They were within five minutes of their destination, when, at the corner of her own street, they came upon Fanny in her new bonnet bound for the same port.
'Why, good gracious me, Amy!' cried that young lady starting. 'You never mean it!'
'Mean what, Fanny dear?'
'Well! I could have believed a great deal of you,' returned the young lady with burning indignation, 'but I don't think even I could have believed this, of even you!'
'Fanny!' cried Little Dorrit, wounded and astonished.
'Oh! Don't Fanny me, you mean little thing, don't! The idea of coming along the open streets, in the broad light of day, with a Pauper!' (firing off the last word as if it were a ball from an air-gun). 'O Fanny!'
'I tell you not to Fanny me, for I'll not submit to it! I never knew such a thing. The way in which you are resolved and determined to disgrace us on all occasions, is really infamous. You bad little thing!'
'Does it disgrace anybody,' said Little Dorrit, very gently, 'to take care of this poor old man?'
'Yes, miss,' returned her sister, 'and you ought to know it does. And you do know it does, and you do it because you know it does. The principal pleasure of your life is to remind your family of their misfortunes. And the next great pleasure of your existence is to keep low company. But, however, if you have no sense of decency, I have. You'll please to allow me to go on the other side of the way, unmolested.'
With this, she bounced across to the opposite pavement. The old disgrace, who had been deferentially bowing a pace or two off (for Little Dorrit had let his arm go in her wonder, when Fanny began), and who had been hustled and cursed by impatient passengers for stopping the way, rejoined his companion, rather giddy, and said, 'I hope nothing's wrong with your honoured father, Miss? I hope there's nothing the matter in the honoured family?'
'No, no,' returned Little Dorrit. 'No, thank you. Give me your arm again, Mr Nandy. We shall soon be there now.'
So she talked to him as she had talked before, and they came to the Lodge and found Mr Chivery on the lock, and went in. Now, it happened that the Father of the Marshalsea was sauntering towards the Lodge at the moment when they were coming out of it, entering the prison arm in arm. As the spectacle of their approach met his view, he displayed the utmost agitation and despondency of mind; and--altogether regardless of Old Nandy, who, making his reverence, stood with his hat in his hand, as he always did in that gracious presence--turned about, and hurried in at his own doorway and up the staircase.
Leaving the old unfortunate, whom in an evil hour she had taken under her protection, with a hurried promise to return to him directly, Little Dorrit hastened after her father, and, on the staircase, found Fanny following her, and flouncing up with offended dignity. The three came into the room almost together; and the Father sat down in his chair, buried his face in his hands, and uttered a groan.
'Of course,' said Fanny. 'Very proper. Poor, afflicted Pa! Now, I hope you believe me, Miss?'
'What is it, father?' cried Little Dorrit, bending over him. 'Have I made you unhappy, father? Not I, I hope!'
'You hope, indeed! I dare say! Oh, you'--Fanny paused for a sufficiently strong expression--'you Common-minded little Amy! You complete prison-child!'
He stopped these angry reproaches with a wave of his hand, and sobbed out, raising his face and shaking his melancholy head at his younger daughter, 'Amy, I know that you are innocent in intention. But you have cut me to the soul.' 'Innocent in intention!' the implacable Fanny struck in. 'Stuff in intention! Low in intention! Lowering of the family in intention!'
'Father!' cried Little Dorrit, pale and trembling. 'I am very sorry. Pray forgive me. Tell me how it is, that I may not do it again!'
'How it is, you prevaricating little piece of goods!' cried Fanny. 'You know how it is. I have told you already, so don't fly in the face of Providence by attempting to deny it!'
'Hush! Amy,' said the father, passing his pocket-handkerchief several times across his face, and then grasping it convulsively in the hand that dropped across his knee, 'I have done what I could to keep you select here; I have done what I could to retain you a position here.