energy into histrembling voice, 'I protest against it! I love you; you know I love youdearly. In these many years I have never been untrue to you in a singlethought. Weak as I am, I would at any time have struck any man who spokeill of you. But, brother, brother, brother, I protest against it!'
It was extraordinary to see of what a burst of earnestness such adecrepit man was capable. His eyes became bright, his grey hair rose onhis head, markings of purpose on his brow and face which had faded fromthem for five-and-twenty years, started out again, and there was anenergy in his hand that made its action nervous once more.
'My dear Frederick!' exclaimed Mr Dorrit faintly. 'What is wrong? Whatis the matter?'
'How dare you,' said the old man, turning round on Fanny, 'how dare youdo it? Have you no memory? Have you no heart?'
'Uncle?' cried Fanny, affrighted and bursting into tears, 'why do youattack me in this cruel manner? What have I done?'
'Done?' returned the old man, pointing to her sister's place, 'where'syour affectionate invaluable friend? Where's your devoted guardian?Where's your more than mother? How dare you set up superiorities againstall these characters combined in your sister? For shame, you false girl,for shame!'
'I love Amy,' cried Miss Fanny, sobbing and weeping, 'as well as I lovemy life--better than I love my life. I don't deserve to be so treated. Iam as grateful to Amy, and as fond of Amy, as it's possible for anyhuman being to be. I wish I was dead. I never was so wickedly wronged.And only because I am anxious for the family credit.'
'To the winds with the family credit!' cried the old man, with greatscorn and indignation. 'Brother, I protest against pride. I protestagainst ingratitude. I protest against any one of us here who have knownwhat we have known, and have seen what we have seen, setting up anypretension that puts Amy at a moment's disadvantage, or to the cost ofa moment's pain. We may know that it's a base pretension by its havingthat effect. It ought to bring a judgment on us. Brother, I protestagainst it in the sight of God!'
As his hand went up above his head and came down on the table, it mighthave been a blacksmith's. After a few moments' silence, it had relaxedinto its usual weak condition. He went round to his brother with hisordinary shuffling step, put the hand on his shoulder, and said, in asoftened voice, 'William, my dear, I felt obliged to say it; forgive me,for I felt obliged to say it!' and then went, in his bowed way, out ofthe palace hall, just as he might have gone out of the Marshalsea room.
All this time Fanny had been sobbing and crying, and still continued todo so. Edward, beyond opening his mouth in amazement, had not opened hislips, and had done nothing but stare. Mr Dorrit also had been utterlydiscomfited, and quite unable to assert himself in any way. Fanny wasnow the first to speak.
'I never, never, never was so used!' she sobbed. 'There never wasanything so harsh and unjustifiable, so disgracefully violent and cruel!Dear, kind, quiet little Amy, too, what would she feel if she could knowthat she had been innocently the means of exposing me to such treatment!But I'll never tell her! No, good darling, I'll never tell her!'
This helped Mr Dorrit to break his silence.
'My dear,' said he, 'I--ha--approve of your resolution. It will be--hahum--much better not to speak of this to Amy. It might--hum--itmight distress her. Ha. No do
'But the cruelty of Uncle!' cried Miss Fanny. 'O, I never can forgivethe wanton cruelty of Uncle!'
'My dear,' said Mr Dorrit, recovering his tone, though he remainedunusually pale, 'I must request you not to say so. You must rememberthat your uncle is--ha--not what he formerly was. You must rememberthat your uncle's state requires--hum--great forbearance from us, greatforbearance.'
'I am sure,' cried Fanny, piteously, 'it is only charitable to supposethat there must be something wrong in him somewhere, or he never couldhave so attacked Me, of all the people in the world.'
'Fanny,' returned Mr Dorrit in a deeply fraternal tone, 'you know, withhis innumerable good points, what a--hum--wreck your uncle is; and, Ientreat you by the fondness that I have for him, and by the fidelitythat you know I have always shown him, to--ha--to draw your ownconclusions, and to spare my brotherly feelings.'
This ended the scene; Edward Dorrit, Esquire, saying nothing throughout,but looking, to the last, perplexed and doubtful. Miss Fanny awakenedmuch affectionate uneasiness in her sister's mind that day by passingthe greater part of it in violent fits of embracing her, and inalternately giving her brooches, and wishing herself dead.
Other author's books:
- Our Mutual FriendLittle DorritA Tale of Two CitiesGreat ExpectationsA Christmas CarolOliver TwistA Chrismas CarolDavid Copperfield
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