I may have succeeded; I may not. You may know it; you may not. I give no opinion. I have endured everything here but humiliation. That I have happily been spared--until this day.'
Here his convulsive grasp unclosed itself, and he put his pocket- handkerchief to his eyes again. Little Dorrit, on the ground beside him, with her imploring hand upon his arm, watched him remorsefully. Coming out of his fit of grief, he clenched his pocket-handkerchief once more.
'Humiliation I have happily been spared until this day. Through all my troubles there has been that--Spirit in myself, and that-- that submission to it, if I may use the term, in those about me, which has spared me--ha--humiliation. But this day, this minute, I have keenly felt it.'
'Of course! How could it be otherwise?' exclaimed the irrepressible Fanny. 'Careering and prancing about with a Pauper!' (air-gun again).
'But, dear father,' cried Little Dorrit, 'I don't justify myself for having wounded your dear heart--no! Heaven knows I don't!' She clasped her hands in quite an agony of distress. 'I do nothing but beg and pray you to be comforted and overlook it. But if I had not known that you were kind to the old man yourself, and took much notice of him, and were always glad to see him, I would not have come here with him, father, I would not, indeed. What I have been so unhappy as to do, I have done in mistake. I would not wilfully bring a tear to your eyes, dear love!' said Little Dorrit, her heart well-nigh broken, 'for anything the world could give me, or anything it could take away.'
Fanny, with a partly angry and partly repentant sob, began to cry herself, and to say--as this young lady always said when she was half in passion and half out of it, half spiteful with herself and half spiteful with everybody else--that she wished she were dead.
The Father of the Marshalsea in the meantime took his younger daughter to his breast, and patted her head. 'There, there! Say no more, Amy, say no more, my child. I will forget it as soon as I can. I,' with hysterical cheerfulness, 'I-- shall soon be able to dismiss it. It is perfectly true, my dear, that I am always glad to see my old pensioner--as such, as such-- and that I do--ha--extend as much protection and kindness to the-- hum--the bruised reed--I trust I may so call him without impropriety--as in my circumstances, I can. It is quite true that this is the case, my dear child. At the same time, I preserve in doing this, if I may--ha--if I may use the expression--Spirit. Becoming Spirit. And there are some things which are,' he stopped to sob, 'irreconcilable with that, and wound that--wound it deeply.
It is not that I have seen my good Amy attentive, and--ha-- condescending to my old pensioner--it is not that that hurts me. It is, if I am to close the painful subject by being explicit, that I have seen my child, my own child, my own daughter, coming into this College out of the public streets--smiling! smiling!--arm in arm with--O my God, a livery!'
This reference to the coat of no cut and no time, the unfortunate gentleman gasped forth, in a scarcely audible voice, and with his clenched pocket-handkerchief raised in the air. His excited feelings might have found some further painful utterance, but for a knock at the door, which had been already twice repeated, and to which Fanny (still wishing herself dead, and indeed now going so far as to add, buried) cried 'Come in!'
'Ah, Young John!' said the Father, in an altered and calmed voice. 'What is it, Young John?'
'A letter for you, sir, being left in the Lodge just this minute, and a message with it, I thought, happening to be there myself, sir, I would bring it to your room.' The speaker's attention was much distracted by the piteous spectacle of Little Dorrit at her father's feet, with her head turned away.
'Indeed, John? Thank you.'
'The letter is from Mr Clennam, sir--it's the answer--and the message was, sir, that Mr Clennam also sent his compliments, and word that he would do himself the pleasure of calling this afternoon, hoping to see you, and likewise,' attention more distracted than before, 'Miss Amy.'
'Oh!' As the Father glanced into the letter (there was a bank-note in it), he reddened a little, and patted Amy on the head afresh. 'Thank you, Young John.